Those who saw my letter last week to Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May in anticipation of her party’s conference in Ottawa on the weekend might be interested in the result. You can read the media release from Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) below, but in short the Greens passed the resolution in support of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, with Lisa Barrett, its Shadow Cabinet Critic for International Affairs, saying ‘[W]e as a party have to support social justice. We’ve seen BDS tactics work against the Apartheid regime in South Africa, and if we hadn’t pursued it vigorously then, Nelson Mandela would have died in jail.’

The Green Party also passed a modified version of the resolution to revoke the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund over its flagship ‘Canada Park,’ which sits on West Bank villages that were cleansed of Palestinians in 1967. Instead of singling out the JNF, the resolution that passed calls on the government to revoke the status of all charities that violate Canadian and international human rights law.

Indeed, according to IJV, May affirmed, ‘I want to be clear about this: the Jewish National Fund has been complicit and involved in human rights violations in building Canada Park on top of land that was dispossessed from Palestinians who are living there in 1967.’

Still, Mondoweiss report that May fought the resolutions tooth and nail, claiming the BDS movement is divisive and counterproductive, without offering any alternative, and working behind the scenes to protect the JNF from any direct criticism. This is a marked contrast to Dr Jill Stein who leads the Greens in the US and Natalie Bennett who heads the party in England and Wales, both of whom support the strategy.

As I’ve argued here before, it’s rather odd that the only tactic that’s had any impact on Israeli businesses profiting from its occupation and illegal settlements has met with such bitter opposition from people who claim to support Palestinian rights.

Still, it’s so rare that a political party of any stripe has the courage to call it like they see it on this issue, I confess that I almost cried when I read this, for we all know the cost: B’nai Brith et al. have predictably gone berserk, as have the trolls in the newspapers. Naturally, The Globe and Mail ran a highly misleading piece alleging that the vote had ‘divided’ the Green Party, and quoting five anti-BDS voters but only one in favour. In fact, support for the BDS resolution was so overwhelming, the Chair didn’t bother counting the votes.

So for now, I’ll focus on this from the Greens’ Justice Critic, Dimitri Lascaris, who submitted the BDS resolution. The IJV media release follows.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 8, 2016  Independent Jewish Voices congratulates the Green Party of Canada on the passage of its historic Palestinian rights resolutions  “The Green Party of Canada has pa […]

Here’s the rest: Independent Jewish Voices congratulates the Green Party of Canada on the passage of its historic Palestinian rights resolutions

Here is the letter I sent to Elizabeth May, leader of Canada’s Green Party, in anticipation of her party’s conference in Ottawa this weekend. One of the resolutions at issue is in support of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) which uses non-violent means to pressure the Israeli government to respect international law and the Geneva Conventions. Friends of Israel call this tactic anti-Semitic.

The second is to revoke the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund, which uses donations from Canadians to plant millions (yes, literally) of non-indigenous trees on occupied Palestinian land. The goal is to ‘de-Arabise’ the landscape, which requires a massive diversion of water resources from Palestinian farms, towns and villages, in order to keep these non-native trees alive. I presume the Green Party regard this as a dodgy use of a scarce resource, not to mention a violation of the right to water enshrined in UN Resolution 64/292. It’s also part of the broader campaign of ‘water apartheid’ documented in Counterpunch, Mint Press News, and various other news and campaigning websites.

I’m told the usual forces have aggressively mobilised against May and her party, so she can use all the support she can get; here’s her email address if you want to get in touch:

Dear Ms May

As a Canadian living in London, England, I was heartened to hear about the two resolutions in support of Palestine at your upcoming conference in Ottawa. I’m sure you are facing tremendous pressure to abandon these gestures of principle and solidarity and I am writing now to urge you to hold your nerve.

As the future of the Palestinians grows bleaker each day, I have been horrified to read and learn from friends about the ongoing unconditional support of Canada’s political and media establishment for the Israeli government. Frankly, I am ashamed that my own country, which makes regular claims to decency and fair play, colludes in whitewashing these horrors, and smears anyone who speaks out against them.

