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International Reflective Writing

Palestinian Territories

Mahmoud Darwish

Mahmoud Darwish was born on March 13, 1941 in Al Birweh, Palestine, into a land-owning Sunni Muslim family. During the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, his village was destroyed and his family fled to Lebanon. They returned the following year, secretly re-entering Israel.

As a young man, Darwish faced house arrest and imprisonment for his political activism and for publicly reading his poetry. He joined the official Communist Party of Israel, the Rakah, in the 1960s. In 1970, he left for Russia, where he attended the University of Moscow for one year, and then moved to Cairo. He lived in exile for twenty-six years, between Beirut and Paris, until his return to Israel in 1996, after which he settled in Ramallah in the West Bank.

Considered Palestine's most eminent poet, Darwish published his first collection of poems, Leaves of Olives, in 1964, when he was 22. Since then, Darwish has published approximately thirty poetry and prose collections which have been translated into more than twenty-two languages.

Some of his more recent poetry titles include The Butterfly's Burden (Copper Canyon Press, 2006),Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems (2003), Stage of Siege (2002), The Adam of Two Edens (2001), Mural (2000), Bed of the Stranger (1999), Psalms (1995), Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? (1994), and The Music of Human Flesh (1980).

Darwish was an editor for a Palestine Liberation Organization monthly journal and the director of the group's research center. In 1987 he was appointed to the PLO executive committee, and resigned in 1993 in opposition to the Oslo Agreement. He served as the editor-in-chief and founder of the literary review Al-Karmel, published out of the Sakakini Centre since 1997.

About Darwish's work, the poet Naomi Shihab Nye has said, "Mahmoud Darwish is the Essential Breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging, exquisitely tuned singer of images that invoke, link, and shine a brilliant light into the world's whole heart. What he speaks has been embraced by readers around the world—his in an utterly necessary voice, unforgettable once discovered."

His awards and honors include the Ibn Sina Prize, the Lenin Peace Prize, the 1969 Lotus prize from the Union of Afro-Asian Writers, France's Knight of Arts and Belles Lettres medal in 1997, the 2001 Prize for Cultural Freedom from the Lannan Foundation, the Moroccan        Wissam of intellectual merit handed to him by King Mohammad VI of Morocco, and the USSR's Stalin Peace Prize.

Darwish died on August 9, 2008, in Houston, TX, after complications from heart surgery.


I Belong There  
translated by Carolyn Forché and Munir Akash 

I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.
I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell
with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,
a bird's sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to 
   her mother.
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a 
  single word: Home.

Illustration by Abro via Flickr

I Didn't Apologize to the Well   
translated by Fady Joudah 

I didn't apologize to the well when I passed the well, 
I borrowed from the ancient pine tree a cloud 
and squeezed it like an orange, then waited for a gazelle 
white and legendary. And I ordered my heart to be patient: 
Be neutral as if you were not of me! Right here 
the kind shepherds stood on air and evolved 
their flutes, then persuaded the mountain quail toward 
the snare. And right here I saddled a horse for flying toward 
my planets, then flew. And right here the priestess 
told me: Beware of the asphalt road and the cars 
and walk upon your exhalation. Right here 
I slackened my shadow and waited, I picked the tiniest 
rock and stayed up late. I broke the myth and I broke. 
And I circled the well until I flew from myself 
to what isn't of it. A deep voice shouted at me: 
This grave isn't your grave. So I apologized. 
I read verses from the wise holy book, and said 
to the unknown one in the well: Salaam upon you the day 
you were killed in the land of peace, and the day you rise 
from the darkness of the well alive!

Under Siege

Translated by Marjolijn De Jager

Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time 
Close to the gardens of broken shadows, 
We do what prisoners do, 
And what the jobless do: 
We cultivate hope. 

A country preparing for dawn. We grow less intelligent 
For we closely watch the hour of victory: 
No night in our night lit up by the shelling 
Our enemies are watchful and light the light for us 
In the darkness of cellars. 

Here there is no "I". 
Here Adam remembers the dust of his clay. 

On the verge of death, he says: 
I have no trace left to lose:
Free I am so close to my liberty. My future lies in my own hand. 
Soon I shall penetrate my life, 
I shall be born free and parentless, 
And as my name I shall choose azure letters... 

You who stand in the doorway, come in, 
Drink Arabic coffee with us 
And you will sense that you are men like us 
You who stand in the doorways of houses 
Come out of our morningtimes, 
We shall feel reassured to be 
Men like you! 

When the planes disappear, the white, white doves 
Fly off and wash the cheeks of heaven 
With unbound wings taking radiance back again, taking possession 
Of the ether and of play. Higher, higher still, the white, white doves 
Fly off. Ah, if only the sky 
Were real [a man passing between two bombs said to me]. 

Cypresses behind the soldiers, minarets protecting 
The sky from collapse. Behind the hedge of steel 
Soldiers piss—under the watchful eye of a tank— 
And the autumnal day ends its golden wandering in 
A street as wide as a church after Sunday mass... 

