CULTURE

From enemies to friends via common story

«When Etgar Keret and I met at a conference in Zurich, we found to our surprise – and perhaps to our dismay – that we had a lot in common,» Palestinian writer Samir El-Youssef told the audience at a Thessaloniki Book Fair meeting on Saturday. Keret is an Israeli, born in Tel Aviv, while El-Youssef grew up in a refugee camp in Lebanon – both brought up, as Keret explained, to see the other as the enemy. «I had expected the Zurich meeting to be an exchange of cliches,» said Keret. «That’s what usually happens at these meetings. Israelis and Palestinians want to build their image – we are competing in the world championship of being a victim.» But the young writers found they could communicate, and one product of that crucial opportunity to exchange views is their co-authored work of fiction «Gaza Blues: Different Stories,» with stories by Keret and a novella by El-Youssef. Keret explained that the two authors wanted to broaden the sense of shared existence, while El-Youssef insisted on the need by both sides to deal with their internal contradictions. As Keret said: «These are two troubled, problematic societies. There is an illusion, a myth, among both Israelis and Palestinians, that we are two different peoples with only conflict in common. We refer to each other as the enemy; that is the official narrative, but we do have a common story that one day we will tell together.» Originally published in English, «Gaza Blues» came out recently in a Greek translation from Kastaniotis, who organized the event at the fair as part of the «In Love with Difference» series of meetings between writers and the public. Alarmed by growing tension in the Middle East and eager to make more impact than they could by simply signing petitions, the two writers from opposite sides of the fence wrote the book as a contribution to mutual understanding. Aptly, for an international book fair, it was in the same spirit of bridging gaps and airing alternative points of view that other meetings in the «In Love with Difference» series also introduced Greek, Turkish, Serbian, Croatian and French writers to appreciative audiences.