Advertisement

Saḥar Khalīfeh’s Resistance Literature: Toward a Palestinian Critical Realism

  • Kifah Hanna
Part of the Literatures and Cultures of the Islamic World book series (LCIW)

Abstract

Sahar Khalīfeh is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential contemporary novelists of the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt). She was born in 1941 into a middle-class Palestinian family from Nāblus. Her father, desperate for a boy to bear his name for posterity, was disheartened by this fifth addition to a chain of girls, eventually eight. In her teens, Khalīfeh rebelled against what, in observation of her submissive mother, she perceived to be the weakness of her sex. In turn, her mother tried to tame Khalīfeh, first by sending her to a boarding school in Jerusalem run by the Nuns of Zion, and second by yoking her in a loveless marriage. Such circumstances, which she further witnessed across her society, stirred for the author an early sense of the injustice of the gender inequalities embedded in, and reproduced by, Palestinian familial and social structures. As she matured, she began to associate the tragedies of her sex with those of the Arab world—best exemplified by the Nakba and the Naksa, the Arab world, she thought, was doomed to cultural and political defeat in much the same way as women therein were doomed to submission and worthlessness. For Khalīfeh, the feminist struggle thus became increasingly intertwined with the nationalist, and it was in simultaneous response to both that her artistic and aesthetic credo was to develop.1

