Sayid Marcos Tenório
Mahmud Darwich is the most internationally renowned Palestinian poet and writer, although still little known in Brazil. He is the author of 30 poetry books and eight prose books which were translated into more than 40 languages, and winner of the Cultural Freedom Prize, the Lannan Foundation (USA), the Lenin Peace Prize (former Soviet Union), and the Medal of Knight of Arts and Fine Letters of France. His works in the 1960s and 1970s reflect his opposition to the occupation of his homeland.
“He was the prince of words, and his name was Mahmud Darwich,” said Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury. Darwich was a poet of enormous sensitivity and a fighting spirit who used poetic phrases such as “how can a hand write if it’s not creative when making coffee.”
In addition to writing the resounding Declaration of Independence for Palestine, proclaimed by the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser Arafat, on November 15, 1988, in Algiers, Algeria, he has always taken a firm stand in defending the liberation of Palestine. Therefore, he withdrew from the organization after the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, which he called “a give-and-take” between the PLO and Israel. Darwich considered that Oslo Accords “was the greatest recklessness ever committed by a leader [Arafat] to their people.”
Darwich was born in the Palestinian village of Al-Birwa, Galilee, in 1941 to a Sunni family of small farmers. He was the second of eight siblings. The village where he was born was occupied and razed to the ground by the Zionist occupation forces in the Nakba process in 1948, which led the Darwiches to take refuge in Lebanon for a year where they began to live as “foreigners”. Upon returning, the poet found that his Al-Biwa had been replaced by a Jewish colony with the new name of Ahihud.
He was arrested several times between 1961 and 1967 for reciting poetry and traveling between villages in occupied Palestine “without authorization” by the forces of the “Jewish state”. His poem “Identity Card”,[i] which was turned into a protest song, resulted in a house arrest order. After this persecution and arrests, Darwich was forced into exile, which took him to places like Cairo, Tunis, Moscow, Beirut, and Paris, returning only in 1996 when he was authorized by the occupation to attend a funeral.
The expulsion of Palestinians is a recurrent theme in Mahmud Darwich’s work. He portrays the trajectory of anguish, pain, and suffering due to deaths and expulsions since the creation of the “State of Israel” and calls Palestine the “lost paradise” and the “Land of Divine Messages Revealed to Humanity,”[ii] as described in Palestine’s Declaration of Independence. His work reveals the unbroken and unaltered organic relationship between the Palestinian people, their land, and their history.
The Brazilian audience will be able to get closer to this poet of the Palestinian soul with the launching of the book “Memória para o esquecimento” [Memory for the forgetfulness] (Editora Tabla, 216 p.), published last Friday, the 22nd.[iii] The presentation was made by Safa Jubran, who translated the book into Portuguese, and by professor Geraldo Campos, a dear friend, coordinator of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Federal University of Sergipe. This is one of three works by Darwich available to Brazilian readers and published in Brazil by Editora Tabla.
The book recounts personal memories of August 6, 1982, coincidently the anniversary date of the US terrorist attack on Hiroshima. This was one of 88 days of the siege in which Zionist state jets dropped bombs on Beirut and killed people - a reality that Darwich experienced very closely during his exile in Lebanon. The book reminisces on the meaning of exile – and not the diaspora – and on the role of a writer in times of crisis and war. His work expresses his love for Palestine and its people, who “have existed and resisted” for over 73 years.
The published books make up for an absence of works by Darwich in Portuguese, such as those published last year: “Da Presença da Ausência” [In the Presence of Absence], translated directly from Arabic by Marco Calil; and “Onze Astros” [Eleven Stars], translated by Michel Sleiman. Another book by Darwich published in Brazil is “A Terra nos é estreita e outros poemas” [The Earth is close to us and other poems] (تضيق بنا الارض), translated from Arabic by Paulo Daniel Farah (Bibliaspa, 2012).
Mahmud Darwich’s work is permeated by the testimony of life and struggle, marked by the suffering in exile and the attempt to uproot the Palestinian people from their land. The author’s poems and stories bring an intimate feeling that is the same as that of the Palestinian people, in which resistance, by all means, is the only way to survive and the only way to free Palestine from the Zionist colonial occupation.
Darwich has never renounced his status as a resistant Palestinian national poet, making it clear in every line of his work that the suffering of the Palestinians is not just of those who live under occupation or in exile. Such torment belongs to everyone since the crimes perpetrated daily by the Jewish state are crimes against humanity.
The question present in Darwich’s work is one that everyone asks: Why would Palestinians have to recognize the State of Israel in the territory of historic Palestine without defined borders and in permanent expansion, and accept small islands of land as if Palestine were a ministate? The author himself answers it in the poem “Identity Card”: “Is the government going to take away the rocks from me, as they told me? Then he writes at the top of the first page: I hate no one, no one I steal. But if I am hungry, I will devour the usurper’s flesh. Beware! Beware of my hunger, Beware of my anger!”.
Sayid Marcos Tenório is a historian and specialist in International Relations. He is vice president of the Brazil-Palestine Institute (Ibraspal) and author of the book Palestina: do mito da terra prometida à terra da resistência [Palestine: the myth of the promised land to the land of resistance] (Anita Garibaldi/Ibraspal, 2019, 412 p). E-mail: email@example.com – Twitter: @HajjSayid
[i]The poem “Carteira de Identidade” is available at https://RED.org.br/prosa-poesia-arte/mahmud-darwich-carteira-de-identidade/. Accessed on: 22 Oct. 2021.
[ii]TENÓRIO, Sayid Marcos. Palestina: do mito da terra prometida à terra da resistência. 1st ed. São Paulo: Anita Garibaldi, IBRASPAL, 2019. p. 367.
[iii]The book launch video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PQ0F7jAf6U. Accessed on: 22 Oct. 2021.