Sudan Watch: 101 days of prayer

From the Associated Press: “Hundreds gathered on a rainy morning in the southern capital of Juba to mark the launch of the prayer campaign.”

Sister Cecilia Sierra Salcido, left, and a member of her congregation prepare for the launch of the Catholic Archdiocese’s “101 Day of Prayer for Peace” at Kator Cathedral in Juba, sourthern Sudan, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010. The Catholic Church is launching a country-wide peace campaign in Sudan amid political tensions 3½ months until a scheduled referendum on southern independence. Southern Sudan is scheduled to vote on independence Jan. 9, but preparations for the vote are behind schedule. The Obama administration has said it is “inevitable” the south will declare independence, but given the south’s substantial oil resources, many here worry the north may not accept an independent south. (AP Photo/Maggie Fick)

From Peacebuilding Program manager, Tom Purekal:

Just thought you would like to know more about the campaign we are running for “101 Days of Prayer Towards a Peaceful Referendum in Sudan”.  It is now international, with word racing throughout the US and Europe.  It is nice to know that Southern Sudan does not stand alone.

The campaign launches next Tuesday (Sept 21) on the UN’s International Day of Peace.  Just two days later (on Sept 23), US President Barak Obama will speak with the General Assembly of the United Nations on Sudan with President Salva Kir and some 30 other delegates from Southern Sudan in attendance.

I welcome and encourage you to help promote this prayer campaign…for peace…to help the next generation envision what a Sudan free from violent conflict might look like!

The slogan on the church in the background “Haec est domus dei”  (here is the house of the Lord) is from 1 Chronicles 22:1:

Then David said, “The house of the LORD God is to be here, and also the altar of burnt offering for Israel.”

…”here” in the biblical verse being here.

Juba in Arabic جبة I was once told was an old-fashioned word for a woman’s skirt.
There are also towns named Jubbah in both Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Posted in Elections, peace, Sudan. Comments Off on Sudan Watch: 101 days of prayer

Sudan watch

People remember the war in Darfur a few years ago, in the northern part of Sudan, but how many remember there was another war in the south?

There was to be a referendum to decide the possible independence of this area, and the time is getting closer.  The U.N. does promote humanitarian aid in Sudan, but it’s hard to find any specific information about conditions in the south, other than the fact that the U.N. is training the local police ahead of the January 9 referendum.

One group active in the area is the Catholic Church–the Catholic Relief Services page gives an overview of the situation with a clarity lacking on the U.N. pages. (The UMCOR page is disappointing–it clearly hasn’t been updated recently as it only talks about Darfur.) The Catholics say they can do “peacebuilding“.

Posted in peace. Comments Off on Sudan watch


“How can I find out about what Palestinians think”, I was asked on another thread. Well, there’s the Jordan Times. And I forgot to mention all of King Abdullah’s speeches. What an intellect.

And what about this issue and that issue that people keep bringing up? You can’t really talk about it in a short quip on a thread. Sometimes it’s more complicated and takes time to explain. So here is a list of sources I recommend as well as what is on this blog about Palestinians so far. Sort of an index.


News sources

The Jordan Times-Jordanian online newspaper in English (the King reads this paper)

The Maan News Agency– Palestinian news service, because you know it’s not going to be on the evening news. East round table–op ed’s reprinted from various international publications.

The Christian Science Monitor-always in depth and reflective when they write about the Middle East

The Israel Lobby

Chomsky Ditches Rockefeller Chapel, Politics is Still Local-Chomsky, the Israel lobby, and professors Norman Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee

J Street–a new American Jewish lobby for a two state solution– not all American Jews are neocons who oppose the formation of a Palestinian state

Chomsky, Israel Lobby co-author Mearsheimer to speak at Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel in October 2007-book: Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Policy. Is the Israel lobby the only thing preventing the formation of a Palestinian state?

