Art Under Apartheid

Palestinian writer and poet Maya Abu Al-Hayyat reflects on creating art, working with children, and how occupation controls both mind and body.

 · October 11, 2023

Last month, before the most recent acceleration of violence in and around Gaza, Lebanese-born Palestinian author Maya Abu Al-Hayyat came to Wilmington, Delaware to record a conversation with the Highlands Bunker podcast. Al-Hayyat was in the United States to participate in a literary festival and conference at the University of Pennsylvania.

In this discussion (linked above), Al-Hayyat describes an itinerant childhood that saw her grow up in Amman, Jordan and separated from both parents. She reminisces about childhood reading and writing as a way to express herself and feel seen, and about how, after nearly a decade working as a civil engineer, she decided to pursue her art full time.

Al-Hayyat details life under Israeli occupation, which recently included her visa to travel from Israel’s Ben Gurion airport to the U.S. being canceled without explanation at the airport counter, forcing her to travel from Amman the following day. She also describes dealing with regular military checkpoints between her home in occupied Jerusalem and her work at the Palestinian Writers’ Workshop in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

What might one do when returning to their apartment building in the evening to find soldiers stationed outside? Al-Hayyat has developed some interesting strategies for dealing with this stress.

This episode also includes a reading from Al-Hayyat’s short story called “The Gap” and the artist herself reading the poem “I Suffer a Phobia Called Hope.”

About the Author

R.E. Vanella is the Coordinating Editor of the Delaware Call and the host of the Highlands Bunker podcast. He lives in the Forty Acres neighborhood in Wilmington with his wife. He is currently working on a book about the intersection of politics and cricket tentatively titled Thoughts from Silly Point. Read more from R.E. Vanella.