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Notable Palestinians

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Showing 101 - 118 from 118 entries

> Mai Masri Palestinian Filmmaker
> Rashid Masharawi - filmmaker
> Ramzi Nasr - poet and performer
> Vera Tamari - artist
> Mahmoud Darwish
> Yara Dowani: swimmer and karate player
> Akram Safadi - photographer
> Rosemary Sayigh: anthropologist
> Adnan Mousallem: historian
> Sharif Kanaana: anthropologist and folklorist
> Faida Daibes-Murad wins environmental prize in Sweden
> Milad Fatouleh: Palestinian Child Wins...
> Hisham Sharabi Ph.D. 1927 – 2005
> Daniel Zoughbie: Global Micro-Clinic Founder
> Ahmed Harb, author and university lecturer
> Julia Dabdoub, Bethlehem
> Interview with Mitri Raheb: Recounting ordinary stories
> Musa Sanad - by Leyla Zuaiter
page 6 from 6  
Mahmoud Darwish
submitted by Toine Van Teeffelen

"Home Cannot Erase Exile"

By Rana Anani and Al-Quds and Al-Ayyaam newspapers

Mahmoud Darwish, the father of Palestinian poetry, was born in 1942 in Barwa, a village in the Galilee that was demolished by the Israelis in the aftermath of the War of 1948. After a period as editor and translator of Rakah, the Israeli communist newspaper, he was imprisoned several times by the Israeli authorities. During the 1970s he joined the PLO and Palestinian politics in Beirut without losing touch with Israeli society and culture.

Darwish became the most prestigious and most popular of Palestinian poets. During his exile he lived in various Arab cities such as Cairo and Tunis before finally settling down in Paris. In 1978 he became an aide to PLO president Yasser Arafat and a member of the PLO Executive Committee. He headed the cultural department of the PLO and was appointed editor-in-chief of the cultural Carmel magazine that is presently published in Palestine. He has published more than 16 books of poetry and sold more than a million books in the Arab World.

Darwish resigned from his post as a member of the PLO Executive Committee in opposition to the signing of the Declaration of Principles between the PLO and Israel. He then moved to Gaza, taking the Carmel magazine with him. Recently, he was struck by a serious heart attack.

How did you deal with the pain and anxiety that accompanied the heart attack?

"I hang between life and death. I became personally familiar with the concept of 'medically dead'; I passed from a coma to moments of severe pain, which is actually what told me that I was still alive. Pain - it welcomes you when you arrive among the living and accompanies you when you depart. I realized a fact that is often taken for granted; that we come from nowhere and are headed nowhere. Life is short, we are only passersby and should take full advantage of the trip."

How did the struggle with death affect your poetry?

"Poetry is the essence of my life. I judge life by what is worth writing about. Anything not worth writing about is not part of life. Without poetry my life has no meaning, and that itself is very dangerous. After facing death, I fell into a deep depression, not only because of my illness, but also because of the fear that I had lost my ability to write as I was unable to compose for several months. I am still hesitant to write.”

After the Oslo peace agreement you returned from your exile to Gaza. What do 'home' and 'exile' currently mean to you?

"We cannot define 'home' in a narrow frame, like saying it is the opposite of exile. Home cannot erase exile, and exile cannot erase home. I do not believe that home is vital for a poet to write, nor can I deny the positive effects of living in exile; I matured and composed some of my best work there. What is important is that we do not grow attached to exile and see in it a source of inspiration. My exile was relative, and the homeland, with its present size and recent history is also a relative homeland; it is still not independent or free. Gaza is like a soft slippery rock on which a drowning man is clambering, but still he may slip down again at any time."

How does resistance appear in your writing?

"The state of poetry is continuously changing, particularly under the current circumstances in which there is a peace settlement and in which armed resistance is not being resorted to. The poetry that called for resistance was from a period in which it was natural to write thus. The new climate of peace has modified the Palestinian-Arab-Israeli conflict and obliges poetry to meditate on a new message. The conflict is still there but it expresses itself in new ways and different forms.

"In my last collection, 'Bunk of a Stranger', resistance is present in a different way. Although love has always been present in my poetry, this is the first collection I have produced that is dedicated to love. The book contains dialogues between a man and a woman who are strangers to each other. The dialogues are charged with alienation. As the relationship between the two develops, the mystery escalates. Through these dialogues of frustration I express my ability to love and to talk about love. That too is a form of resistance - qualitative resistance. It is resistance not by facing a foe, but by defending human beliefs and ideologies. In doing so I wish to show that poets, even with a cause, are mere mortals: they love and become ill and dream and lose and win and die. Art should always reveal the personal vision. It should tell the story of humanity irrespective of political gains or favors. Poetry cannot be dealt with in purely political terms. It has its own world that will not surrender."

Which of your poetry styles would you have liked to see reach higher standards?

"If you want me to be precise, I would say I am not satisfied with any of my work; I am extremely hard on myself. I always delete parts of my work. The style that I have not perfected is the direct expression of a political stance, known as 'resistance poetry'; I am much more capable in what I call 'poetry of innocence', the poetry of one's personal life."

But surely you realize that the audience appreciates those 'direct expression' compositions.

"True, the audience is much brighter than some give it credit for, and it has the right to grow attached to some poem or another. In the end, it is the audience that feeds the poet with inspiration and guidance. However, the poet also has the right to prove to his admirers that he or she has developed."

What is the purpose of the magazine Carmel now it has returned to the homeland?

"Carmel's ideology is clear; it is to connect our feelings with our identity, and to protect ourselves culturally against domination. The very fundamentals of our culture, like every part of the Palestinian infrastructure, were destroyed, and must necessarily be rebuilt. In my opinion, Palestinian literature should move to a phase of soul-searching. In the past we were busy replying to the false allegations of the enemy about our rights and our legitimacy. Now literature should address ourselves and develop by expressing and illustrating the life of people and society.

"My ambition for Carmel is that it should reflect Palestinian culture as it stands, not just at home but also abroad. One of the main characteristics of our culture is that it developed in Europe, the United States, the Arab World and elsewhere as much as it did here. Our culture is wide and encompasses more than one language. We have writers in Arabic, in English, in French and in Hebrew. Our aim now is to unify our image while at the same time allowing it to serve as a cultural bridge between us and Western cultures. In doing so we have to build dialogues in a democratic environment where pluralism and tolerance prevail. An independent and open culture is both a means of resistance and steadfastness and a major political guarantee for peace."

What is Carmel's position on cultural normalization with Israel?

"Carmel acknowledges its responsibility for studying the Israeli ideals and culture. We should not lose any opportunity to deepen our knowledge of the other. However, this does not mean that we have to either accept or reject the idea of cultural normalization. Basically, normalization is not possible in conditions that are far from normal. It is not possible to talk about understanding between a warden and a prisoner. It is a false normalization when the more powerful side dictates its conditions to the weaker side.

"In the human sense, the conditions for developing a normal understanding are that the occupied society must obtain its freedom, choose its way of life and be able to express itself freely. My message to the Israelis is therefore a simple one: leave us alone. We search for a simple homeland in which we can taste a cup of coffee safely under the grapevine."

Compiled from:

The Jerusalem Times 20 October 1995
TJT 31 January 1997
TJT 27 November 1998


Publication The Jerusalem Times
Editor: Toine van Teeffelen

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