Keywords

Arab World Critical Realism Occupied Territory National Liberation National Narrative 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    For more information about Khalīfeh’s biography, see Saḥar Khalīfeh, “My Life, Myself, and the World,” trans. Musa al-Halool and Katia Sakka, Al Jadid 8:39 (Spring 2002), pp. 1–2 and Peter Nazareth, “An Interview with Sahar Khalifeh,” The Iowa Review 11:1 (1981), pp. 67–70. Amal Amireh identifies three categories of Palestinian writers who are involved in “the telling of the national story,” which she considers an essential cultural complement to Palestinian political demands “for recognition and self-determination.” First, those who hold “official positions in the national movement” (e.g. Yehya Yakhlaf, Liyānah Badr), secondly those who have acted as spokespersons for it (e.g. Ghassān Kanafānī, Hanān ‘Ashrāwī), and thirdly those who “consciously [put] their artistic pens in the service of the national cause,” a category to which all Palestinian writers belong. She continues that against the tendency to reproduce “the dominant gendered [or patriarchal] national narrative” characteristic especially of the first two categories, but also widespread in the third, feminist writers such as Khalifeh have “attempted to clear fictional spaces that allow for a subversive questioning of this dominant narrative”.Google Scholar
  2. Amal Amireh, “Between Complicity and Subversion: Body Politics in Palestinian National Narrative’,” South Atlantic Quarterly 102:4 (2003), pp. 749, 750. While I discuss gendered nationalist discourses and Khalīfeh’s resistance to them at length below, it is important from the outset to note that her feminist intervention is directed not only toward Palestinian social conditions, but also toward the marginalization of women in the sorts of national narratives produced by the majority of her contemporaries. She aims for a new narrative in which women are seen as equal participants in the national struggle, and where their liberation is conterminous with that of the nation.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 2.
    For more on her involvement in the Union of Palestinian Writers, see Khalīfeh (2002), p. 4. For more on the Women’s Affairs Centre, see Sherna Berger Gluck, “Palestinian Women: Gender Politics and Nationalism,” Journal of Palestinian Studies 4:3 (1995), p. 15 note 29.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    For further discussion of the alignment of feminism and nationalism in Khalīfeh’s work, see Faysal Darraj, “Introduction: This Novel,” in Sahar Khalīfeh, Sūrah wa Ayqūnah wa ‘Ahd Qadīm (The Image, the Icon, and the Covenant; Bayrūt: Dār al-Ādāb, 2002), p. 5;Google Scholar
  5. Mineke Schipper, ed., Unheard Words: Women and literature in Africa, the Arab World, Asia, the Caribbean and latin America (London: Allison and Busby, 1984), pp. 84–85; andGoogle Scholar
  6. Miriam Cooke, Women and the War Story (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), pp. 197, 218.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    On the various interpretations of dākhil (inside) and khārij (outside) in the Palestinian context, see Edward Said, After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives (London: Vintage, 1986), pp. 51–86;Google Scholar
  8. Edward Said, “Intifada and Independence,” Social Text 22 (1989), pp. 23–39; andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Mary Layoun, “Telling Spaces: Palestinian Women and the Engendering of National Narratives,” in Nationalisms and Sexualities, ed. Andrew Parker, Mary Russo, Doris Sommer, and Patricia Yaeger (New York and London: Routledge, 1992), pp. 408–410.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    Ghassān Kanafānī, Adab al-Muqāwamah fī Filasṭin al-Muḥtallah: 1948–1966 (Literature of Resistance in Occupied Palestine: 1948–1966; Bayrūt: Dar al-Ādāb, n.d.), p. 10. Title transliteration is mine. Translations from this source are mine unless otherwise noted. In this text, Kanafānī seems to use “‘Arab al-Arḍ al-Muhtallah” (p. 17), “al-’Arab fi Filasṭīn al-Muḥtallah” (p. 18), and “al-’Arab fī Israel” (p. 19) interchangeably, without distinguishing between Palestinians in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank and those inside Israel. I therefore interpret his statements as referring to both categories. See also Ghassān Kanafānī, Al-Adab al-Filasṭīnī al-Muqāwim taḥta al-Iḥtilāl: 1948–1968 (Palestinian Resistance Literature Under Occupation: 1948–1968; Bayrūt: Mu’asasat ad-Dirāsāt al-Filasṭīniyah, 1968), p. 18. Title transliteration is mine. Translations from this source are mine unless otherwise noted.Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    Kanafānī (1966), p. 11. Cited in and translated by Barbara Harlow, Resistance Literature (New York: Methuen, 1987), p. 3.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    On the role of Palestinian women’s literary activity in the post-1967 period, see Miriam Cooke, War’s Other Voices: Women Writers on the Lebanese Civil War (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996), pp. 191–193.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Said (1986), p. 120. See also Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), p. 194. In this important work, Khalidi warns against the suggestion that Palestinian national identity emerged mainly as a response to Zionism. He studies the process of its development before 1948, and examines the key cultural, historical, political, and economic elements that shaped contemporary Palestinian nationalism. See especially pp. 9–34. Muhammad Y. Muslih echoes this argument, and also assesses the secondary status assigned to Palestinian nationalism in the larger context of pan-Arab nationalism: “In these circumstances, it seems unlikely that the Palestinians would have abstained from establishing their own independent national movement, even if Zionism were absent from the scene.”Google Scholar