I follow Palestine/Israeli closely and write about it often on my blog, so I am uncomfortably aware that the prospects for Palestinian rights and dignity are worse than ever. Shortly before I sat down to draft this email, I spotted the news that Israel has just passed a law permitting children as young as 12 to be jailed. Yesterday I read about an Israeli soldier confiscating the bicycle of an eight year-old girl simply because he could, and watched an Al Jazeera video of two families in East Jerusalem being evicted from their homes so settlers can live there.

This is on top of Israel’s systematic, daily aggression and humiliation of Palestinians: West Bank farmers requiring Israeli permission to irrigate their own crops, the appropriation of their land, the demolition of their homes, the policy of collective punishment, not to mention the barbaric siege of Gaza.

Things aren’t great here in the UK, but this systematic behaviour by Israel is what Alan Duncan, a Conservative MP who has just been appointed Foreign Office Minister, called ‘apartheid’ in an October 2014 speech. Indeed, none of this would be possible if the international community were to go beyond occasional hand-wringing and demand that Israel respect international law and the Geneva Conventions.

In closing, I urge you not to abandon the Palestinians, who are a dispossessed and friendless people. I will be watching the events at your conference in Ottawa this weekend with an anxious ache in my stomach, but with my fingers crossed too.

Kind wishes, Juliana Farha

This piece appeared on Mondoweiss on 20th July.

Last Thursday evening, I attended ‘Palestinian Children Under Threat’, the London leg of a speaking tour by Ayed Abu Eqtaish from Defense for Children International-Palestine at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

The event’s timing was fortuitous, foreshadowing this week’s House of Lords debate about the impact of their living conditions on the health and well being of Palestinian children. The debate is sponsored by Lord Norman Warner, who recounted a harrowing visit to the West Bank on Open Democracy last month, concluding “Is it really any surprise that teenagers throw stones in protest?”

Guided by the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), DCI-Palestine monitors human rights abuses of Palestinian children and advocates for their safety and welfare. Ayed is DCI-Palestine’s Accountability Program Director and his sold-out SOAS talk focused on Palestinian children ensnared in Israel’s ghastly military justice system.

Ayed’s delivery is jarringly matter-of-fact. Fiddling with his watch on the table in front of him and unaided by notes, he dispensed grim details of a child’s journey from a night raid by Israeli soldiers on the family home, to incarceration, and sometimes to solitary confinement.

The child is usually a boy. He is occasionally beaten in front of his family. He is routinely removed from the West Bank to Israel, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. He is interrogated without his parents present. He signs a confession in Hebrew, a language he doesn’t know. Sometimes he is tortured, although less often these days.

Ayed tells us that physical torture of Palestinian children was common a few years ago, but interrogators observed that those being tortured often call up reserves of strength to resist, rendering it counter-productive. Instead, they discovered, psychological terror can be more effective: threatening to arrest the child’s family members, for instance, or to revoke his father’s work permit.

We learned that depriving the child of human contact has also proved fruitful. In fact, DCI-Palestine has recorded 78 cases of Palestinian children in solitary confinement, including one kid who was held for 45 days. Afterwards, Ayed said, these children are grateful for anyone who talks to them, will make the interrogator their ‘friend’, will say whatever it takes not to be alone again, not to receive meals through a hole in the wall. For the child in solitary confinement, a voice breaching the silence transcends the human, becomes a blessing.

In short, tactics consist of whatever is likely to produce the required confession. 98% of Palestinian children are thus convicted.

Indeed, Israel makes a range of special provisions for Palestinian kids. For legal purposes, Israeli childhood ends at 18, mirroring the definition set by the UNCRC which Israel ratified in 1991; for Palestinian youth it terminates at 16. (You might recall the New York Times‘s Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren infamously selecting the Israeli definition in order to obscure the number of Palestinian children massacred during Israel’s savage 50-day blitz of Gaza in 2014).

