Smart People at the Mercy of Idiots

There is this fantastic group of book stores in East Jerusalem on Salah Al-Din Street  called the Educational Bookshop. It’s a little oasis of intelligence, humor and free speech. Actually it is three oases – one location at 19 Salah Al-Din Street, one just across the street and one at the American Colony Hotel. I would call the folks who run and work at the book shops renegades or rebels, but they are among the most intelligent and well-spoken people I’ve met in these parts.

Run by generations long-established Arab Jerusalemites, the owners of these shops are highly aware of local current events. They are always interesting to have an intellectual conversation with, even if you don’t leave one of their shops with a book. They sell mostly English titles that emphasize politics, geopolitics, current events, and regionally “controversial” subjects. Whatever that means when you’re in a region that nearly every opinion, big or small, has the potential of being controversial.

The Educational Bookshop also often hosts or facilitates author events. While in their American Colony Hotel location last week, I asked one of the owners, Mahmoud, about the lag time for announcing events on their email list.

“Why is it that you so often only send out event announcements the day of the event?” I asked, annoyed. “I mean, it makes it impossible to just drop everything and go to the event or book reading. And I’d really like to go to some of them.”

“Oh, that’s simple,” answered Mahmoud, a sharp-witted man with strong opinions and perfect English. “The authors who come from other countries sometimes have trouble passing through customs if the Israeli authorities know in advance about their plans. So they ask us to keep it quiet until the last minute.”

I paused, incredulous. For a journalist who has covered this region on and off for the last six years, it seems I am still naieve about the reality of life here. This is a place where Palestinians can be thrown in jail – for a long time -for doing something like writing poetry and clicking like on a Facebook post. Case in point is the story of Dareen Tatour.

“Are you serious?” I blurted out. “Nice freedom of speech. What a joke.” I was having one of those days where I just wanted to go home to America.

“Yes,” he answered, completely deadpan. He had the look of a man who got the same three questions about fifteen times a day from foreigners about “the situation” in Israel.

Luckily for me and everyone else, an upcoming author boldly decided to announce his arrival one week in advance. The author, Toufic Haddad, has written a book called “Palestine Ltd, Neoliberalism and Nationalism in the Occupied Territory“. Mahmoud described it to me as “the most important book of the year” and it retails for about NIS140 at their shops (a special rate they negotiated). Toufic will be giving a talk at the Issaf Nashashibi Cultural Centre in Sheikh Jarrah, above the Gallery Cafe, at 6:30pm on Wednesday December 7. It’s free.

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