A Moslem Conspiracy: Brigitte Gabriel’s frightened war-zone vision of population politics-Gabriel is a Lebanese Christian who grew up in a war zone in Lebanon and was helped to asylum by Israeli sources.

Arab Extremists

Jordan stops flirting with Hamas…for now-sequel to “American loses it last Arab friend” about the unfortunate “Jordan as Palestinian homeland” provocation

America loses its last Arab friend-Jordan talks to (gasp!) Hamas. Yup, it’s about that “Jordan as Palestinian homeland” business again

Hamas takeover of Gaza– “Follow the money–another proxy war between Iran and the U.S.”

Vintage 1969 Middle East Fanaticism Quotation-the secretive Miles Copland

Palestine just a pawn in Copeland’s 1952 Game of Nations-Promoting stability in the Middle East. “After Nasser’s successful Egyptian coup, his people were again in touch with American diplomats and eventually they came around to the American view of the necessity of using Israel as the scapegoat to unite the country…”

Speeches by Abdullah II, King of Jordan.

amman-messageThis guy is my hero. Seriously. His photo is above my computer, and I have archived a lot of his old speeches from back when the Jordan Times articles were only online for a week.  When I take a notion to monitor the use of this website, I can see people from university IP’s looking at these speeches for long periods of time, so I know I’m not the only one who appreciates both his scholarship and his street wisdom. The King has some of the speeches (like the Amman Statement about moderate Islam–oh wait that has its own website) on his official website as well, also some op-ed pieces he has written for major western publications. He believes in Palestinian statehood, and his confidence makes me sure it can happen now, in this election cycle.

The Amman Message: how Jordan understands Islam–text of remarks by King Abdullah II, November 2004

Text of King Abdullah’s message to U.S. congress March 7, 20007

Transcript of Interview, Jordan’s King Abdullah 4-10-07

Transcript of interview with Jordan’s King Abdullah May 9, 2007 with Egyptian Al Ahram daily

Prosperity, stability, a crucial model for other countries: Text of King Abdullah II remarks at opening of Dead Sea G-11 Economic Summit 5-19-07

Remarks by King Abdullah 5-21-07 to Nik Gowing, BBC World, at the side of G11 Economic Forum

Text of Jordan’s King Abdullah’s remarks to Al Ghad daily July 1, 2007

Text of Jordan King Abdullah’s remarks at Canadian Foreign Ministry 7-13-07

Text of Jordan King Abdullah II interview with JTV 8-31-07

Text of remarks by King Abdullah II to the World Economic Forum at Sharm al-Sheikh 5-19-08

Palestinian Statehood

U.S. pledges $900 million at Gaza conference-Hillary says money will not go to Hamas

Palestinian Scuttlebutt: “Mish Harb”-sniffing the Arab Street in Chicago after the Gaza military action

If Mahmoud Darwish wrote the Palestinian Declaration of Independence–where is it?– by the end of the rant I have found the link–yes, it’s real.

Remembering Mahmoud Darwish-the Palestinian poet who wrote the Palestinian Declaration of independence–links to poems that are incredible even in translation.

Palestine screws up again, rejects statehood– a rant against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for rejecting an offer of statehood as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert leaves office–because of Jerusalem.

Palestine Independence: Who would provide security?

Obama weasels on Palestine-parsing Obama’s campaign speech in Amman and his answers to questions that seem evasive on second glance, and I’m afraid another rant.

Obama: remaking the world is not for Woman-Obama campaigning in Israel and writing an inscription–but not with gender neutral language

Does John McCain want to destroy Jordan?-A report that an aide to presidential candidate John McCain wants to “turn Jordan into a Palestinian state” is apparently a hoax on the part of a website dedicated to “Destroying the kingdom of Jordan peacefully”.  I like Jordan.

The Palestinian State: Parsing King Abdullah-still trying to figure out the mystery of what exactly is holding up statehood for Palestine–it sure isn’t the King.

