Yalla Book Launch-Oct. 29-A Youth Response to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

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Sunday evening I was doing some reading at Casa and slowly found tables and chairs being pushed aside and buffet trays and boxes of books carried in for the launch of Yalla, a book published as “A Youth Response to the Israeli-Palestinan Conflict”. More than willing to have an excuse to put down my “Book History Reader” which I’m slowly making my way through for my class “Materiality and Sociology of Text”, I asked for another tea and turned to face the stage as the place started to fill with a noticeably older and chattier crowd than Casa usually houses.

The name of the book, Yalla, is an idiomatic word shared by Hebrew and Arab speaking countries for “Let’s move forward” or “Let’s go”, a telling linguistic contradiction. An “urban dictionary” lists some of its combinations with English expressions here, most of which are offensive or hilarious or both.

The night consisted of performances by a Palestinian duo on Oud (guitar-ish) and fiddle and a Klezmer quartet (in looking for an online presence for this group, I came across the “Klez Dispensers” and “Klez Que C’est”. Oy…). Both performances were great. There’s a certain, perhaps obvious, feeling of history in both styles of music. Even in modern songs, the minor arrangements and winding melodies preserved a kind of connection to a past that usually feels pretty far away, spatially and temporally. The place was packed and the mood of the music seemed to be maintained in people mingling and munching on grilled somethings. People had to be shushed during the readings from the book.

In general, the work in Yalla is superficial and harsh. It presents poetry, prose, letters, and photos by artists whose lives are naturally politicized. One speaker at the launch discussed how people in Israel and Palestine act on behalf of those present at Casa and every person who is diasporically displaced, whether or not these youth express their views on military actions. The editors exposed their hesitance in publishing this issue of the journal after the events of this summer in Lebanon with the Hezbollah. I can see why it’s difficult to bring articulate pieces on the experience of war to a readership in any country. The conflict changes every day and “advances” on both sides are hard to map, while they constantly rely on fundamental questions about how we conceive of other people, legally, socially, culturally, politically, philosophically, creatively….

At the same time, the urgency and personal investment for the writers is evident. This combination of reality and transience is, I think, the reason behind the journal’s lack of particularly innovative or layered writing. Feelings are laid out and spoken, not shaped or analysed. The book hopes to convey the “humanness” in each of us by presenting the works of young people with divergent backgrounds. Perhaps this project demonstrates the impulse to act and express in order to get voices heard and allow for dialogue, rather than (or perhaps at the same time as) negotiating personal and public effects of our thought systems. I have very little authority to suggest possible solutions to a problem that lies so far from my experience (although my father’s side of my family live in Israel and my mother’s side are casually Zionist jews), but the launch and its book certainly gave me some ideas and insights about the ways in which we act as humans to protect ourselves from fear. For a conflict that speakers at the launch described as a stalemate and a situation that cannot yield a winner, we really need to look at what it is in our experience as social beings that drives us to persist in a situation that is known to be so conflicted.

Yalla is dedicated “to all Israeli and Palestinian children. May they be blessed to grow old in peace”. Like the book itself, this powerful, simply-worded wish speaks through its connection to peoples and writings of the past. It’s our job to interpret these and all the words and actions of those around us as they are given to us and construct potential roads for compromise. As beings living in communities and nations, it is our only way of surviving for those we care about.

Pick up a free copy of Yalla by getting in touch with the editors and feel free to ask them questions about their work at:
yalla journal @ yahoo . ca

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