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Poetry of Rebellion: The Life, Verse and Death of Nuh Ibrahim during the 1936-39 Revolt

Contributed by Jerusalem Quarterly on 22.12.2007:

Jerusalem Quarterly

Issue 25

Winter 2006

Perhaps no other Palestinian popular poet garnered the fame and popularity of Nuh Ibrahim.1 Unlike other Palestinian poets from the twentieth century who wrote in Modern Standard Arabic [fusha] and published in newspapers and journals, Nuh Ibrahim recited and sang his poems in the colloquial dialect and was the poet of the common people, expressing what they experienced and felt. He was not a poet of the elite and he did not write poetry for social occasions or holidays. Instead Ibrahim is known for composing for the 1936-1939 Palestinian Revolt and to peasants working their grapevines, orchards and wheat fields. He spoke and wrote in everyday language, as a provocateur and broadcaster for the revolt, in which he also participated as a fighter. Perhaps his coherence as a popular poet results from his additional status as witness and martyr [shahid wa shaheed] to the events of modern Palestinian history.

Ibrahim was born in Haifa in 1913 in Wadi al-Nisnas neighborhood.2 He lived with his family on a meager income; his father was killed when Ibrahim was a child.

Ibrahim was not able to continue school and left during the fifth grade to begin work at a printing press. He was captivated by words, their power, and the arts of printing them, and found likeminded companions in his frequent visits to youth clubs, scout movements, and workers’ unions. He also visited different Arab countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria, where he delivered fiery speeches against the British Mandate and Zionism.

Ibrahim’s contemporaries attest that he joined the Izz Eddin al-Qassam movement, and was given the alias “Student of Qassam” [tilmiz al-Qassam], a name he cherished and which gave him great pride. When Qassam was killed on 19 November 1935, Ibrahim composed a poem entitled “O What A Loss, Izz Eddin”, which was adopted and sung throughout Palestine.3

Izz Eddin what a loss, a martyr for your people Who can deny your noble self, a martyr for all Palestine.

Izz Eddin rest in peace, and may your death be a lesson to all Ah … we wish you’d remained, oh leader of the fighters.

You forsake self and wealth for the liberty of your land! When you faced an enemy, you fought with valor and pride.

You formed a troop for the fight until the land is liberated. Its goal is victory or martyrdom, and enthusiastic men you have gathered.

You gathered excellent men and with your wealth bought us arms. And you said onward to fight for victory to the homeland and religion

You gathered the finest of men and we pinned our hopes on you, But destiny, dear kin, intervened.

Betrayal played its role, and disaster befell us Blood flowed to the knee, but you didn’t give in.

You yelled “God is Great”, like an enraged lion But the outcome was divine destiny and God’s desire.

During the revolt, the British cast a wide net looking for fighters. Ibrahim was arrested in 1937 and was sent to the Akka [Acre] prison for five months. His imprisonment was a unique opportunity, in some ways, as it allowed him to write popular poetry and sing it to his fellow political prisoners. His most popular song was “Mr. Bailey”, the anthem of political prisoners, both men and women, during the British Mandate.

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