In memoriam of Wael Zwaiter
Emily Jacir: Material for a film (the search for Wael Zwaiter)
On Monday, 16 October 1972, Wael Zuaiter left Janet Venn-Brown’s apartment and headed to his apartment at no. 4 Piazza Annibaliano in Rome. He had been reading One Thousand and One Nights on Venn-Brown’s couch, searching for references to use in an article he was planning to write that evening. He took two buses to get from Venn-Brown’s place to his in northern Rome. Just as he reached the elevator inside the entrance to the building of the apartment block where he lived, Israeli assassins fired 12 bullets into his head and chest with .22 caliber pistols at close range.
Wael Zuaiter had become the first victim in Europe in a series of assassinations of Palestinian artists, intellectuals and diplomats that was already underway in the Middle East.
Zuaiter ended an article he wrote for the newspaper L’Espresso two or three weeks previously by quoting the English mystic Francis Thompson:
“That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star”
Zuaiter’s dream was to translate One Thousand and One Nights directly from Arabic into Italian. He had been working on this project since his arrival in Italy in 1962. To this day an Italian translation from the Arabic does not exist; all the Italian translations are from other translations.
Zuaiter had photocopied 4,000 pages of one of the oldest Arabic editions from a library in Rome. He asked Laila Baido, a woman from Sardinia living in Rome, to help with the translation and they worked on it for many years. Venn-Brown and I searched for her last December, so I could see his xeroxes and their translations of the first book, but no one knew anything regarding her whereabouts.
The night Zuaiter was killed he had volume two of the book in his pocket. Twelve of the bullets entered his body but there was a thirteenth that pierced the book and lodged in its spine. Venn-Brown kept this book hidden for thirty years; recently she donated it to the Wael Zuaiter Center in Massa Carrara.
*There is israeli-american non-profit that names all the people assassinated by Mossad since the 1960’s. It lists the reasons they were targeted, along with all their terrorist affiliations. Next to Wael’s name was listed ‘unknown’. This inspired Radio with pictures: Wael Zwaiter ‘Unknown’ which interviews Janet Venn-Brown, his partner of 8 years and the last one to see him alive. In the interview she describes his desire to translate 1001 Nights, so that others could learn more of Arab culture and its history.
In 1979 Brown published Per un Palestinese ( For a Palestinian), an edited volume of tributes to Zuaiter, with contributions from Maxime Rodinson, Jean Genet, Alberto Moravia, Fadwa Touqan and Edward Said.
Included above are Illustrations by Aldous Massie for Creative Nonfiction’s Wael Zuaiter: Unknown; The illustrations were projected as large-scale backdrops to enhance Jessie Cox’s retelling of 1001 Nights.