[To a killer] If you had contemplated the victim’s face 
And thought it through, you would have remembered your mother in the 
Gas chamber, you would have been freed from the reason for the rifle 
And you would have changed your mind: this is not the way 
to find one’s identity again. 

The siege is a waiting period 
Waiting on the tilted ladder in the middle of the storm. 

Alone, we are alone as far down as the sediment 
Were it not for the visits of the rainbows. 

We have brothers behind this expanse. 
Excellent brothers. They love us. They watch us and weep. 
Then, in secret, they tell each other: 
"Ah! if this siege had been declared..." They do not finish their sentence: 
"Don’t abandon us, don’t leave us." 

Our losses: between two and eight martyrs each day. 
And ten wounded. 
And twenty homes. 
And fifty olive trees... 
Added to this the structural flaw that 
Will arrive at the poem, the play, and the unfinished canvas. 

A woman told the cloud: cover my beloved 
For my clothing is drenched with his blood. 

If you are not rain, my love 
Be tree 
Sated with fertility, be tree 
If you are not tree, my love 
Be stone 
Saturated with humidity, be stone 
If you are not stone, my love 
Be moon 
In the dream of the beloved woman, be moon 
[So spoke a woman 
to her son at his funeral] 

Oh watchmen! Are you not weary 
Of lying in wait for the light in our salt 
And of the incandescence of the rose in our wound 
Are you not weary, oh watchmen? 

A little of this absolute and blue infinity 
Would be enough 
To lighten the burden of these times 
And to cleanse the mire of this place. 

It is up to the soul to come down from its mount 
And on its silken feet walk 
By my side, hand in hand, like two longtime 
Friends who share the ancient bread 
And the antique glass of wine 
May we walk this road together 
And then our days will take different directions: 
I, beyond nature, which in turn 
Will choose to squat on a high-up rock. 

On my rubble the shadow grows green, 
And the wolf is dozing on the skin of my goat 
He dreams as I do, as the angel does 
That life is here...not over there. 

In the state of siege, time becomes space 
Transfixed in its eternity 
In the state of siege, space becomes time 
That has missed its yesterday and its tomorrow. 

The martyr encircles me every time I live a new day 
And questions me: Where were you? Take every word 
You have given me back to the dictionaries 
And relieve the sleepers from the echo’s buzz. 

The martyr enlightens me: beyond the expanse 
I did not look 
For the virgins of immortality for I love life 
On earth, amid fig trees and pines, 
But I cannot reach it, and then, too, I took aim at it 
With my last possession: the blood in the body of azure. 

The martyr warned me: Do not believe their ululations 
Believe my father when, weeping, he looks at my photograph 
How did we trade roles, my son, how did you precede me. 
I first, I the first one! 

The martyr encircles me: my place and my crude furniture are all that I have changed. 
I put a gazelle on my bed, 
And a crescent of moon on my finger 
To appease my sorrow. 

The siege will last in order to convince us we must choose an enslavement that does no harm, in fullest liberty! 

Resisting means assuring oneself of the heart’s health, 
The health of the testicles and of your tenacious disease: 
The disease of hope. 

And in what remains of the dawn, I walk toward my exterior 
And in what remains of the night, I hear the sound of footsteps inside me. 

Greetings to the one who shares with me an attention to 
The drunkenness of light, the light of the butterfly, in the 
Blackness of this tunnel! 

Greetings to the one who shares my glass with me 
In the denseness of a night outflanking the two spaces: 
Greetings to my apparition. 

My friends are always preparing a farewell feast for me, 
A soothing grave in the shade of oak trees 
A marble epitaph of time 
And always I anticipate them at the funeral: 
Who then has died...who? 

Writing is a puppy biting nothingness 
Writing wounds without a trace of blood. 

Our cups of coffee. Birds green trees 
In the blue shade, the sun gambols from one wall 
To another like a gazelle 
The water in the clouds has the unlimited shape of what is left to us 
Of the sky. And other things of suspended memories 
Reveal that this morning is powerful and splendid, 
And that we are the guests of eternity.


Fatena Al-Gharra: Movements

Fatena Al-Gharra was born in and educated in Gaza. She has worked in women's projects, as a radio presenter and as a correspondent for the Wafa news agency. Widely regarded as one of the most promising of the young generation of Palestinian poets, Faten has written three poetry collections: There is Still a Sea Between Us (Gaza, 2000), A Very Troublesome Woman (Cairo, 2003) and Except for Me (forthcoming).


Lust is a mad adventure -

struggle in the streets

Escape is a waltz with the clouds, 

steps that vanish on the feathers of a dove

The sound of the sea: an accursed city 

And the moon laughs mockingly 

Water alone knows the secret of drowning 

and the wave is master of improvisation

The streets are barefoot 

Rain turns wild

Gossip all the time 

unless we drain it 

from our blood

Adrenaline overwhelms us 

when we're impaled by desire

Can you unveil my palm 

without a kiss
or a bomb?

Tap... tap... tap... 

