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Sabbath Day – from al-Nakba to Intifada

April 30, 2015

We are captives of what we love, what we desire, and what we are…

Our ruins lie ahead of us…

– Mahmoud Darwish

For months now I have used by Sabbath Day as the center around which I have organized a week of reading different national literatures. This week: PALESTINE.


On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion announced the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, hours before the British Mandate was due to expire. The zionist vision of “A land without a people for a people without a land” gave birth to a modern state – but it was not that simple. Over 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes and hundred of villages destroyed in the war that inevitably followed. There are millions of Palestinians today in exile or under occupation. This dispossession is known as Al-Nakba, “the Catastrophe,” and is mourned on May 15 each year, Nakba Day.


I spent much of my week accompanied by the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, for half a century now the Palestinian National Poet. I have several volumes of his poetry that I turn to from time to time, and this week I read Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems covering the years just before the first Intifada (1987-1993) through the Oslo years (1994-1999) to the eve of the Second Intifada (2000). As the title of the collection suggests, the poems ache with longing for a land that isn’t:

I love lands not trod over by songs of migration,

or become subject to passions of blood and desire.

Or again

Aren’t we entitled to believe in our dreams and to doubt this homeland?

Judith Butler, in an excellent essay called “What Shall We Do Without Exile?: Said and Darwish Address the Future,” explores the vision of binationalism in the work of these two Palestinian authors, a vision that transcends the ruins of the ‘two-state solution” or Israeli status quo. The essay is found in her collection, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism. Said’s vision developed particularly through his regular commentary on the post-Oslo years.


I appreciated Butler’s essay because far too many references in Darwish’s work are obscure to me. As a result I also felt the need this week to re-read some of this history. In Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege, Amira Hass chronicles the hope and disappointment in the aftermath of Oslo, and describes the intensification of Palestinian suffering as Israel’s retreat from territory granted to the Palestinian Authority was matched by increased control over Palestinian lives.

It is true that since 1994, more land has come under the jurisdiction of the Authority, but the blocs of Jewish settlements and the patchwork of new roads are in effect the nail in the coffin of a contiguous Palestinian state, whatever form it might take.

I was surprised to find Hass already (1996) making the comparison to South Africa:

By creating such divisions and dependency, Israel has ensured Palestinian complicity with separation, an extremely sophisticated method of restraint reminiscent of apartheid.

Just a few years later, the term was increasingly being used to describe the hopelessness experienced by those living so restrained and controlled, as in the volume edited by Roane Carey, The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid, in which I read essays by Ghasson Adoni, Sara Roy, and Edward Said. (Not to leave this unexplored, and for other reasons, I will read South African literature next week).

In “The Last Train Has Stopped,” Mahmoud Darwish has writes:

Where can I write my latest account of the body’s incarnation?

Wendy Perlman gives flesh and voice to the ordinary lives under occupation: suffering incarnate. She collected first hand accounts of Palestinian struggle in Occupied Voices: Stories of Everyday Life from the Second Intifada. These accounts are not literature, but they were honest, painful, real. Joe Sacco did something very similar for the First Intifada in his celebrated graphic novel Palestine. (I’ve not yet read his follow up, Footnotes in Gaza, a story of continuing catastrophe).

Finally, I have had on my shelf for a decade the first novel of 15 year old Randa Ghazy, an student of Egyptian-Italian heritage who wrote a sympathetic but not uncontroversial prose/poem called Dreaming of Palestine: A Novel of Friendship, Love and War. I have tried several times to read it, unsuccessfully, but struggled through this week. I really wanted to like it, and found several passages tear-worthy, but overall found it overwrought.


My actual Sabbath Day today included a brief visit to the church; an hour of climbing at the gym; reading and coffee in parks, tea rooms and coffee houses; tree climbing and walking; genealogy; and family game time. A good day. It was a beautiful day in White Plains, if a bit cool; a great day for walking. And the trees were in full bloom.

photo 1photo 2

Shabbat Shalom.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. ToPalestineWithLove permalink
    May 10, 2015 1:28 pm

    Trying to crate an annual global event for Palestine Nakba


  1. Reading National Literature | revgeary

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