Lebanese Red-tape, Volcanic Ash Keep Israeli-Arab Author From Beirut Festival

Ala Hlehel won a landmark court case permitting him to collect a literary prize at a festival in Beirut.

A combination of time-consuming bureaucracy and a volcano which has shut down air traffic to and from Europe prevented Ala Hlehel, the Israeli-Arab author who won a landmark court case permitting him to collect a literary prize at a festival in Beirut, from attending the ceremony.

In recent days, Hlehel had been in contact with the festival's organizers in hopes of obtaining an entry visa into Lebanon in time for the festival. However the process is one that usually takes weeks, and the bureaucracy was not swift enough to enable Hlehel to reach Beirut before the end of the event.

In addition, Hlehel, who has been staying in London pending his request for an entry visa into Lebanon, was met with another unpleasant surprise, as the airspace over Britain has been closed due to the ash spewed by an erupting volcano in Iceland. Even if he had obtained the visa, Hlehel said it would have been impossible to fly to Beirut.

The author did not conceal his disappointment over missing the festival, especially after the protracted legal battle he waged against the initial ban imposed on his participation by Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"I feel like I'm part of some theater of the absurd that I'd never thought I would see," Hlehel said. "On the one hand, there was the High Court ruling which will certainly impact our relations with the Arab world. On the other hand, there was the painstaking process in applying for entry into Lebanon and then the eruption of the volcano which snuffed out any possibility of attending the event."

"I don't know which is worse," he said. "Not being able to make it to Beirut given the current set of circumstances, or not being able to travel to Lebanon even if I were given an entry visa."