From now on, no gates

to this city

The literal translation of this poem was made by Anna Murison
The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop



Juliano Mer-Khamis: 100% Palestinian, 100% Jewish

The Actor Created a Theater in Jenin but was killed for his ideals

Conal Urquhart for the Guardian| The Observer, 10 April 2011

He had feared for his life in the past, but Juliano Mer-Khamis foresaw no danger when he carried his one-year-old son, Jay, to his old red Citroën for the drive home from the theatre he had founded in the West Bank city of Jenin. With his son on his lap and the nanny in the passenger seat, he pulled out and then braked when he heard his name called. Bullets smashed through the car window and Mer-Khamis moved his foot off the brake. The car moved slowly forward past a United Nations depot and a pool hall before scraping to a halt against a wall. The boy was untouched; the nanny suffered a cut to her hand. But Mer-Khamis was hit by seven bullets and died shortly afterwards.

 The Palestinian police announced on Wednesday that they had arrested a member of Hamas for Monday's murder.

 Last week, as friends and supporters of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, which Mer-Khamis ran, struggled to comprehend his death, mourners buried the 52-year-old actor next to his Jewish mother, Arna Mer, in a kibbutz in the north of Israel. Memorial meetings were held in Jenin and Haifa for a man who described himself as "100% Palestinian and 100% Jewish".

"He was aware of the danger and, although he joked about it, he was sometimes afraid," said his partner, Jenny Nyman, who is pregnant with twins. "But he always said that he would rather die on his feet than live on his knees."

In Haifa, friends gathered at the Al-Midan Theatre, a state-funded Jewish-Arab theatre, where they delivered eulogies in Arabic and Hebrew to Mer-Khamis, who first appeared on film in the 1984 movie of John le Carré's The Little Drummer Girl alongside Diane Keaton. He later became a major figure in Israeli cinema and theatre.

But it will be for his efforts at the Freedom Theatre that Mer-Khamis will be mainly remembered. A project that grew out of his desire to offer artistic freedom to the youth of Jenin, it was also the resurrection of his mother's theatre, a West Bank drama group to which she devoted much of her life. In her dying months, Mer-Khamis made a film, Arna's Children, about her and her theatre – but in 2002, the building was destroyed during the second intifada.

In 2006, with the help of Zakari Zubeidi, a former Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade leader who had renounced violence and was given amnesty by Israel, Mer-Khamis reopened it. Speaking to the Observer last week, Nyman recalled the many difficulties Mer-Khamis had encountered in doing so. "People voiced their concerns, often politely but sometimes with firebombs," she said.

The theatre once staged an adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm, which was perceived to label the Palestinian leadership as collaborators; the building was later petrol bombed. "We had support from sheikhs who led prayers on stage, but there is no doubt that, in an oppressed society like Jenin, there are always people that are afraid of change," Nyman added.

The Freedom Theatre brought change in all sorts of ways. Mer-Khamis found that encouraging girls to take part in productions was no easy task. "We had no problem attracting boys to the theatre," said Nyman. "But girls were more difficult. We worked hard to make it acceptable. We visited families, invited them to the theatre and we got their consent."

Mer-Khamis, whose parents' union – that of a Jewish woman with a Christian Arab man – symbolised their vision for the people of Israel and the Arab states, soon became a fixture in Jenin. "When we came in 2006 we were afraid, but we have had no problems for years. The theatre has become part of the society. Not fully accepted, but nothing is ever fully accepted here," said Jonatan Stanczak, one of the founders of the theatre.

Last week an old woman, sitting in the street metres from where Mer-Khamis was shot, kissed the tips of her fingers to emphasise her love for him. "He was wonderful, wonderful," she said. As she spoke, a sombre procession of mourners, carrying portraits, flowers and Palestinian flags, walked from the centre of Jenin to its refugee camp and theatre. The residents of the camp watched the group of around 60 mourners without disrespect but with no great interest, either.

Supporters in Israel and the West Bank are determined that Mer-Khamis's dream should continue. Colleagues hope to stage an international theatre festival to allow supporters from around the world toshow their appreciation.

Nyman is looking to the future. "Jay knows that something is wrong. I'm glad that he won't consciously remember what happened. Now I must take care of our son and give birth to our children and get us on the right track," she said. "I'll probably never live in Jenin again, but I feel very stronglythat his work has to be carried on. I would hate for his death to have been for nothing."

Source: The Guardian - April 10, 2011  


Karen AbuZant

Karen AbuZant is an American living with the "love of her life" and their five children in the West Bank city of Tulkarem. Karen is a Seeds of Peace delegation leader, a former nurse and an instructor of conversational English. She is also a poet passionate about the importance of writing and education in the Palestinian struggle against occupation and inhumanity.

Karen most recently instructed a group of 5th-grade girls in writing a collaborative poem about Palestine, which garnered acclaim locally and abroad.

Karen moved to Palestine toward the end of the first Intifada, but she experienced the second wholesale. Her poem "If someone would only listen" captures the frustration and despair she felt at the height of the Second Intifada. "The world refuses to hear our voices that rise up in the air," she writes. "Shouts of protest - Cries for help - Sobs of pain - Shrieks of fear." 

Karen AbuZant is active in her community and her causes and never stops working for a better future for her children and her adopted home.

Karen AbuZant Poems

What will your hands do?

