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Mahmoud Darwish: Palestinian Poet- Times Online


  Darwish: his poems were anthems for millions of Arabs, but he did not like to called the poet of national resistance
The poet Mahmoud Darwish, hailed as the eloquent voice of the Palestinian people, was destined to lead the life of a peripatetic exile.
He was born in 1942 in Birweh, near Acre, to a large, land-owning Sunni Muslim family. Taught to read by his grandfather, he started writing poetry at 7. When Israelis occupied the village in 1948, the family lost everything, joining the exodus of Palestinian refugees to Lebanon. On their return to Birweh the following year they found an Israeli settler colony built on the ruins of their home.
Working as a journalist in Haifa, in 1961 Darwish joined the Israeli Communist party, Rakah, where Arabs and Jews mixed peaceably, editing its newspaper. Between 1961 and 1969 he was repeatedly placed under house arrest, purportedly for leaving Haifa without the permit required of Palestinians under the emergency military rule maintained in Israel until 1966.
Denied a higher education in Israel, he left for Moscow in 1970 to study political economy. The following year he joined Al-Ahram, the daily newspaper in Cairo. In Egypt, despite befriending Yasser Arafat, he refused the chairman’s offer of the position of culture minister. To Arafat’s complaint that the Palestinians were an ungrateful lot, Darwish retorted: “Then find yourself another people.” His decision to join the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in 1973 denied him the option of returning to Haifa. He was banned from re-entering Israel. From Egypt he travelled to Lebanon, serving as an editor of the journal Palestinian Affairs in Beirut and was, for a while, director of the Palestinian Research Centre.
In 1988 he wrote the Palestinian Declaration of Independence but resigned from the PLO five years later in protest over the Oslo Accords, claiming that they would bring no benefit to the Palestinians. His itinerant life — moving from Syria, Cyprus, Cairo, Tunis and Paris — heightened a sense of belonging only to language, a “country of words”, and he likened the Palestinian experience abroad to an epic voyage of the damned. After 26 years abroad he settled in Ramallah.
The creation of the state of Israel gave Darwish plenty of material for his early poetry: dispossession, exile and resistance. In his first volume, Bird without Wings, published when he was 19, one poem, Identity Card, spoke directly to the Palestinian masses who found their freedom of movement curtailed by the Israelis, their identity reduced to a number. Darwish’s family had been denied passports — and thus Israeli nationality — because of their absence during the first Israeli census of Arabs. Further collections, Leaves of Olives (1964) and Lover from Palestine (1966), made his reputation as the national poet of resistance, a reputation he simultaneously welcomed and lamented.
“I don’t decide to represent anything except myself,” he said. Despite his desire to be judged merely as a poet, with his poems read purely for their literary attributes, Darwish could not escape the role assigned to him as the voice of the collective Palestinian conscience. He complained that his readers often attached too much significance to the imagery in his poems.
His later collections, published in the 1990s, showed a shift away from politics and the simple, direct style of his earlier inspirational and heroic epics towards an introspective lyricism that drew on various mythologies. Some criticised him for having betrayed his readers, leaving behind the homeland not only in deed but also in word. Yet he remained the Arab world’s bestselling poet; 25,000 gathered in Beirut to hear him speak; some poems, set to music, became anthems for generations of Arabs. Translated into more than 20 languages, he was little published in English, although the 2001 award of the Prize for Cultural Freedom established by the Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe introduced his work to a US audience. After the events of September 11, 2001, Darwish wrote that “nothing justifies terrorism”. He publicly opposed attacks on civilians by Palestinian suicide bombers, while seeking to clarify that such violent acts reflected the despair of occupation, rather than a morbid culture of death among the Palestinian youth. He described the infighting between Hamas and Fatah in 2007 as “a public attempt at suicide in the streets”.
His was a constant voice calling for coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. Fluent in Hebrew, Darwish numbered many Jews in his social and professional circle, his friendships informing the sympathetic view of the “Israeli Other” articulated in many poems. As editor of the quarterly literary journal al-Karmel, unusually he published Israeli writers alongside Arab authors, believing poetry to have the potential to create a dialogue of reconciliation. In 2000 it seemed that the Israeli Government shared this view when the education minister, Yossi Sarid, suggested the inclusion of some of Darwish’s poems in the high-school curriculum. The suggestion was met with a chorus of dissent from right-wing politicians and was overruled by the Prime Minister, Ehud Barak. Darwish, it would appear, was too potent a symbol of the Palestinian people, however much he might wish sometimes to be regarded primarily as a good poet.
Mahmoud Darwish was married twice and had no children.
Mahmoud Darwish, poet, was born on March 13, 1942. He died after heart surgery on August 9, 2008, aged 66

Times Online