Historic Palestine Writes Festival triumphs over opposition


The resistance aroused by a Zionist assault on the Palestine Writes Festival this Sept. 22-24 weekend at the University of Pennsylvania turned the event from what would have already been a marked success into a defiant triumph over Zionism and repression.

Palestine Writes Festival Executive Director Susan Abulhawa welcomes the participants at the opening plenary, Sept. 22, 2023. Behind her is a large puppet of Handala provided by Spiral Q. WW Photo: Joe Piette

Had the Zionists and their allies among the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania stayed silent, had they allowed the first ever, in-person, U.S. Palestine Writes Festival to go ahead unchallenged, attendance would have still been significant. It would have been a success. Early registration was over 800 people. 

But the Zionists carried out a vitriolic attack campaign over several days. They drove a mobile digital billboard truck around the UPenn campus. They made calls, threatening to stop the event. They contrived a libelous attempt to connect the festival to an alleged attack on the campus Hillel organization. And they finally demanded the festival drop some key speakers — including Roger Waters, former member of the rock band Pink Floyd. 

Even before the doors opened on Friday afternoon, Sept. 22, registration had surpassed 1,400 people, and continued to grow over the weekend. In response to the attacks, many individuals and organizations stepped up to defend the event, including over 36 UPenn faculty, several UPenn student groups, Jewish Voice for Peace and others. Even reporters in corporate media, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, provided positive coverage of the event. 

A 30 x 10 foot map of Palestine prior to 1948 Nakba laid out at Palestine Writes Festival, University of Penn campus in Philadelphia, Sept. 22-24. Participants pointed out their ancestral home villages and towns. WW Photo: Joe Piette

Inside the Irvine Auditorium, everything was transformed into a pro-Palestine environment. A huge 10-by-30-foot map of historic Palestine identifying towns and villages existing before the 1948 Nakba was displayed initially outside, but later moved indoors due to the weather. Posters and enlarged historic photos of Palestinian society and culture were prominently displayed on wall surfaces throughout the building.

Final plenary “Reporting Palestine” on the Israeli murder of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, featuring her co-workers, introduced by Amer Zahr, and host Marc Lamont Hill, Sept. 24, 2023. WW Photo: Joe Piette

All of this helped make this festival an earthshaking, emotional, unified, defiant victory of resistance to Zionism — much in line with the historic resistance of the people of Palestine against over 75 years of occupation.

More coverage of this event to follow on Workers.org.

Betsey Piette


Published by
Betsey Piette

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