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The Problem with Mahmoud Abbas and His Authority January 8, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Palestine.
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Roger’s note: apart from Israel’s apologists, analysis of the Israel/Arab quagmire tends to focus on US backed Israeli atrocities and violations of international law, and rightly so.  Nevertheless, the situation cannot be understood as simply a good guy/bad guy dichotomy between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  Here we see a critical examination of the corruption that the Palestinian peoples suffer at the hands of their own leadership.

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by RAMZY BAROUD

It was the moment many had been waiting for. On January 2, Palestine’s United Nations envoy, Riyad Mansour formally requested membership at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“We are seeking justice for all the victims that have been killed by Israel, the occupying power,” he said.

There was no explanation why Palestine’s membership of the Rome Statute (through which the ICC is governed) was delayed in the first place; of why no justice was ever sought for thousands of victims in Gaza, and many in the West Bank and Jerusalem, although such membership would have been granted much earlier.

In fact, in 2012, Palestine’s status at the UN was upgraded, from an observer entity to an ‘observer state’. The move was largely symbolic, since it was an attempt at breathing life in the two-state-solution, which was long dead. But it had one single practical benefit – the coveted membership at the ICC. Finally, Israel could be held accountable for its war crimes; finally, a measure of justice was possible.

Shifting Strategy?

Yet, for two years, the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas delayed. Not only did Abbas hesitate and carry on with the same tired charade of peace process, but he seemed keen on ensuring that Palestinian unity, even if achieved politically, remained pointless and ineffective.

But isn’t it better late than never?

Agency France Press described Abbas’ move as a “shift in strategy .. away from the US-led negotiation process.” Indeed, the US seemed peeved by the move, describing it as “counterproductive”. It will take some imagination to consider what a ‘productive’ alternative might be, considering that the US’ unhinged bias, and unconditional support of Israel had emboldened the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu into carrying out the most hideous of war crimes.

Yet this is not exactly about the killing of nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians during the 51-day Israeli war on Gaza last summer. Nor is it about the more than the 400 children who were killed then. Or even the siege on the Strip, the occupation and illegal settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Certainly Abbas had numerous chances to admonish Israel in the past, cement unity among his people, use his leverage with Egypt to at least ease the siege on Gaza, devise a strategy that is centered around national liberation (not state-building of a state that doesn’t exist), end the ongoing theft of Palestinian resources by the PA itself, establish a system of accountability, and so on. Instead, he kept his faith in Washington, playing the wait-and-see game of Secretary of State John Kerry centered on a single premise: pleading with Netanyahu to change his ways and freeze settlement construction, which never happened.

Conventional analysis suggests that Abbas’s ICC move was the direct outcome of the expected failure of a UN Security Council resolution that was put to vote a few days earlier. The US, Israel’s main political guardian was, naturally expected to veto the resolution, which would have imposed a deadline on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories. The US used the veto, and only eight member states voted in approval. A day later, Abbas signed the application for the ICC, among others; the following day, the application was formally submitted.

But a ‘shift in strategy’ it was not.

Abbas’ Balancing Act

The current political strategy of the PA reflects the unique qualities of Abbas himself, and is a testimony to his impressive abilities to find the right political balance, ultimately aimed at assuring his survival at the helm.

If Abbas’s own political subsistence largely depends on Israel’s acquiescent and US backing, one can rarely imagine a scenario in which Netanyahu and his war generals are arraigned as war criminals before the ICC.

It is unconceivable that Abbas had finally decided to break away from the restrictive role of being an active member of the US managed club of Arab ‘moderates’.

To do so, it would mean that Abbas is ready to risk it all for the sake of his people, which would be a major departure from everything that Abbas – the ‘pragmatic’, ‘moderate’ and conveniently corrupt Arab leader – has ever stood for.

So what is Abbas up to exactly?

Since the late 1970’s, Abbas began his quest for an elusive peace with Israel, which ultimately lead to the signing of the Oslo accords in Sep 1993. It was Abbas himself that signed the accords on behalf of the PLO.

Let alone that the accords wrought disaster on Palestinians, and failed to meet a single deadline including the final status agreement, which was meant to actualize in May 1999; it introduced a bizarre culture of revolutionaries-turned-millionaires, operating within the confines of militarily occupied Palestinian territories.