Not everything in AbuZant's creative repetoir is about conflict. She wrote "What will your hands do?" to accompany a community rainbow made with handprints. "My hands can make war... or they can make peace," she writes. "I choose to promote peace." AbuZant's "hands" choose to improve, give and heal. Creativity and creative outlets are essential to encouraging positive behavior in Palestinian youth, she says. She impresses the importance of participating in the political process and education in her writing and is impassioned the Palestinian struggle.
My hands can make war...
or they can make peace.
I choose to promote peace.

My hands can be violent...
or they can be tender.
I choose tenderness.

My hands can show weakness...
or they can show strength.
I choose to be strong.

My hands can destroy...
or they can create.
I choose to be creative.

My hands can show hate...
or they can show love.
I choose to be loving.

My hands can do harm...
or they can heal.
I choose to be healing.

My hands can show sorrow...
or they can show joy.
I choose to be joyful.

My hands can be greedy...
or they can be giving.
I choose to give.

My hands can show fear...
or they can show courage.
I choose to be courageous.

My hands can be idle and lazy...
or be busy improving life.
I choose to improve life.

My hands can pollute and poison our land...
or they can sow a seed and keep it alive.
I choose to preserve life.

If someone would only listen
The world refuses to hear our voices that rise up in the air.
Shouts of protest
Cries for help
Sobs of pain
Shrieks of fear
Yes fear, the worst sound of all, for it immobilizes us.
It prevents us from living, planning and most of all hoping.
Life without hope leads to desperation.
A desperate person is a dangerous person.
Dangerous to himself and to others.
He causes devastation and destruction.
Loss of trust and loss of life.
All for want of someone to listen and make him feel worthy of benevolence and humanity.

A Palestinian Mother’s Lament 

In "Palestinian Mother's Lament," AbuZant expresses her fear and helplessness while she waits for children to return home from exams while Israeli helicopters pound overhead. "I remember it like it was yesterday," she told Palestine Note. "There was a curfew, but we had to send our kids to school because they had exams and were told that if they didn't attend, they would fail. It was around 9am and the kids had been in school for around an hour. Suddenly, the sky filled with helicopters and other thunderous sounds and I was frantic with worry."
I hear a roaring thunder, yet there's dryness in the air.
The deafening sound is not from the heavens, but from a source that breeds despair.
Yes, the F-16's are soaring, black hawks and Apaches' too.
Manned by misled young pilots, whose conscience is askew.
Gigantic blades pound the wind from helicopters that fly low.
We shrink in fear at the terrifying sounds of their quick mighty blows.
The tanks that surround us leave penetration tracks,
On the violent filled city streets, that take us all aback.
Streets of blood, streets of fame, full of misery, loss and pain.
Even for those who in violence do not partake,
often tragedy and terror is still their fate.
Is it a fight for religion, land or just glory?
Each person and each side has their very own story.
Israel says "security is our cause, we're defending ourselves and we have the right".
But what about Palestinians who want to live in peace? Why doesn't anyone consider their plight?
I try to understand, try to rationalize,
But fear cuts even the best of intentions down a size.
I know Israelis suffer too in this game of tit-for-tat.
But two wrongs will never make a right and they should realize that.
When there's a 'suicide bombing' Israel takes revenge, by destroying the home of the 'Shaheed'.
Then Palestinians avenge this destruction, by performing another violent deed.
Ironically, the people that have died in this wild rampage,
May be luckier than the ones left trapped in this cage.
For the 'security wall' they are building between us and them,
Is simply a huge prison, to keep us bothersome Palestinians in.
Every city's border is closed and guarded so heavily,
That it's been months since we've seen friends and family.
No, we can't come or go, feel or see,
The comfort that comes from solidarity.
Although under curfew, our children must attend their schools for now,
But do they truly absorb their lessons? I can't imagine how!
Be assured that we fear for their safety while in school and to-and-fro.
Yet, it's better than the torture of living our lives in slow-mo.
We must keep going, keep forging ahead.
Ignore the whizzing bullets; repress the overwhelming feeling of dread.
Be strong and steadfast whatever the price may be,
For even though we are oppressed, our spirits can still be free.
Will it ever end you say? Well there's always that bit of hope.
Till then, may God give us faith and patience and help us all learn to cope.

Karen AbuZant: New Poetry

Communication Around the Fire/Ode to Cow Island
While the drums are banging in synchrony, and the laughter is ringing true,
A fire is raging in the middle, illuminating faces and keeping them from turning blue.
But I feel the fire has another purpose, not seen by the naked eye.
It's incinerating pain, sorrow, mistrust and fear.... it makes me want to cry.
We are communicating our conflicts and sharing our stories in a dialog that is unspoken,
The bonds we are forming here tonight are the kind that stay unbroken.
When we leave this ring of fire smelling of smoke and the night's dewy air,
You can rest assured, that on this night, our hopes and dreams of peace have been shared.
**Dedicated to all who made the trip to Cow Island possible**

The cycle of giving  

As a tree planted in fertile ground sprouts up from Mother Earth, I too emerged into this world, on the triumphant day of my birth.