Palestinian Independence: Waiting for the Pole to Turn Green-a meaningless rant expressing impatience with the Palestinians for not unilaterally declaring independence.

Is a Palestinian State Offensive?– a rant against Palestinian apathy about statehood

Posted in King Abdullah II, Middle East, Palestine, peace, الأردن. Comments Off on Palestinians

Lebanon stabs Palestine in the Back

At first glance, today’s editorial [now archived, but see below] in the Lebanese Daily Star is a real shocker.  The Palestinians have wanted statehood for years. But the Lebanese paper says forget Palestine.  Why? Vengeance against Israel. Clearly defined borders, it says, will set the stage for slapping Israel on the wrist if they cross them.  No corresponding recognition of the problem of rockets fired on Israeli towns from inside the Palestinian towns and the security issues that creates.  Just a poo-pooing of the entire idea of building Palestine in exchange for feeding the latest cycle of hate.

With Arab brothers like Lebanon for friends, Palestine doesn’t need enemies.  Why place an artificial obstacle of borders to statehood?  Did the U.S. have borders carved in stone before declaring independence?  Of course not.  That’s why the American flag has grown from thirteen stars of the original colonies to a flag with 50 stars.  America has always been a work in progress.

So why insist that a country like Palestine have unshakable borders before anyone will do business with it as a country? Because someone somewhere has an ax to grind. Hatred against Israel is what keeps incompetent regimes in power.  Any number of Arab governments don’t want to lose the suffering of the Palestinian people as the national scab they can continuously pick in order to keep the hate levels ratcheted up and keep themselves from actually having to govern.

So much Arab power feeds on the misery of the Palestinian people.  You can expect that any attempts to secure independence for Palestine will be met with determined behind the scenes resistance from the Arab community at the same time they are paying public lip service to the rights of the Palestinian people. It is no accident that the only peace process to make any headway within the last 20 years has been the  1993 secret negotiations at Oslo, on a parallel track to other negotiations and kept secret even from the U.S. government.

Let’s hope the Obama administration and the Clinton Department of State can pull this one off.

palestine-detail-map1Here is the editorial:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pledge to “vigorously” pursue a peace process that will lead to the creation of a Palestinian state is not likely to generate huge excitement among Arabs in the Middle East. Even though we would like to believe in the change promised by President Barack Obama’s administration, many of us have grown disillusioned with a lengthy peace process that has produced so few tangible results. Decades into the conflict, the long-promised state that would give Palestinians their most basic rights as human beings – including citizenship, freedom of movement, and the right to study and work abroad, for example – Palestine still seems to be out of reach. Instead of building up our hopes again, Clinton should focus on an easier achievement: Create an Israeli state.

Yes, the United States formally recognized Israel just 11 minutes after Zionists declared its creation on Palestinian land in 1948, and most other nations have since followed suit, but the Jewish state remains a nebulous entity because its exact borders have not yet been drawn. This territorial ambiguity has allowed Israel to continue with its endless expansion and conquest of Palestinian lands, resulting in new “facts on the ground” that make Palestine’s creation increasingly impossible. The Israeli organization Peace Now, for instance, warned this week that current expansion plans would double the number of illegal settlers in the Occupied West Bank. Plans such as these have been carried out under the noses of the international community for far too long because no one has tried to put territorial limits on Israel’s insatiable appetite for more Palestinian land.

We have long heard promises that a Palestinian state is within reach, and have later been told that more hurdles need to be cleared before this basic right of self-determination will be acknowledged by the international community. Early in his presidency, George W. Bush vowed that such a state would be created through his own peacemaking efforts by the year 2005, but later pushed that date back, promising that he would press for its creation before he left office in 2009. Clinton would do well to avoid repeating the mistakes of Bush and his predecessors by raising – and then crushing – the hopes of yet another generation of Arabs.

Instead, she should work with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to nail down the exact borders of the state of Israel. Then at least Israel’s egregious acts of expansion would be defined as taking place outside the Jewish state’s borders. Maybe then the world would finally put an end to this crime.