Year after year, the corrupt PA maintained its privileges as Israel strengthened its occupation. It was a massive barter that seemed to suit the interests of Israel, selected Palestinians, and of course, the US itself, which, along with its allies funded the whole scheme.

Ten Years of Tragedy

Late leader Yasser Arafat was clearly not suitable for the job expected of him. Flexible at times as he was, he still had political boundaries that he would not cross. In 2003, Abbas, the ‘moderate’ was imposed on Arafat by both Israel and the US as a prime minister, a post that was invented with the sole purpose of containing Arafat’s control. Following a brief power struggle, Abbas resigned. Shortly afterwards, Arafat died from possible poisoning, and Abbas returned to power, this time unchallenged.

Abbas’ mandate, starting January 15, 2004, should have ended in early 2009. But he decided to extend it by another year, and another, and has since then ruled over the fragmented, occupied nation, with the help of Israel, without a shred of legitimacy, except what he, and his supporters bestow on him.

It has been almost exactly a decade since Abbas ruled over Palestinians. They were years of tragedy, political failure, economic crisis, disunity, and unprecedented corruption.

Yes, the 80-year-old leader has survived, partly because Israel found him the most flexible of all Palestinians (he wouldn’t end security coordination with Israel even after he himself described as the genocidal war on Gaza); the Americans too wanted him to remain in his post, for there is yet to be an alternative leader, who places US-Israeli priority ahead of his own people.

But he also survived because he used billions of dollars funneled by international donors to construct a welfare system, creating a class of Palestinian Nouveau riche, whose wealth was a result of the occupation, not despite it. While the new rich basked in their underserved wealth, the fate of millions of Palestinians were tied to pay checks, which were not the outcome of a productive economy but international handouts.

While Israel was spared the burden of looking after the welfare of the occupied Palestinians as dictated by the Geneva and other conventions, it was left with abundance of funds to expand its illegal settlements.

Somehow it all worked out for all parties involved, save the Palestinian people.

The Search for ‘Victory’

In a sense, Abbas was never really a leader of his people as he didn’t place Palestinian national priority as the prime motivator of his action. At best, he was a political manger, whose management strategy is predicated on finding political balances, and catering to those with greater power and influence.

Following the expiration of Kerry’s deadline of April 29, 2014 aimed at reaching a final status agreement, and another major Israeli war on Gaza that ignited massive anger in the West Bank, which is itself on the verge of an uprising, Abbas’s burden was too heavy to bear

To create distractions, and to deny the Gaza resistance any claim on victory, he began to hunt for his own ‘victory’, which he would then promote back in Ramallah, amid major fanfare and celebration of his supporters. With every such symbolic victory, Palestinians were inundated with new songs of Abbas’ supposed heroism, as his mouthpieces traveled the globe in a desperate attempt to reassert Abbas, and the PA’s relevance.

And after much of delay and haggle, Abbas was forced by sheer circumstance to resort to the ICC, not to criminalize Israel, but to win political leverage, and to send a message to Israel, the US and others that he still matters.

The move to join the ICC has little to do with the war crimes in Gaza, and much with Abbas’ growing unimportance among his allies, but also his own people.

The problem with Abbas, however, is bigger than Abbas himself. The ailment lies in the very political culture and class that sustained and benefited from political corruption for over 20 years.

Even when ‘President Abbas’ is shoved aside, due to old age or whatever else, the malaise will persist; that is until the Palestinians challenge the very culture that Abbas has painstakingly constructed with US money, and an Israeli nod.

Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. He is currently completing his PhD studies at the University of Exeter. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

 

Obama’s Hot War July 23, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Ukraine, War.
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Roger’s note: Glen Ford tells it like it is with no apologies.  A refreshing contrast to the mealy mouthed mainstream corporate media and much of the progressive Blogosphere.

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by executive editor Glen Ford

The deeper the U.S. slips into economic decline, the higher it ratchets up the pace and stakes of armed conflict. Washington appears to have crossed some kind of Rubicon, to embark “on a mad, scorched earth policy to terrorize the planet into submission through relentless escalation into a global state of war.”