Early this month, Israel extended the ‘administrative detention’—incarceration without charge or trial—of seven Palestinian youth, one of whom is only 15. And as I was working on this piece today, I spotted an alert from the Ma’an News Agency that a boy of 14 has been sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly trying to stab a security guard at an illegal Israeli settlement.

Alongside news like this, including the arrest of kids as young as six last autumn in Bethlehem, Ayed’s presentation made plain that a Palestinian childhood expires a good deal earlier than any legal definition can convey.

His talk was preceded by two short films about children in Palestine that had been produced by the UK’s National Union of Teachers (NUT) in collaboration with the charity Edukid, which supports educational opportunities for children living in poverty and conflict. The NUT’s Junior Vice-President, Kiri Tunks, explained that the films had been made as part of the NUT’s Beyond the Wall project, and had met with some controversy.

If you follow the UK media scene, you won’t be surprised to learn that The Daily Telegraph, which fiercely opposes Palestinian human rights and abandons basic standards of journalism relentlessly to smear pro-Palestine activists, alongside rabid ‘red tops’ like The Sun, attacked one of the films, My Name is Saleh, as ‘anti-Semitic’ propaganda being force-fed to the nation’s young.

The charge was led by Sir Eric Pickles, a Member of Parliament and Chair of Conservative Friends of Israel—the AIPAC of the UK—who has made the unconditional defense of Israel and the unremitting dehumanization of Palestinians his life’s mission.

During the Q&A session, an audience member expressed bewilderment at the propaganda claim, and asked Tunks for specifics. She explained that the complaint alleged that Saleh, the 10 year-old featured in the film, had used the word ‘Jews’ rather than ‘Israelis’ or ‘settlers’. Apparently this made the film anti-Semitic. Besides the fact that this simply isn’t true, there were four months between the film’s release at the NUT conference in April 2015 and the objection, which was raised the following August.

Curiously, the complaint appeared the same week Israeli settlers firebombed the home of the Dawabshe family in the village of Duma, killing 18 month-old toddler Ali. His parents died a few weeks later, leaving his brother Ahmed an orphan. For the likes of Sir Eric and the Telegraph’s journalists, a rare instance of international outrage on behalf of dispossessed Palestinians might have seemed the opportune moment to smear a 10 year-old boy, and those who sought to tell his story. It’s what the shrewd Australian campaign strategist Lynton Crosby would call a ‘dead cat’ story, thrown onto the table when the message threatens to veer off course. Consequently, My Name is Saleh was taken offline for a time as its producers, who were determined to bring the voices of Palestinian children into the public sphere, fended off the hasbara siege. But they prevailed and it’s back up again; watch it and decide for yourself.


The ordeal of Ashraf Fayadh, a poet of Palestinian origin whose Gazan parents became refugees in Saudi Arabia, began in August 2013 when he was arrested in response to a complaint to the kingdom’s sinister ‘Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.’ Ashraf, a fixture of the Saudi art scene, was alleged to have ‘made obscene comments about God, the Prophet Muhammad, and the Saudi Arabian state,’ according to Pen America’s summary of his case.

Close to three years and countless allegations, hearings, convictions and appeals later – including a death sentence by beheading that was subsequently commuted – Ashraf remains imprisoned and now faces an eight year term and 800 barbaric lashes for the crime of writing poetry about what it is to be human, and a refugee.

Today writers, artists, journalists and bloggers around the world mark a ‘Day of Creativity for Ashraf Fayadh.’ Here is my contribution, a reading of ‘A Melancholy Made of Dough’ from his collection Instructions Within, translated by Tariq al Haydar. The text follows.

A Melancholy Made of Dough

Parts of you pile one on top of another—a mixture of your blood,

sweat, remains, and discharge from your eyes.

And discharge from your eyes.

