The books of Palestinian author Ghada Karmi have been published in 40 languages. On campus Wednesday evening, her words translated cultural divides.
At an event sponsored by Turath, an Arab student group, over 50 people gathered in Earl Hall to hear Karmi speak about the release of a new edition of her 2004 book, "In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story," and about the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Acclaimed as one of the decade's most celebrated female writers on the Middle East, Karmi is an associate fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs and lectures at the University of Exeter in London.
She was introduced by Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia, who set the tone of the evening by commending Karmi for her book and discussing the major problems faced by Palestinians.
"They are made invisible … they are nonexistent," Dabashi said. "One can travel through Palestine and never see Palestinians."
Dabashi added that the "writing of memoir and cinema are crucial to Palenstinians" because they raise awareness through the same "art of narrative" that brought Karmi to Columbia.
Karmi began her speech by noting how encouraged she was by the number of readers—Palestinians and Jews alike—who wrote to her after she published "Fatima" to say "that it was meant for them."
She said that she wrote the book because she "wanted to write the situation in a human form … if people could understand Palestinians with names and life histories … they would begin to emphasize with those caught in the most tragic of stories." She wrote the book in English because "What has happened to the Palestinians … can be laid at the door of the people who speak English."
Moving on to discuss her own life, Karmi told the crowd about how her family moved to London after being forced out of Jerusalem, her birthplace. "I was constantly aware of the fact that I wasn't home," she said, adding that the conditions of her migration cast a shadow over the adjustment to her new home. "We were trying to compensate for what had happened," she said.
Karmi explained that this continues to haunt her today. "I can never forget because the conflict is ongoing," she explained, "The way Israel kills and torments is an ongoing story."
She said that it was important for her to write her narrative because she needed "to make sense of what happened."
After discussing how shocking she believes the support for Israel to be, she said, "The more people who read this story … the more they understand how the situation has evolved and who the Palestinians are and what they have had to go through," adding later that "It is not acceptable to remain silent and inactive in the face of such blatant oppression."
At a question and answer session following Karmi's speech, one person commented on people's ignorance of the issues and asked, "What can we do to lobby for Arab Americans to make sure their voices are heard?"
Karmi responded, "We were faced with something unprecedented … the destruction of our history."
Later, in answering a question about what can be done to assist the Palestinian cause, she said, "We need a mass revolution for things to change."