Washington’s policy is the constant fomenting of war for the subjugation of the planet – or the world’s destruction, if the U.S. cannot remain Number One.”

The United States has set the world on fire. It is nonsense to talk of a “new” Cold War, when what the world is witnessing is multiple conflagrations as intense and horrifically destructive as at any period since World War Two. Virtually every one of these armed conflicts has been methodically set in motion by the only power capable of perpetrating such massive, simultaneous mayhem: the United States, along with its underlings in London, Paris and Tel Aviv – the true Axis of Evil.

Washington is embarked on a mad, scorched earth policy to terrorize the planet into submission through relentless escalation into a global state of war. Unable to maintain its dominance through trade and competition, the U.S. goes beyond the brink to plunge the whole planet into a cauldron of death. As Russia is learning, it is extremely difficult to avoid war when a great power insists on imposing it. That was a lesson inflicted on the world 75 years ago, by Nazi Germany.

Whoever coined the phrase “No Drama Obama” should be sentenced to a lifetime of silence. The First Black U.S. President systematically brought swastika-wearing fascists to power in Ukraine to start a war on Russia’s borders. The passengers of the Malaysian airliner are victims of Obama’s carefully crafted apocalypse, a pre-fabricated conflict that could consume us all. Obama methodically and without provocation laid waste to Libya and Syria, and now the jihadists unleashed by the United States and its allies are destroying Iraq all over again and threatening to erase Lebanon and Jordan and even the oil kingdoms of the Gulf. Obama has signed yet another blank check for Israel’s ghastly war of ethnic annihilation in Gaza – a crime against humanity for which the U.S. is fully as culpable as the apartheid Jewish State, which could not exist if it were not part of the U.S. superpower’s global war machine.

Wars “R” Us

Those who say the United States is adrift or has no coherent foreign policy are colossally wrong. Washington’s policy is the constant fomenting of war for the subjugation of the planet – or the world’s destruction, if the U.S. cannot remain Number One.

The Americans have made Africa into a killing field. Somalia and its people have been smashed and dispersed, setting the whole Horn of Africa ablaze. Ethiopia commits multiple genocides under U.S. sponsorship, while Washington’s mercenaries in Rwanda and Uganda grow fat on the bones of six million Congolese. South Sudan thrashes in agony, the result of dismemberment by American, European and Israeli ghouls. The sounds of chaos and mass murder reverberate from the Magreb in the North, through the vast Sahel region, and now deep into West Africa, a direct result of criminal U.S. aggressive war and regime change in Libya.

Obama “pivots” to East Asia with the goal of turning Japan into a militaristic state with an invitation to rejoin, after all these years, the game of global conquest. Poor Afghanistan and Pakistan have no future at all, unless the U.S. leaves their region and allows them to develop an organic partnership with China. But a world based on mutually beneficial relations among peoples has no room for empire – which is why the empire wages war against the world.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com and sign up for email notification each Wednesday, when a new issue of BAR appears.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Anne Frank Is Palestine’s Child, Too July 15, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Palestine.
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banned-frank-88843-20130710-1
Anne Frank in a kuffiyeh by BDS Amsterdam
OpEdNews Op Eds 7/14/2013 at 13:43:43
by Vacy Vlazna
The graffiti image of Anne Frank wearing a kuffiyeh by the Netherlands artist known as “T’ has long drawn indignation and controversy, though its original intention was related to the fashionable wearing of a kuffiyeh. Recently, BDS Amsterdam’s use of the image has rekindled the controversy. Haaretz’s Bradley Bursten complained, “No, those who are affected most directly by the Anne Frank image–and most deeply hurt– are Holocaust survivors and their descendants.”
Personally, I think it is these same persons who, through the empathy brought by suffering, should understand the moral symbiosis of the image and its tragic significance today.
Anne Frank is of course the Jewish teenager who spent two years with her family hidden in a building in Amsterdam, and then was betrayed and deported to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi concentration camp, where she died. She has since become a beloved icon in the dreams of children, past and present, who have been annihilated by violence.
The Anne Frank Foundation states that “Through her diary, Anne Frank has become a worldwide symbol representing all victims of racism, anti-Semitism and fascism. The foremost message contained in her diary sets out to combat all forms of racism and anti-Semitism.”
Today, virulent racism and antisemitism is victimizing another Semitic people, the Palestinians.
In her diary, Anne fearfully wrote: “All Jews must be out of the German-occupied territories before 1 July. The province of Utrecht will be cleansed of Jews [as if they were cockroaches] between 1 April and 1 May.”
Palestinians are also vilified with the racial slur “cockroach.”  In 1983, Israeli Rafael Eitan, who served as Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), and later as Knesset member and government minister, announced: “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged roaches in a bottle.” And Israeli peace activist, Professor Nurid Peled-Elhanan, who has made a thorough analysis of Zionist education resources, tells us: “When images of Arabs do figure, they are often negatively depicted as less human or subhuman, subservient, deviant, criminal and evil…. [Palestinians] are seen as cockroaches, vermins, creatures who should be stamped out.”