O Brother in Islam, the pillars of Zionism in Palestine are three: the Balfour promise; the European nations that have decided to expell the Jews from their lands and direct them to Palestine; and the extremists among the Arabs who do not accept any solution, but simply weep and howl, calling for help from those who cannot do them any good.  So behold Palestine, breathing its last!”
-King Abdullah I, 1932
Posted in Palestine, peace. Comments Off on Lebanon stabs Palestine in the Back

Palestinian Scuttlebutt: “Mish Harb”

This week the Middle East blog chatter has been heating up.  Blogs that cater to American politics have seen a sudden influx of right wing pro-Israeli propaganda of the most extreme kind.  These cut and paste spam artists start work long after even the west coast Americans have gone to bed.  Like maybe at about 8AM Tel Aviv/Ramalla/Amman/Jerusalem time.  And they never discuss American politics; they just drag out every anti-Palestinian, pro-settler propaganda piece that ‘s ever been done in the last 10 years. For a while, I tried to counter the hate, but it was like trying to empty the ocean with a thimble.  Then two days ago the Israeli-bots  went mostly silent, or cut back on the comments, until yesterday when Israel announced the unilateral cease-fire against Hamas in Gaza–along with a resumption of the occupation of Gaza that they had unilaterally ended in 2005.  (It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out they would announce a cease-fire before the American inauguration Tuesday–the Middle East is completely attuned to the American election cycle.)  My curiosity was piqued and I had to make a foray over to the Arab neighborhood to see how the Arab street was taking this.

It turns out they are taking it very well.  In fact they are jolly.

Mansef, I decided.  I’ve got plenty of hummus at home–tonight I would have to eat something special.  Arriving at my favorite mansef place,  I saw in the window a sign that said, “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you have never been hurt. Dance like no one is watching.”  Not very Arab, that.  And inside the furniture was covered with drop cloths while a half a dozen Arab men sat around a big table with huge argila pipe discretely on the floor between them. They cheerfully waved me in.  “Remodeling,” said one, proud of the word.  “We can accommodate you”, said another.  I was in the right place, for sure.  But the mansaf special was yesterday.  “We have mansaf”, they declared confidently.  Just for kicks I ordered the kubba too.  Of course they didn’t have it.  On the South Side it’s always on the menu but they never have it.  You have to go to the North Side.  Mint tea, but with dry mint.  Can’ t have everything. In the winter you should really drink sage tea, but it’s the thought that counts.

From my hiding place in a booth, I couldn’t help but overhear what they were saying–and although I couldn’t follow the conversation  it was pretty clear what they were talking about.  Filasteen, Iss-rah-el, Muser (Egypt), Mubarak, Hamas, and of course yahood. One topic after another was discussed and dropped.  No saber-rattling, for sure. I would recognize that sound.   Then agreement around the table.  “Mish harb.”  (Not war) “Mish harb.” “Mish harb”, everyone agreed–cheerfully. “Did you solve all the problems of the world yet”, I asked on my way back from paying the tab.  “Not yet”, one said, as cheerful as anyone can be without alcohol consumption, “but we’re this close.”  He held his thumb and finger an inch apart.

Love mail: How to use for hate speech

I don’t ever get mail.  Hardly ever.  But today I went into my email and by pure serendipity found out about an anonymous email business that promises to let you

to send warnings to other people
protect your self from being subpoenaed
catch a cheating spouse, husband or wife
confess your love to somebody
hide your private IP address or ISP info
express your political standpoint anonymously
receive instant read-receipts when recipient read your email
initiate an anonymous forum discussion
bypass your banned email address
confirm suspicions regarding a friend or loved one
anonymously report fraud
anonymously inform the police about illegal activities
perform checks as an employer or a potential employee
create an asexual identity for an advice column
anonymously report sensitive information to the media

The service is based in Switzerland and says it can provide unprecedented privacy for people engaged in legal activities. They even have a free trial offer.  The only activities prohibited are spreading viruses, disrupting the networks that host their own business, or gaining unauthorized access to accounts. (that Swiss banking tradition?)

