Palestinian Author’s Book Nominated for Major Award Despite imprisonment

During his time in prison, Palestinian author Basim Khandaqji’s book, “A Mask, the Colour of the Sky,” was nominated for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) last month. Khandaqji, who was born in Nablus, was arrested in 2004 at the age of 21 on charges of terrorist activity and convicted with three life sentences for his involvement in a suicide bombing at Carmel Market, Tel Aviv. While in prison, Khandaqji furthered his education by studying political science at Al-Quds University.

What is A Mask, the Colour of the Sky about?

Khandaqji’s book tells the story of Nur, a young archeologist from the Ramallah refugee camp who adopts an Israeli identity card to participate in an archeology expedition in the West Bank. The protagonist, Nur, pretends to be Jewish in an attempt to understand the Zionist mindset, struggling to navigate between his two identities.

What is the International Prize for Arabic Fiction

The IPAF, also known as “the Arabic Booker,” was established in 2007 and is supported by Abu Dhabi’s Culture and Tourism Ministry. It is considered the most prestigious literary prize in the Arab world, promoting excellence in Arabic literature and facilitating the translation and publication of winning novels in various languages.

In 2020, there were calls to boycott the IPAF due to its funding source from the United Arab Emirates, leading to protests against the UAE’s growing ties with Israel. However, the UAE proceeded to strengthen cultural connections with Israel, including signing cooperation agreements with the Israel Film Fund.

Implications of the nomination

Khandaqji’s nomination for the IPAF is noteworthy as he is currently incarcerated in an Israeli prison. The literature nominated for the prize delves into historical contexts to better understand the present. Through his book, Khandaqji draws on research and eyewitness accounts to intertwine past and present narratives.

The author’s nomination for the IPAF already guarantees a prize of $10,000, with a potential $50,000 prize if he emerges victorious. Despite objections from the Israel Prison Service, Khandaqji’s literary recognition stands as a significant achievement in challenging circumstances.

Hannah Brown contributed to this report.