I've always been a fan of that nice Michael Palin so I was concerned when I heard that he'd undertaken another dangerous journey. Just because he's Vice President of the Royal Geographical Society now doesn't mean he's immune from trials and tribulations you know.
The thing is he went to speak at the Palestinian Festival of Literature (you can see their website here). Now you'd have though a festival of literature might not be a particularly dodgy place to visit but when the Israeli authorities have decided to shut it down it does rather up the odds.
Due to the presence of foreign notables the authorities seem to have taken a strangely half hearted approach to repressing the festival thus achieving the worst of all possible worlds. They've demonstrated a petty minded vindictiveness on the one hand but whilst they forced them to change venues, disrupted the festival and intimidated the attendees they didn't do enough to actually shut the gig down.
One eye witness wrote this to the Guardian;
Mira Vogel has an interesting round up of some of the responses to the heavy handed approach to the festival, including a useful little YouTube video that gives a good feel of the atmosphere.
I was at the opening of the Palestine literary festival in Jerusalem on Saturday night, when heavily armed police pushed their way into the midst of talks by Michael Palin, Deborah Moggach, and Henning Mankell, along with many of their readers from Palestine, Israel and elsewhere (Israel shuts Palestinian literary festival, 25 May). The police had come to close the festival down, and in another PR debacle of the type for which Israel is becoming famous, their clumsy actions drew far more attention to Israel's oppression of the Palestinians than if they'd allowed the event to continue.The sight of the expelled participants and audience as we filed down East Jerusalem's main street, some people carrying dishes of canapes, to the new and hastily organised venue at the French Cultural Institute might have seemed merely odd or amusing. In fact, it was a vivid reminder of Israel's fear of anything which might suggest that Palestinians are as cultured, civilised and deserving of respect as their Israeli neighbours.
It was good to hear that everyone got out unscathed, if not unharrassed, and in particular Michael Palin who seemed in a positive frame of mind when he said;
"It's an example of the pen being mightier than the sword... We managed to say what we wanted to say... it's the reaffirmation of power of culture over the culture of power."