The Suffering of Palestinian Children Is Not Unlike Anne Frank’s

In the context here of youthful suffering, let us consider the similarities between the Nazi victimising, traumatising and slaughtering of Anne Frank to the victimising, traumatising, mutilating and slaughtering of the teenagers and children of Gaza. The children of Gaza have also been trapped, or, as Anne may have put it, “chained in one spot, without any rights” for seven years in the largest concentration camp in the world.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip number 1,763,387, of whom 43% are under 14 years of age and the median age is 18.1. The population has been in a state of humanitarian crisis since the 2006 illegal Israeli blockade took control of all of Gaza’s borders in collaboration with Egypt.
Following the horrific Israeli 2009/10 war on Gaza’s defenseless population, Iman Aoun, director of the Ramallah Astar Theatre, produced “The Gaza-Mono-Logues,” based on  moving stories of thirty-one teenagers impounded in the Gaza ghetto. As one character, Fateema, 14, laconically observes, “Gaza’s fish ran away…but the people were not able to.”
In her diary, Anne Frank asks:

“Who has inflicted this upon us? Who had made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now?”
But, just as the world was silent during Anne’s holocaust and bewilderment, so too, was it silent during the massive bombardment on defenseless Gazan families (ironically, because they are not Jewish). Few took notice of Israel’s arsenal of Depleted Uranium, Dense Inert Metal Explosives, White Phosphorous, Anti-Personnel/Anti-Materiel Tank Rounds, Fuel Air Explosives, Anti-Door Short-Range Anti-Armor Weapons, Spike Multi-Purpose Anti-Armor Missiles, GBU-28s, Bunker Buster Bombs, GBU-39s, GPS Guided Munitions, M433 40mm-High Explosives, Dual-Purpose (HEDP) Cartridges, M889A1 81 mm High Explosive Cartridges, M107 155 mm High Explosive Artillery Rounds, M141 83 mm Bunker Defeating Munitions, M930 120 mm Illuminating Cartridges fired  by F16s, Helicopters, UAVs (or Drones), Armored Tanks, Caterpillar Armored D9 Bulldozers, Naval War Ships, and IOF Forces, including Max Brenner’s Proud Golani and Givati Brigades, plus the invasion of M889A1 and M107 Tanks specifically designed to spray some 2,000 pieces of shrapnel and to breach walls….
Instead, the world silently allowed the slaughter of 1400 Gazans, including 320 children and their dreams….
Sujoud, 15, declares, “They took our land and threw us out of our homes…. And because we are defending ourselves, all this happens to us. There’s no water…no electricity…no phones…no petrol…. What are we to the world, aren’t we human?”
Silence reigned again during the Israeli Operation Pillar of Cloud in November of last year, which killed 105 Gazans as well as the dreams of 30 children.
Anne Frank, trapped in the Secret Annexe in the Netherlands, was terrorized by the noise of war. She wrote:
“I still haven’t got over my fear of planes and shooting, and I crawl into Father’s bed nearly every night for comfort. I know it sounds childish, but wait till it happens to you! The ack-ack guns make so much noise you can’t hear your own voice.
Reem, 14, shared this terror in Gaza. “Yesterday I was sitting in school and heard the sounds of planes. I got really scared, I wanted to run away from school. I felt I was going to die because I remembered the war. The scenes of war won’t leave my mind.”
Unconscionably, this anguish of Gaza’s children is purposely exacerbated by Israel, which regularly and mercilessly bludgeons Gazans with a series of sonic booms, mainly at night. Sounding like massive explosions, the booms can cause miscarriages and heart attacks, as well as trauma, loss of hearing, breathing difficulties, and bed-wetting in children.
Anne Frank, for her part, described second-hand the devastation from the bombardments on her city, and more intimately the effect they had on herself:
“North Amsterdam was very heavily bombed on Sunday. There was apparently a great deal of destruction. Entire streets are in ruins, and it will take a while for them to dig out all the bodies. So far there have been two hundred dead and countless wounded; the hospitals are bursting at the seams. We’ve been told of children searching forlornly in the smouldering ruins for their dead parents. It still makes me shiver to think of the dull, distant drone that signified the approaching destruction.”
Ahmad, 14, shares first-hand his traumatic experience in Gaza:

“In the Shifa hospital I saw a sight I will never forget. Hundreds of corpses, one on top of the other. Their flesh…their blood, and their bones all melting on each other. You wouldn’t know the woman from the man or even the child. Piles of flesh on the beds, and lots of people screaming and crying, not knowing where their kids are, their men or their women.

“That night, I came home from hospital and was awake until morning from fear. I thought it would only be that night that I couldn’t sleep, but till today I see them in front of me and I can’t sleep.”
Anne dreaded the Gestapo roundup of civilians:

“Mr Dussel has told us much about the outside world we’ve missed for so long. He had sad news. Countless friends and acquaintances have been taken off to a dreadful fate. Night after night, green and grey military vehicles cruise the streets.”

 

Today, the roundups dreaded by Anne Frank find new forms in the West Bank of Palestine. There, Israel systematically ramps up the state of anxiety and fear with night-time raids and violent home invasions. Arrests of children and adults occur mainly at night, when the whole family is suddenly awakened and their home invaded by armed soldiers shouting and ransacking the family’s possessions. This leads to the kidnapping of the family member, or members, targeted, leaving the family distraught and their lives devastated. Reuters reported that, according to UNICEF, “approximately 700 Palestinian children, between the ages of 12 and 17, are kidnapped, detained and interrogated by the Israeli army, the Police and security agents in the West Bank every year, and are subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in direct violation of the Convention on the Right of the Child, and the Convention against Torture.”

 

In both the West Bank and Gaza, the effect of unending oppression has become tragic for Palestinian children. The respected Gaza journalist Mohammed Omer points out in “For Gaza’s Children the Trauma Never Ends”:

 

“The Nazi persecution and World War II in Europe, which lasted from 1933 to 1945, affected an entire generation of children. By contrast, Israel’s dispossession and occupation of Palestine has lasted some six decades–and counting. Generations of Palestinian children have been affected physically, psychologically and materially.”

 

For Anne Frank, the experience of Nazi oppression had the effect of making her former life seem surrealistic. She wrote:

 

“When I think back to my life in 1942, it all seems so unreal. The Anne Frank who enjoyed that heavenly existence was completely different from the one who has grown wise within these walls.”
Khalil, 13, for whom the Israeli violence is ongoing, has had a similar experience. “Excuse me,” he says somewhat sarcastically, “but the war has wiped blank all my beautiful memories. The front half of my house was damaged, so that I am transferred to a life-situation that I never dreamed I would be experiencing.” [IMEMC 23-1-11]
Anne Frank recalls that, “After May, 1940, the good times were few and far between: first there was the war, then the capitulation and then the arrival of the Germans, which is when the trouble started for the Jews. Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees.”

Anne then lists the humiliations Jews were subject to under the Nazi’s apartheid regime. Interestingly, her experience can easily be reworded, as follows, to reflect the Palestinian experience:

“After May, 1940, the good times were few and far between: first there was the never-ending arrival of the Jews, then the capitulation of the British and then the Israeli war and Nakba, which is when the trouble started for the indigenous Palestinians.

“Freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Palestinian apartheid decrees that violate international law:

–Palestinians live under military law, while Israelis live under civil law.
–Identity cards only for Palestinians.
–Segregation between Jewish and Palestinian communities.
–Jews-only roads and transport.
–Movement restrictions for Palestinians.
–Unequal access to land and property.
–Forcible eviction and home demolitions for Palestinians.
–Palestinians forbidden the right of return, while Jews anywhere in the
world have the right to live in Israel.
–Deportation of Palestinian prisoners.
–Palestinians are forbidden from living with Israeli Arab spouses.
–Separate and unequal education systems.
–Forced resettlement of Bedouins.”

In addition, Adalah reports that “In the four short months since the current Knesset came to power, MKs have proposed as many as 29 new discriminatory bills that attack the rights of Palestinians in Israel and the OPT.”

All Children Have Dreams, and the Right to Make Them Real

Even though for Anne “t he approaching danger [was] being pulled tighter and tighter,” and she felt “like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage,” we Palestinian young people share with her that confounding universal metamorphosis of the human teenager into a young adult overflowing with the same heartfelt reflections, confessions, emotional struggles, lamentations, loves, fears, hates, and hopes.

The tragic poignancy of her life was that a globally ignored unfettered evil cut short her life, aspirations and spiritual generosity. This was her potential, which all young people have, along with the natural right to try to make it real:
“If God lets me live, I’ll achieve more than Mother ever did, I’ll make my voice heard, I’ll go out into the world and work for mankind! I now know that courage and happiness are needed first! Yours, Anne M. Frank.
Like Anne, Reem, 14, has the spiritual generosity and energy leaders and most people lack. “The thing that upsets me and makes me cry,” he says, are children’s tears–all children in the world regardless of their nationality, religion or color. When I grow up I want to be a pediatrician, and that’s the hope that gives me a big push in life.”
When viewed in the context of the sorrows, hopes and aspirations of Gazan children trapped in the dark cages of Zionist oppression, the image of Anne Frank wearing a kuffiyeh, the badge of Palestinian resistance, manifests an aura of grace and makes profound sense.
Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001.

 

Palestine’s wandering poet May 12, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Iraq and Afghanistan, Palestine, Political Commentary.
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Mike Marqusee on Mahmoud Darwish, the poet of the Palestinian people

On a bright winter morning we made a pilgrimage to the hill of Al Rabweh, on the outskirts of Ramallah, where the poet Mahmoud Darwish is buried. An ambitious memorial garden is planned, but at the moment it’s a construction site littered with diggers and cement mixers. The oversize tombstone is crated up in plywood. We were welcomed by cheerful building workers and joined by Palestinian families paying their respects and taking snaps. Sitting amid the pines overlooking the tomb (and a nearby waste ground populated by stray dogs), we spent an hour reading Darwish’s State of Siege, a sequence of poems he wrote in response to Israel’s 2002 assault on the city. Here he called on poetry to ‘lay siege to your siege’ but observed bitterly that:

This land might just be cinched too tight

for a population of humans and gods

Darwish was six in 1948 when his family fled their village in western Galilee. When they returned a year later they found the village destroyed and their land occupied. Since they had missed the census they were denied Israeli citizenship and declared ‘present-absentees’, an ambiguous status that Darwish was to transform into a metaphor for Palestine and much more.

He was 22 when he read his poem ‘Identity Card’, with its defiant refrain ‘Record: I am an Arab’, to a cheering crowd in a Nazareth movie house. Repudiating Golda Meir’s assertion that ‘there are no Palestinians’, his poems played a key role in the Palestinian movement that emerged after 1967, fashioning a modern Palestinian identity using traditional poetic forms in a renewed, accessible Arabic.

Repeatedly arrested and imprisoned, Darwish left Israel in 1970 and remained in exile for more than a quarter of a century. His political journey led from the Israeli Communist Party to the PLO, which he joined in 1973 (penning Arafat’s famous ‘Don’t let the olive branch fall from my hand’ speech to the UN). He settled in Beirut, from which he was expelled along with the PLO following the Israeli invasion of 1982, the subject of his inventive and harrowing prose memoir, Memory for Forgetfulness.

In the years that followed, Darwish wandered – Tunis, Cyprus, Damascus, Athens, Paris – broadening his poetic scope and deepening his insight. He was elected to the PLO executive committee in 1987 but resigned in 1993 in protest at the Oslo accords. ‘There was no clear link between the interim period and the final status, and no clear commitment to withdraw from the occupied territories,’ he explained. It’s said that when PLO leader Yasser Arafat complained to Darwish that the Palestinian people were ‘ungrateful’, the poet (remembering Brecht) snapped back, ‘Then find yourself another people.’

