Words can echo in people’s hearts as much as images can inspire a revolution. They are composed in different forms to create prose, songs, and poetry with messages that live forever. And during the war and political conflict between two states who sought recognition in their independence, a Palestinian man taught us that the best tool to persuade others and raise awareness about ideals is through poetry. This man was Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet who lived through the Palestine-Israeli conflict. His ties to this historic issue go back to 1948 when he was just 7 years old and his family was forced to flee their village in Western Galilee after Israeli soldiers arrived to establish the State of Israel. A year later, when his family came back, Darwish found his home completely destroyed and without a single book to read. Soon, he learned that his homeland wasn’t his anymore (he had trespassed it illegally), and it now belonged to the State of Israel. From that point and on, he felt a sense of frustration and injustice that he could only express through words – words that together created beautiful passages of poetry.
Poster of Mahmoud Darwish on a wall in Palestine.
“To Our Land”
To our land,
and it is the one near the word of god,
a ceiling of clouds
To our land,
and it is the one far from the adjectives of nouns,
the map of absence
To our land,
and it is the one tiny as a sesame seed,
a heavenly horizon … and a hidden chasm
To our land,
and it is the one poor as a grouse’s wings,
holy books … and an identity wound
To our land,
and it is the one surrounded with torn hills,
the ambush of a new past
To our land, and it is a prize of war,
the freedom to die from longing and burning
and our land, in its bloodied night,
is a jewel that glimmers for the far upon the far
and illuminates what’s outside it …
As for us, inside,
we suffocate more
Longest human chain reading in East Gaza.
Darwish’s messages to the Palestine people were hidden between the lines of many of his poems. He went from a “present-absent alien” under Israeli law to an internationally renowned poet. His inspiration came from what he saw as the unfair treatment of Arabs in Israel, who were under the state’s military rule from 1948 to 1986, and their status as second-class citizens. But he became clever in his poetry in order to get in as little trouble as possible. In fact, he stopped being direct in his writing after a poem he wrote in school got him into trouble with the authorities. The poem questioned why an Israeli child should have privileges a Palestinian didn’t: “You have a house, and I have none. You have celebrations, but I have none. Why can’t we play together?”
Activist Ahed Tamimi, arrested by Israeli authorities in 2017.
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy … ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me … and I forgot, like you, to die.
Bassem Abu Rahme was shot death while participating in a peaceful pro-Palestine protest in 2009
Darwish showed an outstanding talent for writing. His first poetry book, Asafir bila ajniha (Wingless Birds), was published when he was only 19 years old. Then, he became editor at Rakah, a publication funded by the Israeli Communist Party, which he was a member of. Later on, he became an assistant editor at the Israeli Workers’ Party publication Al Fajr. But that didn’t mean he had surrendered to the state’s will. Ironically, while he edited the pages of these publications, he wrote “Leaves of the Olive Tree,” “A Lover from Palestine,” and “End of the Night” – poems that inspired the Palestinian resistance against the Israeli government.
Women participating in the longest reading human chain in East Gaza.
“A State of Siege”
A woman asked the cloud: please enfold my loved one
My clothes are soaked with his blood
If you shall not be rain, my love
Saturated with fertility, be trees
And if you shall not be trees, my love
Be a stone
Saturated with humidity, be a stone
And if you shall not be a stone, my love
Be a moon
In the loved one’s dream, be a moon
So said a woman to her son
In his funeral
He goes on to add:
During the siege, time becomes a space
That has hardened in its eternity
During the siege, space becomes a time
That is late for its yesterday and tomorrow
Longest Human Chain for Reading East Gaza Within the Activities of the Great Return Marches
Darwish was imprisoned in 1960 for traveling and reciting his poetry without a state permit. A poem of his, “Identity Card,” got him under house arrest after it turned into a protest song. In the ‘70s, Darwish moved to Moscow to study at Moscow University. Then, he moved to Egypt and, later, Beirut, where he worked at the Palestine Research Center, and as editor for the journal Palestine Affairs, where he worked for almost a decade. Finally, after being exiled from Palestine for several years, he was allowed to return home.
“I Have a Seat in the Abandoned Theater”
I have a seat in the abandoned theater
in Beirut. I might forget, and I might recall
the final act without longing … not because of anything
other than that the play was not written
as in the war days of those in despair, and an autobiography
of the spectators’ impulse. The actors were tearing up their scripts
and searching for the author among us, we the witnesses
sitting in our seats
I tell my neighbor the artist: Don’t draw your weapon,
and wait, unless you’re the author!
Then he asks me: And you are you the author?
So we sit scared. I say: Be a neutral
hero to escape from an obvious fate
He says: No hero dies revered in the second
scene. I will wait for the rest. Maybe I would
revise one of the acts. And maybe I would mend
what the iron has done to my brothers
So I say: It is you then?
He responds: You and I are two masked authors and two masked
I say: How is this my concern? I’m a spectator
He says: No spectators at chasm’s door … and no
one is neutral here. And you must choose
your part in the end
So I say: I’m missing the beginning, what’s the beginning?
The Palestinian poet received many awards while he was alive. In his poetry, we find the pain, chaos, and sadness that the conflict between the two states has brought to many. The conflict between Palestine and Israel has been an ongoing struggle since the mid-20th century. Before that, the land was a peaceful place where different religions coexisted. Today, Israel governs most of the land in the area, and there have been talks about a two-state resolution, but no agreement has become a reality yet. Darwish wrote over 30 poetry books and eight books of prose that are still read and loved by those who wish to see Palestine as an independent state. He used metaphors from everyday association that any Palestinian would recognize. His writings are taught in many schools in the Arab world, and the people of his homeland remember him as a role model and a peaceful symbol of the resistance.
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