Mahmoud Darwish at Bethlehem University, (2006)
|Born||13 March 1941|
al-Birwa, British Mandate of Palestine
|Died||9 August 2008 (aged 67)|
Houston, Texas, United States
|Occupation||Poet and writer|
Mahmoud Darwish (Arabic: , romanized: Ma?m?d Darw?sh, 13 March 1941 - 9 August 2008) was a Palestinian poet and author who was regarded as the Palestinian national poet. He won numerous awards for his works. Darwish used Palestine as a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile. He has been described as incarnating and reflecting "the tradition of the political poet in Islam, the man of action whose action is poetry." He also served as an editor for several literary magazines in Palestine.
Mahmoud Darwish was born in the village of al-Birwa in the Western Galilee. He was the second child of Salim and Houreyyah Darwish. His family were landowners. His mother was illiterate, but his grandfather taught him to read. After Israeli forces assaulted his village of al-Birwa in June 1948, the family fled to Lebanon, first to Jezzin and then Damour. Their home village was razed and destroyed by the Israeli army to prevent its inhabitants from returning to their homes inside the new Jewish state.
A year later, Darwish's family returned to the Acre area, which was part of Israel, and settled in Deir al-Asad. Darwish attended high school in Kafr Yasif, two kilometers north of Jadeidi. He eventually moved to Haifa.
He published his first book of poetry, Asafir bila ajniha, or "Wingless Birds," at the age of 19. He initially published his poems in Al Jadid, the literary periodical of the Israeli Communist Party, eventually becoming its editor. Later, he was assistant editor of Al Fajr, a literary periodical published by the Israeli Workers Party (Mapam).
Darwish left Israel in 1970 to study in the Soviet Union (USSR). He attended the Lomonosov Moscow State University for one year, before moving to Egypt and Lebanon. When he joined the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) in 1973, he was banned from reentering Israel.
In 1995, he returned to attend the funeral of his colleague, Emile Habibi, receiving a permit to remain in Haifa for four days. That year Darwish was allowed to settle in Ramallah, but he said he felt he was living in exile there, and did not consider the West Bank his "private homeland."
Darwish was twice married and divorced. His first wife was the writer Rana Kabbani. After they divorced, in the mid-1980s, he married an Egyptian translator, Hayat Heeni. He had no children. The "Rita" of Darwish's poems was a Jewish woman whom he loved when he was living in Haifa. The relationship was the subject of the film Write Down, I Am an Arab by filmmaker Ibtisam Mara'ana Menuhin, an Arab Muslim woman married to a Jewish man. (While such relationships are rare today, they were more common during the Palestinian Mandate period, and among communists, who were united by class struggle.)
Darwish had a history of heart disease, suffering a heart attack in 1984. He had two heart operations, in 1984 and 1998.
His final visit to Israel was on 15 July 2007, to attend a poetry recital at Mt. Carmel Auditorium in Haifa. There he criticized the factional violence between Fatah and Hamas as a "suicide attempt in the streets."
Over his lifetime, Darwish published more than 30 volumes of poetry and eight books of prose. At one time or another, he was editor of the periodicals Al-Jadid, Al-Fajr, Shu'un Filistiniyya, and Al-Karmel.
By the age of seventeen, Darwish was writing poetry about the suffering of the refugees in the Nakba and the inevitability of their return, and had begun reciting his poems at poetry festivals. Seven years later, on 1 May 1965, when the young Darwish read his poem "Bitaqat huwiyya" ["Identity Card"] to a crowd in a Nazareth movie house, there was a tumultuous reaction. Within days the poem had spread throughout the country and the Arab world. Published in his second volume "Leaves of Olives" (Haifa, 1964), the six stanzas of the poem repeat the cry "Write down: I am an Arab." In the 1970s, "Darwish, as a Palestinian poet of the Resistance committed himself to the ... objective of nurturing the vision of defeat and disaster (after the June War of 1967), so much so that it would 'gnaw at the hearts' of the forthcoming generations." Darwish addressed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in Ward aqall [Fewer Roses] (1986) and "Sa-ya'ti barabira akharun" ("Other Barbarians Will Come").
Darwish's work has won numerous awards and been published in 20 languages. A central theme in Darwish's poetry is the concept of watan or homeland. The poet Naomi Shihab Nye wrote that Darwish "is the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging..." Among his awards was the "Cultural Freedom Prize" by the United States Lannan Foundation, for the stated purpose of recognizing "people whose extraordinary and courageous work celebrates the human right to freedom of imagination, inquiry, and expression."
Darwish's early writings are in the classical Arabic style. He wrote monorhymed poems adhering to the metrics of traditional Arabic poetry. In the 1970s he began to stray from these precepts and adopted a "free-verse" technique that did not abide strictly by classical poetic norms. The quasi-Romantic diction of his early works gave way to a more personal, flexible language, and the slogans and declarative language that characterized his early poetry were replaced by indirect and ostensibly apolitical statements, although politics was never far away.