We are committed to the privacy of our users, and will absolutely not release any kind of user data without a court order from the Supreme Court of Switzerland. We never hand any information to any government agencies, police offices, etc without a Supreme Court Order.

So they say.

It is also a hate speech enabler. Here is the email it was used to send:


Since this is a child-friendly site, if you want to see the love letter without the big, fat asterisks, you can see it offline  here. (NSFW)

Now, who might have sent it?  It insults Arabs, it insults women, it names a particular political organization (I blocked that out since I don’t believe they had anything to do with it) , it denigrates sexuality, and it implies that Israelis are intolerant jerks. Oh, and they are cheap–you can see they used the introductory free offer to sent their little missive since paid accounts don’t have the footer with the disclaimer.  What else?  They also know it’s wrong, since they used an anonymous email business to send it.  That must be creating a bit of internal cognitive dissonance.  Now what group is non-female, non-Moslem, non-Jewish, broke, sexually challenged, and has a fluent command of American derogatory slang? Right off the bat, I would say frat boys.

Whoever they are, they think spreading hate is cute.

I don’t think it’s cute.

Maybe this is a good time to reprint the old chestnut attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller:

“In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”

If I have anything to do with it, “they” won’t be coming for anyone…not even intellectually challenged frat boys.

Posted in peace. 1 Comment »

U.S. Military action inside Syrian border

In 2001 I pulled my shoulder and ended up in the doctor’s office. While the doc pulled and poked and tested my range of pain, he peppered me with questions about the middle east. Was Iraq unstable enough to break apart into separate Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish areas? What area was the most likely to cause a problem?

Syria, I said without blinking.

A lot has changed in the Middle East since then. I’m no longer in touch with the Arab street. But Syria has just blinked. And the U.S. has crossed borders for a new military action:

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – U.S. military helicopters launched an extremely rare attack Sunday on Syrian territory close to the border with Iraq, killing eight people in a strike the government in Damascus condemned as “serious aggression.”

A U.S. military official said the raid by special forces targeted the foreign fighter network that travels through Syria into Iraq. The Americans have been unable to shut the network down in the area because Syria was out of the military’s reach.

“We are taking matters into our own hands,” the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.

The attack came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an “uncontrolled” gateway for fighters entering Iraq.

But the official Syrian statement is even more outrageous.

Syria also calls on the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibilities and launch and immediate investigation into this serious violation and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria,” the government statement said.

Nothing in there about the Syrian government investigating the use of Syrian territory for aggression against Iraq, is there.

Posted in Middle East, peace. Tags: . Comments Off on U.S. Military action inside Syrian border

America loses its last Arab friend

In the excitement over the two political parties’ nominating conventions in the last couple weeks, a small news item has slipped through the cracks.

Jordan, our only Arab ally, has quietly started courting Hamas.

In case you don’t remember, Hamas is on the State Department’s terrorist list.

Hamas members are sent from Iran to teach Islamic extremism to Lebanese school children.  Hamas members garner great appreciation in the Arab world by supplying a few blankets and supplies to disaster areas while workers from other relief groups are mysteriously killed. Hamas is the organization that won an election in Palestine and, instead of sharing power with the PLO as they were elected to do, quickly subverted the democratic process and executed a complete military takeover in Gaza.

What does Hamas mean in Jordan? Hamas is the organization that tried repeatedly to assassinate Jordan’s King Hussein, the father of the present King, among other things, by putting poison in his eye drops. Hamas is the organization that successfully embarrassed the royal family for years by waging a terrorist war against Israel by crossing the border at night, then retreating across the safety of the Jordanian border whenever pursued. Hamas was the entity that tried to take over the Jordanian government in 1969, while Syria backed them by crossing Jordan’s northern border with tanks.

