The vanguard of Palestinian feminism: Sahar Khalifa at Bethlehem University

The Palestinian Women Writers Conference is underway for three days at Bethlehem University. The guest that most were hoping to see was Sahar Khalifa. Born in the northern West Bank’s Nablus in 1941, she has published six novels and is considered one of Palestine’s foremost writers. She is widely acclaimed for being the first feminist Palestinian writer and her works are translated second only to the poetry of the sublime Mahmoud Darwish.

She spoke to the audience in a manner described as “beautiful.” Her literary creativity was the most commented upon by those in the crowds. She said that despite some “propaganda to the contrary,” Palestinian women are still reeling in inequality, still searching for the dawn of awakening. She was referring to women in all sectors, including politics, activism, writers and scholars. Khalifa said that the process of liberation was, and has been, underway, but has a long way to go.

She has won the prestigious Naguib Mahfouz Prize, but it was 1975’s “Wild Thorns” that made her truly famous. However, Khalifa’s 1974 “We are Not Your Slave Girls Anymore” was turned into a television series in 1977. She was also the recipient of the Fulbright in 1980, the award that Gaza students are currently fighting the Israeli government to be able to accept. During her Fulbright period she received a MA from Chapel Hill, and later, in 1988, a PhD from Iowa.

The former Minister of Women in the Palestinian Authority and the Director of the Center for Palestinian Women for Research and Documentation, Zahira Kamal, spoke of women’s defiance. She also noted Khalifa’s creativity and that of all Palestinian women.

“We are in more need than ever now of women writers who have mastered the art of expressing our feelings and sentiments about the issues facing our nation.”

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