Protest Poetry of Palestine
Going along with my research theme of peaceful Palestinian resistance, this week I delved into the conflict poetry stemming from Palestinian exile, diaspora, current situation, and distress of a people who have lost much more than just land. Poetry, and its reading, is huge in most Arab nations, even more so in Palestine where rallying calls and protest are almost never ending. Beautiful and raw poetry, in Arabic and even in English, has developed over the course of the past 66 years marking the birth of the state of Israel. However, the roots of poetry in the Arabic roots go much further back and really demonstrate the beauty and power of Arabic language.
Arabic poetry has always been highly regarded in most Arab culture because of its historical roots before and during the time of the Prophet Mohamed. In times before the prophet, it was a mark of value to produce poetry and poets among tribes were regarded very highly. As time progressed, poetry became a source of history and religion among the Arab and Islamic world. The Qur’an is often noted for its beautiful use of language. I interviewed my colleague, a young woman from Saudi Arabia, about the importance of poetry even in her country. She noted that it was very important and used a lot to show intelligence and especially in politics.
In regards to the Palestinian brand of protest poetry, there have been many notable poets and poems that the people of Palestine often know by heart. Some of the poems even turn into protest hyms or chants. There have been many political movements that all embody a certain poetic style. Some may preach war, many peace, but all of justice. In Gaza and in the West Bank, political messages are sent to the people in occupied territory and the world. Around the globe, universities and Palestinian communities hold poem readings in order to commemorate the struggle of Palestinians or celebrated Palestinian poets. The internet has also aided in the spread of Palestinian protest poetry, creating what some call the “electronic intifada”.
A prominent figure in Palestinian conflict poetry, Mahmoud Darwish was born out of a village near Galilee when it was originally occupied. Later the city was “razed” or depopulated of its Palestinian inhabitants by Israeli forces. His family was forced to live in exile in Beirut, and later Paris. After living through the experience, he became famous for his poetry and his writing about the reprehensive challenges his people faced-and still faces today. In the 1960’s, he was arrested several times for traveling village to village reading his poetry in aims to stir his people and show his devotion to protest.
Darwish is only one of many important Palestinian poets of this period of occupation, or in Arabic “nikba” meaning catastrophe. I was amazed by some of the power of the raw poems. I like that in Arab culture poetry is seen as a mark of intelligence or a call to political action. This beautifies the Arabic language and makes me excited to keep learning it. Hopefully someday, I will be able to read the original Arabic poems from the Palestinian conflict.
Below, is a video of a reading of “Identity Card” one of Mahmoud Darwish’s most famous poems in Arabic then a rough translation to English. After is an excerpt from the poem first in English then Arabic.
I am an Arab
You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors
And the land which I cultivated
Along with my children
And you left nothing for us
Except for these rocks..
So will the State take them
As it has been said?!”