Oslo did allow Darwish to return to Palestine and in 1996 he settled in Ramallah, only to find himself under siege again six years later. In his last years he wrote more prolifically than ever, responding to the tragedies of Iraq, Lebanon and the violent conflict between Palestinian factions:

Did we have to fall from a tremendous height so as to see our blood on our hands … to realise that we are no angels … as we thought?

Did we also have to expose our flaws before the world so that our truth would no longer stay virgin? How much we lied when we said: we are the exception!

When Darwish died in 2008, thousands joined the cortege and there were candle-lit vigils in towns across the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian Authority declared three days or mourning and issued a series of postage stamps in his honour.

Being the Palestinian national poet was a heavy burden, one that Darwish bore from an early age, and though he chafed under it he never shirked the load. Instead, he succeeded in transforming the Palestinian experience into a universal one. The themes of loss, exile, the search for justice, the dream of a homeland, the conundrum of identity: all became, as his work evolved, human and existential explorations, without ceasing for a moment to be rooted deeply in the vicissitudes of Palestinian life. For decades he mourned Palestine’s losses, denounced its tormentors, celebrated its perseverance, and imagined its future.

And we have a land without borders, like our idea

of the unknown, narrow and wide

… we shout in its labyrinth: and we still love you, our love

is a hereditary illness.

Though preserving Palestinian memory and identity was his life’s work, Darwish conceived of this as a creative act of self-renewal: ‘Identity is what we bequeath and not what we inherit. What we invent and not what we remember.’ Among his last verses was this admonition:

We will become a people when the morality police protect a prostitute from being beaten up in the streets

We will become a people when the Palestinian only remembers his flag on the football pitch, at camel races, and on the day of the Nakba

Darwish was a ‘national poet’ who challenged as well as consoled and inspired his national audience. As he moved away from his earlier declamatory, public style towards a more personal idiom, elliptical and oblique, and at times (unpardonable sin for a ‘national’ poet) obscure, he met resistance. ‘The biggest achievement of my life is winning the audience’s trust,’ he reflected in 2002. ‘We fought before: whenever I changed my style, they were shocked and wanted to hear the old poems. Now they expect me to change; they demand that I give not answers but more questions.’

Even in translation, where we miss so much, Darwish’s voice rings clear. In his mature style there’s a seductive fluidity: he moves lightly from realm to realm, pronoun to pronoun (‘I’ to ‘we’, ‘I’ to ‘you’, ‘us’ to ‘them’), from the intimate to the epic, past to future, abstract to concrete. Metaphors topple over each other, abundant and inter-laced. This is poetry that fuses the political and the personal at the deepest level.

Throughout, his evocation of loss and exile, of coming from ‘a country with no passport stamps’, is poignant, elegiac but open-ended, conjuring resolution from despair: ‘We travel like everyone else, but we return to nothing’; ‘There is yet another road in the road, another chance for migration’; ‘Where should we go after the last border? Where should birds fly after the last sky?’; ‘In my language there is seasickness. / In my language a mysterious departure from Tyre’.

Guests on the sea. Our visit is short.

And the earth is smaller than our visit

… where are we to go

when we leave? Where are we to go back to when we return?

… What is left us that we may set off once again?

Yet, convinced that ‘Out of the earthly/ the hidden heavenly commences’, Darwish affirmed the richness and beauty of life, especially life in its ordinariness:

We have on this earth what makes life worth living: April’s hesitation, the aroma of bread at dawn, a woman’s point of view about men, the works of Aeschylus, the beginning of love, grass on a stone, mothers living on a flute’s sigh and the invaders’ fear of memories

In one of his late poems, Darwish pays tribute to his friend Edward Said, putting this advice in Said’s mouth:

Do not describe what the camera sees of your wounds

Shout so that you hear yourself, shout so that you know that you are still alive, and you know life is possible on this earth.

Mike Marqusee writes a regular column for Red Pepper, ‘Contending for the Living’, and is the author of a number of books on culture and politics

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