Chana Morgenstern

Brown University | Providence, RI, USA

A Literature for all its Citizens: Popular Arabic Resistance Literature in 1950s Palestine/Israel

My paper, “The Real Nation: Popular Arabic Resistance Literature in 1950’s Palestine/Israel,” interrogates the pursuit of an anti-Zionist popular Arabic literature by Palestinian and Arab Jewish intellectuals in the communist cultural magazine al-Jadid. In 1953, Palestinian intellectual Hana Naqara ushered the magazine into the world with the following invocation: “The people’s literature won’t be stopped by the military government, and its spread won’t be stopped by force or the restriction of movement, for it is the only infiltrator whose breathe cannot be frozen by a gun!” (al-Jadid 1 (1953)) These words spoke directly to al-Jadid’s project of utilizing the subversive power of literature to presence the absent bodies of expelled Palestinians and the silenced voices of workers and colonial subjects, through the publication of their historical, political and literary narratives. In light of the symposium’s inquiry into “Palestinian cultural mobilization and its relationship to struggles for survival and liberation” I examine how al-Jadid emerged as a counter-institution that sought to chronicle and promote popular narratives of resistance.

Following a critical interrogation of Soviet and Arab Marxist discourses on the notion of the popular that proliferated in the magazine, I specifically explore the magazine’s attempts to develop a local “people’s literature,” fiction that focused on the communities that comprised what intellectuals coined “the real nation.” The narratives of this antination functioned as a radical alternative to the Zionist national narrative, and included short stories chronicling the experiences of those living on the margins of the Israeli state. The focus was primarily on Palestinian refugees and communities living under military governance, but also on Palestinian and Jewish workers and Arab Jewish residents of the government transit camps. In this, al-Jadid was the only major cultural project that sought to establish links between the ethnic and class oppression of Palestinian and Arab Jewish communities, providing a critical example of “the collaboration between antiZionist Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian activists and artists” that the symposium seeks to interrogate. Through a close reading of short stories and literary criticism by Emile Tuma, Emile Habibi, Hana Naqara, Sami Michael and others, I examine three specific approaches that al-Jadid intellectuals used in their formation of popular literature: social documentary vis-à-vis the style of socialist realism, narrative and formal strategies that sought to expose the intersections of nationalism, class, and imperialism, and a utilization of literature as a tool of political action and empowerment.

This example of literature’s radical potential to undermine the Zionist national hegemony speaks directly to what the symposium characterizes as “the role that artistic, literary, and other cultural practices play in producing “politics” under conditions of systemic violence, alienation, and disenfranchisement.” By looking at the vital questions of literature, popular narrative and political mobilization in the years after 1948, the study charts the territory where Palestinian political culture and the culture of Palestinian politics intersect.

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