Palestine + 100: stories from a century after the Nakba, edited by Basma Ghalayini, Comma Press (2019)
Palestine + 100, an anthology of science fiction by Palestinian authors, is likely the first of its kind. Its 12 writers were given a simple, but flexible, prompt: What would Palestine look like in 2048, a century after the Nakba?
The Nakba refers to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine before, during and after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The anthology’s focus on this never-ending trauma results in an overall feeling of loss, nostalgia and grief.
The stories range from doomsday dystopia (but only for Palestinians) to noir to the absurd. None foresee peaceful resolution to the present reality of Israeli colonialism, occupation and apartheid.
Nostalgia and grief
Saleem Haddad’s classically sci-fi “Song of the Birds” portrays the idyllic life of a teenage girl in Gaza, featuring clean seawater, beach resorts and personal “robo-cleaners” to help with the chores. All this begins to unravel when her older brother, who died by suicide the year before, appears in her dreams. She learns through her brother that things aren’t necessarily as they seem in this futuristic Gaza and so she must make a bold decision to uncover the truth.
“The Key” by Anwar Hamed is told from an Israeli point of view. A young Jewish family lives peacefully after Israel installs a high-tech security wall around the perimeter of the state. “Only those with the right chip (implanted in the neck of all newborns)” can physically pass through it.
Despite this, the family hears someone attempting to unlock their door in the middle of the night with no evidence of a break-in. The sound continues over several nights with no apparent cause. They are unable to sleep and grow increasingly paranoid, eventually seeking the help of a psychiatric professional – a portrayal of the collective, subconscious guilt felt by Israelis who sleep soundly while Palestinians are brutally repressed.
“Digital Nation” by Emad El-Din Aysha imagines a technological resistance to the yoke of Israeli supremacy.
A group of unknown hackers slowly “re-Arabize” Israel by assuring that all music streamed online in the country is in Arabic, as well as all digital text, and by changing GPS signals so that they display streets with their pre-1948 names. The hacking ultimately creates a virtual government that Israel cannot control.
Tasnim Abutabikh questions both the cruelty of the Israeli regime and intra-Palestinian strife in “Vengeance.” In this future, clean air is a rarity and people must wear face masks to survive. Israel has weaponized this against Palestinians by controlling who gets a mask.
Ahmed, the story’s protagonist, discovers that his boss Yousef, a mechanic, is making face masks to give to other Palestinians. This is a crime punishable by death and so Ahmed reports Yousef to the Israeli authorities. He is motivated to do so by a feud between their families that goes back to the Nakba. When Ahmed discovers that Yousef broke the law to help ailing Palestinians that the Israeli authorities would murder for being too sick, he becomes inconsolable.
In both “Vengeance” and “Digital Nation,” Palestinians use tech to their advantage, as opposed to being victims of it.
Two amateur Palestinian hackers add Gaza to the bid for the 2048 Olympics as a joke in “Application 39” by Ahmed Masoud.
Palestine is separated into city-states, each with separate governments connected via underground elevators, while Israel uses drones to keep them all under surveillance. Gaza is chosen to host the event, much to the surprise of the hackers and the Gazan government and to the jealousy of Israel and other city-states. The hackers eventually uncover an Israeli plot to attack Gaza because of the bid.
Once again Palestinians are offered inclusion in international organizations and events – paralleling invitations to the Oslo accords and the UN’s “non-member observer status” – that ultimately produce little benefit when under attack by Israel.
“Final Warning” by Talal Abu Shawish takes a more absurdist approach.
Ramallah and a nearby settlement are in constant tension until time suddenly seems to freeze one morning: the sun doesn’t rise, clocks stop and electronics cease functioning. People from Ramallah and the settlement pour out of their homes and intermingle, fearing the apocalypse. Instead, it is an extraterrestrial, rather than an international, intervention that gives both Palestinians and Israelis a final chance for peace.
Sci-fi can carry political and social commentary while alluding to real-world situations. These stories, however, hardly need allusion because they directly confront the terrible present while imagining an even more disastrous future. The technology may change, but the repression is still the same.
It’s refreshing to read a sci-fi anthology based on Palestine. The topic alone makes it unique and worth the read for anyone for whom these interests intersect. It is, however, not a typical sci-fi anthology in that it’s very aware of its Palestinianness and carries the burden of the Nakba into an uncertain future.
Marguerite Dabaie is a cartoonist, illustrator and editor based in Brooklyn.