'The essential breath of the Palestinian people'

His face occupied the front pages of virtually every newspaper in the Arab world today. In the inside pages, everyone tried to define who and what Mahmoud Darwish was or wasn't. When someone departs who impacted Arab awareness, culture and identity as much as the 'Resistance Poet' did, a void is left which only his legacy can hope to fill.
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He left us. Still,
he lives inside us.

Mahmoud Darwish's body is dead,
but his spirit lives on.

He left, but he still is,
the poet of place and time,
we long for you
as you longed for your mother's bread.

Poetry's titan has left us,
but he left for us
poetry not like anything else.

Etchings on hearts
and journeys into souls.

He planted in us the love of country,
and the beloved,
his words flourished like almond blossoms
deeply rooted in the homeland.
Thorn-less flowers,
the color of bravery and steadfastness,
of justice and freedom.

He never subdued,
he besieged the siege,
but fate is inescapable,
death triumphed.
Yet his name is engraved
on an eternal sun.

Death insisted on taking him at the peak of his time,
kidnapping him from his glory,
defeating him this time,
in his final battle. 

Mahmoud Darwish, 1941-2008

Mahmoud Darwish will be buried on Wednesday in Ramallah, where preparations are under way for an official funeral. He will be buried close to the cultural palace but far from his hometown of Berwe in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948, from where he was deported.

The Palestinian Culture Minister, Tahani Abu Hadqa, said Darwish's funeral will probably be the largest since Palestinian president Yasser Arafat died in 2004.

Fahmi Zureiq, a friend of Darwish from inside the Green Line, said in a phone call with Menassat, "His death was not a surprise; we were expecting it lately because he has had several heart operations, all which were life-threatening. He insisted on undergoing the last operation against his doctor's advise, wanting to defeat death, as he always did."

Remembering moments spent with Darwish, he added, "I lost my friend twice, first in 1972 when he traveled from Moscow to Cairo without telling anyone – we only found out his whereabouts later – and again when he was announced dead [last Saturday in Houston, Texas.] I was still expecting to hear other news from him, but then his death was confirmed.

"Our consolation is his valuable heritage. His poetry is global, and I felt his importance when we were students in Russia, meeting other poets and international writers. He was respected by all of them. His cause was the concerns of all humans, not only the Palestinian cause; he carried the concern of his people and nation, and of all the oppressed in the world."

Three days of national mourning

We tried in vain to reach his mother, Hourieh, but his brother Zaki spoke to us about what happened between her and Mahmoud before he returned to the United States.

"Mahmoud came to his mother, he hugged her, kissed her, and held her hand, and told her he is going through with the operation, and he wanted to see her before he left."

Zaki added, "His mother cried a lot, and begged him not to go, and not to have the operation, maybe because she felt with her mother's heart, like all mothers, that her son would not return. But he had already made up his mind". 

The Palestinian cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, held an exceptional session in memory of the deceased.

Afterwards, Fayyad read a statement after the session which read: "With the loss of the poet of sweet and beautiful words, the Palestinian people loses one of the main contributors to our national and cultural identity, who with his words immortalized the struggle of a people, the sufferings of a nation whose culture was meant to be obliterated and marginalized. He told the whole world about the Palestinian pain, hope, determination and livelihood, about its mountains, valleys and plains. About the scent of almond blossoms and beyond."

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday declared three days of national mourning.

Declaration of Independence

With his words, Darwish chronicled the chapters of  the Naqba (Tragedy), the struggle for survival and the long epic steadfastness. His poems became an integral part of the living national memory. He detailed the lives of people, the dreams of children, the pains and hopes of mothers, and the aspirations of the Palestinian people. 

With his pen, Darwish drafted the dreams and aspirations of the Palestinian people when, in 1988, he wrote the official Palestinian Declaration of Independence, which was read by Arafat, at the National Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Algiers.

in his declaration of Palestinian independence, and derived his vocabulary from the spirit of the popular uprising in 1987, its aspiration to freedom, independence and sovereignty, to draw the moment of strength and determination for a life without wars, and without occupation and oppression. 

Khalled Alhroub, a friend of Darwish, is the head of Middle Eastern studies at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

"I received the news of his death with great sorrow," he told MENASSAT.

"Darwish is one of the most revered international Arab and Palestinian names. He was the one who presented the Palestinians and the Palestinian cause from a human perspective – not as victims, and not as terrorists; he wanted to tell the world the Palestinian is just human."

Mahmoud Darwish represents a unique poetic phenomenon that won't be repeated much. He enjoyed both a wide popularity and an artistic depth that baffled critics. His poetry is a mold of history, philosophy, religion and myths all wrapped up in an alloy that enriches the art of poetry.

He was always in favor of liberating the Palestinian poetry from ideology. No one owns his poetry, although his poetry owns us all.

When Darwish left politics – he resigned from the executive committee of the PLO in 1993 to protest the Oslo agreements – some thought he had left his cause, and ours. But his poetry never left its origin, very close to the heart of the Arab individual. 

"Darwish is the essential breath of the Palestinian people," the poet Naomi Shihab Nye once said, "the eloquent witness of exile and belonging."

'From now on, you are another'

Darwish was born in 1941 in the village of Berweh in Galilee, which was destroyed in 1948. He left with his family to Lebanon but they returned to Occupied Palestine a few years later in order to be close to his old village. After high school Mahmoud Darwish joined the Israeli Communist Party and started writing for the party newspaper. From 1961 onwards, he was arrested many times by the Israeli authorities.


In 1972, he went to Moscow, then to Cairo, then to Lebanon where he headed the Center for Palestinian studies. After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, he moved to Tunis, then to Paris.

The Israeli authorities allowed him entry to the Palestinian Territories only in 1996. In the final years of his life he divided his time between Amman and Ramallah.

Darwish published his last poem on the 17th of June of last year, after Hamas took over Gaza strip. "It was titled "From now on, you are another", and in it he criticized the in-fighting between Hamas and Fateh.     

(Excerpted from 'From now on, you are another')

"He asked me,
should a hungry guard
defend a house
whose owner is holidaying
in the French or Italian Riviera,
no matter what?

I said: No, he doesn't. 

He asked: Does me + me = two?

I said: You and you are less than one. 

From now on, you are another." 

(Writing by Olfat Haddad in Gaza; Additional writing and editing by Saseen Kawzally in Beirut.)

(Editor's Note: This article was updated to change the date of Mahmoud Darwish' funeral. It was moved from Tuesday to Wednesday.)

More reading:

The official Mahmoud Darwish website:

http://www.mahmouddarwish.com/english/index.htm (English)
http://www.mahmouddarwish.com/arabic/qasa2d.htm (Arabic)

From the blogosphere (in English):