Darwish to be buried in Ramallah Tuesday

Poet's brother: He should be in a place where all Palestinians can visit.

Mahmoud Darwish 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
Mahmoud Darwish 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
Flags were lowered to half-staff at West Bank government buildings Sunday, ushering in three days of mourning for poet Mahmoud Darwish, who helped forge the Palestinians' national identity and gave a voice to their yearning for independence. Darwish died Saturday, at age 67, following heart surgery at a Houston hospital. The poet is to be buried on Tuesday in the West Bank city of Ramallah, rather than near his home village in what is now Israel, according to a brother, Ahmed. The family had initially considered seeking burial close to home. However, this would have required Israeli approval, and would have made it difficult for people from across the Arab world to visit the grave. "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," said Ahmed Darwish. Darwish will be buried next to Ramallah's Palace of Culture, and a shrine will be erected in his honor, said Ramallah Mayor Jeanette Michael. In the past year, Darwish had become increasingly concerned about the political infighting. Underscoring those divisions, it was not clear Sunday whether the Hamas government in Gaza would join the three days of official mourning declared by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Gaza's Culture Ministry planned to set up a mourning tent, starting Monday, officials said. Hamas's supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal, who is based in Syria, said that "with the death of Darwish, Palestinian literature lost one of its pillars." Moreed Bargouthi, a Palestinian poet, told the Voice of Palestine radio Sunday that he had spoken to Darwish before his surgery and that Darwish had expressed his worry about the bitter political divisions. In Ramallah, flags were lowered to half-staff Sunday, to usher in the mourning period. Late Saturday, as news of Darwish's death spread, dozens of people lit memorial candles in Ramallah's main square. Some radio stations played Darwish poems set to music. Darwish's works are taught in Palestinian schools and are also popular among the thousands of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel for security offenses. Prisoners traditionally spend their time in jail reading and organizing classes for each other. Darwish's occasional readings in Ramallah drew overflow crowds. Hashem Khatib, a construction worker who spent 2.5 years in Israeli jails, said he was saddened by Darwish's death. "He devoted his life to the Palestinian cause," said Khatib. "When I was in jail, I read some of his poems." Darwish's poetry has been translated into more than 20 languages and he won numerous international awards. He first gained prominence in the 1960s with the publication of his first poetry collection, "Bird without Wings." It included the poem "Identity Card" that defiantly spoke in the first person of an Arab man giving his identity number - a common practice among Palestinians when dealing with Israeli authorities and Arab governments - and vowing to return to his land. Many of his poems have been put into 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. He wrote another 21 collections, the last, "The Impression of Butterflies," in 2008. In Cairo, Arab League chief Amr Moussa paid tribute to Darwish. "With him gone, the Palestinians and all Arabs will be missing one of the poetic and cultural symbols in the modern history," Moussa said. Darwish was born in the Palestinian village of Birweh near Haifa, which was destroyed in the 1948 Independence War. He joined the Israeli Communist Party after high school and began writing poems for leftist newspapers. Darwish left Israel in the early 1970s to study in the former Soviet Union, and from there he traveled to Egypt and Lebanon. He joined the Palestine Liberation Organization, but resigned in 1993 in protest over the interim peace accords that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat signed with Israel. Darwish moved to Ramallah in 1996. In 2000, Israel's education minister, Yossi Sarid, suggested including some of Darwish's poems in the Israeli high school curriculum. But then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak overruled him, saying Israel was not ready yet for his ideas in the school system.