Imagining Palestine: On Barghouti, Darwish, Kanafani and the Language of Exile

February 24, 2021

An archive photo of Mourid Barghouti with his late wife Radwa Ashour. (Via: Mourid Barghouti’s Twitter account)

By Ramzy Baroud

For Palestinians, exile is not simply the physical act of being removed from their homes and their inability to return. It is not a casual topic pertaining to politics and international law, either. Nor is it an ethereal notion, a sentiment, a poetic verse. It is all of this, combined.

The death in Amman of Palestinian poet, Mourid Barghouti, an intellectual whose work has intrinsically been linked to exile, brought back to the surface many existential questions: are Palestinians destined to be exiled? Can there be a remedy for this perpetual torment? Is justice a tangible, achievable goal?

Barghouti was born in 1944 in Deir Ghassana, near Ramallah. His journey in exile began in 1967, and ended, however temporarily, 30 years later. His memoir “I Saw Ramallah” – published in 1997 – was an exiled man’s attempt to make sense of his identity, one that has been formulated within many different physical spaces, conflicts and airports. While, in some way, the Palestinian in Barghouti remained intact, his was a unique identity that can only be fathomed by those who have experienced, to some degree, the pressing feelings of Ghurba – estrangement and alienation – or Shataat – dislocation and diaspora.

In his memoir, translated into English in 2000 by acclaimed Egyptian author, Ahdaf Soueif, he wrote, “I tried to put the displacement between parenthesis, to put a last period in a long sentence of the sadness of history … But I see nothing except commas. I want to sew the times together. I want to attach one moment to another, to attach childhood to age, to attach the present to the absent and all the presents to all absences, attach exiles to the homeland and to attach what I have imagined to what I see now.”

Those familiar with the rich and complex Palestinian literature of exile can relate Barghouti’s reference – what one imagines versus what one sees – to the writing of other intellectuals who have suffered the pain of exile as well. Ghassan Kanafani and Majed Abu Sharar – and numerous others – wrote about that same conflict. Their death – or, rather, assassination – in exile brought their philosophical journeys to an abrupt end.

In Mahmoud Darwish’s seminal poem, ‘Who Am I, Without Exile’, the late Palestinian poet asked, knowing that there can never be a compelling answer: “What will we do without exile?”

It is as if Ghurba has been so integral to the collective character of a nation, and is now a permanent tattoo on the heart and soul of the Palestinian people everywhere. “A stranger on the riverbank, like the river … water binds me to your name. Nothing brings me back from my faraway to my palm tree: not peace and not war. Nothing makes me enter the gospels. Not a thing …,” Darwish wrote.

The impossibility of becoming a whole again in Darwish and Barghouti’s verses were reverberations of Kanafani’s own depiction of a Palestine that was as agonizingly near as it was far.

“What is a homeland?” Kanafani asks in ‘Returning to Haifa’. “Is it these two chairs that remained in this room for twenty years? The table? Peacock feathers? The picture of Jerusalem on the wall? The copper-lock? The oak tree? The balcony? What is a homeland? .. I’m only asking.”

But there can be no answers, because when exile exceeds a certain rational point of waiting for some kind of justice that would facilitate one’s return, it can no longer be articulated, relayed or even fully comprehended. It is the metaphorical precipice between life and death, ‘life’ as in the burning desire to be reunited with one’s previous self, and ‘death’ as in knowing that without a homeland one is a perpetual outcast – physically, politically, legally, intellectually and every other form.

“In my despair I remember; that there is life after death … But I ask: Oh my God, is there life before death?” Barghouti wrote in his poem ‘I Have No Problem.’

While the crushing weight of exile is not unique to Palestinians, the Palestinian exile is unique. Throughout the entire episode of Palestinian Ghurba, from the early days of the Nakba – the destruction of the Palestinian homeland – till today, the world remains divided between inaction, obliviousness, and refusal to even acknowledge the injustice that has befallen the Palestinian people.

Despite or, perhaps, because of his decades-long exile, Barghouti did not engage in ineffectual discussions about the rightful owners of Palestine “because we did not lose Palestine to a debate, we lost it to force.”

He wrote in his memoir “When we were Palestine, we were not afraid of the Jews. We did not hate them, we did not make an enemy of them. Europe of the Middle Ages hated them, but not us. Ferdinand and Isabella hated them, but not us. Hitler hated them, but not us. But when they took our entire space and exiled us from it they put both us and themselves outside the law of equality.”