Darwish was impressed by the Iraqi poets Abd al-Wahhab Al-Bayati and Badr Shakir al-Sayyab. He cited Rimbaud and Ginsberg as literary influences. Darwish admired the Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai, but described his poetry as a "challenge to me, because we write about the same place. He wants to use the landscape and history for his own benefit, based on my destroyed identity. So we have a competition: who is the owner of the language of this land? Who loves it more? Who writes it better?"
Darwish is widely perceived as a Palestinian symbol and a spokesman for Arab opposition to Israel. He rejected accusations of antisemitism: "The accusation is that I hate Jews. It's not comfortable that they show me as a devil and an enemy of Israel. I am not a lover of Israel, of course. I have no reason to be. But I don't hate Jews." Darwish wrote in Arabic, and also spoke English, French, and Hebrew.
According to the Israeli author Haim Gouri, who knew him personally, Darwish's Hebrew was excellent. Four volumes of his poetry were translated into Hebrew by Muhammad Hamza Ghaneim: Bed of a Stranger (2000), Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? (2000), State of Siege (2003), and Mural (2006).Salman Masalha, a bilingual Arabic-Hebrew writer, translated his book Memory for Forgetfulness into Hebrew.
In March 2000, Yossi Sarid, the Israeli education minister, proposed that two of Darwish's poems be included in the Israeli high school curriculum. Prime Minister Ehud Barak rejected the proposal on the grounds that Israel was "not ready." It has been suggested that the incident had more to do with internal Israeli politics in trying to damage Prime Minister Ehud Barak's government than with poetry. With the death of Darwish, the debate about including his poetry in the Israeli school curriculum was re-opened in 2008.
"Although it is now technically possible for Jewish students to study Darwish, his writing is still banned from Arab schools. The curriculum used in Arab education is one agreed in 1981 by a committee whose sole Jewish member vetoed any works he thought might 'create an ill spirit'."
Darwish described Hebrew as a "language of love." He considered himself to be part of the Jewish civilization that existed in Palestine and hoped for a reconciliation between the Palestinians and the Jews. When this happens, "the Jew will not be ashamed to find an Arab element in himself, and the Arab will not be ashamed to declare that he incorporates Jewish elements."
Darwish was a member of Rakah, the Israeli communist party, before joining the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut. In 1970 he left for Moscow. Later, he moved to Cairo in 1971 where he worked for al-Ahram daily newspaper. In Beirut, in 1973, he edited the monthly Shu'un Filistiniyya (Palestinian Affairs) and worked as a director in the Palestinian Research Center of the PLO and joined the organisation. In the wake of the Lebanon War, Darwish wrote the political poems Qasidat Bayrut (1982) and Madih al-zill al'ali (1983). Darwish was elected to the PLO Executive Committee in 1987. In 1988 he wrote a manifesto intended as the Palestinian people's declaration of independence. In 1993, after the Oslo accords, Darwish resigned from the PLO Executive Committee.
Darwish consistently demanded a "tough and fair" stand in negotiations with Israel.
Despite his criticism of both Israel and the Palestinian leadership, Darwish believed that peace was attainable. "I do not despair," he told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "I am patient and am waiting for a profound revolution in the consciousness of the Israelis. The Arabs are ready to accept a strong Israel with nuclear arms - all it has to do is open the gates of its fortress and make peace."
In 1988, one of his poems, "Passers Between the Passing Words," was cited in the Knesset by Yitzhak Shamir. Darwish was accused of demanding that the Jews leave Israel, although he claimed he meant the West Bank and Gaza: "So leave our land/Our shore, our sea/Our wheat, our salt, our wound." Adel Usta, a specialist on Darwish's poetry, said the poem was misunderstood and mistranslated. Poet and translator Ammiel Alcalay wrote that "the hysterical overreaction to the poem simply serves as a remarkably accurate litmus test of the Israeli psyche ... (the poem) is an adamant refusal to accept the language of the occupation and the terms under which the land is defined."
In 2005, outdoor music and dance performances in Qalqiliya were suddenly banned by the Hamas-led municipality, with authorities saying that such events were forbidden by Islam. The municipality also prohibited the playing of music in the Qualqiliya zoo. In response, Darwish warned that "There are Taliban-type elements in our society, and this is a very dangerous sign."
In July 2007, Darwish returned to Ramallah and visited Haifa for a festive event held in his honor; it was sponsored by Masharaf magazine and the Israeli Hadash party. To a crowd of some 2,000 people who turned out for the event, he expressed his criticism of the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip: "We woke up from a coma to see a monocolored flag (of Hamas) do away with the four-color flag (of Palestine)."
I am an Arab
Robbed of my ancestors' vineyards
And of the land cultivated
By me and all my children.
Nothing is left for us and my grandchildren
Except these rocks...
Will your government take them too, as reported?
Write at the top of page one:
I do not hate people,
I do not assault anyone,
But...if I get hungry,
I eat the flesh of my usurper.
Beware...beware...of my hunger,
And of my anger.
