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Memory, Revolution and Resilience 12 Aug 2012

Thanks to everyone for taking their eyes off the Olympics, braving the Melbourne chill, and fighting the peak hour traffic to be with us in the historic Trades Hall Bar.

Trades Hall Bar                                     Former PM Gough Whitlam   

 On August 9 Spinifex Press held a public forum.
 Memory, Revolution and Resilience, was organised to celebrate the launch of two insightful books published by Spinifex Press –
The Unfinished Revolution: Voices From the Global Fight for Women’s Rights &
Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home.


                    Bella Union Bar                                               Publisher Susan Hawthorne


                    The Unfinished Revolution              Seeking Palestine

The Unfinished Revolution
, edited by Minky Worden documents the unfinished revolution for women’s human rights and asks if the aftermath of the recent uprisings will prove to be - an ‘Arab spring’ or a ‘women’s winter’. 

In her chapter ‘Letters in the Night’, Rachel Ward, a senior regional advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan tells the story of Hossai, a twenty-two-year-old Afghan aid worker from the southern city of Kandahar. Hossai had received threatening phone calls from a man who said he was with the Taliban who told her to stop working with foreigners. But Hossai didn’t want to give up a good job with the American development company and within weeks Hossai was dead.

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, widespread insecurity, displacement, financial hardship and the dissolution of law have contributed to an increase in prostitution and trafficking. The trafficked women are transported internally and internationally for prostitution and also into forced marriages. In Afghanistan small girls are taken away from their families and become victims of sex trading due to their family’s inability to repay huge loans borrowed from drug traffickers in order to grow opium crops.

Throughout the world there are women who lack access to maternal health care with the World Health Organisation estimating that some two million women and girls live with obstetric fistula, an entirely treatable childbirth injury that results in urinary and faecal incontinence. It’s a preventable condition caused by prolonged obstructed labour in a situation where caesarian sections are not available. The affected women are usually poor and from rural communities who were married early- sometimes as young as 14 years. In some regions of Northern Ethiopia 80% of all girls are married by the age of 18.

Photo: The Unfinished Revolution

Editor Minky Worden, Human Rights Watch’s director of Global initiatives is joined by over 30 writers among them Nobel Prize laureates, leading activists, policy makers and former victims who tackle these tough problems and offer bold new approaches to the issues that are still affecting millions of women today.

In July, Spinifex Press released Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home. This wonderful collection of essays by Palestinian essayists, novelists, poets and critics probe the human costs of a home no longer home and contributes greatly to our understanding of the lives of Palestinians.


The contributors reflect on 'What it means to be Palestinian' and come up with individual and collective experiences of seeking, waiting, living for, and being or becoming Palestinian. Words and feelings of Memory, Resilience and Revolution feature strongly throughout this fine collection.

Jean Said Makdisi in her chapter “Becoming Palestinian”, laments the lack of Memory for her native Jerusalem although it continues to be her ideal model of a home where past, present and future meet in her mind to create the one place on earth where she can imagine herself resting, laying down at last the burden of anger and sorrow created in her by the loss. 

In ‘Exiled from Revolution’, Karma Nabulsi regrets ‘the fragmentation of the body politic’ where Palestinian leadership no longer involves itself in the ideas and practice of liberation, but in business deals. While the former representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation pens this chapter ‘the awesome West watches mesmerised’ ‘as masses of Arabs’ ‘ create and celebrate their revolutions’. Nabulsi hopes the recent Arab uprisings will result in a return to Palestinian organizing and a revolutionary present.

Seeking  Palestine is also about Resilience – that of those who have ‘remained in place’, as novelist and poet Mourid Barghouti discovered when he hired a driver to take him to Jericho. Barghouti has been living away from his fellow passengers, his countrymen and women, and finds their light approach to the plans of the ‘terrifying individual such as Sharon’ incomprehensible. 