In fact, ‘hate’ rarely factors in the work of Barghouti – or Darwish, Kanafani, Abu Sharar and many others – because the pain of exile, so powerful, so omnipresent – required one to re-evaluate his relationship to the homeland through emotional rapport that can only be sustained through positive energy, of love, of deep sadness, of longing.

“Palestine is something worthy of a man bearing arms for, dying for,” wrote Kanafani. “For us, for you and me, it’s only a search for something buried beneath the dust of memories. And look what we found beneath that dust. Yet more dust. We were mistaken when we thought the homeland was only the past.”

Millions of Palestinians continue to live in exile, generation after generation, painstakingly negotiating their individual and collective identities, neither able to return, nor feeling truly whole. These millions deserve to exercise their Right of Return, for their voices to be heard and to be included.

But even when Palestinians are able to end their physical exile, chances are, for generations they will remain attached to it. “I don’t know what I want. Exile is so strong within me, I may bring it to the land,” wrote Darwish.

In Barghouti too, exile was ‘so strong’. Despite the fact that he fought to end it, it became him. It became us.

– Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

Solidarity between Palestinians and Indigenous Activists has Deep Roots

Rally supporting indigenous communities in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo: Supplied)

Source

By Marion Kawas

Palestinian solidarity with indigenous struggles here in Turtle Island was highlighted last week, with both local and international Palestinian support for the Wet’suwet’en nation’s struggle on unceded territory in British Columbia.

The BDS National Committee (BNC) released a powerful statement at the same time as diaspora Palestinians in Vancouver sent greetings to the daily #WetsuwetenStrong protest in that city. Both emphasized the brave and tireless resistance of the indigenous defenders, with the BNC noting that Palestinians owe them “a great debt for teaching us how to resist settler colonialism generation after generation through your powerful resistance, grace and indomitable spirit”. 

But these strong expressions of Palestinian support are not new and have a long and rich history.

Mahmoud Darwish’s iconic and epic poem, “The Penultimate Speech of the ‘Red Indian’ to the White Man,” is one early example of the modern Palestinian resistance movement’s link with indigenous issues. Some verses of that poem have been put to music by Roger Waters in a segment appropriately entitled “Supremacy”.

Russell Means, leader of the American Indian Movement, also wrote a poem in response to Darwish, entitled “The Song of the Palestinian”. In fact, solidarity delegations of AIM visited Beirut in the 1970s and were welcomed at many Palestinian offices and centers.

Mahmoud Darwish was in Vancouver, Canada in 1976 as part of the Palestinian delegation to the UN-Habitat Conference. At a packed public meeting organized by local activists, he appeared on stage to recite his poetry along with celebrated indigenous poet Lee Maracle. He read several of his poems, and she presented the English translation of “Write Down, I am an Arab” for the audience.

Maracle later said that upon “Hearing his work…she felt an intrinsic connection. ‘He spoke to something so old inside my body it felt like floating in a sea of forever’.”

That same year, indigenous activists in Vancouver were also protesting the arrest and later extradition of Leonard Peltier. Peltier had been part of the 1973 resistance to the US military siege on Pine Ridge, but was falsely accused of murdering an FBI agent. He came to Canada, was jailed and later handed over to the US government, where he was incarcerated and remains to this day.

Weekly protests were held in 1976 to support Peltier, and Palestinians were there to support those actions. An article from the Native Study Group in a newsletter of the day “Palestine in Struggle”, highlighted Peltier’s case and showed why solidarity between all indigenous struggles is critical.

In 2012, there was a strong statement of support from Palestinians with the IdleNoMore movement and indigenous rights. Multiple organizations and individuals signed on to show the depth of support and understanding between the two struggles.

They said in part:

“We recognize the deep connections and similarities between the experiences of our peoples – settler colonialism, destruction and exploitation of our land and resources, denial of our identity and rights, genocide and attempted genocide.”

Indigenous activists from Canada have been part of the Gaza Flotilla multiple times. Both Robert Lovelace and more recently, Larry Commodore, sailed on Boat to Gaza vessels in solidarity with the Palestinians. Larry, in particular, was treated brutally and injured by the Israeli military upon his arrest from the al Awda in 2018.

Solidarity between Palestinian and Mohawk activists also has a long history across Canada. There are many examples of mutual support, with Mohawk flags being seen at Palestinian demos and Palestinian flags flying high on Six Nations land.

One activist, the late Splitting the Sky (John Boncore), who was part of the Gustafsen Lake standoff, was also pivotal in furthering indigenous solidarity in British Columbia. He joined the parents of Rachel Corrie and others on a Vancouver stage in 2003 in a remarkable meeting to mark the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinians.