Many of Darwish's poems were set to music by Arab composers, among them Marcel Khalife,Reem Kelani,Majida El Roumi and Ahmad Qa'abour. The most notable are "Rita and the Rifle," "I lost a beautiful dream," "Birds of Galilee," and "I Yearn for my Mother's Bread." They have become anthems for at least two generations of Arabs. In the 1980s, Sabreen, a Palestinian group in Israel, recorded an album including versions of Darwish's poems "On Man" and "On Wishes." The composer Khalife was accused of blasphemy and insulting religious values because of his song entitled "I am Yusuf, oh my father," which he based on Darwish's lyrics, and which cited a verse from the Qur'an. In this poem, Darwish shared the pain of Yusuf (Joseph) who was rejected by his brothers, who fear him because he is too handsome and kind. "Oh my father, I am Yusuf / Oh father, my brothers neither love me nor want me in their midst." Darwish presents the story of Joseph as an allegory for the rejection of the Palestinians by the Israelis.
Tamar Muskal, an Israeli-American composer, incorporated Dawish's "I Am From There" into her composition "The Yellow Wind," which combines a full orchestra, Arabic flute, Arab and Israeli poetry, and themes from David Grossman's book The Yellow Wind. Youseff M. Ibrahim,
In 2002, Swiss composer Klaus Huber completed a large work entitled Die Seele muss vom Reittier Steigen..., a chamber concerto for cello, baritone and countertenor that incorporates Darwish's "The Soul Must Descend from its Mount and Walk on its Silken Feet."
In 2008, Mohammed Fairouz set selections from State of Siege to music.
Inspired by the attempted suppression of Khalife's composition "I am Yusef, oh my father," the Norwegian singer-songwriter Moddi composed a fresh melody to the poem. The song is titled "Oh my father, I am Joseph," from his 2015 album Unsongs.
In 2008 Darwish starred in the five-screen film id - Identity of the Soul from Arts Alliance Productions, in which he narrates his poem "A Soldier Dreams of White Lilies" along with Ibsen's poem "Terje Vigen." Id was his final performance. It premiered in Palestine in October 2008, with audiences of tens of thousands. In 2010, the film was continuing an international screening tour.
In 2009 Egin, a patchanka band from Italy, published a song setting the poem "Identity Card" to music.
In 2016, his poem "We Were Without a Present" served as the basis for the central song, Ya Reit by Tamer Nafar, in the film Junction 48. Additionally, one of his poems was read during Nafar's speech during the Ophir Awards.
In 2017, his poem "Think of Others" was made into a song set to music by a South African artist and 11-year old Palestinian activist, Janna Jihad Ayyad.
Mahmoud Darwish died on 9 August 2008 at the age of 67, three days after heart surgery at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas. Before surgery, Darwish had signed a document asking not to be resuscitated in the event of brain death. According to Ibrahim Muhawi, the poet, though suffering from serious heart problems, did not require urgent surgery, and the day set for the operation bore a symbolic resonance. In his Memory for Forgetfulness, Darwish centered the narrative of Israel's invasion of Lebanon and 88-day siege of Beirut on 6 August 1982, which was the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. A new bomb had been deployed, which could collapse and level a 12-storey building by creating a vacuum. Darwish wrote: "On this day, on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb, they are trying out the vacuum bomb on our flesh and the experiment is successful." By his choice of that day for surgery, Muwahi suggests, Darwish was documenting: "the nothingness he saw lying ahead for the Palestinian people."
Early reports of his death in the Arabic press indicated that Darwish had asked in his will to be buried in Palestine. Three locations were originally suggested; his home village of al-Birwa, the neighboring village Jadeida, where some of Darwish's family still resides or in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Ramallah Mayor Janet Mikhail announced later that Darwish would be buried next to Ramallah's Palace of Culture, at the summit of a hill overlooking Jerusalem on the southwestern outskirts of Ramallah, and a shrine would be erected in his honor. Ahmed Darwish said "Mahmoud doesn't just belong to a family or a town, but to all the Palestinians, and he should be buried in a place where all Palestinians can come and visit him."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning to honor Darwish and he was accorded the equivalent of a State funeral. A set of four postage stamps commemorating Darwish was issued in August 2008 by the PA.
Arrangements for flying the body in from Texas delayed the funeral for a day. Darwish's body was then flown from Amman, Jordan for the burial in Ramallah. The first eulogy was delivered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to an orderly gathering of thousands. Several left-wing Knesset members attended the official ceremony; Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash) and Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) stood with the family, and Dov Khenin (Hadash) and Jamal Zahalka (Balad) were in the hall at the Mukataa. Also present was the former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin. After the ceremony, Darwish's coffin was taken in a cortege at walking pace from the Mukataa to the Palace of Culture, gathering thousands of followers along the way.
The Mahmoud Darwish Foundation was established on 4 October 2008 as a Palestinian non-profit foundation that "seeks to safeguard Mahmoud Darwish's cultural, literary and intellectual legacy." The foundation administers the annual "Mahmoud Darwish Award for Creativity" granted to intellectuals from Palestine and elsewhere. The inaugural winner of the prize, in 2010, was Ahdaf Soueif.
He was born in al-Birwa, a village east of Acre, in 1941. In 1948 his family fled to Lebanon to escape the fighting between the Arab and Israeli armies. When they returned to their village, they found it had been razed by Israeli troops.
al-Birwa (the village where the well-known Mahmud Darwish was born), which was destroyed by the Israeli army in 1948.