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Palestine: Fighting with the Poem

Amira Abd El-Khalek, an Egyptian blogger who studied English literature and anthropology in Egypt and UK, wrote on the Arabic Literature blog about an evening of Palestinian poets, Asma’a Azaizeh and Marwan Makhoul, which was hosted by Banipal magazine and the Mosaic Rooms in London. During discussions that followed the poetry readings, both poets were asked about reading their work in Israel, their relationship to their work, and more.

  • Prof. Meqdad Taheri

    We all want peace, and yet, after more than a century of conflict, the struggle between these two related nations remains more intractable than ever. Why?

    Because each side is entrenched in its own narrative, to the exclusion of the other’s.

    Its faults notwithstanding, one must admit that Israel has taken some steps since the Oslo Accords toward acknowledging the Palestinian suffering. These steps are reflected in school books, in the media, and through other informational outlets. The Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza, for instance, are now referred to as “Palestinians,” and most Israelis would like to see a Palestinian state emerge. The fact that Israeli voters don’t reflect these wishes has to do with fears of surface-to-air missiles two miles from Ben-Gurion International Airport, and scarred memories of blown-up buses and pizzerias.

    The Palestinians, unfortunately, have done little to allay Israeli fears. While Palestinians clamor for the removal of onerous checkpoints and barriers, militant attempts to penetrate these barriers and attack Israeli civilians have not ceased at all since the second Intifada. Similarly, school books and speeches, in Arabic, have grown radical, to the point of portraying Israel’s very existence as a crime. Little has been done to acknowledge the Jewish roots in Palestine.

    The fact is that the Jewish presence in Palestine goes much farther back than most Palestinians, as well as Arabs and Muslims in general, would be willing to admit.

    Before 1948, Palestine was ruled by a series of empires. Before that Palestine was Judaea—a Jewish country. Jews have lived in Palestine continuously for more than 3,300 years. “Palestine” was the name given to the Jewish homeland in the second century by the Romans, in an attempt to break the Jewish adherence to the land. This was a century after the Jewish temple was destroyed and more than a million Jews were massacred.

    The Jews stopped fighting the Romans only after they had no more fighting men standing. As Evangelist William Eugene Blackstone put it in 1891, “The Jews never gave up their title to Palestine… They never abandoned the land. They made no treaty, they did not even surrender. They simply succumbed, after the most desperate conflict, to the overwhelming power of the Romans.”

    The Jews persisted through the centuries under the various empires, after the Arab invasion of 635AD (which they fought alongside the Byzantines), and after the Crusade massacres of the 11th Century, which decimated much of their population. They never stopped returning, and their numbers recovered. In the 19th century, before the Zionist immigration, Jews constituted the largest religious group in Jerusalem.

    Few Palestinians realize that Jewish customs, religion, prayers, poetry, holidays, and virtually every walk of life, documented for thousands of years—all revolve around Judaea/Palestine/Israel. For thousands of years Jews have been praying for Jerusalem in every prayer, after every meal, in every holiday, at every wedding, in every celebration. The whole Jewish religion is about Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. Western expressions such as “The Promised Land,” and “The Holy Land,” did not pop out of void. They have been part of Western knowledge and tradition dating back to the beginning of Christianity and earlier.

    After the Crusades, the Jews—including many who have returned over the centuries—lived peacefully with Arabs, often in the very same villages, as in Pki’in, in the Galilee, until the Zionist immigration of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Article 6 of the PLO Charter specifically calls for the acceptance of all Jews present in Palestine prior to the Zionist immigration. These Jews were simply another ethnic group in a region composed of Sunnis, Shiites, Jews, Druz, Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Circassians, Samarians, and more. Some of these groups, like the Druz, Circassians, Samarians, and an increasing number of Christians, are actually loyal to the Jewish State.

    Incidentally, genetic studies consistently show that Zionist immigrants (a.k.a., Ashkenazi Jews) are closely related to groups that predate the Arab conquest, like the Samarians, who have lived in Palestine for thousands of year.

    Palestinian denial of these facts may lead to events such as the ones brilliantly depicted in Jonathan Bloomfield’s award-winning book, “Palestine,” in which actual history and predicted events are thinly veiled as fiction.

    If, as the current Palestinian narrative goes, the Jews are not a people indigenous to Palestine but rather an invading foreign colonialist body, then they must be fought until they are removed from this land. Anything short of that, by any standard, would be injustice.

    Thus, war and bloodshed will continue until the Palestinians start acknowledging the Jewish narrative, and the fact that Jewish roots in Palestine date back thousands of years, long before the Arab invasion.

    • http://twitter.com/arablit M. Lynx Qualey

      Prof. MT, this is not my specialty; I just happen to be on this page because Amira’s article was written for my blog. However, I believe most Palestinians (particularly those as traveled as Asmaa and Marwan) are quite aware of the Israeli narrative.

      If you read Amira’s piece, and the poetry, I think you would find that both of the poets have complex views.

      Also, regarding what you said about Palestinian schools,I saw this piece from the NYTimes this morning.

      Academic Study Weakens Israeli Claim That Palestinian School Texts Teach Hate
      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/04/world/middleeast/study-belies-israeli-claim-of-hate-in-palestinian-texts.html?_r=0

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