Special translation from Hebrew for Israel Academia Monitor:
Mahmoud Darwish – Poet of Destruction and Devastation
In mid-July 2007, Mahmoud Darwish visited the city of Haifa, after a decades-long absence, to speak and read his poetry before an audience. Mahmoud Darwish is characterized as the “Palestinian national poet”, especially by his many admirers spread throughout the huge expanses of the Middle East.
Deceptive Memory as a National Hindrance
Darwish was born in the village of al-Birwe (a few kilometers east of Acre) – the name of the village is apparently a distortion of the word “biri” from the period of the Roman conquest of the Land of Israel. Concurrent with the initiation of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel and its economic development, an influx of local Arabs, primarily from Syria and Lebanon, began, across the border into the Land of Israel. In that framework, several clans settled in the village, and by 1947, 1,500 people lived there. In archeological excavations conducted at the site, extremely sparse remains from the Byzantine period were revealed and other remains (also sparse) from the Ottoman period were unearthed. The village houses were primarily made of mortar – as most of the Arab interlopers arrived penniless, with economic motivation constituting the primary impetus to make their way to the land’s interior in search of employment and livelihood. In this way, Arab “settlements”, whose sole purpose was to provide inexpensive housing for the Arab multitudes, who came to Israel during the 1930’s and 1940’s, were established in the Land of Israel. In the wake of the 1948 War of Independence, the village was abandoned and Kibbutz Yas’ur and the Ahihud collective settlement, named after one of the heads of the Tribe of Asher, were established in its place. Thus, after many years of anticipation, the land was restored to its original owners.
In Arab historiography, these transient settlements were accorded mythical dimensions to the point that the nationalist fantasy totally overshadows the historic truth. The scope of the vision of days gone by, is well expressed in the words of Professor Hisham Sharabi of Georgetown University, located in Washington, D.C. Professor Sharabi was born in Jaffa in 1927 to an affluent Christian family. In 1947, Sharabi began his studies at the American University in Beirut, and in 1953, he completed his doctorate at the University of Chicago on European intellectual history. Sharabi has published countless articles and books about the Arab world from different and varying perspectives, and he is considered a leading intellectual in academic circles in the United States and abroad. In 1996, a conference was held in Berlin, during which Sharabi shared his memories from Palestine with his listeners in the following words, more or less: “The Palestine that I left in my youth in 1947 was a small, beautiful land on the threshold of modernity…At the conclusion of World War II, Palestine was the most advanced of the Arab countries”.
Undoubtedly, “Palestine” was already beyond the threshold of modernity in 1947. However, that small, beautiful “Palestine”, the figment of Sharabi’s imagination, had no real connection to the Arabs. The planning, initiative, economy, culture, development, construction, villages, cities, ports, educational institutions, roads, hospitals and welfare institutions were all products of the efforts of the resolute Land of Israel Jews, despite all of the ambient violence directed against them in a cruel and racist manner. Sharabi, like so many others, co-opted the Jewish memory and transformed it into an Arab and personal historic memory, just as Israeli-Arab political organizations attempt to do to Israeli history and culture at present.
And thus, the tent became a mansion, the tree an orchard, the water bucket a stream of pure water and every fruit that was purchased in the markets of Tel Aviv and Haifa was picked from the family orchard, that was, ostensibly, the product of generations of hard labor. The more time passed, the more the memory became larger than life itself – so great, that the dream itself became the biggest obstacle to its realization, as it is difficult to reach political compromise with the personal and national vision that reached mythical dimensions with the passage of time.
It was upon this historical theft, as a deceptive national vision, that Mahmoud Darwish – and many others – built his lyrical and political career over the years, especially since he left Israel in 1971. However, truth be told, Darwish himself – no less than others – is responsible for the current status of the Palestinians, as he transformed himself into the poet of destruction and devastation of those whom he represented, over the course of years past. Darwish’s forlorn visage, in Haifa’s Rappaport Hall, reflected the schism between Gaza and Ramallah and between the deceptive vision and the destructive reality quite well – it is the same reality to whose formation he contributed so much.
To Eat the Flesh of the Enemy
In 1988, when the first intifada was in full swing, Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “Going…Gone” was published in the Israeli press. The poem, which was translated into Hebrew in different versions, elicited a great emotional uproar among the Israeli public due to a few sentences contained therein that again attested to Darwish’s extreme nationalist style. And so it is written in one of the poem’s stanzas:
Woe unto those walking among the flying words
Load your names upon your shoulders and leave
Remove your hours from our time and leave
And steal landscapes as you please so that you will know
That you will never know
How a stone from our land will build the heavens.
In additional nationalist poems, which were based on the same deceptive, unrealistic vision, Darwish contributed to the formation of Arab political culture, which became a bloody double-edged sword. The emphasis in Arab politics that relied primarily on the “armed struggle”, violence, destruction, devastation and the transformation of its perpetrators into “sacred victims”, totally nationalized all resources, earmarking them for the one and only objective, to the extent that no additional resources remained for the building of a bona-fide, vital and vibrant nation. And certainly, no substance was injected into that nationalism other than violence and a shift to freedom of Arab decision to act violently. This was manifest, in a cruel and conspicuous manner, during the Yasir Arafat era, when he served as Chairman of the Palestinian Authority. In the name of the deceptive vision, which was common to the masses, nationalism was transformed into fascist-cannibal extreme nationalism. It is, therefore, no wonder that Mahmoud Darwish gave this idea appropriate expression in the following lines from his poem “Identity Card”:
I do not hate people
And I do not invade
However if I get hungry
The flesh of the occupier will be my food
In light of these expressions, it is worth noting the role played by Darwish in Lebanon during the 1980’s and 1990’s. In the name of “Palestinian nationalism”, Jordan was almost destroyed in the events of September 1970. The “Palestine Liberation Organization” attempted to establish a base in Syria; however that attempt was stymied with great resoluteness by the Syrian regime in light of the bitter experience of the Jordanian Kingdom. Then, the PLO moved to fragile Lebanon under the auspices of the “Joint Arab Resolution”. In a short time, in the name of the nationalist-cannibal idea, Lebanon was destroyed. Darwish resided in Lebanon at the time, and as a “Palestinian in exile” he made himself at home there in the framework of his intensive activity in the PLO ranks.
In the eyes of many Lebanese, Darwish was considered a bitter, cruel occupier. However, the esteemed “humanist” had no mercy on Lebanon and its residents, as in the name of the “deceptive national vision” it is permissible to destroy nations and raze countries to the ground. When Saddam Hussein invaded minuscule Kuwait in 1990, Palestinian nationalism openly cheered for him and even granted sweeping support for the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Kuwait has still not forgotten their betrayal by “Palestinian nationalism”, the product of the political culture of the poets of destruction and devastation – those same poets who today inundate the Arab countries with a deluge of unbridled verbal violence.
In other places in the Arab world, liberal intellectuals are engaged in soul-searching regarding the “culture of death” that so epitomizes Arab politics in recent decades. As, all of a sudden, they revealed that said culture primarily harms the most delicate fiber of Arab existence. However, the bill for all this bloodshed should be presented to the poets of destruction and devastation like Mahmoud Darwish, who is considered by many significant people as one of the most important poets among the region’s Arabs.
By: Dr. Yohai Sela, The Mideast Forum, July 19, 2007 http://www.mideast.co.il