The couple arrived in June and will participate in the literary festival Bjørnson festivalen in Molde on 4. September. At the festival they will read a text on war and take part in the discussion about the human costs of being on the run. They will join Norwegian writer Simon Stranger and General Secretary of NOAS Ann-Magrit Austenå, who in 2011 published the book, The legacy of The Satanic Verses – on the political struggle for freedom of speech and religion.
Samah Mahmoud and Ali Abou Khattab
Samah Mahmoud is a published short-story writer, childrens’ writer and poet. Her publications include Red Damage (Gaza), The Possible Form (short stories 2007), and Forest of Stories: Allegories for the Adult & the Child (a short story collection with her husband Ali Abu Khattab, 2007).
Her work has been included in a number of anthologies, including Out of the Context of River (2005) and Qissat (a collection of short stories by Palestinian women, edited by Jo Glanville, Telegram, London, 2006). She also writes a weekly column in the Palestinian magazine Sawt Anisaa (Women’s Voice). Her books have been translated into English and Spanish. Samah is also an actress and has acted and directed a number of plays about women’s rights.
Ali Abou Khattab is a poet, literary critic, translator, dramaturge and journalist, he has been working in broadcasting and writes political and cultural essays. Abou Khattab has published six books, written a children’s book together with Samah and is represented in a number of literary anthologies, among them, Out of the Context of River (2005) and I will tell you about obsession (2012).
Crackdown on freedom of expression in Gaza
Since 2006, when Hamas came to power, there has been a crackdown on freedom of expression. Writers and journalists have been threatened, harassed and even arrested for their critical writings.
In 2003 the couple founded a cultural group Tajreeb, supported by the Ministry of Culture and the Gaza Centre for Arts and Culture. Tajreeb was closed down by Hamas in 2007, but was re-established under a different name, Utopia, in 2010. The group was formed to raise awareness about the value of knowledge and culture as a source of hope or at least a tool of survival for helping people to cope with storms and the vicissitudes of life, particularly in Gaza.
Samah Mahmoud and Ali Abu Khattab were summoned for interrogation by Hamas authorities on a number of occasions for their writings and cultural activities, and received dozens of threats, including threats of attacks and accusations of being against Islam.
Since 14 February 2013 Samah was on trial for her theatre work and her articles published in Sawt Anisaa in which she criticises the situation of women’s rights in Gaza under Hamas rule. The couple fled Gaza for Egypt in June 2013, where they stayed until their arrival in Molde in June this year.