An Archive of Literary Reconstruction in al-Jadid
An Archive of Literary Reconstruction in al-Jadid
SourceThis teaching tool is based on the article "An Archive of Literary Reconstruction after the Palestinian Nakba," Middle East Report 291 (Summer 2019). Thanks to editor Mezna Qato for the inspiration and to MERIP for their permission to use the piece.
This tool is intermittently updated to integrate new information sent to the authors.
21 February 2022
What can a textual artifact such as a journal’s table of contents tell us about a particular literary culture? Quite a lot, it turns out, when one begins to excavate the political and cultural networks and practices of a period that are revealed therein. In this tool we will take a closer look at a table of contents from the Haifa-based, Arabic-language journal, “al-Jadid [The New]: A cultural, social and political magazine,” first published in 1953 under the auspices of al-Ittihad [The Union], the local Communist Party newspaper. Al-Jadid’s table of contents provides us with a snapshot of a campaign aimed at reconstructing an anti-colonial Arabic literary and cultural scene among Palestinians, as well as some anti-Zionist Arab Jews, after the destruction of the Palestinian Nakba 1For information on anti-Zionist Iraqi Jews in the Israeli Communist Party (ICP) see Orit Bashkin, “Elements of Resistance” in Impossible Exodus: Iraqi Jews in Israel (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017).. The contents reveal a largely unknown network of literary correspondence with the Arab World 2This connection has recently been examined in Maha Nassar, Brothers Apart: Palestinian Citizens of Israel and the Arab World (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017)., internationalist communist and anti-colonial intellectuals and writers, as well as supportive events and forums established to encourage the growth of local literature during the 1950’s and early 60’s.
Al-Jadid was an anti-Zionist, Communist publication founded soon after the advent of Israeli statehood and the 1948-49 Palestinian Nakba, which destroyed Palestinian society, decimating its political parties, cultural institutions, intellectual milieu, and literary culture. It was launched with the mission of rebuilding this anti-colonial Arab literary landscape, or what in other colonial contexts has been described as a country’s “literary infrastructure.” 3For an in-depth discussion on literary infrastructure see Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann, “The Void, the Distance, Elsewhere: Literary Infrastructure and Empire in the Caribbean,” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 24, no. 2 (62) (July 1, 2020), 1-2.
But in order to build a literary tradition, a country needs a publishing industry, gathering places, journals and the wide array of “institutions that provide literary training, facilitate and promote the circulation of literary texts, and consecrate literary value, including commercial, non-commercial and academic or state-supported cultural projects.” 4Ibid A “literary infrastructure” requires more than the ability to publish books—it includes the supportive edifice that makes possible the development of writers, readers, literature, public literacy and literary culture to begin with.
As we begin to trace the names and networks embedded in the journal’s table of contents, a textual map emerges, revealing clues to how al-Jadid organized itself around the daunting task of Arabic literary reconstruction after Nakba.
View the Arabic table of contents.
In 1968, the eminent Palestinian intellectual and writer Ghassan Kanafani published two volumes that examined the impressive formation of an oppositional literary milieu amongst Palestinians inside Israel and introduced the Arab world to its anti-colonial aesthetics and to the writers it supported, the likes of Emile Habiby, Samih al-Qassem and Mahmoud Darwish. Kanafani also outlined the daunting barriers Palestinian writers confronted in this period, including the murder and exile of a generation cultural critics and writers; the destruction of institutions, gathering places, and ultimately entire cities as Arab intellectual hubs; the embargo between Israel and the Arab world, preventing access to Arabic literature in the major centers of knowledge, and Israeli military censorship and limitations on movement, gathering and publishing. 5Ghassan Kanafani, Adab al-Muqawama fi Falistin al-Muhtala 1948–1966 [Literature of the Resistance in Occupied Palestine], (Rimal Books: Cyprus, 2015), p. 14–15.
Al-Jadid’s table of contents provides a paper trail, a hand list to an archive of information that details the formidable efforts of overcoming such obstacles and reconstructing culture resistance under colonial rule. Histories of newspapers and journals are scarcely examined by intellectual historians or literary scholars, who tend to focus on the canonical narratives that privilege individual writers and works above the political cultural milieu that produced them. Yet in a period characterized by a renewed interest in the concept of decolonization, tracing these archives can provide scholars and activists with a rich portrait of anti-colonial literatures and counter-cultural institutions, as well as of local and global networks where they exchanged ideas and forged bonds of solidarity.
