Romeo and Juliet in Palestine… in Arabic

‘Arabic remains the language of the heart and mind…’ – Ahmad Qabaha

Romeo and Juliet in Palestine was published in an Arabic translation by the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah in July 2021. Khalil Sakakini was a significant Palestinian intellectual and educational philosopher. The translation is by Hiba Nazier, working with her fellow students at An-Najah University. Some context for the translation is provided by her tutor, Ahmad Qabaha, below.

Tom is delighted the book has been translated by students who are studying in circumstances very close to those described in the book.

Romeo and Juliet in Palestine was originally published in the UK and US by Zero Books in 2015.

You can watch the launch event (in a mix of Arabic and English), organised by the Sakakini Center, here:

About the translation

Ahmad Qabaha is an assistant professor at An-Najah University.

This is a valuable translation of Tom Sperlinger’s memoir Romeo and Juliet in Palestine: Teaching Under Occupation, published by Zero Books in 2015 and reviewed by many critics, by a group of English majors at An-Najah National University in Palestine. The team has worked extremely hard to come up with such an excellent translation of such an excellent work. Their familiarity with both the book and the context it reflects on has underpinned the success of this translation. Being attuned to the context of education under occupation, the students have found the idea of the adaptation of Shakespeare’s play appealing to them, and they identified with the performances of the students the book refers to.

The translators learnt about Sperlinger’s book in some courses they studied and they have done some research papers about the significant pedagogical, literary, cultural and political reflections the book embed. I did not hesitate to suggest this book for the group led by Hiba Nazier for their translation project. I imagined that Hiba will feel interested in the book after I talked about it briefly in my course Special Topic in Literature in which we usually discuss comparative literary representations of culture and politics. A few classes focused on comparing Tom’s perspective on politics and pedagogy in Palestine with those of other Western and even Palestinian writers living abroad.  Hiba, and her team, showed a huge interest in translating the book as they felt this translation will have a twofold outcome. It will first give them the chance to read Romeo and Juliet in Palestine thoroughly and learn a lot from the author’s experience in Palestine and his contrapuntal perspective. Second, this will be an original project that might be their ticket to a job, and also a project of a great benefit to Arabic readers.

The translation of this book as a graduation project is a new venture this group decided to take. It was a challenging, yet possible, task. Students benefited from the translation courses they studied, the theoretical stuff and the training they gained over the past three years and chose to do this project as partial fulfillment of their graduation. In spite of the linguistic and cultural challenges, the students were able to produce an accurate and meticulous translation of this book. This translation is clear, precise, concise and faithful.

This translation is a great contribution to Translation and Palestine Studies. Professors of translation, and Arabic/Palestinian literature could feel interested in this book. There is a growing interest in the Arab world in adaptation and Presentism which has developed as a theoretical and critical strategy of interpreting Shakespeare’s texts in relation to contemporary political, social, and economic ideologies, discourses and events.  Furthermore, Arabic researchers in Palestinian literature have been inclined to learn about both the past and present representations of Palestinian culture and politics by non-Palestinian, especially European, academics and scholars.  Although English is now almost a must language for researchers and university instructors in the Arab countries, Arabic remains the language of the heart and mind of many. This translation will therefore benefit both the text and its readers. This book should move beyond linguistic limitations and reach to a wider audience, not the least the book itself resists accommodation and hegemony.

It was my pleasure to co-examine (with Dr Nabil Alawi) this work and to be involved in the process of publishing it since this book is a significant work that should be read in Arabic too. Arab or Palestinian readers should learn about ways in which they are represented by professors in the West, especially those who believe in the power of their pro-Palestinian narratives to move people and achieve peace and justice. This translation therefore complements the role of writing in crossing linguistic, cultural, ethnic and geographical barriers to elicit a humanist critique of the violation of human rights such as the right of education and living in peace.  In similar fashion to memoirs written by Palestinian writers living abroad, this memoir impels every Palestinian (student) to write about his/her experience, to speak out and challenge deracination and enclosure .