Analysis: An uncompromising voice for Israel's transience

Darwish expressed a fundamental tenet of Palestinian nationalism - the absence of any moral content whatsoever to Israel's claim to existence.

Mahmoud Darwish 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Mahmoud Darwish 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
This week, the body of leading Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish was flown by Jordanian military helicopter from Amman to burial in Ramallah. The funeral in the PA's main city was headline news in much of the Palestinian media. "Every good intelligence officer must read poetry," Israeli poet Haim Gouri wrote when profiling Darwish in Ha'aretz five years ago, quoting Egyptian intellectual Dr. Hussein Fawzi. Fawzi's point was that had Israeli officials read Egyptian poetry following the Six Day War, they would have known that another war was inevitable. This sage advice applies equally to the example of Darwish. Those who correctly predicted the failure of the peace process of the 1990s found Darwish's verse invaluable in reaching their assessment. His words should be examined equally closely today. There is no better or more articulate representation of the prism through which Fatah-type Palestinian nationalism views itself, its enemies and the nature of the struggle between them. In 1988, Darwish wrote a poem that became the anthem of the first intifada. The poem shocked Israelis who hoped for historic compromise with the Palestinians. In it, Darwish expressed a fundamental tenet of Palestinian nationalism - namely, the absence of any moral content whatsoever to Israel's claim to existence. The poem contains the following lines: "You who pass through the sea of transient words/ Take your names and leave. Steal what you want/ of the blue of the sea and the sands of memory... from you the steel and the fire and from us our flesh. From you another tank and from us a stone/ From you another gas bomb and from us the rain "Take your portion from our blood and just leave... because we have in this land what you do not have - a motherland." These lines describe a clash of existential proportions, between a force of nature and a force of anti-nature. On the one hand - the rain and the motherland and the sky and the sea. On the other, an artificial entity made up of transient words, gas bombs, tanks and theft. Palestinian nationalism contains, of course, many political perspectives. But all tendencies are united in the fundamental article of faith that Jewish claims to connection with the land are fictitious, fraudulent and lacking in moral or factual basis. It was for this reason that Darwish, when questioned on the poetry of Yehuda Amichai, said that while he regarded Amichai as a talented writer, he felt himself engaged in a "competition: with the Israeli. Darwish described this competition in the following terms: "Amichai 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?" Note well - not a competition between poets of rival nations. Rather, an argument between destroyer and destroyed. The idea - to which Amichai was committed - that both Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab/Muslim identities might contain genuine cultural roots and content did not feature as a possibility. From this basic understanding follows the conclusion that the artificial construct must inevitably disappear, worn away by the natural forces represented by its adversary. As Darwish has it: "Remember my son, Crusader fortresses, that were gnawed by the weeds of Nissan/ after the soldiers left." Darwish gave up his Israeli citizenship to make his physical and spiritual home among the intellectual supporters of the PLO. He was far more than a spectator. He authored the Palestinian "Declaration of Independence" of 1988. He scripted Yasser Arafat's famous speech before the UN General Assembly in 1974. His funeral took place in the mukata compound in Ramallah, wrapped in the flag, with a rifle salute, at a site close to the grave of Arafat. In a long poem written in Ramallah at the height of the second intifada in 2002, "State of Siege," Darwish expressed once more what he regarded as the inevitable fate of Israel. In a line evoking the memory of Moshe Dayan, he wrote: "Here is a general/ searching for an old state/beneath the ruins of the future Troy." Troy - the ancient kingdom depicted in Greek mythology, whose fate was to be destroyed without trace at the end of its long war with Greece. Yet despite this seeming self-confidence in his people's ultimate victory, Darwish ended his life a disillusioned man. He was horrified at the Hamas coup in Gaza of 2007, and the seeming fragmentation of the Palestinian national movement whose identity he had spent his life helping to build. He described his anguish at the "monochrome flag" of Hamas "doing away" with the "four-color flag of Palestine." Hamas, firmly entrenched in Gaza, paid only the most minimal of lip service to the passing of the "national poet." A survey of movement's Web sites on Wednesday revealed that none even mentioned Darwish's funeral on their front page (it was covered reverentially on the sites of the West Bank PA). For all his association of the party he supported with nature itself, it appears that history and time may have a different view than Darwish regarding which forces are transient, and which firmly rooted. Perhaps they may also differ with him on which local political projects seem closest to the verdict of Troy that he called down upon his enemies with such assurance. Jonathan Spyer is a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center, IDC, Herzliya.