A a bare sapling I needed much care and nourishment to grow. I was also given strong support, when the harsh winds of life began to blow.  

Soon I grew branches and my trunk became thick and strong. With each life lesson learned, I sprout leaves, sleek and long.  

As I blossom my fragrance will fill the air with perfume, oh so sweet.  Soon I'll begin to bare beautiful fruit, ready to share and eat.  

My fruit will feed my family, community and the world one day. That's why I thank all who cared for me and took time to show me the way.


Mourid Barghouti

Mourid Barghouti, the Palestinian poet, was born  in the mountainous village of Deir Ghassaneh near Ramallah in 1944 and later studied English literature at university in Cairo. He graduated in 1967, only to become a refugee as a result of the war with Israel.

He has spent much of his life in exile and currently lives in Cairo. In addition to his writing, he has worked as a teacher in Kuwait and Egypt, in Budapest as  representative of the PLO, and in Cairo for Palestine Radio. 

He has published 13 books of poetry in Arabic, including a Collected Works (1997), and has read his poems in many Arab and European countries. In 2000 he received the Palestine Award for Poetry.

In 1996 he was allowed to return to Palestine and the result was I Saw Ramallah, an autobiographical memoir about the ironies of homecoming, which won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature.

My Writing World
by Mourid Barghout

Life will not be simplified. Oversimplification is my enemy as a poet. In the last 50 years life in my part of the world has been a braid of the normal and the abnormal. People pursue their everyday life amidst historical extremities of war, emigration, oppression and uncertainty. In my work, I attempt to defy the conventional language by which this unconventional world is described; I try to see the astonishing in the usual, and the usual in the extreme; the main paradox of Palestine being that bombardment is less news than a family reunion! Formally too I am fascinated by this braid of the usual and the unusual, just as war and peace express themselves in the number of family members present at the breakfast table, I attempt to express the strangeness of my world in words that are not strange at all. I want my language to be physical, precise, visual, concrete, daily and normal, just to reveal how abnormal the condition it describes is. In doing this, I attempt to suggest a new language that defies the fake and flamboyant governmental grandeur, aimed at belittling complex reality by a flat two dimensional metaphor. No theory terrorizes me, life is richer than all our ways of writing it and a beautiful poem can turn all literary theories upside down.


All of them arrive:
river and train     
sound and ship
light and letters
the telegrams of consolation
the invitation to dinner
the diplomatic bag
the space ship
they all arrive
all but my step towards 
my country . . .

Without Mercy

There is a sweet music,
but its sweetness fails to console you.
This is what the days have taught you:
in every long war
there is a soldier, with a distracted face and ordinary teeth,
who sits outside his tent
holding his bright-sounding harmonica
which he has carefully protected from the dust and blood,
and like a bird
uninvolved in the conflict,
he sings to himself
a love song
that does not lie.

For a moment,
he feels embarrassed at what the moonlight might think:
what’s the use of a harmonica in hell?

A shadow approaches,
then more shadows.
His fellow soldiers, one after the other,
join him in his song.
The singer takes the whole regiment with him
to Romeo’s balcony,
and from there,
without thinking,
without mercy,
without doubt,
they will resume the killing!

© Translation: 2009, Radwa Ashour
From: Midnight and Other Poems
Publisher: Arc Publications, Todmorden, Lancashire, 2008

A Night Unlike Others

His finger almost touches the bell,
the door, unbelievably slowly,
He enters.
He goes to his bedroom.
Here they are:
his picture next to his little bed,
his schoolbag, in the dark,
He sees himself sleeping
between two dreams, two flags.
He knocks on the doors of all the rooms
– he almost knocks. But he does not.
They all wake up:
“He’s back!
By God, he’s back!” they shout,
but their clamour makes no sound.
They stretch their arms to hug Mohammed
but do not reach his shoulders.

He wants to ask them all
how they are doing
under the night shelling;
he cannot find his voice.
They too say things
but find no voice.
He draws nearer, they draw nearer,
he passes through them, they pass through him,
they remain shadows
and never meet.
They wanted to ask him if he’d had his supper,
if he was warm enough over there, in the earth,
if the doctors could take the bullet and the fear
out of his heart.
Was he still scared?
Had he solved the two arithmetic problems
in order not to disappoint his teacher
the following day?
Had he . . . ?
He, too, simply wanted to say:
I’ve come to see you
to make sure you’re alright.
He said:
Dad will, as usual, forget to take his hypertension pill.
I came to remind him as I usually do.
He said:
my pillow is here, not there.
They said.
He said.
Without a voice.
The doorbell never rang,
the visitor was not in his little bed,
they had not seen him.
The following morning neighbours whispered:
it was all a delusion.
His schoolbag was here
marked by the bullet holes,
and his stained notebooks.
Those who came to give their condolences
had never left his mother.
Moreover, how could a dead child
come back, like this, to his family,
walking, calmly, under the shelling
of such a very long night?