There are still bullet holes in the buildings in downtown Amman from that civil war. There are still land mines under the streets of Ramtha near the old Syrian border.

And now Jordan’s King Abdullah II wants to make nice with Hamas.  His Royal Highness is far from stupid. King Abdullah took his military training in England and his academic training in the U.S. He has written numerous op-ed pages for U.S. periodicals that are scholarly and also make quite a bit of sense.  More importantly, the King has an instinctive street wisdom that I would compare with his namesake, King Abdullah I who singlehandedly founded Jordan as an emirate and then a country.

Abdullah has gone farther than his father ever did in backing the U.S. King Adbullah’s father, King Hussein, was the first Jordanian ruler to establish ties with the U.S. during the era of declining British world influence.  King Hussein did NOT back the U.S. during Desert Storm, although he later pretended he had.  During that conflict between the U.S. and Iraq, he sided with his old hunting buddy, Saddam Hussein, and when the Desert Storm was over, Jordan continued to enjoy low gas prices and deeply discounted oil from Iraq’s oil wells. King Abdullah did support the U.S. in its latest Iraqi adventure, and Jordan has become home to countless Iraqi refugees. Who knows the price the King has paid for his loyalty to American interests.

If King Abdullah now wants to strengthen ties with Jordan’s oldest hereditary enemy Hamas, you had better believe it’s in the best interests of Jordan and the Royal Family. You can be equally certain it’s not in America’s best interest.

Is George Bush listening? Or are we about to slide into a McCain presidency where once again the Palestinians are ignored as world opinion condemns the only country–us–capable of putting pressure on Israel to accept Palestinian statehood.  Will McCain’s good buddy and world adviser Joe Leiberman, who is Jewish, be put in charge of our relations with the Arab world? The pundits are now saying McCain confidante Leiberman would be offered a cabinet post in a possible McCain presidency.

I say we should accept Palestinian independence quickly.  Now, while the PLO is still running the show. And prop them up with as much foreign aid as necessary.

Former President Nixon is remembered for the worst ethical scandal in American history.  He is also remembered for recognizing China.

President Bush will long be remembered for his war in Iraq.  It’s not too late for him to also be remembered for recognizing Palestine.


[Another copy of Saad Hattar’s piece Jordan-Hamas: the untold story is at |here|.]

Posted in King Abdullah II, Middle East, Palestine, peace. Tags: , . Comments Off on America loses its last Arab friend

If Mahmoud Darwish wrote the Palestinian Declaration of Independence–where is it?

According to the New York Times obituary for Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish:

Darwish wrote the Palestinian Declaration of Independence in 1988, read by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat when he unilaterally declared statehood. The declaration was symbolic and had no concrete significance.

What? Why not?

If you google “mahmoud darwish declaration of independence” you get 5400 hits. Everyone is repeating the phrase all over the blogosphere. But where is the document?

Apparently the document does exist. The book Paradoxial Citizenship says it was translated from Arabic into English by Edward Said. But there is apparently no corresponding constitution.

The last Palestinian statehood rumor went around in 1999. Arafat was mentioning the magic date of May 4, but statehood never happened. Instead 1999 became the year of the second intifada.

Why did Palestine never become independent? Or is Palestine really secretly independent and nobody put it in a history book? Here is some legalese, but it doesn’t make any sense. Somebody explain this to me. I just don’t get it.

Why should you need firm boundaries to have a country? America has changed borders numerous times. First there was the westward expansion, then the Indian wars, after that, the Louisiana purchase, etc, etc, etc. When America declared independence there were exactly 13 colonies. Count ’em, thirteen. What if the international community had said, no, you can’t be a country until you have all fifty states together? We would still be waiting, wouldn’t we. For that matter, what if Israel had waited until all of its ducks were in order and had a complete international consensus about borders before setting up their own state? They would never have made it.

Ah, here is the document. Nov. 15, 1988.

