Palestinian prisoner in Israel wins prestigious Arabic fiction prize for book written in jail

ABU DHABI – Palestinian writer Basim Khandaqji, jailed 20 years ago in Israel, has been awarded won a prestigious prize for Arabic fiction for his novel “A Mask, the Color of the Sky.”

The award of the 2024 International Prize for Arabic Fiction is announced at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi.

The prize is accepted on Khandaqji’s behalf by Rana Idriss, owner of Dar al-Adab, the book’s Lebanon-based publisher.

Khandaqji was born in the West Bank city of Nablus in 1983, and wrote short stories until he was convicted and jailed in 2004 on charges relating to a deadly bombing in Tel Aviv.

He completed his university education from inside jail via the internet.

The mask in the novel’s title refers to the blue identity card that Nur, an archaeologist living in a refugee camp in Ramallah, finds in the pocket of an old coat belonging to an Israeli.

Khandaqji’s book was chosen from 133 works submitted to the competition.

Nabil Suleiman, who chaired the jury, says the novel “dissects a complex, bitter reality of family fragmentation, displacement, genocide, and racism.”

Since being jailed Khandaqji has written poetry collections including “Rituals of the First Time” and “The Breath of a Nocturnal Poem,” along with three earlier novels.

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