- For information on anti-Zionist Iraqi Jews in the Israeli Communist Party (ICP) see Orit Bashkin, “Elements of Resistance” in Impossible Exodus: Iraqi Jews in Israel (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017).→
- This connection has recently been examined in Maha Nassar, Brothers Apart: Palestinian Citizens of Israel and the Arab World (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017).→
- For an in-depth discussion on literary infrastructure see Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann, “The Void, the Distance, Elsewhere: Literary Infrastructure and Empire in the Caribbean,” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 24, no. 2 (62) (July 1, 2020), 1-2.→
- Ghassan Kanafani, Adab al-Muqawama fi Falistin al-Muhtala 1948–1966 [Literature of the Resistance in Occupied Palestine], (Rimal Books: Cyprus, 2015), p. 14–15.→
Israeli Communist Party
The Israeli Communist Party was the only Palestinian-Jewish party in Israel/Palestine after 1948. The party was originally founded in 1929 as the Palestine Communist Party (PKP). In 1943, due to national tensions, the party split into the Jewish PKP and the Palestinian National Liberation League (NLL) which launched al-Ittihad newspaper in 1944 under the editors Emile Habiby and Emile Touma. In 1948, the Palestinian and Jewish factions reunited in 1948 and took on the continued publication of al-Ittihad.
Al Ittihad Covers
Al-Jadid was the literary offspring of al-Ittihad [The Union], the newspaper of the Palestinian National Liberation League (NLL), founded in 1944. It was later transferred to the Israeli Communist Party (ICP), but kept its base in Haifa, a once Palestinian-majority city in the newly established Israeli state. Together the two periodicals laid the groundwork for a movement that eventually included many writers and other periodicals. Likewise, al-Jadid’s vision of narrating the lives of marginal and colonized communities in the early years of the state formed a collective story that explicitly refuted the premises of ethnocentric colonial Zionism and Arab-Jewish separation.
To begin with, al-Jadid’s founders used the form of the cultural journal to organize literary reconstruction. Many intellectuals in the colonized world created journals [insert] that became forums for the development of oppositional politics, literary scenes and art practices. Through the development of counter-institutional structures, journals shaped the left intelligentsia and literati, and facilitated the formation of networks with regional and global movements. As a low-cost, flexible publishing venture, a journal like al-Jadid could nurture local culture through the publication of new writers, the transmission of issues and debates, the fostering of intellectual events, networks and mentorship and the exposure of readers to local, regional and international work in translation.
At the magazine’s inaugural opening, the Palestinian writer and organizer Emile Habiby defined the journal as “the kernel and catalyst of a literary movement…a movement that begins with al-Jadid,” 1Habiby, Emile, “al-Insan Hadaf al-Adab wa-Mawduʿuh [Humanity Is the Aim of Literature and its Subject],” al-Jadid 1, no. 3 (1954). which made attempts to develop multiple cultural fronts including popular education and literacy, writing, publishing, literary mentorship, poetry festivals and theatre.
- Habiby, Emile, “al-Insan Hadaf al-Adab wa-Mawduʿuh [Humanity Is the Aim of Literature and its Subject],” al-Jadid 1, no. 3 (1954).→
The journal’s table of contents provides a wide-ranging index of the different networks, affiliations and projects that sustained this development:
Building literary Infrastructure
Here we find the public section of the magazine, including letters to the editor, cultural news and reports on the growing number of al-Jadid clubs. This section provides a record of organizational projects such as intellectual and literary clubs and writing or poetry festivals—aspects of a sustained cultural campaign to cultivate literary education, literary practice and a sense of political opposition and collective self-determination within the broader community. Clubs and festivals, partially advertised and recorded in the magazines, were spaces where writers could establish networks and mentorships, and lay people could discuss culture, literature and politics with like-minded individuals.
Local Literary Development
Here are two other regular journal features: a work of local Palestinian literary criticism and a local short story by an Iraqi Jewish writer. The first is an article on the impact of Palestinian folkloric song on oppositional poetry by the Palestinian writer and organizer Jamal Musa and the second a short story, “This is my Father,” about the colonial and class dynamics of an Arab Jewish community living in a transit camp situated on stolen Palestinian lands, by the Iraqi Jewish writer Samir Marid (pen name of Sami Michael).
