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Mahmoud Darwish 1942-2008

In memory of Mahmoud Darwish who died on the 9th August 2008

This article was published by Al-Ahram Weekly in April 2002. To view original article click here

“Yet, Israeli forces, armed to the teeth with racist superstitions and military hardware, are besieging the Palestinians’ right to live ordinary lives, albeit lives lived on a margin narrower than dreams, and wider than nightmares”

A war for war’s sake

By Mahmoud Darwish

This is a war for war’s sake, since it has no other aim than its self-perpetuation. Everyone knows this; and, once again, the sword will prove incapable of crushing the spirit. The Arabs have offered Israel a collective peace in return for Israeli withdrawal from a fifth of our historical homeland. Israel’s answer to this generous offer was to declare all-out war against the Palestinian people, and against the Arabs’ very imagination.

Once again, we will prove that we occupy the moral high ground — nothing remaining to us now but this proof. Those who control the international balance of power will continue to shape events without respect for intellectual or legal argument until we awake to the realisation that, just as they have proved themselves incapable of ensuring deterrence — though there is no option other than peace — they have also shown themselves incapable of ensuring peace.

In every corner crimes are being committed. On every street lie the bodies of the murdered. On every wall is blood. The living are deprived of the basic right to life, and the martyrs are denied graves in which to rest in peace. Above all, however, what we are now seeing is the expression of the will of a people that has no choice but to resist. Between one beat of a wounded heart and the next we ask: how long will we carry on cheering as Christ ascends to Golgotha?

Is the Palestinian side all that is left of the famous “Arab-Israeli struggle”? Does this account for such neutral incapacity before so lurid a black and red scene? How we fear now that Yasser Arafat’s cries will be pinned forever to a wooden cross: present events contain enough of the aesthetics of martyrdom to make a whole nation’s mourning superfluous on an endless Good Friday. Tears purify the soul, cleansing the body even as they sting with salt, and tearful spectators now await live coverage of the moment when the tragic hero is crowned with an appropriate end, making the tightly wrought elements of the story into myth, the hero ending, as Arafat has put it, “a martyr, a martyr, a martyr.”

But no. The Palestinians do not need such feelings of solitude or uniqueness. They do not need to play the part of sacrificial offerings any more than they already have done. Palestinians want to live outside of metaphors, in the place where they were born. They want to liberate their country from the heavy weight of mythology, from the barbarity of occupation and from the mirage of a peace that promises nothing but destruction.

Yet, Israeli forces, armed to the teeth with racist superstitions and military hardware, are besieging the Palestinians’ right to live ordinary lives, albeit lives lived on a margin narrower than dreams, and wider than nightmares. This right is also under siege from a world under American control, a world set on the horns of a raging bull that has abolished the conjunction, the “and,” that used to fall between America and Israel. The Palestinians are besieged by a condition of dependency that has robbed the Arab political establishment of the eloquence even to beg, and of the ability to placate a populace that is angry at everything.

How many times must the Palestinians be besieged before the Arab world realises that it, too, is under siege? How many times before it realises that it too is a hostage, even though it does not resist? Television has made it unnecessary for us to explain ourselves: now our blood is shed in every home and is on every conscience. From this day on, he who does not become Palestinian in his heart will never understand his true moral identity. This is not only because the unfashionable values that lay hidden beneath daily talk of a “peace process” empty of justice and freedom have now been brought back to life. It is also because the will has now been liberated from the simplistic calculation of profit and loss and from a debilitating intellectual pessimism. This has liberated the only real meaning human existence has: freedom.

The Palestinians have no other choice. In the face of the political genocide being offered by the American- funded Israeli occupation of their land, they offer their steadfast resistance no matter what the cost. Backs against the wall, their eyes fixed upon hope, they show a strength of spirit for which there can be no facile explanation.

Israel’s all-out war on the Palestinians has flung the doors wide open to every kind of question. The most important of these is the question of future Arab-Israeli and Arab-American relations. Israel has been quick to declare that this war is a “struggle for Israel’s existence” and that the war to found the Israeli state has not been finished yet. This can only mean that the elimination of the Palestinian national movement remains on Israel’s agenda despite the peace process, and that the Palestinians’ existence, not the Israelis’, is threatened with destruction.

Israel has invited us to take the struggle back to its very beginning and, ironically, to review all the stages through which we have passed, during which our concept of struggle changed. Israel has declared war on the very idea of peace. What is it that threatens “Israel’s existence,” this existence it defends with such aggression? Is it the war the Arabs have not declared on Israel? Or is it the peace the Arabs are offering?

The lie that is Israel’s current war is necessary for Israeli society, so that it can cohere around its founding myths. If occupation is the condition and essence of Israeli existence, as seems to be the case, then this is an issue not amenable to resolution.

What concerns us is the defence of our national and human existence — even if our backs are up against the wall. We have absolutely no other option.

Photo from www.mahmouddarwish.com