Thousands mourn Palestinian poet

By Ben Lynfield, August 14, 2008

Some ten-thousand Palestinians accorded an emotional farewell on Wednesday to Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, known as "the poet of the resistance" for his defiant verses against Israeli occupation.

His coffin, draped in a Palestinian flag, was driven from Palestinian presidential headquarters to a hilltop grave next to the Ramallah Cultural Palace, now renamed the Mahmoud Darwish cultural palace.

Mr Darwish died on Saturday night in Houston, Texas, at age 67 from complications after heart surgery.
The poetry of Mr Darwish, whose boyhood village of Berwa in what is now northern Israel was destroyed in 1948, emphasised displacement, exile and homelessness. After moving to the Soviet Union in 1971, Mr Darwish lived in Cairo, Beirut, Tunis and Paris before settling in Ramallah in the 1990s. "He gave voice to our problem, our issue, our pain," said Julinar Abu Akel, 22, a business student at the Wizo college in Haifa, who was one of many Israeli Arabs to attend the funeral. As an example she recited a Darwish poem, Stranger in a Far Away City.

"When I was young and beautiful/the rose was my home/and the springs were my sea/the rose became doubly wounded/and the springs turned into sweat/have you changed a great deal?/I haven't changed a lot."

Mr Darwish wrote the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's 1974 "gun and olive branch" speech to the United Nations and penned the Palestinian declaration of independence in 1988.

Jibril Rajoub, the former West Bank security chief, wistfully termed Mr Darwish "the last of the great leaders in this period of Palestinian history".

Bakir Hamad, an educator in the northern West Bank town of Salfit, said that Mr Darwish had "taught us how to remain steadfast on our land". Other mourners recalled Mr Darwish's poem from the 1960's, Identity Card, in which the subject defiantly tells Israeli authorities asking for his identity card "Write down that I am an Arab".

Some Israelis admired Darwish's work and a delegation from the Gush Shalom peace group attended his funeral. Last year Mr Darwish gave a reading in Haifa, drawing criticism from Palestinian hard-liners that he was "normalising" relations with Israel.

Yossi Sarid, the former education minister, briefly introduced works by Mr Darwish into the Israeli curriculum in 2000. "Sometimes Darwish is very angry at us and that's natural," Mr Sarid said. "Once I spoke to him and he told me he had studied our national poet, Haim Nachman Bialik. He said it was a very illuminating experience."

Last updated: 4:11pm, August 14 2008