The knot of your tongue at the midway point of the ocean,

and when the sphere of the sun swims

in a preconceived orbit—


What the sidewalk never mentioned

is that you used to step on it

and present your shoes on a plate of concrete,

your feet on a plate of shoes,

your legs on a plate of your misfortune.

You tune the strings of your head to affect your foolish delight,

you bury a skull—you’d rather not bear.

You heap yourself on a slate that claims whiteness due to a fistful of flour—
and you ferment.

You swell and puff your sadness like a hot loaf

and dry.

You search for your water

Between your delicacy and your hardness

and your breaking.

and your forehead reddens

also, like a loaf!

You are stored

in the chaotic memory

of the earth, of its core

of al-Lauh al-Mahfuz on your shoulders

You grow mold, also, like a loaf!

In vain, you resist your body’s floundering atop the whitened slate

on your bed

on the sidewalks, on

reflecting and reflected surfaces

and surfaces that absorb light.

Your body always forgets that it’s a complex admixture,

that you have only the familiar look of your legs.

That you resemble a vagrant

whose features stick out among those who walk other walks.

He can neither master their walk nor speak their tongue;

has no right to walk as he pleases

or stumble or weep as he pleases.

No right to crack open the window of the soul

to renew its air and debris and mourning.

You forget that you too are

like a loaf!

You forget how your soul was mixed

at birth, since the day they ripped your placenta,

mixed, your soul

with clothes that conceal your genitals

and reveal what may be seen of them. Of you

and of women who have grown accustomed to ripping their own collars

and hanging portraits on walls.

Of boys who have trained themselves to draw on walls

and gravestones and cars in junkyards

and to march in your name, also,

like a loaf!

So your soul was mixed:

homogenized, fermented, kneaded, baked

and sold at stores that violated health codes,

forged—and used for illegal purposes,

voted on— and eaten

like a loaf.

The video of Samia Halaby is well worth watching, especially her comments about the stifling essentialism of being pigeon-holed as a ‘Palestinian artist.’

Palestine Square | ميدان فلسطين

Tarek Al-Ghoussein

Photographer and photojournalist Tarek Al-Ghoussein, born in Kuwait in 1962, currently resides in the United Arab Emirates. His work is inspired by the both the prejudice and restrictions Palestinians confront not only in the West, but also the East. Self-Portrait (2002 – ), for instance, stages solitary individuals in a Keffiyeh in front of airplanes or ships. Initially the viewer might suspect foul play, but it’s obvious that the image is innocuous, and thus forcing the viewer to confront their reflexive suspicion of Keffiyeh-clad Middle Easterners. Sometimes life mimics art: In 2003, Al-Ghoussein was accosted by a Jordanian police officer while taking a self-portrait in a Keffiyeh. A 22-hour interrogation followed. “What was I doing, who was I, why was I wearing the Palestinian scarf, why that particular scarf—not the red scarf or the other type of black scarf? And it just made me realize how charged that scarf…

View original post 704 more words

Arabic Literature (in English)

An open letter from poet-activist Mona Kareem and ArabLit editor M Lynx Qualey:

“Everything has weight.
Your weight is well known to the back walls
because your heavy shadow doesn’t give the asphalt, the paint,
or the writings stuck on the windows a chance to appear.
You also have space, significant space,
in the void.” – Ashraf Fayadh

Dear editors, writers, artists, friends:

13620856_1254063114612334_3955877283984768615_nOn Thursday, July 28, writers, artists, journalists, and bloggers around the world will be composing tweets, blogs, verse, videos, images, and more in support of the Palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh, sentenced to death last November in Saudi Arabia for his poetry, which accusers claimed “spread atheism,” among other things. His death sentence was repealed this February, following worldwide protests. He was re-sentenced to eight years and 800 lashes.

Writers and artists around the world — including Wole Soyinka, Orhan Pamuk, and Adonis —…

View original post 333 more words

This piece appeared in Guernica magazine in December 2015.