© Mourid Barghouti
From: Midnight and Ohter Poems
Publisher: Arc Publications, Todmorden, Lancashire, 2009

© Translation: 2009, Radwa Ashour
From: Midnight and Other Poems
Publisher: Arc Publications, Todmorden, Lancashire, 2009


With a gentle hand, the storm grasps
the handle of the door of the world;
like a hesitant stranger, it lets itself in,
stripping off its masks one after the other.
Dropping lightning into woods,
darkness into torches,
despair into ships,
the devil into horse’s hooves,
blueness into the lips of the carriage driver,
and throwing me naked
into the jaws of the night.
The storm
nearly wrenches loose the stag’s horns.
The muscles of the waves
almost push back the coastline.
The sea is a team of phosphorescent horses
whipped by unseen lashes;
they chomp the drizzle, the horizons and the stars
and carry on their flying hooves
the stench of sulphur.
There are no boats on the sea,
the harbour is a sheet of shattered porcelain.
Nothing protects the trembling coast,
not even the fur of the sea’s foam.
Two chairs on the sand escape the storm
as if they were two lame runners
in a race.
Even the most proficient of animal-tamers,
cannot restore the unfettered waves
to the guards’ control.
I take refuge in that house with the imposing dome,
merciful arches,
warm blankets
and my grandfathers’ pictures
(worn out at the edges
in spite of the solidity of their moustaches),
pictures secure on the walls
as if they were built into them.
My grandfather, still harbouring the illusion
that the world is fine,
fills his rustic pipe
for the last time
before the advent of helmets and bulldozers!
My grandfather’s cloak gets hooked
on the bulldozer’s teeth.
The bulldozer retreats a few metres,
empties its load,
comes back to fill its huge shovel,
and never has its fill.
Twenty times, the bulldozer
comes and goes,
my grandfather’s cloak still hooked on it.
After the dust and smoke
have cleared from the house that once stood there,
and as I stare at the new emptiness,
I see my grandfather wearing his cloak,
wearing the very same cloak –
not one similar to it,
but the same one.
He hugs me and maintains a silent gaze,
as if his look
could order the rubble to become a house,
could restore the curtains to the windows,
and my grandmother to her armchair,
as if it could retrieve her coloured medicine pills,
could lay the sheets back on the bed,
could hang the lights from the ceiling,
and the pictures from the walls,
as if his look could return the handles to the doors,
and the balconies to the stars,
and persuade us to resume our dinner,
as if the world had not collapsed,
as if Heaven had ears and eyes.
He goes on staring at the emptiness.
I say:
what shall we do when the soldiers leave?
What will he do when the soldiers leave?
He slowly clenches his fist,
recapturing a boxer’s resolve in his right hand,
his coarse bronze hand,
the hand that tames the thorny slope,
the hand that holds his hoe lightly
and with ease,
the hand which, with a single blow,
splits a tree stump in half,
the hand that opens in forgiveness,
the hand that closes on the candy
with which he surprises his grandchildren,
the hand that was amputated
many years ago.

© Translation: 2009, Radwa Ashour
From: Midnight and Other Poems
Publisher: Arc Publications, Todmorden, Lancashire


A poet sits in a coffee shop, writing.
The old lady
thinks he is writing a letter to his mother,
the young woman
thinks he is writing a letter to his girlfriend,
the child
thinks he is drawing,
the businessman
thinks he is considering a deal,
the tourist
thinks he is writing a postcard,
the employee
thinks he is calculating his debts.
The secret policeman
walks, slowly, towards him.

© Mourid Barghouti
From: Midnight and Other Poems
Publisher: Arc Publications, Todmorden, Lancashire, 2009

© Translation: 2009, Radwa Ashour
From: Midnight and Other Poems
Publisher: Arc Publications, Todmorden, Lancashire, 2009


Rula Jebreal: Miral

by Katie Halper, co-founder of Laughing Liberally, a political comedy group, appearing in The Huffington Post

Rula Jebreal, whose autobiographical novel inspired Julian Schnabel's film Miral, condemns violence by Israelis and Palestinians, quotes Yitzhak Rabin, and is dedicated to peace. So why did the Israeli Government, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League try to stop the film's premiere at the United Nations? 

It's not often that a movie's theatrical release is an historic moment. But Miral , which opens today in LA and NYC, is the first Hollywood film to look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of Palestinians, Palestinian women, at that. The film is based on the autobiographical novel of Rula Jebreal, the Palestinian journalist, who was born in Haifa, raised in East Jerusalem, has lived in the Middle East, Europe and, most recently, New York. Directed by the New York-based Jewish-American artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel, Miral offers glimpses of history, as experienced by Palestinian women, starting with the formation of Israel and ending with the Oslo Accords. It premiered at the UN's General Assembly, on March 14th, drawing stars from Robert de Niro to Sean Penn, along with a storm of protest.

Schnabel's Jewish credentials are true blue--and white. His mother was the President of the Brooklyn Chapter of Haddassah, the Women's Zionist Organization, in 1948, during the establishment of Israel as a state. Schnabel recalls seeing Exodus at Manhattan's Rivoli Theater with his parents: "Everybody stood up when they sang 'Hatikvah,' and put their hands on their chests. My mother and father were very proud." But Schnabel's history and his film's vision mattered little to the film's critics. Seeing the movie, in fact, mattered little to the Israeli Government, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League, who, on principle, (unsuccessfully) called on the UN to cancel its March 14th screening.