Slogans such as “Sovereign Forever, Never Surrender” and “If you deny our Existence, Expect our Resistance” have been highlighted in the #WetsuwetenStrong protests. These slogans also resonate completely with the current phase of the Palestinian struggle, as Palestinians deal with Trump’s apartheid plan and the crushing vision for the future it embodies.

The bonds of shared trauma, shared resistance to settler colonialism and the enduring spirit of defending the land will keep the solidarity between Palestinians and the indigenous people of Turtle Island alive for generations.

– Marion Kawas is a member of the Canada Palestine Association and co-host of Voice of Palestine. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.cpavancouver.org.

Mahmoud Darwish and the Jews

August 9th marks the ninth anniversary of the death of the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Poems that eloquently capture the essence and spirit of the Palestinian struggle for independence–this is what Darwish gave to the world.

Born on March 13, 1941 in the village of Al-Birwa, Darwish published his first book of poetry at the age of 19. His home village, Al-Birwa, no longer exists, by the way. Located in western Galilee near the border with Lebanon, it was destroyed in 1948. Darwish was seven years old at the time. He and his family and other villagers were forced to flee. A kibbutz and the Jewish town of Ahihud occupy the land today.

A week ago I put up a post entitled Solzhenitsyn and the Jews, the purpose of which was to mark the ninth anniversary of the death of the famed Russian writer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The parallels between Solzhenitsyn and Darwish are striking. For one thing, both men died within a week of each other–Solzhenitsyn on August 3, 2008, and Darwish on August 9, 2008. Both of course were also great writers. But perhaps most striking of all is both spent a major portion of their lives living under a brutal system of government imposed by Jews–and in both cases the experience powerfully shaped their writing.

Here is what I wrote in my article on Solzhenitsyn:

The Soviet Union, at least in its earlier years, seems very much to have been an example of Jewish power gone berserk.

The same of course can be said of Israel.

You can kind of sense that power gone berserk in what follows. It’s one of Darwish’s most famous poems–“I Come from There.”

I Come From There

I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends,
And a prison cell with a cold window.
Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,
And an extra blade of grass.
Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.
I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland…..

On June 8, 1987, Darwish published an essay entitled, “The Cruelest of Months.” The essay marked the twentieth anniversary of the 1967 war, a war in which Israel, in addition to bombing the USS Liberty, further extended its control over Palestinian land, capturing East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In his essay, Darwish employs the rhetorical device of repetition, repeating the words “June is the cruelest of months,” throughout the piece. He may have intended it as a literary allusion to T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” whose  opening line consists of the immortal words, “April is the cruelest month.” At any rate, the piece jumps straight into the poet’s portrayal of June’s agony:

No one is safe from the pain of memories, or from psychological collapse. June is the cruelest of months. June is an abyss which tries to ascend from its own depths to improve the conditions within it. A strained hand is raised to prevent the wall from collapsing and a strained cry rings out: let whatever is collapsing collapse–let our internal pain complete its twentieth year. The passing of twenty years startles us as we ponder what time can and cannot do. Twenty years of pain that we try to forget, but which pursues us. Whoever was born then, in June, is now twenty years old–children familiar with rocks and small rockets, with prisons, children who have lived abnormal lives. We see to what extent we have been further scattered and to what extent the homeland has narrowed. Twenty seasons of burned wheat.

And as we bid the years farewell, the ideas of youth fade. They would have remained young if night had not been confounded with day. June is the cruelest of months. Because we are witnesses of the event. And turning back to that part of this age which has already ended, this age which defies proper description, does not enable us to escape the fever or to ascertain its origins: is it the past that has taken with it the memory of the defeat and gone away; or is it the present, incapable of separating itself from the spectacle of the defeat and its history so that the past remains capable of repeating itself as long as the reality of the defeat is present in the form of the occupation?

The line about night being “confounded” by day is perhaps the most powerful of all. In an obscene world of cruelty and madness, darkness is preferable to the light of day. Darkness at least brings us a sense of respite from the murderous depravities.

The essay also addresses Israel’s tiresome and incessant demands from one and all–including the very people it has displaced–for recognition of its “right to exist.” And there is also a backhanded slap at Arab governments which, in exchange for cordial relations with the Zionist state, have all but abandoned the Palestinian struggle (other than the payment of occasional lip service).

