Showcasing Palestinian perspectives
What Palestinians are entitled to, what they should distance themselves from, where they're allowed to live and what they should die for – right now, it seems everyone has their own opinion on such matters. But how do the Palestinians themselves look upon the world? Not just at displacement, statelessness or life under Israeli occupation, but at the Ukraine war or the climate crisis? Or, on a more personal level: at issues such as family, mental health and sexuality?
The Palestinian population is dispersed throughout the world, only around half live in the former British mandate. But do commonalities nevertheless exist between Palestinian perspectives in Gaza, the West Bank or Israel, in the diaspora in the United States, Europe or Arab nations?
Their mission is more relevant than ever
Fikra sets out to explore these Palestinian points of view. It was founded in August, at a time when no one could have predicted the devastation that would rock the region just a few months later. Since the Hamas attacks on Israel on 7 October, the Israeli army has carried out punishing attacks on the Gaza Strip. In parallel, radical settlers have killed dozens of people in the West Bank.
But even now, the magazine's mission is more relevant than ever. Fikra, Arabic for 'idea', publishes essays, poetry, comics, prose and visual art by Palestinians from all over the world.
It aims to be a platform where the dispersed community can come together, to "discuss, reflect, pose questions and dream," says editor-in-chief Aisha Hamed. After all, in the foreseeable future it is unlikely that people from Gaza and Berlin, or from Lebanon and the West Bank, will be able to meet for such debates in person.
Hamed, 31, founded Fikra together with her partner Kevin Kruiter, 30. The pair made the decision to quit their jobs at the Dutch foreign ministry and move from Amsterdam to Ramallah to set up the cultural magazine during a visit to her homeland in Nazareth in March 2022.
Dwindling open spaces for civil society
Hamed, whose father is Palestinian, had for years considered returning to his home here. As a diplomat, she says often found it hard to harmonise her personal views with the official diplomatic line of the Dutch government.
The couple met many cultural actors during their visit to Nazareth. "They told us about growing restrictions on freedom of expression and dwindling open spaces for civil society," recalls Hamed on a Zoom call back in June.
There is a sense of fear, both of repressive measures by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and of censorship by authorities in Israeli territory. The two decided to set up an independent platform where provocative and controversial issues would also have a place. "It's a minefield and we're moving around it with caution," says Hamed. "But sometimes we also have to transgress boundaries in order to shift them."
Fikra's editorial team has chosen not to accept any public funding, "so that we're neither censored, nor self-censored," explains Kevin Kruiter. The first year was financed through a crowdfunding appeal. The pair don't draw an income from the project but believe it's important to pay for all contributions.
Often, that's not so easy: as Hamed said even before the widespread destruction of the Gaza Strip after 7 October, transferring money to cultural actors in Gaza is practically impossible. Previously, contributors would receive their fee in cash via mutual contacts. Generally, there are often problems transferring money to the Palestinian territories, Hamed explained: "The banks immediately assume that you're funding terrorism."
What is Palestinian literature exactly?
What do we mean when we talk about Palestinian literature: an exploration using the example of Adania Shibli’s slender novel "Minor Detail". By Miryam Schellbach
From poetry to graphic novels
The first edition of Fikra was published online in early August; some of the articles were also printed. These printed editions were sold at the launch of the magazine in Ramallah. It is not clear whether there will be more printed editions, or whether Fikra will only be available online in future. What is certain, however, is that three articles will be published every week, all in both Arabic and English.
As well as classic text formats such as essays, poetry and prose, the plan is to also publish excerpts from graphic novels, comics and plenty of visual art. "It's a way for us to do justice to a creative, young generation that's always on the look-out for new forms of expression," says Hamed.
For example, in the first edition of Fikra there's a photo series on the impact of violence on individuals and communities. One poem deals with the killing of a loved one and in an essay, a writer addresses transgenerational trauma: "All Palestinians are born historians," she writes.
"When we're born, the stories of our predecessors are already encoded within us. Our grandparents and parents help us to put together an encyclopaedia of ourselves, which we then fill with our own memories. Some are dark, others light."
"The occupation almost always features"
Fikra publishes contributions on a broad range of themes. The only rule: 90 percent of them must be the work of people who identify as Palestinians.
The authors and their audience live in different countries, with different levels of connection to Palestinian culture and some don't speak any Arabic at all. But what unites them? "The occupation almost always features," says Hamed.
Alongside this, topics such as trauma – how to cope with it, how art can help – and loneliness, primarily in the diaspora: "The sense of alienation – from both the society where you live and the one you come from," continues Hamed. Kruiter adds that resistance is also an important theme: "rebellion against an inhumane situation".
Just a few months after this conversation with Hamed and Kruiter, the situation became even more inhumane. At the time of writing, more than 10,000 people in the Gaza Strip had been killed in Israeli air strikes, 40 percent of them children. The few hospitals still able to operate lack medication and fuel, the population is starving because barely any humanitarian aid is being allowed into Gaza. Is it even possible to run a cultural magazine at such a time?
Women searching and yearning for home
In his debut novel, "Flügel in der Ferne" (Wings in the Distance), award-winning French author Jadd Hilal gives voice to four women from four different generations who tell the stories of their uprooted lives in Europe and the Middle East. By Volker Kaminski
Our stories give comfort
"In the first few weeks we were in shock," Hamed writes in an exchange of emails in November. "After a while, we received more and more messages from Palestinians all over the world saying that our stories were giving people comfort and that they want to support the magazine's work."
Since many of the regular editors were no longer able to work due to the current situation – for personal reasons or out of fear of censorship and persecution – the Fikra team spontaneously assembled a staff of volunteers. They divide up the work, "come together in times of isolation" – and publish new articles and poems that address ongoing political developments.
"We noticed that contributions in recent weeks are very raw: they express despair, sorrow, rage and loneliness," says Hamed. At the same time, they also reflect a certain resilience: "Some honour their families in Gaza by writing about their perceptions; for others it's important that our voices are not silenced," she continues.
Criticism of conditions under Israeli occupation has never gone down well, in Europe and the U.S. in particular. In Germany, due to the country's historical responsibility to the Jewish people, discourse on the Middle East conflict is rightly conducted with care. But often, people who campaign for the rights of Palestinians are accused of generalised anti-Semitism.
In the face of the current conflict, there has been a wave of censorship and restrictions on freedom of expression in Germany. People have lost their jobs for expressing solidarity with Palestinians. Funding was withdrawn from a cultural institution that worked together with a left-wing Jewish group. Numerous demos have been banned.
A magazine like Fikra should therefore brace for criticism. But the editors don't care: "We Palestinians are always at pains to blend in," says Hamed. "Whenever we tell our stories, we have to stress beforehand that we're not terrorists or anti-Semites." Our own feelings and traumas take a back seat, she continues. "With Fikra, we want to turn that around."
© Qantara.de 2023
Translated from the German by Nina Coon