  14. Muhammad Y. Muslih, The Origins of Palestinian Nationalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), p. 215.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    See especially Said (1986), passim and Joe Cleary, Literature, Partition and the Nation-State: Culture and Conflict in Ireland, Israel and Palestine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 186–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Feminist scholarship on nationalism in various (post)colonial contexts is abundant. See, for instance, Kumari Jayawardena, Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World, 4th ed. (London: Zed Books Ltd, 1992);Google Scholar
  17. Valentine M. Moghadam (Ed.), Gender and National Identity: Women and Politics in Muslim Societies (London: Zed Books, 1994);Google Scholar
  18. Nira Yuval-Davis, Gender and Nation (London: Sage Publications, 1997); andGoogle Scholar
  19. Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti and Ella Shohat (Eds.), Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1997). Little of this, though, focuses specifically on Palestinian nationalism.Google Scholar
  20. For the only book-length exception, see Anna Ball, Palestinian Literature and Film in Postcolonial Feminist Perspective (London: Routledge, 2012), which I discuss at greater length below.Google Scholar
  21. 19.
    Cleary (2002), p. 212; Amireh (2003), p. 751. See also Ghassan Kanafani, Men in the Sun andOther Palestinian Stories (Boulder, CO: Three Continents Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  22. 27.
    For further discussion of Maḥfouẓ’s realism and its impact on mid-twentieth-century Arabic literature, see Mona N. Mikhail, ed., Studies in the Short Fiction of Mahfouz andIdris (New York and London: New York University Press, 1992), pp. 11–24 andGoogle Scholar
  23. Rasheed El-Enany, Naguib Mahfouz: The Pursuit of Meaning (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. xi—xv.Google Scholar
  24. 28.
    For an excellent account of experimentalism in the Arabic novel, see Stefan G. Meyer, The Experimental Arabic Novel: Postcolonial Literary Modernism in the Levant (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  25. 30.
    See Georg Lukács, The Meaning of Contemporary Realism, trans. John and Necke Mander (London: The Merlin Press, 1979), pp. 93–135.Google Scholar
  26. 31.
    George J. Becker (Ed.), Documents of Literary Realism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 21.Google Scholar
  27. 34.
    A. N. Staif, “The Soviet Impact on Modern Arabic Literary Criticism: Husayn Muruwwa’s Concept of the ‘New Realism’,” British Society for Middle Eastern Studies Bulletin 11:2 (1984), p. 160. For detailed accounts of the rise of Arabic socialist realism, see Staif (1984), pp. 157, 164–167 andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mohammed S. Al-Goaifli, Contemporary Arabic Literary Criticism of Fiction: A Study of the Realist Trend (PhD Thesis; Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1987), pp. 31–33.Google Scholar
  29. 35.
    See Ḥilmī Budayr, Lttijāh al-wāqi’ī fī al-riwāyah al-’Arabīyah al-ḥadīthah fī Miṣr (The Realist Trend in the Modern Arabic Novel in Egypt) (al-Qāhirah: Dār al-Ma’ārif, 1981), p. 28 and al-Goaifli (1987), p. 28.Google Scholar
  30. 36.
    Saḥar Khalīfeh, Mudhakkirāt Lmra’ah ghayr Wāqi’īyah (Memoirs of an Unrealistic Woman) (Bayrūt: Dār al-Ādāb, 1992), p. 43. Rafīffrom Sunflower expresses similar views throughout the novel.Google Scholar
  31. See Saḥar Khalīfeh, Abbād al-Shams: Takmilat Al-Ṣabbār (Sunflower: the Sequel to Wild Thorns) (Bayrūt: Dār al-Ādāb, 1987).Google Scholar
  32. 37.
    Saḥar Khalīfeh, Reflections on the Crisis of the Educated Palestinian Woman in Sahar Khalifeh’s Works, MA Dissertation (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1983), p. 44. See also p. 47, where she emphasizes this realistic feature of her writings.Google Scholar
  33. 38.
    Suhā Ṣabbagh argues that Khalīfeh’s realism is in fact of the socialist variety. See Suhā Ṣabbagh, “Palestinian Women Writers and the Intifada.” Social Text 22 (Spring 1989): pp. 62–78, 73. This claim, however, is not supported by any textual evidence, and prioritizes the political dimensions of Khalīfeh’s writings at the expense of the aesthetic, which, as I have argued here, are critical in orientation.Google Scholar
  34. 42.
    See Sabry Hafez, “The Transformation of Reality and the Arabic Novel’s Aesthetic Response,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 57:1 (1994), pp. 103–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 43.
    For detailed discussions of the role of Palestinian women in the national resistance movement, see Rita Giacaman, “Palestinian Women in the Uprising: From Followers to Leaders?,” Journal of Refugees Studies 2.1 (1989); Islah Abdul Jawwad, “The Evolution of the Political Role of the Palestinian Women’s Movement in the Uprising,” in The Palestinians: New Directions, ed. Michael C. Hudson (Washington, DC: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, 1990);Google Scholar
  36. Joost R. Hiltermann, Behind the Intifada: Labor and Women’s Movements in the Occupied Territories (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991); andGoogle Scholar
  37. Suhā Ṣabbagh (Ed.), Palestinian Women of Gaza andthe West Bank (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  38. 45.
    See Julie Peteet, Gender in Crisis: Women and the Palestinian Resistance Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), p. 22.Google Scholar
  39. 46.
    See Saḥar Khalīfeh, Bāb al-Sāḥah (The Gate of the Plaza) (Bayrūt: Dār al-Ādāb, 1990), p. 134.Google Scholar
  40. 51.
    Sahar Khahīfeh, The End of Spring, trans. Paula Haydar (Northampton, Massachusetts: Interlink Books, 2008), p. 119.Google Scholar
  41. 56.
