The writer who ended a 300-year long occupation

I believe in literature, even more so than journalism. So I’m starting a writer’s workshop for local authors who work in English. Here’s why:

It wasn’t the newspapers and journalists who freed the Filipino people from hundreds of years of Spanish colonialism. It was literature.

Jose Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere (Touch me not) is widely credited as having fanned the flames of the revolution that eventually overthrew the Spanish and led to an independent Philippines. The book, which I picked up and read during my travels in the Philippines, is an emotional, character-driven account of life under Spanish occupation. It perfectly captures the nuances of colonialism’s impact upon relationships, families, and personal identity.

The book often reminded me of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The story of Sisa and her two young sons Crispin and Basilio was particularly familiar. Fearing that her children have been wrongfully arrested (and held in something that resembles Israel’s administrative detention), Sisa

ran to her house in the grip of that panic which seizes the mind when in misfortune we find ourselves forsaken by all and hope flees elusive before us…She wanted to save her sons and mothers do not stop to ask how when it comes to helping their flesh and blood.

She ran headlong, pursued by fears and sinister premonitions. Had they already arrested Basilio? Where had Crispin gone?

Nearing her house she recognized, over her orchard fence, the helmets of two Constabulary soldiers. Her feelings were indescribable; her mind went blank.

Spanish soldiers, the narrator explains, were “deaf to pleas and blind to tears.”

Rizal dedicated Noli Me Tangere to his country, writing, “I shall endeavor to show your condition, faithfully and ruthlessly. I shall lift a corner of the veil which shrouds the disease, sacrificing to truth everything, even self-love…”

Today, more than 100 years after Filipino Independence, school children still read Noli Me Tangere. Rizal is hailed as a national hero.

I believe in fiction. It reveals truth in a way that non-fiction cannot. It connects people, creating a sense of community and purpose. And, like journalism, it speaks truth to power. But because fiction captures emotional truth—and emotions tend to drive our lives and the world we live in more than the facts and logic ever do—it is even more potent than journalism.

Let me put it this way: have you ever heard of a newspaper article sparking a revolution?

Just in case Big Brother is watching, I should expressly state that I do not intend to start a revolution myself.

But, what I would like to do is help local authors—Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and international—who write in English reach their full potential. To that end, I am kicking off a reasonably priced workshop for both non-fiction and fiction writers. Workshops will be held in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and, if there are enough registrants, Ramallah.

(Note to Jordanian authors who write in English: I’ve got some registrants in Amman. Just a few more and I will arrange, somehow, to hold a workshop there, too).

You can read more about my qualifications here and join the Facebook conversation about workshops, writing, and literature here.