Selected Articles from Ha'aretz
His Beloved Land
May 24, 1998
Tel Aviv Cinematheque yesterday held the premier screening of the
impressive, moving documentary by Simone Biton, "Et la terre comme la
langue." Many guests turned up for the event, but one was unable to
attend: the film's protagonist, the poet Mahmoud Darwish. Darwish, a native
son of this country and perhaps its finest poet, is not permitted to enter
Israel. Why? Just like that. To glance at what Israel has done to Darwish
over the past 50 years is like viewing a snapshot of the entire Palestinian
tragedy. Look at what we are still doing to him today, and you will
understand how, with our own hands, we are pushing away true reconciliation.
was 6 when his Galilee village of al-Barawi, between Yassur and Ahihud, was
captured. Today all that remains is rock-strewn soil. He fled with his
family to Lebanon and then sneaked back into Israel, becoming a
"present-absentee" for about 10 years in the village of Deir al-Asad.
He went to school under the Israeli educational system and he lived under
the Israeli Military Government that ruled the "Arab sector." But
he did not become a "good Arab." He became an activist in the
Communist Party and a poet. Security authorities hounded him relentlessly.
Between one incarceration and the next he visited Cairo, saw for the first
time an entire city that spoke his language, and stayed. He never returned.
did not forgive him and since then has refused to allow him into the
country, not even to visit his elderly mother, his brothers and his
homeland. Darwish wandered between Beirut and Amman, Tunis and Paris.
"My homeland is a suitcase" is the most famous line he has
written. "In fact, for years my homeland has been language alone,"
he said on another occasion. He became a ranking activist in the Palestine
Liberation Organization, minister of culture in the Palestinians' shadow
government, and a poet deeply admired throughout the Arab world.
superb poems are among the most powerful love songs ever written to this
bleeding land. His words of yearning cannot fail to move anyone who reads
them, whatever his or her views. If Israel were more certain of its justness
it would long since have introduced Darwish's poetry into the school
curriculum. But so shaky is its self-confidence that Israel is afraid even
to let the poet visit.
the height of the hopeful days of Oslo under the Rabin-Peres government, and
following a lobbying campaign involving then-ministers Yossi Sarid (who
threatened to smuggle Darwish into the country) and Shulamit Aloni, as well
as Ahmed Tibi and then-MK Hashem Mahamid, as well as an intellectual or two,
Darwish was allowed into Israel for five days. Five days, no more. Yitzhak
Rabin, who first allowed him into the Gaza Strip, said in 1995: "I want
to see what he says in Gaza about the peace process. ... It all depends on
his good behavior." The deputy defense minister, the late Mordechai Gur,
demanded explicitly in the Knesset that Darwish declare his support for the
Oslo process as a condition for entering Israel. That's Israel for you: you
can oppose the Oslo accords only if you are a right-wing Jew.
it even relevant to deal with the political views of a poet in connection
with issuing him an entry visa to Israel? Of course not. Still, it is
important to note that even though Darwish was among the critics of Oslo and
even resigned as shadow minister of culture because of them, he was and
remains an advocate of dialogue and settlement with Israel. In 1994,
speaking in Abu Dhabi, he called for cultural normalization with Israel, and
earlier this month at the al-Nakba events (marking "The
Catastrophe" that the Palestinians associate with Israel's founding) in
Ramallah, he again spoke in favor of a two-state solution. But he is still
forbidden entry to Israel. A petition currently being circulated by the
Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem will not change that fact. The
silence of most Israeli poets and writers, and their inaction in the face of
the injustice being done to their colleague, do not help.
he is in Ramallah, where he edits the literary journal Carmel while
recovering from major heart surgery that was performed in Paris. His close
family lives in Jedeida, in the Galilee, an hour and a half from Ramallah,
but he can't get there. At week's end he told his good friend Ahmed Tibi
that he would very much like to conclude the long journey of his life in his
homeland. In Biton's film he says frankly that to this day he has not
he is photographed at an Israeli army checkpoint at the entrance to
Jerusalem, where he is turned back, his defeat is plain to see. But it's far
from clear who the victor is in Israel's war against Darwish. "I am
from here, and here I am, and I am I, and here am I, and I am I... forever
here, here forever," he wrote once, demonstrating that in the final
analysis he is the true victor, while Israel, so much afraid of him, is the