    ‘Abd al-Muḥsin T. Badr argues that depicting the human character in terms of the moral duality of “good” and “evil” is characteristic of the romanticism that preceded Khalīfeh and her realist influences. See ‘Abd al-Muḥsin T. Badr, Taṭawwur al-riwāyah al-’Arabīyah al-ḥadīthah fī Miṣr, 1870–1938 (The Evolution of the Modern Arabic Novel in Egypt, 1870–1938) (al-Qāhirah: Dār al-Ma’ārif, 1963), p. 196.Google Scholar
  42. 58.
    For brief discussions of these two characters, see Barbara Harlow, “Partitions and Precedents: Sahar Khalifeh and Palestinian Political Geography,” in Intersections: Gender, Nation and Community in Arab Women’s Novels, ed. Lisa Suhair Majaj, Paula W. Sunderman, and Terese Saliba (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2002), pp. 116–117 and Cooke (1996), pp. 198–199.Google Scholar
  43. 59.
    See, for instance, Saḥar Khalīfeh, Wild Thorns, trans. TrevorLeGassick and Elizabeth Fernea (London: Saqi Books, 2005), pp. 28–29.Google Scholar
  44. 63.
    Ball (2012), 89. Peteet makes a similar point about the ritualization of male suffering during the Intifada. See Julie Peteet, “Male Gender and Rituals of Resistance in the Palestinian ‘Intifada’: A Cultural Politics of Violence”, American Ethnologist 21:1 (1994), p. 109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 65.
    George J. Becker, Realism in Modern Literature (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1980), p. 68.Google Scholar
  46. 68.
    Saree Makdisi, Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), passim. Makdisi employs this phrase to describe day-to-day Palestinian life—labor, commerce, education, entertainment, sociality, mobility, and so on—under the constraints of Israeli occupation, an overarching totality that mediates all such activities.Google Scholar
  47. 75.
    As Sabbagh argues, such women, by taking on a new set of social responsibilities in the post-1967 period, became “a symbol of community cooperation.” Sabbagh (1989), p. 62. For a detailed account of the shift from purely maternal to more political forms of social engagement among Palestinian women, as for example through organizations such as the Arab Women’s Union (co-founded by Khalīfeh), see Raymonda Tawil, My Home My Prison (London: Zed Books, 1986).Google Scholar
  48. 80.
    See Halim Barakat, The Arab World: Society, Culture, and State (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 98, 102.Google Scholar
  49. 83.
    Ibid. For the original Arabic, see Sahar Khahīeh, Rabī’ Ḥarr (Beirūt: Dār al-Ādāb, 2004), pp. 241–242.Google Scholar
  50. 87.
    Becker (1967), pp. 30–31. According to al-Goaifli, material settings include houses, streets, and shops; social settings include customs, practices, and popular beliefs; and natural settings include trees, landscapes, seasons, and climatic conditions. See al-Goaifli (1987), p. 187. As Muhibbah Hājj Ma’tūq, like Becker, argues, the description of such settings in realism is rarely decorative, but rather purposeful, in that it complements the physical and psychological portrayal of characters. See Muhibbah Hājj Ma’tūq, Athar al-Riwāyah al-Wāqi’īyah al-Gharbīyah fī al-Riwāyah al-’Arabīyah (The Effect of the Western Realistic Novel on the Arabic Novel) (Bayrūt: Dār al-Fikr al-Lubnānī, 1994), p. 202.Google Scholar
  51. 88.
    For a reading of the relationship between gender and spatiality in Khalifeh’s novels, see Kifah Hanna “Middle Eastern Women’s Roles Transformed: the Gendered Spaces of Ghadah al-Samman and Sahar Khalifah,” in Stella Borg Barthet, ed. Shared Waters: Soundings in Postcolonial Literatures (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009), pp. 113–121. For useful sociohistorical overviews of questions of spatiality (and gender) in the occupied territories, see Giacaman and Johnson (1989) andGoogle Scholar
  52. Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (London: Verso, 2012).Google Scholar
  53. 92.
    Georg Lukács, “Reportage or Portrayal,” in Essays on Realism, ed. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, MA: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1980), p. 45;Google Scholar
  54. Colin Hill, Modern Realism in English-Canadian Fiction (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), p. 176.Google Scholar
  55. 93.
    Nazareth (1981), p. 80. For a discussion of the vernacular in contemporary Arabic fiction, see chapter 1. K. S. Song argues that Khalīfeh “utilized it more efficiently” than her male predecessors, and pushed it beyond [their] boundaries.” K. S. Song, “The Writing of Sahar Khalifah: from Margin to Centre,” Annals of Japan Association for Middle East Studies 15 (2000), p. 18.Google Scholar
  56. 94.
    For further discussion of the necessity of such usage vis-à-vis the Palestinian majority, see Hanan Daud Mikhail-Ashrawi, The Contemporary Literature of Palestine: Poetry and Fiction (PhD Thesis; Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1982), pp. 206–208.Google Scholar
  57. 104.
    For Khalīfeh’s own account of this similarity, see Nazareth (1981), pp. 83–84. For a wide-ranging, primarily literary study of the hitherto repressed inseparability of Jewish and Arab ethnic self-identifications, see Gil Hochberg, In Spite of Partition: Jews, Arabs, and the Limits of the Separatist Imagination (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
  58. 105.
    See especially Edward Said, The Question of Palestine (London: Verso, 1992), pp. xxxv–xlv. For a powerful critique of the idea that the Palestinian national narrative emerged as a response to the Israeli, see Khalidi (1997), pp. 5–6. For Khalīfeh’s account of the criticisms to which she and her work have been subject, see Nazareth (1981), p. 80.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kifah Hanna 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kifah Hanna

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations