New alphabet book celebrates Palestinian culture
An English-language children’s alphabet book about Palestine sold out days after its November launch. P is for Palestine, written by Golbarg Bashi and illustrated by Golrokh Nafisi, can now be pre-purchased from Etsy.
The hardcover, brightly-illustrated book contains each letter of the English alphabet with a corresponding aspect of Palestinian culture. P is for Palestine covers diverse topics including cities like “R s for Ramallah” and traditional food like “F is for Falafel.”
Bashi is a part-time professor of Middle Eastern History at Pace University. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Arabic literature and a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies. Bashi decided that her “contribution as a feminist, anti-racist scholar of the Middle East” would be to use her expertise of the region in the service of Palestinian children.
Beyond her academic background, Bashi’s connection to Palestine formed early in life. Bashi was born in Iran and moved to a refugee camp in Sweden as a child. In that camp she met refugee children from Palestine and began to learn about the plight of Palestinians.
“My solidarity with the Palestine cause very much formed in the Swedish refugee camp,” Bashi stated.
The inspiration for the book format came from Bashi’s passion for collecting books for her children. When she travels to new destinations with her family, Bashi says she always buys books about those places. In particular, when her two children were younger, she mostly bought alphabet books for them.
Bashi was disappointed when she was unable to find a book about Palestine in English. Though she noted there is a “wealth of beautiful children’s books” by Palestinian and Arab writers in Arabic, she believed that a book written in English about Palestine was also necessary.
According to Bashi, the purpose of writing the book in English is to provide Palestinian children with a positive representation that confirms what they already know about their culture. She also hopes to bring to light the beauty of Palestine to children in America and throughout the world.
One way that the book reveals a side of Palestine that is often hidden is by highlighting its rich religious heritage. P is for Palestine includes religious sites, traditions, and figures from both Islam and Christianity. Bashi stated that it was particularly important to include “C is for Christmas.”
“I think American children ought to know that the birthplace of Christ is Palestine and the most important holiday in this country is a Palestinian holiday,” Bashi stated.
The book has received considerable support from the Palestinian community and others. Publication of the first edition was made possible by a crowdfunding campaign with over 500 supporters. According to Bashi, this response is a testament to Palestinians’ literary appreciation.
“I am grateful, very grateful to a Palestinian community who are so cultured and who appreciate and value books,” she stated.
Notable Palestinians and Palestinian Americans praised the book including filmmaker Annemarie Jacir, activist Linda Sarsour, journalist Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, and journalist and author Rula Jebreal.
“Golbarg Bashi’s ‘P is for Palestine’ is a moving journey of alphabetical letters becoming a bridge, a boat that connects us to our homeland and our heritage, while yearning for freedom and peace in Palestine,” Jebreal stated.
The book was also met with accusations of anti-semitism from Jewish mothers in New York. Bashi says she has received death threats as well calls for her arrest which she referred to as “laughable.” A New York Rabbi also demanded that a book store rescind their support for the book.
Bashi stated that she takes offense to the accusation of anti-semitism which she says is a serious charge that should not be made lightly. Although Bashi called this response disheartening, she emphasized that the negative reactions are in the minority.
“It’s important not to allow a very small but loud minority to determine the discourse,” Bashi stated “This loud minority likes to muddy and make it ugly, whereas this is a joyous book, this is about celebrating Palestinian culture.”
Some critics took offense to a page of the book that states “I is for Intifada, Intifada is standing up for what is right, if you are a kid or a grownup!” Comments on social media claimed that this line promotes violence against Israel. Bashi pushed back against the claim that intifada is inherently violent and stated that the term just refers to resistance, which she says is a daily aspect of Palestinian life.
“It would be irresponsible of an author of a book for Palestinian children (or e.g. Native American children) to ignore or whitewash the fact that their people have a resistance movement, most of which is manifested in peaceful protest,” Bashi wrote in a statement addressing the controversy.
Overall, Bashi believes the positive response to the book far outweighs the negative response.
“The fact on the ground is that the book sold out. And I’m getting hundreds of emails every day and messages of thank yous and tears and just the most beautiful reactions that I would never have dreamt of,” Bashi stated.
Bashi hopes to raise more funds for more books like P is for Palestine. Her next project is a similar book in Arabic using the Arabic alphabet. More information about current products and future projects of Dr. Bashi can be found on her website.