An afternoon of Mediterranean Discoveries at the Arab World Institute in Paris

Recently, I had lunch under a thunder-grey sky in Paris. It was a Sunday and the cafés and bars were spilling onto the streets with Parisians enjoying the pleasures of their weekend. I had just flown up from the warm south. Michel, my husband, collected me from the airport before he disappeared for an afternoon screening of one his films at Le Grand Action, a small independent cinema close to where we were eating on the Left Bank. My afternoon was my own to do with as I fancied. A stroll along the banks of the Seine or a museum? 

I had noticed as we drove by that the l’Institut du Monde Arabe, the Arab World Institute, known to all Parisians as IMA, was advertising an exhibition dedicated to Palestine and all that it offers to the world. 

It reminded me that this year of 2023  is the 75th anniversary of the ‘Nakba’, which means “catastrophe” in Arabic. For Palestinians, 1948, was the year  when thousands were expelled from or fled their country, when they were obliged to give up their land for the creation of the new State of Israel.

I have spent a fair amount of time in both Palestine (West Bank and Gaza) and Israel during my travels while writing my books, The Olive Route and The Olive Tree, and later again for the filming of our five-part documentary series inspired by these books, keeping the title for television The Olive Route. Much that I witnessed there saddened me deeply and left me with a sense of impotency.

As we all know, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict continues to be a very contentious subject and not one that I wish to address in this article. I only want to share with you a few of my memories of that part of the world and some details about my visits to IMA.

My late father was in Palestine during WWII. He loved the country and its people and talked to me about those experiences on many occasions during my childhood years. His descriptions, reminisces, were vivid, very evocative and moving. Looking back, I feel sure that those stories, those adventures of a nineteen-year-old serviceman (Daddy was with Ralph Reader’s RAF Entertainment Corps) seeded my longing to discover the Middle East. Even as a girl I had dreams of running away from school and volunteering for work in an Israeli kibbutz. My parents soon put a stop to all those ideas! It took me many more years before I eventually visited all those Middle Eastern countries. As I said, for my books and films. 

I was stepping foot into cities and temples and markets I had first heard about when I was little more than….

Read the rest of this article at The History Girls >>

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