Point-blank: Basem Khandakji

Mohamed Salmawy
Tuesday 26 Mar 2024

Right now, this name might not be familiar to you.


But soon, it will gain worldwide fame if he wins the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), better known as the Arab Booker Prize. Basem Khandakji is a Palestinian writer, poet, and freedom fighter sentenced by the Israeli Occupation to life imprisonment in 2004.  He has published several novels and poetry anthologies from inside prison. His latest novel, A Mask, the Colour of the Sky, was recently shortlisted for the 2024 Arab Booker Prize. The shortlist contains only six out of the 133 literary works that were nominated for this prestigious prize from across the Arab world this year.

 Since the jury made this announcement, Basem has been subjected to torture and inhumane treatment in prison for having smuggled out his manuscript. The Israeli Occupation branded him as a terrorist and handed down three life sentences in a military tribunal. Needless to say, if awarded the prize, he will not be receiving it in person.  

A Mask, the Colour of the Sky relates the story of a Palestinian archaeologist from a refugee camp outside Ramallah who came across a blue identity card. Blue is the colour of Israeli ID cards, and with it the protagonist can easily cross the border from the West Bank into Israel. He joins an archaeological excavation in a Jewish settlement built atop the ruins of the ancient city of Megiddo, the site of the famous battle between Thutmose III and the king of Kadesh. Behind the blue mask of his assumed ID, he attempts to understand the mentality of the occupier and, simultaneously, to reconnect with the heritage of his ancestral land, access to which is prohibited to Palestinians in present day Israel.

Khandakji’s other works include the novel, The Eclipse of Badr Al-Din, and the poetry collection, The Breath of the Disillusioned Woman. He has also written dozens of newspaper articles, powerfully articulating the conscience and fortitude of the Palestinian people and Palestinian nationalism, which Israel fears more than Hamas’ rockets.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 28 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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