Ours is a country of words. Talk. Talk. Let me rest my road against a stone.

Ours is a country of words. Talk. Talk. Let me see an end to this journey.

Mahmoud Darwish, ‘We Travel Like All People’

Over the past few months, the amplification of the routine violence in which Palestinians have lived for decades has thrown up a new set of linguistic hot potatoes. I’ve been especially struck by claims of ‘incitement’, which my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines as ‘that which rouses to action; a stimulus, incentive, spur.’ This useful noun used to enjoy common ownership but lately appears to have been requisitioned for exclusive use by the Israeli cabinet and the U.S. House of Representatives.

Over the last two weeks alone, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has begun pressing Silicon Valley executives to pull online videos of Palestinians being shot by Israeli occupation forces, while her government shut down three Palestinian radio stations in Hebron and launched an Orwellian review of Tel Aviv’s Nakba film festival, lest any of the images or words presented in these outlets 'incite' Palestinian violence.

Although I remain perplexed by its mysterious precision of the 'I know it when I see it' variety, my own investigations have narrowed its definition down as follows: when uttered by a Palestinian leader, any noun, verb, adjective, punctuated by a pause, comma hyphen, animated by an underscore, exclamation mark, in any order whatsoever, constitutes the 'incitement' which propels young men and women to pick up stones or knives with which to assault Israeli settlers and heavily armed soldiers.

By contrast, I’ve noticed that neither the failure to prosecute the murders of Ali, Saad and Riham Dawabshe, nor forty-eight years of occupation of Palestinian land meet the rigors of this revised definition. This is also true of the epidemic of settler attacks on Palestinian olive farmers while Israeli occupation soldiers stand idly by or the incarceration of Palestinian children, not to mention the daily expansion of illegal settlements and the demolition of Palestinian homes.

Hebron buses intended only for Israelis

A few weeks ago, a six year-old Palestinian boy was detained by Israeli forces in Bethlehem, along with the ten children who were arrested in East Jerusalem the same day. Two of them were nine, the eldest fourteen. In 2011, half a dozen Palestinian 'Freedom Riders' were arrested for travelling on Hebron buses intended only for Israelis. In Old Hebron, 400 settlers are kept safe by 2,000 Israeli soldiers, and Palestinians are barred from Shuhada Street, the city’s main commercial thoroughfare. Those who live on the street have had their doors welded shut and access their homes via adjacent properties or alleyways.

In 2013, the writer and Hebrew University lecturer David Shulman wrote, 'a visit to Hebron eats into one’s soul'; just imagine what it does to the souls of the Palestinians who live there? Still, we’re told, the only permissible response to this Jim Crow-inspired ugliness is acceptance; anything else is ‘incitement.’ [Note: since this essay was published, Prof. Shulman was awarded the Israel Prize for his research into Indian languages and culture. He donated the prize to Ta’ayush, an organisation that seeks equality for Palestinians.]

The boundaries of permissible speech

This reformulation was formalized by the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee which did AIPAC proud on November fifth, passing a resolution condemning Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s 'incitement' of Palestinian youth. The vote followed a committee hearing with the smugly un-ironic name 'Words Have Consequences.'

Questions such as these about the ownership of language and the boundaries of permissible speech, were already on my mind when I arrived at 'Rethinking Trauma and Resilience in the Context of Political Violence', a conference here in London in November about the psychosocial impact of Israel’s sustained aggression against the Palestinian people. The event was organized by the UK Palestine Mental Health Network, of which I’m a member, and other groups and it’s where I came across Brian Barber, founding director of the Center for the Study of Youth and Political Violence at the University of Tennessee.

A rather melancholy fellow, Dr. Barber described two key findings that emerged from his interviews with Palestinians who had been youths during the first Intifada, which began in 1987. First, he said, their chronicles routinely included accounts of Israel’s 'persistent, indignity-violating humiliation' of Palestinians, from random house searches to indiscriminate harassment at checkpoints. This 'brutal form of psychic violence' is often overlooked by experts on war and trauma, said Dr. Barber.

