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Haifa Fragments: Q&A with the Author

khulud khamis is the author of Haifa Fragments, a soon-to-be released title for New Internationalist. In her debut novel, which has already gained positive coverage and reviews, the Palestinian feminist, activist and writer covers a wide range of deep, running issues revolving around culture, religion, politics, feminism and sexuality.

You wrote Haifa Fragments in English. Why was that?

I took up English as my writing language because it fits in with my purpose. I think there is a considerable lack of knowledge about the issues Palestinian citizens of Israel deal with. When reporting on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, mainstream media around the world usually focus on Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza, while Palestinians who live inside Israel are largely ignored, and our issues not brought to light. And this is what I wish to do with my writing – bring out these voices, and the issues we deal with as a national minority.

Your mother is Slovakian and your father Palestinian. You grew up in Haifa, Israel, where you currently live. Can you tell us a little of what it was like to grow up there and the influences that your parents have had on you?

Actually I spent my childhood in former Czechoslovakia, and arrived in Haifa at the age of eight, so you can say I’ve absorbed both cultures. It wasn’t easy growing up, as I always felt that I don’t really wholly belong to either.

Today, I see myself as and I feel like a Palestinian, but I think I am still perceived by some as an outsider. But I take my complex identity as an opportunity – always on the margins, or floating in between. It allows me to play around with themes and concepts, and I feel it is a much more interesting place to be. Sometimes I look at things from the inside, while at other times from the outside. It’s constant movement.

In Haifa Fragments, Maisoon is frustrated by the limitations and dangers of life as a national minority in Israel. Growing up, did you share her sense of frustration and how have you been able to work through them yourself?

Yes, of course. The issues Maisoon deals with are issues we, Palestinian citizens of Israel, deal with on a daily basis. I am not saying that her experiences are mine, because she is a complete character in her own right. But the themes and issues – yes, they are common. And each of us deals with them differently.

Yes, it is frustrating to constantly being reminded that I am a second-class citizen – in so many ways. But at the same time, I refuse to be seen as a ‘victim’ and to act like one. I am an activist, and I use my writing as a tool to resist. In my writing, I wish to bring the silenced stories and the marginalized voices to the forefront of public discourse – to present the stories of strong women, and not those of victims.

You are a member of the feminist organization – Isha L’Isha. Can you tell us what your work there involves and what impact it has it had on your novel?

I must say that I found my political voice while working at Isha L’Isha. I’ve been writing since I was a child, but there was always something lacking, and that was the connection between the personal and the political. You can say that I found my own writing voice when I discovered feminism and when I finally made that connection between the personal and the political.

That’s when things kind of fell into place for me in terms of my writing. Isha L’Isha is a tight community of radical feminist activists – both Jewish and Palestinian, who work and act together to bring about social change.

One of the main issues we deal with is of course the conflict and how it impacts women in a unique way. During military attacks and wars, it is the only place where I literally feel safe. Together, we brainstorm and come up with actions to protest war and military action in creative ways.

The characters in Haifa Fragments perceive and respond to what is going on around them in very different ways. How do you deal with the conflicting views of others in your life?

It was important for me to show – through different characters – these different views because although we are one people, we have differing opinions, and different ways of coping with issues. It’s not always easy to deal with in real life; sometimes it gets confusing, sometimes angering. We each find our own ways of how to deal with this, but politics is a daily ongoing discourse here. The issues I deal with in Haifa Fragments – racism, discrimination, the occupation, dispossession, identity, violence – permeate our lives in so many ways. It’s an inseparable conversation of almost every encounter.

What are your hopes for Haifa Fragments and what would you most like readers to take away with them from reading the book?

I must say that I am still in a daze that I was able to fulfill this lifelong dream of publishing a novel. There were so many times along the way when I wanted to give up, but I kept going. Something deep in my stomach kept urging me on, telling me that this story is important to be heard. I do hope it reaches a wide readership. I like to think that, through the different characters in the novel I succeeded in opening up the issues for questioning, rather than providing answers.

What I would like readers to take away with them?

I think the fact that there are so many unheard stories, stories of individuals, stories of strong women who resist, stories that you don’t hear in mainstream media. I would like them to actively seek those stories rather than passively accept what they’re being fed by mainstream media. With today’s technology, these stories are easily accessible. All you have to do is look for them.

Haifa Fragments will be available for purchase July 2015 from New Internationalist. Interview by the Oxford Publicity Partnership.

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