And the U.S. election? Nov. 2, 2008.

I just got a tingly feeling going up my leg.

Posted in Middle East, Palestine, peace. Tags: , . Comments Off on If Mahmoud Darwish wrote the Palestinian Declaration of Independence–where is it?

Remembering Mahmoud Darwish

The Arab world is in mourning for the death of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. As Jordan’s King slipped quietly into Iraq, made nice with Iraq’s prime minister Maliki, and reemerged with an agreement for oil at $18 a barrel less than the international price (Jordan also had a sweetheart deal under Saddam Hussein), the Palestinians were preparing for the first state funeral since Yasser Arafat was laid to rest. (photo: abro)

Everyone is remembering him a little differently. In Jordan they remembered him for, among other things, the poem Rita, perhaps a reminder that he once had a Jewish love. As he said in Haifa in 2007, “I will continue to humanise even the enemy… The first teacher who taught me Hebrew was a Jew. The first love affair in my life was with a Jewish girl. The first judge who sent me to prison was a Jewish woman. So from the beginning, I didn’t see Jews as devils or angels but as human beings.”

Said The Jordan Times:

Darwish was born in the Palestinian village of Al Birweh near Haifa, which was destroyed by the Israelis in the 1948 Mideast war that led to the establishment of Israel. He joined the Israeli Communist Party after high school and began writing poems for leftist newspapers.

The poet left Israel in the early 1970s to study in the former Soviet Union, and from there he travelled to Egypt and Lebanon. He joined the Palestine Liberation Organisation, 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.

His works are taught in Palestinian schools and are also popular among the thousands of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Darwish’s occasional readings in Ramallah drew overflow crowds….

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….

Darwish has been harshly critical of Israel over the years and was detained several times in the 1960s before going into self-imposed exile in 1970. Over the next 25 years he lived briefly in Paris, Moscow, and several Arab capitals.

A sequence of poetic prose written about his experience of life in Beirut during the Israeli invasion and bombardment of Lebanon in 1982 was translated into English in 1995 under the title “Memory for Forgetfulness”.

The Daily Star (Lebanon) preferred to remember a poem about the current political situation and take a political lesson from it:

It was not just the Israelis who drew Darwish’s critical attention. Indeed, he was among the most vocal critics of the fratricidal divisions that have emerged between the leading Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah. Recall Darwish’s words during a 2007 poetry recital in Haifa: “We woke up from a coma to see a monocolored flag [of Hamas] do away with the four-color flag [of Palestine,” he said. “We have triumphed. Gaza won its independence from the West Bank. One people now have two states, prisons who don’t greet each other. … We have triumphed knowing that it is the occupier who really won.” The words serve to further demonstrate how well Darwish and his generation of Palestinian intellectuals and leaders understood that a movement divided against itself could never succeed. If only the heirs to the Palestinian struggle would figure that out.

But what do the readers remember him for? The second most read poem on an Arabic poetry site is Psalm Three:

Psalm Three

On the day when my words

were earth…

I was a friend to stalks of wheat.


On the day when my words

were wrath

I was a friend to chains.


On the day when my words

were stones

I was a friend to streams.


On the day when my words

were a rebellion

I was a friend to earthquakes.


On the day when my words

were bitter apples

I was a friend to the optimist.


But when my words became


flies covered

my lips!…

“But when my words became/honey…/flies covered/my lips!…” Is this the type of dichotomous thinking that keeps the Palestinians from “never losing an opportunity to lose an opportunity”? Yes, there is another way, not the honey lips or the poisoned lips either, but speech that starts with the truth. Ah, the Palestinians. I have spent so many warm, fascinating hours with so many of them, but I give up trying to figure them out.

That’s why this blog’s mission statement ended up as “let’s just eat”. That is the better wisdom, the Arab wisdom.

Posted in Arabs, Middle East, Palestine, peace. Tags: , . Comments Off on Remembering Mahmoud Darwish