Dan Almagor personifies Israeli popular culture of the post-1948 period. He is the master lyricist of the modern Hebrew song, with over 600 compositions and 300 translations to his credit. His songs have been performed on many official and semi-official occasions, and he has composed for the Israel Defense Forces troupe and regularly placed his versatile talents at the service of the state and the Zionist movement. Dozens of Almagor’s plays and satirical and musical revues have been performed in Israeli theaters and cabarets, and even on Broadway. His musical about Hasidic life, Ish Hasid Haya, broke all Israeli records for a dramatic performance and was seen by a third of the country. He has hosted and coproduced 40 programs on Israeli television, and is general director of his own New Theater production company.

Almagor’s achievements in popular culture are matched by his engagement with Hebrew high culture. He has a PhD in Hebrew literature, is an authority on medieval erotic Hebrew literature, has published several books of literary and drama criticism and has translated several Shakespeare plays into Hebrew.

Almagor has been richly praised and recognized for his accomplishments and is one of Israel’s best known and beloved cultural figures — a symbol of “the beautiful Israel.” Ish Hasid Kaya received the ministry of culture’s prize for the best play of the year. Almagor has received 12 “Harp of David” awards for best show of the year, won an award for the best television series and a first prize in Israel’s annual song festival.

Almagor’s stunning break from the national consensus was dramatically and publicly announced from the speaker’s platform of a demonstration sponsored by Dai Lakibush (End the Occupation) in Tel Aviv on December 10,1988, which called for Israeli negotiations with the PLO, withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 and establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. For the previous several months Almagor had been composing anti-occupation poetry, including some of the selections featured here. He had little success in getting them published in the Israeli media, which would normally compete for the opportunity to feature his compositions. Middle East Report is proud to present the first English translations of these poems.

Voluntary Transfer

Lately there is talk about “voluntary transfer,”
Entirely voluntary, of course.
My grandparents (on both sides) boarded trucks,
Entirely voluntarily.
It must be true; there is no evidence that they resisted
or cried out:
And I never had the opportunity to meet them
In order to ask them why not.

Straight in the Eye

From childhood I was taught to hold my head high,
And look the world in the eye.
After all, for centuries we dreamed of independence,
Of our own sovereign state —
So as to walk proud,
So as not to have to lower our gaze.
Today we have that sovereign state —
Greater Israel —
And suddenly I can’t hold my head up.
The more we abase others and bring them low,
The harder I find it to look the world straight in the eye,
Not to mention myself.

Nostalgia

Everyone loves nostalgia, and I’m no different.
I’ve been dabbling in it for years,
Yearning for the good old distant days,
The days of my childhood,
When I was a twelve-year-old Palestinian under (British)occupation.
I may be a sentimentalist
But to this day, this very day
I remember those times vividly and proudly:
The leaflets, the curfew, the underground.
The arrests, the demonstrations.
The soldiers with their red berets.
The daubed slogans on the wall, the flag.
“A Jewish state” “A Jewish state.”
The British foreign minister on the radio
“There is no Jewish nation, nobody to conduct talks with.”
The High Commissioner in the morning paper —
“Disturbances…order has been restored…”
Damp posters on the wall,
Executions…clandestine broadcasts,
That emotion-packed moment when the votes were counted.
On that Friday afternoon
In Herzl Street in Rehovot outside Wolf’s electrical store,
Where he’d put up a loudspeaker
And I stood there, 12-years-old and heard the voice say
“Therefore we have assembled here to proclaim statehood”
You don’t forget moments like those.
When the fortieth anniversary came around
We thought of putting on a grand spectacle
To bring those days alive again
For those who still remember and for those who are too
young to have been there.
And when the stone throwing started
And the posters hastily stuck on walls,
And the demonstrations and the arrests,
And the barricades and the makeshift weapons,
I thought perhaps some impresario with flair and imagination
Was staging it all as an exercise in nostalgia
For our fortieth anniversary.

In My Shoes

For some people a Palestinian is Yasir Arafat,
A youth throwing a Molotov cocktail at a bus,
A boy hurling taunts at soldiers and cursing their mothers.
When you say “Palestinian” to me, I think of Walid.
The only Palestinian I know and who knows me,
And with whom I converse (in my language, of course).
He is thirty or so, married with children,
Has a pleasant smile and speaks passable Hebrew.
An intelligent fellow, with a degree in accounting
Who reads for pleasure classical Arab poetry,
Philosophy and religious works.
He has a good sense of humor and he’s an optimist.
I wish I had more friends like him.
He uses his education in our local supermarket,
Weighing vegetables and making home deliveries.
In his spare time he washes cars or cleans apartments
In our neighborhood, as many hours as possible.
He has a family to keep and he may not be able to come tomorrow.
There might be a curfew
Or he might find himself “inside” like his brother
Six months administrative detention without trial.
Every day he has a story to tell.
Minor incidents, not what you would call atrocities.
His identity card was torn up by a reserve soldier
For no particular reason.
Trucks turned up suddenly with soldiers without uniforms
And loaded a few of his cousins — (our cousins).
Some people think of Yasir Arafat or Abu Nidal when you
mention Palestinians.
I think of Walid.
When we tactfully offered Walid parcels of secondhand clothes for his relatives in the village
He accepted gratefully without taking offense.
How strange to think that someone, somewhere
In Walid’s village near Nablus,
Is wearing my shoes now.
Once, not so very long ago,
I was in his shoes.

How to cite this article:

Joel Beinin "“Suddenly I Can’t Hold My Head Up”," Middle East Report 157 (March/April 1989).
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