Here a June question arises: if the decision to make war was an Arab decision, why should the decision to make peace be based on a Palestinian agreement to absent himself? Here the Greek tragedy and the Shakespearean tragedy are completed: the Palestinian is expected to absent himself from his homeland, from his problem, from his case, and from himself. He is requested to appear on  stage only once. He who is absent is asked to appear to witness that he is absent, invisible; he is supposed to come only to recognize Israel’s existence, Israel which is present only on the condition that the Palestinian is absent. Then the Palestinian is supposed to disappear. He is also supposed to present himself before the Arab ruler to acknowledge that he does not represent himself, to admit that he is absent from the stage in the presence of the one who has requested him to attend once for the sake of permanent absence.

But Darwish foresaw, even then, way back in 1987, that the Palestinians were not going to give up, that the struggle for justice would go on:

We must realize again that June did not come from outside as much as it sprang from within. Is June still alive within us? We have witnessed twenty years of occupation. But also twenty years of steadfastness of a people surrounded and besieged by occupation. Twenty years of embers springing from the ashes. Twenty years of the crystallization of the Palestinian national identity. Twenty years of shaping the miracle.

That essay, as I say, was published in June of 1987. Six months later, in December of 1987, the first intifada broke out.

A tribute to Darwish has been published at the website Palestine Square. The article tells a little of his personal story and also provides links to a number of writings–these consist of Darwish’s own writings as well as articles that have been written about him. One of the articles linked to is a commentary Darwish himself wrote on the 9/11 attack. Here is a brief excerpt from it:

No cause, not even a just cause, can make legitimate the killing of innocent civilians, no matter how long the list of accusations and the register of grievances. Terror never paves the way to justice but leads down the shortest path to hell. We deplore this horrendous crime and condemn its planners and perpetrators with all the terms of revulsion and condemnation in our lexicon. We do this not only as our moral duty, but also in order to reassert our commitment to our own humanity and our faith in human values that do not differentiate between one people and another. Our sympathy with the victims and their families and with the American people in these trying times is thus an expression of our deep commitment to the unity of human destiny. For a victim is a victim, and terrorism is terrorism, here or there; it knows no boundaries nor nationalities and does not lack the rhetoric of killing.

A Palestinian girl lights candles in tribute to Darwish.

That article, condemning the horrendous attacks, was published in a Palestinian newspaper on September 17, 2001. As was the case with most people in the world at that time, it obviously had not occurred to Darwish that 9/11 may well have been a false flag, with Israel as the possible principle perpetrator. In any event, the marked sympathy he shows for Americans should be noted–it is a distinctly humanist perspective, coming from one of the leading intellectuals in Palestinian society, this despite America’s ongoing support for Israel.

In 2001, America truly had the sympathy of the entire world. We managed to squander it. Our response to 9/11 was to bomb and invade one country after another–in wars that were relentlessly advocated by Jewish neocons and the Zionist-owned media.

***

Remembering Mahmoud Darwish

Palestine Square

It is difficult to overstate the legacy of Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine’s iconic poet, whose passing on 9 August 2008 has left behind a literary treasure. His was a voice that touched every Palestinian, and with it, Darwish delivered the Palestinian experience to a global audience. His poems have been translated into more than 20 languages, and continue to ring true for many Palestinians who long to return home. Indeed, exile was the central thread of Darwish’s poetic journey. And, while exile is often regarded as a political reality, Darwish’s experience reveals a far broader concept. As he said in a 1996 landmark interview featured in this month’s Special Focus below, “Exile is a very broad concept and very relative. There is exile in society, exile in family, exile in love, exile within yourself.” It began with an exile from his natal village in the Galilee, where Darwish lived under military rule along with 150,000 other Palestinians after Israel’s establishment in 1948. Then, came Moscow, Paris, Cairo, Tunis, Beirut, Amman, and finally Ramallah, where he was buried. This fragmented living resonated with a broader Palestinian experience of displacement and dispersion.

Yet, for all his collective significance, Darwish was often reserved and his poetry was born from very personal experiences. For instance, he grew up convinced he was unloved by his family, especially his mother. But, when he was jailed in Israeli prison in 1956, he wrote “I Long For My Mother’s Bread,” which has become a Palestinian classic in the voice of Marcel Khalife.

“I wanted to atone for my feelings of guilt toward my mother for thinking she hated me—as a poem of national longing. I didn’t expect that millions would sing it,” Darwish said. Indeed, for countless Palestinians estranged from place and family, this particular poem was embraced as a national resistance poem, where the mother symbolizes Palestine.

Continued here

You can follow the link to access the full tribute to Darwish. At the bottom of the article you will find the links to the other articles. These include a link to the essay, “The Cruelest of Months.” Take note, however, that the articles are in PDF format and will only be available for the duration of the month of August. So if you wish to read them, do so now.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: