On the evening of Monday, March 18, just after 5 p.m., some ten masked, armed men attacked Gazan novelist Atef Abu Saif and his neighbor Abdul Meni’m Jadallah while they were in the garden of Jadallah’s house. According to Haaretz, Abu Saif is in critical condition:
It was last night when news of the attack on Atef Abu Saif began circulating among other Palestinian writers, such as Mourid Barghouti and Ghassan Zaqtan:
Other tweets shared photos, and later video, of Abu Saif in a bed at Al-Quds Hospital, apparently unconscious, his hands, legs, and face badly bruised. In addition to being an acclaimed author, Abu Saif is also a well-known and outspoken TV commentator. Last year, he became a spokesperson for the Fatah party, which is the ostensible reason behind the brutal attack. Hamas has denied responsibility.
The attack comes amid many house raids and arrests as Gazans protest rising taxes. According to Ma’an News, masked Hamas security forces have “raided homes in Gaza City, Jabaliya refugee camp, Deir al-Balah, Khan Younis, and Rafah, during which they broke into the homes and arrested a number of Palestinians.” Abu Saif had publicly praised the protests.
Today, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights reported that: “The assailants took away Abu Saif’s car and mobile phone after they brutally beat the two men. Doctors at Al-Quds Hospital reported that Abu Saif suffered from fractures in his left hand and right legs, deep wounds in the head, and bruises throughout his body. Jadallah suffered from fractures in his right leg and hand and bruises throughout his body. Abu Saif had also been assaulted in a similar incident in September of last year.”
The Red Crescent announced Tuesday afternoon that its staff was on the way to the Beit Hanoun crossing, and that Abu Saif would be taken to Ramallah for treatment.
Atef Abu Saif is the author of a half-dozen novels: Shadows of Memory (1997); The Tale of a Night of Chatter (1999); Snowball (2000); The Sour Grapes of Paradise (2003); A Suspended Life (2014), and Christina (2016). These are not the vanity projects of a political commentator: his novel A Suspended Life was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and his nuanced short stories are widely acclaimed. He also wrote the moving The Drone Eats with Me, an intimate nonfiction account of living under bombardment by Israeli forces in the summer of 2014 and was editor of The Book of Gaza, a collection of short stories published by Comma Press. His own “A Journey in the Opposite Direction” is the book’s most layered, complex, delightful story.
I met Abu Saif in London in 2015, when he was part of the “Arab Writer’s Residency Programme” sponsored by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP) and the Delfina Foundation. He made me coffee from Gaza and we spent the afternoon together, mostly in the kitchen of the Delfina residency house, talking about politics and literature.
So why stay in an open-air prison, bombarded from without and attacked from within, if he had other options?
In March of 2018, Abu Saif wrote a short essay for the New York Times, “Why I Stay in Gaza.” He talks about the possibilities for hope, and the difficulties of being cut off from family and friends. This was shortly after he became a spokesperson for Fatah. In September of last year, he was attacked by unknown assailants. According to Haaretz, he has “suffered from his injuries since.”
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