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Original drawing and text for wall newspapers produced by Mohieddin Ellabad for distribution in Palestinian refugee camps. I remember the first time I walked into the Dar El Fata offices. Right away I noticed how plush the office was — wall-to-wall carpeting, a long row of telephones, fresh coffee and orange juice.
I had come to Beirut under the assumption that conditions would be very difficult. In Egypt we had a fantasy that all things Palestinian automatically meant suffering. I imagined I would be sleeping in an iron bed with six other people in the room. But I was willing to suffer considerably for the cause.
I had just scrapped a long-planned sabbatical in Paris, in which I had invested all of my savings, to come to Beirut and work with a novice publishing house linked to the Palestinians. My first meeting was with Nabil Shaath who was the director of the Palestinian Planning Center and also in charge of the publishing house.
He was also a member of the Revolutionary Council of Fatah; later he would hold various positions in the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. In response to my inquisitive look, he told me that it was material he had approved for publication, and proceeded to dramatically ask one of his aides why it had not already been sent to the print shop.
Another employee interjected that it was necessary to first design and prepare the manuscript. And of course, there was no designer. That was how I came in. Dar El Fata was very creative and progressive, although of course there was a definite, and genuine, enthusiasm for the Palestinian revolution.
But the money came from the PLO.
The money came from private businessmen. At the time, it was common for projects like this to be launched with private donations. A document for the education of children was being drafted at the same time, and thus the idea of launching a publishing house geared toward making books for children started to gain currency.
I was twenty years old, and I was studying philosophy at the French university in Beirut, drawing on the side as a hobby. I had some work in an exhibition at a cultural center in the city, and I was very lucky that Ellabbad saw it. Though they informed him that I was only a student, he insisted on meeting me anyway.
To be totally honest, at the time I had never done any drawings for children. But Ellabbad told me not to worry, he would guide me in the process. And in fact, he was so authoritarian!
We called him Monsieur Millimeter because of his sharpness and precision. I ended up illustrating around ten books. I was interested in where they came from, their conversations, their painting. But I preferred to stay in the shadows. There was no marketing or distribution plan.
What soon became clear was that we needed to establish several distinct series for various ages, in different formats. I made our official goal to publish sixty-seven books by the end of that first year.
It was a large but necessary number. We needed to have an extensive and diverse back catalog for the publishing house to establish itself, and to find retail outlets in the Arab world willing to carry our books.
I had arrived in Mayand I wanted sixty-seven books by December. Somehow we actually, miraculously, met our target.
Yes, and you managed to publish original works! Even more impressive was that you published modern texts about modern children, the children of the s and 70s. Furthermore, Dar El Fata was an Arab publishing house with authors and illustrators from every Arab country, which was a totally new and progressive practice.“Not because they are Easy, but because they are Hard” President Kennedy epitomized the importance of placing a man on the moon in a speech given at Rice University in The careful choice of language alluded to both political and cultural motivations.
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