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Exiled From Gaza; An Artist Under Siege



Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be in exile in your homeland, in your own house, in your room.


        Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet, (1941-2008)



Malak Mattar, now just nineteen years old, is still what many would call a "naive artist," mostly untrained desipite the mentorship of her uncle, Mohammed Musallum, who teaches art in the only art school in Gaza. So I will begin there, in Gaza, during a 51-day Israeli bombing siege, in a household where a girl of 14 who has never drawn or painted before, is trying to stay sane during the Second Intifada against the brutal Israeli occupation. Watercolor and paper on the kitchen table, Malak starts to paint, mostly portraits of the women in her family and her community. She is gifted.


I had the good fortune to hear about Malak through a Palestinian friend who went to see her recent art exhibition in New York. Sponsored by the Palestine Museum US in Woodbridge, Ct., Malak was granted a two-week visa to show her work in three locations— Connecticut, DC, and New York, before her return to Istanbul to continue her studies on a full scholarship in political science and international relations at the Istanbul Aydin University. She misses her family in Gaza but cannot return during holidays as there is no guarantee she can get out in time to travel back to Turkey before classes begin. Though Gaza has been administered by Hamas since 2007, it is still under "indirect" Israeli occupation; Israel controls its electricity, telecommunications and borders.


I try to imagine this pressure, not as an ordinary American student worried about grades and financing, but as a student in exile from her beleaguered homeland, worried about her family and friends. How brave she has been, truly exemplary. She has had to learn both Turkish and English as her classes are in English, and struggles to maintain her bank account and grade point average. She travels wherever she is invited to show her work. "I will never stop painting," she told me with confidence. "Life is not easy in Gaza. This is what I portray in my work. I want the world to understand."




For more of Malak's story:




Malak on Facebook:




For more about Palestine and Israel:


Human Rights Watch Report




Yousef Bashir, "Words of My Father" 




Mahmoud Darwish Poems




Palestine Museum, Woodbridge, Ct.




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At the beginning of term, I had told my students not to expect replies to emails late on Sunday nights when they are often working on their assignments and I am watching Homeland. Throughout the first season of this compelling drama, my husband and I were riveted. We had friends over to participate, sharing a meal that had to be over long before the 10 p.m. show time. We set the TV to the channel in advance so we wouldn’t miss an instant of the logo or the first scene.

And, then, during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, we met with some Arab-American friends for a coffee and talked about the show. They were deeply concerned that the educated elite in the United States, including our re-elected President, were so hooked on it. It is, after all, an adaptation of a successful Israeli series. Transposing the venue from Israel to the United States has changed the show in many ways, but the shadow of the Israeli scripts is still there and they have a clear and troublesome political agenda. And, now, the escalation of violence in Gaza, a great and continuing tragedy for everyone.

As writers, what are we to think of a show that is so well written and so engaging, yet so offensive to our Arab-American citizens? What is our responsibility? Does anything we say or think about the show matter? If we agree with the assertion that there is something morally wrong with the portrait of Arabs in the show, shall we boycott? Write letters to the producers? To the White House?

As writers, we are the custodians of language. Language matters. How do we speak about “the other,” whoever that other may be? How do we define ourselves in relation to that other? When do we become the other ourselves?  Read More 
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