The Palestinian writer Aisha Odeh is the winner of the 17th Ibn Rushd Prize for this year’s topic ‘Prison Literature’.
The Ibn Rushd Prize 2015 called for:
An author of a work of prison literature (novels, poetry, non-fiction or autobiography) which stimulates a broad public debate on the situation of political prisoners, showing oppression and violation of human rights and demanding the right for liberty and human dignity in the Arab world.
For the first time since its inauguration in 1998 the Ibn Rushd Fund has decided to publicly announce the winners of the second place in order to show a more comprehensive picture of Arabic prison literature through three meaningful and individual works. The second, non-remunerated prize is shared by Mustafa Khalifa from Syria and Ahmed Marzouki from Morocco.
Statement of the Ibn Rushd Fund:
Most Arabic governments violently suppress human dignity and the striving for freedom, democracy and justice. Those worrying about the future of their country and are active to bring about a positive change pay with their personal freedom – as prisoners of an occupying country or tyrannical regimes, and their cries die away unheard in the prisons from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabic Gulf. Because their daily lives, physical and psychological torture, as well as the dreams of freedom remain secret, it is all the more important that former political prisoners report of their experiences and thus provide a literary document and memorial for future generations.
Aisha Odeh was one of the first women from the Palestinian resistance movement to be jailed after the war of 1967; the Israeli army blew up her parents’ house as part of collective punishment in 1969, right after arresting her. Odeh was sentenced to two life sentences plus ten years, and underwent torture in all its forms. She regained her freedom through a prisoner exchange in 1979, but was banned to Jordan. It was only after the Oslo accord in 1994 that she could return to her home in Palestine.
In a plain style, Aisha Odeh has written about her experience in “Dreams of Freedom” and “The Cost of the Sun” (translation of the Arabic titles that are not yet available in other languages; the English translation of her first book, however, is being prepared at the moment). In her two books she recounts the life of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails “profoundly and on a stylistically high level”, says the renowned author and literary critic Ibrahim Nasralla. “[Aisha Odeh describes] the suffering of Palestinian women as well as her personal suffering in Israeli prisons. Her autobiography is remarkable in its straightforwardness with which she paints the picture of the Other without falling back on slogans or stereotypes, but manages to expose racism and cruelty.”
Mustafa Khalifa draws a very different picture of his experience in Syrian jails: having grown up in Aleppo, he was jailed twice already as an adolescent; the last time for fifteen years. In his novel “The Shell: Memoirs of a Hidden Observer” (al-Qawqa’a: yawmiyyat mutalassis) Khalifa makes the reader an eye-witness of violence and injustice in the prisons of Syria.
The Moroccan Ahmed al-Marzouki was unintentionally involved in 1971’s Skhirat attempt at a coup d’état against King Hassan II. A military court sentenced him to 5 years in prison, which ended after 20 years. 18 of those he spent in the desert prison of Tazmamart, where many of his co-prisoners died due to the conditions of detention. It was only due to the unyielding pressure exerted by international human rights organizations that Marzouki was freed in 1991. In his autobiography “Tazmamart, cell No. 10” he gives a testimony to his time in prison which is moving both in its depth and details.
With its prize, the Ibn Rushd Fund shows deep appreciation of those who have made an outstanding contribution to the struggle for freedom and democracy, and thus draws attention to their work. The prize is solely financed by members’ fees and donations.
The winners of this year’s Ibn Rushd Prize – Aisha Odeh (Palestine), Mustafa Khalifa (Syria), and Ahmed Marzouki (Morocco) were elected from among the publicly nominated candidates (18 candidates from 6 different Arab countries) by an independent jury working on an honorary basis. This year’s jury consisted of five renowned writers and scholars of literature from the Arabic World: Mohammed Achaari (Morocco), Razan Ibrahim (Jordan), Khaled Khalifa (Syria), Samia Mehrez (Egypt), Samuel Shimon (Iraq).
The prize giving ceremony will take place on November 27 in Berlin, Germany.
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