This week, days before Miral's  release, I talked to Rula Jebreal about her life, her story, the film, violence, and her optimism for a peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Katie Halper: Were you surprised by the response of the Israeli government and by American Jewish organizations like the AJC and the ADL?

Rula Jebreal: No, not at all. No, no, no, no. Absolutely not. No, no, no, no. After every screening, I see the fear in people's eyes. This is their censorship response, their way of avoiding the truth. The movie is really about one thing: peace. And I'm not sure this is on their agenda. I'm more dangerous than Hamas. Hamas responds in such a stupid way--with violence. But people like me--artists, writers, intellectuals, journalists--raise awareness and consciousness. You can't label them as the enemy. These are the people that build bridges.

KH: When I saw the film I kept waiting for something that people could construe as anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic, which is the charge made by the film's most vocal critics, sadly without even seeing the film. But what I saw was a film filled with thoughtfulness and sensitivity. It certainly challenges the idea that we hear all the time--that all Palestinians hate all Jews.

RJ: I have to thank you very much for this interview. Many people shy away from interviewing a Palestinian. They avoid talking to me. In this country where there is supposed to be so much freedom of expression, there is still a fear of considering a certain perspective.

I know what is important and that is telling stories. What I'm interested in is telling the story of civil society in war time. What are the implications of war on women in terms of security, in terms of freedom, in terms of sexual harassment? I think all of that is breaking the wall of silence. I know that's not easy. The fact that in America, the land of freedom of expression, I see this concern, this fear of considering that point of view, makes me think there's an issue here that needs to be addressed. There are always two sides to every story, and if we don't listen to each other, how can we find a solution? This culture of demonization has been creating more violence.

KH: You collaborated with a director who is Jewish. So much for your being an Anti-Semite. But I guess there are those who can't believe a Jew and a Palestinian can or should work together. Or more specifically, what kind of Jew would work with a Palestinian?

RJ: Julian and I have the same values and both of us are very critical of what's going on around us, including in our own communities. We believe in respect and human rights. I reject violence. I think that killing Israelis is a tragedy. It's like killing our own people. Some of my own people say to me, "but they kill our people" and I say, "but it isn't right." Julian is on the same page. He always says he doesn't belong to any groups. He is only accountable to his conscience. It's the same with me. When I go to bed I want to feel like whatever action I did was right. Not because I'm on this side or the other side. At the end of the day we are all human. And working with him was really inspiring because I saw my own country through his mother's eyes, because he told me about how she saw it. I understood how much American Jews love Israel and care about it. I knew Israelis love their country but I didn't know how American Jews related to it.

KH: Are you ever accused of "selling out" because you condemn violence on both sides? Because, as you just said, you're critical of elements in your own community?

RJ: Yes. There are people like this on both sides of the issue. Ultimately, they are the same people. They don't realize that they are only helping each other by doing things that the other side can point to as a justification for whatever it does. And it is a cycle. So their accusations don't touch me. These people don't touch me

KH: How do you feel about the future for Israelis and Palestinians?

RJ: I'm very optimistic. I lived in Europe for a long time. Look at Europe, where there's freedom of expression, democracy, stability. Think about it 50 years ago. There was dictatorship, destruction, genocide, no economy, no human or civil rights. If that can happen in Europe, then that can happen everywhere. That can happen in our country and more than ever today because the Arab revolution is showing that people are ready to be protagonists in their own future. They are engaging in non-violent, democratic protests, asking for reform and change. They didn't call for a war; they didn't have anti-American or anti-Israeli slogans. What you hear from millions of young people in the streets is, "we want freedom, We want to live with dignity." That's a great sign and that's what we need to listen to.

KH: So your detractors in certain quarters of American Judaism are telling Jews not to see Miral. You obviously disagree. What would you tell Jews about why they should see Miral?

RJ:This film is a cry for peace. This film is against violence, wherever violence comes from. Whether it's from an Israeli soldier, a Palestinian militant, a Palestinian woman--it's wrong. It's immoral. It's killing our own country. The film is a story about love and education. It's a true story. I'm a real believer that we both deserve peace and stability. And that's only possible if we listen to each and talk to each other. It will come not through demonizing and criminalizing each other but through understanding. The example of Nelson Mandela is incredible because he left jail and didn't say, "kill all the white people." He called for forgiveness. He said are we ready to forgive each other and move forward? Are we ready to look at each face to face and not from behind guns? Are we ready to consider the others' pain as our pain and the others' blood as our own blood, to work together and try to build a bridge? Or are we going to condemn our children to live what we lived?

