Today was the start of the 2nd Palestine Festival of Literature, slated to open at the Palestinian National Theater in East Jerusalem. The festival began as a call from Edward Said, to “reaffirm the power of culture over the culture of power.” As participants were gathering, the Israeli police shut down the theater. The French consul who was in attendance, offered the French Cultural Center as a new venue in the moment, in order for the festival to continue.

And at 6.10pm around 15 Israeli soldiers marched in, declared the event over and told everyone to get out. After a few of minutes of protest and confusion the the French Cultural Attaché declared we could move to the French Cultural Insitute – saving the day. And so followed a mass move down the road.

Chairs were hurriedly arranged in the garden of the Institute and a speaker system was set up but we weren’t able to transfer our translation facilities. Which lost us some of our audience. For the first half hour three police vans loitered outside, but they left eventually and left us to get on with the evening. After which it was only really the noise of a passing wedding that interrupted things.

Because of restriction of movement under Israeli military occupation, from May 23-28th, the festival of internationally acclaimed writers and poets will be traveling across checkpoints to perform and speak in front of audiences in Ramallah, Jenin, al-Khalil/Hebron and Bethlehem, with the festival beginning and ending in Jerusalem. Participants include Suad Amiry, Suheir Hammad, Nathalie Handal, Robin Yassin-Kassab, Jamal Mahjoub, Raja Shehadeh, Ahdaf Soueif, Henning Mankell, Victoria Brittain, Clare Messud, Deborah Moggach, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Michael Palin, Alexandra Pringle, Pru Rowlandson, Jeremy Harding, Rachel Holmes, Brigid Keenan, M.G. Vassanji and Iamal Mahioub.

Last year was the start of the festival. Author Andrew O’Hagan was part of the festival last year, remarking:

“I had come as one of the writers attending the first ever Palestine Festival of Literature. Thousands of people turned out: they wanted to believe that Palestine is not just a cause but also a culture and a country, a place not simply for stone-throwing but for ideas and for modernity.”

Chair and Founder of PALFEST, Ahdaf Soueif said: “We were overwhelmed by the responses of both our audience and our authors last year; so we can’t wait to go back. We found that Palestinian cities — even in the extraordinarily cruel circumstances in which they find themselves — manage to produce brilliant art and top class education. PALFEST aims to help them carry on doing that.”

Below is a video clip of the first day of the festival (including waiting hours to cross the border near Amman, Jordan) and a trailer from the 2008 festival. You can also keep up with the festival on their blog, and on the author blog as well.