Arab Commitment and Social(ist) Realism
In this item, Arabic literary scholars might notice a surprising, but critical item: the magazine’s reprint of the chapter “ʿAbqariyyat al-ʿAqqad (‘Aqqad’s Genius),” taken from the book Fi al-Thaqafa al-Misriyya (On Egyptian Culture), written by Marxist Egyptian intellectuals ‘Abd al-‘Azim Anis and Mahmud ‘Amin al-‘Alim, and prefaced by the important Iraqi Marxist literary critic and philosopher Husayn Muruwwa 1Mahmud Amin al-ʿAlim and ʿAbd al-ʿAzim Anis, Fi al-Thaqafa al-Misriyya [On Egyptian Culture] (Beirut: Dar al-Thaqafa al-Jadida, 1989).. The book was a manifesto for a new brand of politically committed literary practice and criticism, influenced by Soviet socialist realism and Sartre’s philosophy of literary engagement—a key text for the anti-colonial, socialist and Arab nationalist literary scenes of Cairo, Beirut and Baghdad. It was rooted in the rejection of the older nahdawi (enlightenment) generation of Arab literature—epitomized by thinkers such as Taha Husayn and ʿAbbas Mahmud al-ʿAqqad—and led by a new generation of Egyptian writers who rebelled against literary classicism, maintaining that literature must emerge from the base of society 2See Samah Selim, “The Politics of Reality” in The Novel and the Rural Imaginary in Egypt (RoutledgeCurzon, 2004) and Yoav Di-Capua, “Commitment” in No Exit. Arab Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre and Decolonization (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2018)..
In itself, it would not be surprising to find this reprinted chapter in an Arab socialist literary magazine, but the fact that there was an embargo on all communications between Israel and the Arab world during this period raises the question of how this piece of work reached the Haifa-based editors the same year it was published in Beirut? The most likely answer is that Emile Habiby was able to procure Arab cultural magazines through his ties as a Communist Party, allowing for the regular reprint of articles from major Arab periodicals such as Adab or al-Tariq 3See Sayf al-Din Abu Salih, Al-Haraka al-Adabiyya al-ʿArabiyya fi Israʾil [The Arabic Literary Movement in Israel] Volume II. (Haifa: The Arabic Language Academy, 2010), p. 361.. Such publications provide proof of the ties between the Arab cultural left and Palestinian intellectuals inside Israel after 1948, even during the years of the embargo.
- Mahmud Amin al-ʿAlim and ʿAbd al-ʿAzim Anis, Fi al-Thaqafa al-Misriyya [On Egyptian Culture] (Beirut: Dar al-Thaqafa al-Jadida, 1989).→
- See Samah Selim, “The Politics of Reality” in The Novel and the Rural Imaginary in Egypt (RoutledgeCurzon, 2004) and Yoav Di-Capua, “Commitment” in No Exit. Arab Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre and Decolonization (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2018).→
- See Sayf al-Din Abu Salih, Al-Haraka al-Adabiyya al-ʿArabiyya fi Israʾil [The Arabic Literary Movement in Israel] Volume II. (Haifa: The Arabic Language Academy, 2010), p. 361.→
A poem by Nazhat Salaama, reprinted from the Palestinian newspaper Falastin, relocated from Jaffa to East Jerusalem after 1948. The source of this poem illustrates how through the journal, writers and the public were able to overcome structural limitations and keep abreast of major trends in Arabic culture.
Finally, here we see a number of other articles that address the international socialist and anti-colonial cultural scene: a local poem by Sasson Somekh written in solidarity with African American musician and political organizer Paul Robeson; a review of the works of Martin Anderson Nexo, the Danish socialist writer; and a longer analysis of the popular struggle in Guatemala by the Palestinian historian Emile Touma (pen name Ibn Khaldun). Such pieces were regular features in the journal, with appearances of translated works by the likes of Federico Garcia Lorca, Nazim Hikmet and Langston Hughes. Thus, we see that the journal was further situated within a specific international network that funneled literary and cultural blueprints as well as translation of international literature into the local scene.
A section of covers from al-Jadid from 1955 to 1968