Who has been crushed by whom

Dr. Barber also told us that the Palestinians he interviewed repeatedly used the same handful of analogous words to describe their current feelings about life under occupation. 'Broken,' 'destroyed', 'shaken up' and 'crushed' appeared on a screen behind him. At that point, a Jungian psychoanalyst, Heba Zaphiriou-Zarifi, interjected that in Arabic the adjective 'crushed' doesn’t merely connote a state like bored, say, or hungry. Instead, she said, 'crushed' bears within it the notion of being acted upon; as such it invites the listener to contemplate just who has been crushed by whom.

Besides the linguistic clarity it provided, Zaphiriou-Zarifi’s contribution was a reminder that while words themselves can be said to wield power, they nonetheless remain stand-ins for the dialectic between subject and object, the self and other. Of course, colonialism is always a lopsided affair, sustained by whatever works while it works, and abandoned when its utility is exhausted. In the case of Israel/Palestine, if historic entitlement loses its force, call it security or anti-Semitism, call them a 'cancer', call their children 'snakes' or 'cockroaches', call them an 'invented' people, desecrate the Holocaust.

These are the means by which words and the narratives they weave reconstitute the oppressed as the oppressor, and pave the way for all manner of savagery.

Steadfast perseverance

Against the backdrop of these perverse, inverted narratives, the recurrence of 'crushed' and similar states of destruction troubled me especially, for it exposed the depleted condition of sumud, a pivotal concept meaning ‘steadfast perseverance’ that has characterized and animated the Palestinian resistance since 1967. In fact, sumud has been reformulated many times over, shedding connotations and acquiring new ones as facts on the ground change. Here’s an interpretation from Abdelfattah Abusrour, founder of the Al Rowwad Cultural and Theater Training Center, which appeared in Jerusalem Quarterly:

Sumud is continuing living in Palestine, laughing, enjoying life, falling in love, getting married, having children. Sumud is also continuing your studies outside, to get a diploma, to come back here. Defending values is sumud. Building a house, a beautiful one and thinking that we are here to stay, even when the Israelis are demolishing this house, and then build a new and even more beautiful one than before—that is also sumud. That I am here is sumud. To reclaim that you are a human being and defending your humanity is sumud.

However defined, for Palestinians sumud is embodied in the olive tree whose cockled trunk and extensive root system represent the Palestinian love affair with the land, an ardor which undoubtedly explains the sadistic glee with which Israeli settlers destroy these centuries-old living emblems, symbolically crushing the steadfastness that has marked the Palestinian resistance.

‘I am the lover & the land is the beloved’

Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine’s poet laureate, brought his people’s love affair with the land to vivid life in much of his work, including his 1967 poem 'Diary of a Palestinian Wound' where he writes:

O brave-faced wound

my homeland isn’t a suitcase

& I’m not a traveller

I am the lover & the land is the beloved

Affecting metaphors aside, you needn’t dig deeply into Darwish’s oeuvre to find evidence of his ambivalence about the power of words, and even an explicit disavowal of that power. For instance, in 'On Poetry' he writes:

If only these poems were

a chisel in the hand of the proletariat

a grenade in the palm of the struggler

If only these poems were

If only these poems were

a plough in the hand of the peasant

or a shirt or a door or a key

If only these poems were

His conception of verse devoid of either utility or agency, illustrated here through a string of sturdy nouns and a clause that never ends, is captured more elliptically in 'State of Siege' when Darwish cautions:

To a reader: Do not trust the poem

The daughter of absence

It is neither intuition nor is it


But rather, the sense of the abyss

I spent much of the summer of 2006 reading Darwish as I researched and wrote 'Cultural Intifada', my Master’s dissertation about art and political resistance in Palestine, while Israel laid siege to Gaza in Operation 'Summer Rains'. I felt tremendous sorrow when he died unexpectedly in August 2008, four months before the next Israeli blitz of Gaza, Operation 'Cast Lead.' And thanks to J.K. Rowling, Darwish has been much on my mind again lately as I’ve watched the daily executions of Palestinian youth in the streets of Hebron and East Jerusalem, the weekly razing of Palestinian homes, and the detention of scores of Palestinian children.