What is happening is tragic. What happened in Itamar [the settlement where earlier this month a family was killed while they slept. though the latest suspect is an Asian worker] is tragic, what happened [with the most recent air strikes, which have killed civilians, including children] in Gaza is tragic; what happened this morning [the bombing of an Israeli bus station] is tragic. Violence is tragic, and it's destroying our country. Violence is immoral. And it has to be stopped. Violence is the only language that has been used for 63 years. It's time to change course and to evolve and use other languages and other methods. You cannot stop killing by killing other people. We cannot continue this dysfunctional cycle. Everyone needs to see that. Rabin used to say: "I go on with the negotiations like there's no terrorist attacks." You need to show that there's diplomacy. If you don't show that there's diplomacy, if you only speak through a military language, you empower extremists. How can you hear words when there are bombs? How can you hear stories? How can you understand people and culture? It is impossible because the sound of violence drowns out everything else.

Come and see this other point of view. See the other side that you don't ever see, because the news only covers violence.


More about Rula Jebreal 

Rula was born in Haifa, Israel in 1973 and then lived with her family in East Jerusalem.  She was brought to Dar El-Tifel orphanage at the age of 5 after the death of her mother.  She studied here and graduated in 1991. In 1993 she got a scholarship from the Italian government to study medicine.  She received a degree in physiotherapy from Bologna University.  She went back to school specializing in journalism and political science.  She immediately started working for newspapers such as Il Resto del Carlino, Il Giorno e La Nazione and Il Messaggero. Her area of expertise is foreign affairs related to the Arab Israeli conflict and the uprising of Islamic movements.

In 2000, she started working in television where she became the first foreign anchorwoman broadcasting the 8pm news. In 2004, she started her daily talk show, Ominibus.  She interviewed the most important and prestigious personalities from Italy, Palestine, Israel, and Europe.



Taha Muhammad Ali: Tea and Sleep

Taha Muhammad Ali was born in 1931 in a village in Galilee [then Saffuriya in Mandatory Palestine, located on the site of what had once been the ancient town of Sepphoris, now Tsippori in northern Israel.] At seventeen he fled to Lebanon with his family after the village came under heavy bombardment during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. A year later he slipped back across the border with his family and settled in Nazareth, where he has lived ever since.

In the fifties and sixties, he sold souvenirs during the day and studied poetry (everything from classical Arabic to contemporary American free-verse) at night. Owner of a small souvenir/antiques shop he operated with his sons, he wrote vividly of his childhood in Saffuriya and of the political upheavals he has survived. The Saffuriya of his youth served as the nexus of his poetry and fiction, which are grounded in everyday experience and driven by a storyteller’s vivid imagination. He was self-taught and began his poetry career late. Taha Muhammad Ali wrote in a forceful and direct style, with disarming humor and an unflinching, at times painfully honest approach; his poetry’s apparent simplicity and homespun truths conceal the subtle grafting of classical Arabic onto colloquial forms of expression. In Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza, and in Europe and in America, audiences have been powerfully moved by Taha Muhammad Ali’s poems of political complexity and humanity. He published several collections of poetry and also wrote short stories. His books of poetry in Arabic include Fourth Qasida, Fooling the Killers and Fire in the Convent Garden. Never Mind, his first collection in English, was published in 2000 by Ibis Editions, Jerusalem. Taha Muhammad Ali died in Nazareth, Israel, on October 2, 2011.

As all readers who encountered his work know, Tha's imagination was expansive yet attentive, and several years back he had, as it happens, already conjured a poem of his final hours as he'd liked them to have been.  Taha will be sorely missed. (Copper Canyon Reader, Spring 2012).


Tea and Sleep

If, over this world, there’s a ruler
who holds in his hand bestowal and seizure,
at whose command seeds are sown,
as with his will the harvest ripens,
I turn in prayer, asking him
to decree for the hour of my demise,
when my days draw to an end,
that I’ll be sitting and taking a sip
of weak tea with a little sugar
from my favorite glass
in the gentlest shade of the late afternoon
during the summer.
And if not tea and afternoon,
then let it be the hour
of my sweet sleep just after dawn.

And may my compensation be—
if in fact I see compensation—
I who during my time in this world
didn’t split open an ant’s belly,
and never deprived an orphan of money,
didn’t cheat on measures of oil
or violate a swallow’s veil;
who always lit a lamp
at the shrine of our lord, Shihab a-Din,
on Friday evenings,
and never sought to beat my friends
or neighbors at games,
or even those I simply knew;
I who stole neither wheat nor grain
and did not pilfer tools
would ask—
that now, for me, it be ordained
that once a month,
or every other,
I be allowed to see
the one my vision has been denied—
since that day I parted
from her when we were young.

But as for the pleasures of the world to come,
all I’ll ask
of them will be—
the bliss of sleep, and tea.


At times ... I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
into a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I'd rest at last
and if I were ready -
I would take my revenge! 

But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who'd put
his right hand over
the heart's place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they'd set -
then I would not kill him,
even if I could. 

Likewise ... I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn't bear his absence
and who his presents thrilled. 

Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbors he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school...
asking about him
and sending him regards. 

But if he turned
out to be on his own -
cut off like a branch from a tree -
without mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbors or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I'd add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness -
nor the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I'd be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street - as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

Taha Muhammad Ali Reads Revenge

Taha Muhammad Ali and Peter Cole read the poem "Revenge" at the 11th Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, 2006.


under Juliano



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