When Mahmoud announces that the anticipated attack will come tonight his fellow passengers are not particularly upset. ‘Everyday they kill us retail, and once in a while they get the urge to kill us wholesale’ says one of the passengers. Barghouti says that for the inhabitants of these Palestinian cities, ‘everything has become food for jokes’. The poet regards his taxi driver Mahmoud as a hero. “We are his nation: an old man and two women (one of whom doesn’t cover her hair and face, while the other wears a full veil); a man who’s short and another who’s fat; a university student; and a poet who is amazed by everything he sees." He asks himself if he would be able to lead such a trip. But as he says: ‘I am a writer-that is, I don’t do anything.

But that is not his job: The poet and the writer's task is to write- they teach, inform, enlighten and entertain and this applies to the work of the contributors to this fine collection of new Palestinian writing on exile and home-Seeking Palestine.

The task of informing at this forum was performed by our talented speakers: Alex Nissen, Samah Sabawi, Gula Bezhan and Onnie Wilson all of whom addressed the texts and explained their connection to the issues.

Alex Nissen, a teacher working within the TAFE sector spoke of her enlightenment from a Jewish girl growing up with the usual expectations of patriarchal society - to marry and become a mother. However Alex had other ideas - evolving and becoming a radical lesbian feminist, a peace activist and part of the Israeli women’s peace movement for over 20 years. For many years the articulate and energetic activist taught women’s studies and now mourns the extinction of feminist thought within academia. 

       Alex Nissen

Samah Sabawi is a writer, political analyst, commentator, author and playwright and a policy advisor to the Palestinian policy network. Samah was born in Gaza and escaped the Israeli occupation by seeking refuge in neighbouring Jordan before immigrating to Australia. For Samah, the essays written by the women contributors to Seeking Palestine were particularly moving: Susan Abulhawa and her chapter ‘Memories of an Un-Palestinian Story’ where she relays a ‘searing account of her childhood’, and Rana Bakarat who suggests that ‘Palestine-in exile’, ‘is an idea, a love, a goal, a movement, a massacre, a march, a parade, a poem, a thesis, a novel and yes, a commodity, as well as a people scattered, displaced, dispossessed and determined.’

Palestinian writer and activist Samah Sabawi wonders aloud if it is possible for non - Palestinians to understand the passion found in Seeking Palestine. For those who are lucky enough to thoughtfully take the time and read this anthology, the answer is YES.

Samah Sabawi, Gula Bezhan, Helen Lobato, Onnie Wilson, Alex Nissen 

Onnie Wilson, an activist for women’s human rights, spoke of the need for males to change their behaviour.  In The Unfinished Revolution and included in a chapter called ‘Girls not Brides’, Archbishop Desmond Tutu points out that child marriage is rooted in a way of thinking which men have endorsed for far too long. 'Child marriage occurs because men allow it,' he said. ‘Women’s needs must be recognised as having equal social priority in areas such as reproduction, health, education, economic independence,’ says Wilson, who stressed the importance of women across the globe needing to connect so the push for women’s human rights can have a tsunami groundswell effect.

Our final speaker for the night was Dr Gula Bezhan, a community leader of Afghans living in Melbourne. Gula related a harrowing tale of how she was forced to leave Afghanistan where she had lived and worked as a gynaecologist. In 1995 when the Northern Alliance took control of Afghanistan they instigated a rampage of targeting and killing professional people. Gula and her family fled to Pakistan, from where she immigrated to Australia. A community leader, she established the Afghan Woman’s Association of Victoria and has since completed a Bachelor of Social Science. Her employment is in settlement of newly arrived asylum seekers and she has no regrets about not being able to practice medicine.

These books are not yet bestsellers although there has been recent acclaim for Seeking Palestine: New Palestinian Writing on Exile and Home, -  The Age, Non-Fiction 'Pick of the Week' - August 11.

In these gritty poetic stories, Palestinian writers imaginatively reclaim what has been lost. —Fiona Capp 



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