Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mahmoud Darwish


Darwish was born in the village of al-Birwa, District of Acre, then in the British Mandate of Palestine now Western Galilee. He was the second child of Salim and Houreyyah Darwish.
His father was a Muslim landowner. His mother was illiterate, but his grandfather taught him to read. After the establishment of the State of Israel, the family fled to Lebanon first in Jezzin and then in Damour. A year later, they returned to the Acre area, which was now part of Israel, and settled in Deir al-Asad.Darwish attended high school in Kafr Yasif, two kilometers north of Jadeii. He eventually moved to Haifa. He published his first book of poetry, Asafir bila ajniha, at the age of nineteen. Darwish left Israel in the early 1970s to study in the USSR and was stripped of Israeli citizenship.
He attended the University of Moscowfor one year, before moving to Egypt and Lebanon.When he joined the PLO in 1973, he was banned from reentering Israel. In 1995, he returned to attend the funeral of his colleague, Emile Habibi. During the visit, he received a permit from the Israeli authorities to remain in Israel for 4 days. Darwish was finally allowed to return to live in the West Bank city of Ramallah in 1995.
Darwish was twice married and divorced. His first wife was the writer Rana Kabbani. In the mid-1980s, he married an Egyptian translator, Hayat Heeni. He had no children. Darwish had a history of heart problems: After a heart attack in 1984, he underwent heart surgery. In 1998, he was operated on again.His last return visit to Israel was on 15 July 2007 to attend a poetry recital at Mt. Carmel Auditorium, in which he criticized the factional violence between Fatahand Hamas as a "suicide attempt in the streets".
Darwish published over thirty volumes of poetry and eight books of prose. He was editor of Al-Jadid, Al-Fajr, Shu'un Filistiniyya and Al-Karmel (1981). His first poetry collection to be published "Leaves of Olives" included the poem "Identity Card", written in 1964 :
Record! I am an Arab/ And my identity card is number fifty thousand/ I have eight children/ And the ninth is coming after a summer/ Will you be angry?/ Record!/ I am an Arab/ I have a name without a title/ Patient in a country/ Where people are enraged . . . I do not hate people/ Nor do I encroach/ But if I become hungry/ The usurper's flesh will be my food/ Beware../ Beware../ Of my hunger/ And my anger!
He was recognized internationally for his poetry, which focuses on his strong affection for Palestine and his disdain for the State of Israel. Darwish remarks about the State of Israel:
The accusation is that I hate Jews. It's not comfortable that they show me as a devil and an enemy of Israel. I am not a lover of Israel, of course. I have no reason to be. But I don't hate Jews.
His work won numerous awards, and has been published in 20 languages.
Darwish wrote in Arabic, but spoke English, French and Hebrew. He was impressed by the Arab poets Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati and Badr Shakir al-Sayyab. He cited Rimbaud and Ginsberg as literary influences. Darwish admired the Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai, but described his poetry as a "challenge to me, because we write about the same place. He wants to use the landscape and history for his own benefit, based on my destroyed identity. So we have a competition: who is the owner of the language of this land? Who loves it more? Who writes it better?"
In March 2000, Yossi Sarid, the Israeli education minister, proposed that some of Darwish's poems be included in the Israeli high school curriculum. Prime Minister Ehud Barak rejected the proposal on the grounds that Israel was "not ready.
"It has been suggested that the incident had more to do with internal Israeli politics in trying to damage Prime Minister Ehud Barak's government than poetry.With the death of Darwish the debate about including his poetry in the Israeli school curriculum has been re-opened.
Many of Darwish's poems were set to music most notably Rita, Birds of Galilee and I Yearn for my Mother's Bread and have become anthems for at least two generations of Arabs, by Arab composers, among them Marcel Khalife, Majida El Roumi and Ahmad Qa'abour. In the 1980s, Sabreen, a Palestinian group in Israel, recorded an album including versions of Darwish's poems "On Man" and "On Wishes". Khalife was accused of blasphemy and insulting religious values because a song entitled I am Yusuf, oh my father based on Darwish's lyrics, cited a verse from the Qur'an .
In this poem, Darwish shared the pain of Yusuf (Joseph) who was rejected by his brothers, who fear him because he is too handsome and kind. "Oh my father, I am Yusuf / Oh father, my brothers neither love me nor want me in their midst". The story of Joseph is an allegory for the rejection of the Palestinians.
Tamar Muskal, an Israeli-American composer incorporated Dawish's "I Am From There" into her composition "The Yellow Wind," which combines a full orchestra, Arabic flute, Arab and Israeli poetry, and themes from David Grossman's book The Yellow Wind.
In 1997 a documentary entitled Mahmoud Darwish was produced by French TV directed by French-Israeli director Simone Bitton .
Mahmoud Darwish died on August 9, 2008 at the age of 67, three days after heart surgery at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas. Early reports of his death in the Arabic press indicate that Darwish asked in his will to be buried in Palestine. Three locations were originally suggested; his home village of al-Birwa, the neighboring village Jadeida, where some of Darwish's family still resides or in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Ramallah Mayor Janet Mikhail announced later that Darwish is to be buried next to Ramallah's Palace of Culture, and a shrine is to be erected in his honor.
However Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is quoted as saying that the PA may ask Israel for permission to bury Darwish near his home village in the Galilee. Darwish's brother, Ahmed, expected the burial to take place on Tuesday, August 12, in Ramallah, but arrangements for flying the body in from Texas delayed the funeral.
Before surgery, Darwish signed a document asking not to be resuscitated in the event of brain death.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning to honor Darwish and is to be accorded the equivalent of a State funeral.
Ahmed Darwish made the comment that:
"Mahmoud doesn't just belong to a family or a town, but to all the Palestinians, and he should be buried in a place where all Palestinians can come and visit him,"
Darwish's body was flown from Amman Jordan for the burial in Ramallah. The first eulogy was delivered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to an orderly gathering of thousands. Several left-wing Knessest members attended the official ceremony; Mohammed Barakah (Hadash) and Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) stood with the family, and Dov Khenin (Hadash) and Jamal Zahalka (Balad) were in the hall at the Muquata. Also present was the former French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin .
Darwish was laid to rest at the summit of a hill overlooking Jerusalem, next to the Palace of Culture, on the southwest outskirts of Ramallah
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