This year’s Blue Metropolis Festival, which celebrates literature and intercultural understanding, is providing a platform for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue by bringing Orly Castel-Bloom, one of Israel’s most respected writers, and Gaza-born author Yousef Bashir, who has served with the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic mission in the United States, to the same stage.
Castel-Bloom is a three-time Prime Minister’s Prize laureate who received Israel’s prestigious literary citation, the Sapir Prize, for her most recent book, An Egyptian Novel.
Bashir published the memoir, The Words of My Father, last year. In it, he recounts how being critically wounded by the Israeli army when he was a teen eventually led to him becoming a peace activist.
They will be on a panel called “Jerusalem of the Mind: On Rapprochement” on May 5, the festival’s last day.
Both Castel-Bloom and Bashir are dedicated to the peaceful co-existence of their two peoples.
Bashir, who now lives in Washington, D.C., was shot in the back by an Israeli soldier in 2004 when he was 15, paralyzing him from the waist down.
His late father, Khalil Bashir, a peace advocate, used his connections to get his son treated at Tel HaShomer Hospital in Tel Aviv.
After months of surgery and therapy, Bashir walked again, and his hatred of Israelis dissipated due to the care he received.
He went on to earn a graduate degree in conflict resolution from Brandeis University.
Born in Israel in 1960 to parents from Egypt, Orly-Bloom’s novel Dolly City, which was published in 1992, was nominated in 2007 as one of the 10 most important books since the creation of the State of Israel and is included in UNESCO’s Collection of Representative Works.
She has unsparingly portrayed Israelis’ visceral fear of Arabs and described life in the gruesome aftermath of Palestinian suicide bombings in her highly original literary style.
At just 149 pages long, An Egyptian Novel is a near-autobiographical family saga, but an unconventional one, as it goes back to the family’s ancient ancestors who stayed in the land of Egypt. The family immigrated to Israel in the 1950s and lived on a kibbutz until they were expelled for being Stalinists.
The 2016 Sapir Prize committee stated: “In this story of hers, the author broadens the canvas of Hebrew literature and in a unique manner she lays out a decidedly Israeli story, one which she has never told before.”
The other scheduled panelists are Amal Elsana Alh’jooj, the Israeli Bedouin activist and scholar who directs McGill University’s International Community Action Network, journalist Lisa Goodman and writer Yara El-Ghadban, who is of Palestinian origin.
El-Ghadban’s most recent novel, Je suis Ariel Sharon, will be awarded Blue Metropolis’s $3,000 Literary Diversity Prize, which is sponsored by the Conseil des arts de Montréal. Published in September by Mémoire d’encrier, Je suis Ariel Sharon imagines what was going on in the former Israeli leader’s mind as he lay in a coma in 2006.
Born in Dubai in 1976, El-Ghadhan and her Palestinian family settled in Montreal in 1989.
Castel-Bloom is also set to participate in three off-site Blue Metropolis events. On May 2, she and El-Ghadban will explore “Ecrire au-delà des conflits” (in French) at Librairie Gallimard. On May 4, she will be interviewed by Concordia University Prof. Ariela Freedman, author of the novel Arabic for Beginners, at the Museum of Jewish Montreal (MJM). And on the evening of May 5, she will speak in Hebrew at the Jewish Public Library (JPL).
Immediately after Castel-Bloom’s appearance at the MJM, Bashir will speak with Leila Marshy, a Montreal writer of Palestinian heritage.
Elsewhere at the festival, tribute will be paid to the eminent Israeli writer Amos Oz, who died in December, with the screening of the 2009 documentary, Amos Oz: The Nature of Dreams.
Filmmakers Yonathan and Masha Zur followed Oz around the world for two years, as he searched for a solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Israeli Consul General David Levy said that, “It is with joy that we collaborate again with Blue Met, a few days during which there will be no question of solitude but of celebration ‘between friends,’ ” referring to Oz’s story collection of the same name.
The JPL will host two Blue Metropolis children’s activities: a poetry workshop for eight to 12 year olds with Rachel McCrum of La Poésie Partout on April 28, and a meeting with well-known German children’s author and illustrator Cornelia Funke on May 5, for those aged eight to 14.
The 21st Blue Metropolis Festival takes places from May 2-5 and features 104 events with 218 authors and other guests from 20 countries. Children’s programming starts on April 26 at venues throughout the Montreal area. For more information, visit bluemetropolis.org.