Recently, the Harry Potter author fronted a clutch of public figures, including several British politicians, to denounce academic and cultural boycotts of Israeli institutions. Under the banner ‘Culture for Coexistence’ her group alleged that only ‘cultural bridges’ will build ‘peace’ between Israelis and Palestinians. When challenged on this flaccid claim, Rowling’s gambit was to invoke Darwish.

Banning poets from the Republic

The ploy struck me as artfully insolent, for Darwish was not blind to the limitations of his medium. Sure, he was a thorn in the side of the Israeli authorities who kept him under house arrest for years. Indeed, as we’ve just seen in Saudi Arabia, where the Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh has been sentenced to death, those who wield power recognize the unruly force of words to 'disrupt the order and hierarchy of the soul' thereby disrupting 'the order and hierarchy of political authority as well', as the philosopher Judith Butler puts it. In the face of this force, she says, Plato wanted to ban poets from the Republic outright.

Still, as any student of his work can tell you, while Darwish acknowledged that acts of imagining can flout the reductiveness of the Palestinian identity, ('If I write love poems, I resist the conditions that don’t allow me to write love poems', he once said) he never conceived of them as the exclusive currency in some mythical 'negotiation' between his own exiled and occupied people and their swaggering, hyper-militarized occupier. For Darwish, poetry was a gesture not a debate, and the pen was neither mightier nor feebler than the sword. The pen was the pen, the poet the poet, and the soldier the soldier. If they were useful at all, words were metaphorical instruments, sometimes blunt and at others devastating, but neither weapons nor tools of a make-believe reconciliation.

I’m sure that to some these thoughts will seem dubious, sacrilegious even. After all, we’re talking about the secular humanist scribe of Palestine’s hopes, its suffering and its rage, author of its 1988 Declaration of Independence. Nonetheless, for me Darwish’s poetic consciousness is a compelling prototype of the fraught battleground between art and political struggle. As he told the journalist Adam Shatz in a New York Times interview, his exalted status did little to palliate the frustration of being ‘read before I write’.

‘My readers expect something from me, but I write as a poet,' he said. 'So when I write love poetry, they think it’s about Palestine. That’s nice, but it’s just one aspect of my work.'

Fragments of the broken and brutalized self

If Darwish’s poetry is a stand-in for anything, then, it’s the refusal to submit to the denial of Palestinian humanity in all its facets. It is both a bridge uniting fragments of the broken and brutalized self, and a mirror with which to see them. It is sumud.

Still, the “cultural bridges” affair reminds us that language has always been wielded with savage ruthlessness in the relentless moral and political siege that enables and emboldens Israel’s expansionist project. After all, 'a land without a people for a people without a land' are eleven words that together sought to disappear indigenous Palestinians long before the first gun was fired or the first village razed during the Nakba.

Indeed, those who defend Israeli ambitions expend much energy denying even the basic terms of reference that might constitute the beginnings of a dialogue. There was no Palestine, there is no occupation, there are no war crimes, and the twenty-five feet high concrete separation wall is merely a 'fence'. They insist instead on their own lexicon of 'terrorists', 'security' and 'God’s will'.

On the other hand, I heard an Israeli remark at a lecture recently that it doesn’t matter whether we call the current eruption of violence in Israel/Palestine an 'intifada' or a 'banana'. Its name, he said, neither elucidates the sentiments or situation that propel it nor determines its contours or outcome. For now, then, let us call it 'the sense of the abyss' and leave Darwish to rest in peace.


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