Under normal circumstances, Arabic literature of any kind passes virtually unnoticed in Israel, despite the fact that a few of the most well-known contemporary Arab writers are Israeli citizens. But the publication of “Those Who Pass Between Fleeting Words,” a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian national poet adopted by the Israeli “peace camp” as a “moderate” (and himself a former Israeli citizen), has sparked a furor across the entire political spectrum.
O those who pass between fleeting words
Carry your names, and be gone
Rid our time of your hours, and be gone
Steal what you will from the blueness of the sea and the sand of memory
Take what pictures you will, so that you understand
That which you never will:
How a stone from our land builds the ceiling of our sky.
O those who pass between fleeting words
From you the sword — from us the blood
From you steel and fire — from us our flesh
From you yet another tank — from us stones
From you tear gas — from us rain
Above us, as above you, are sky and air
So take your share of our blood — and be gone
Go to a dancing party — and be gone
Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Majdhoub (1921-1982)
Hand on the Prophet, God
Help and support me with him
who speaks for the people
on Judgment Day —
with him who drinks pure water
from al-Kauthar, Paradise river.
On the square’s other side
clear light spreads
a rainbow of hope and joy,
a spring flowing through
the darkness of night,
dance driving souls here
slowly one moment,
another faster than breath!
In the Refugee Camp
The huts were of mud and hay,
their thin roofs feared the rain,
and walls slouched like humbled men.
The streets were laid out in a grid,
as in New York,
but without the dignity of names
or asphalt. Dust reigned.
Women grew pale
chickens and children
feeding them fables from the lost land.
And a madman sawed the minaret
where a melodious voice
cried for help on behalf of the believers.
Of course he gazed at the sky
on clear nights,
at stars drizzling
soft grains of light,
at the moon's deliberate face,
at the good angel wrapped in purple air.
He had no ladder
For the fifth year you come to us
lugging a burlap sack on your back, barefoot,
on your face the sadness of heavens
and the pain of Hussein.
We’ll receive you at every airport
with flower bouquets,
and drink — to your health — rivers of wine.
and recite insincere poems in your presence,
and you’ll get used to us
and we to you.
We ask you to spend here your summer vacation,
like a tourist,
and we’ll offer you a royal suite
we’ve prepared — for you.
You may enjoy the night and the neon lights
and the rock and roll and the porno and the jazz —
Khalil Hawi, Naked in Exile (The Threshing Floors of Hunger) (trans. Adnan Haydar and Michael Beard) (Washington DC: Three Continents Press, 1985).
The Palestinian Wedding: A Bilingual Anthology of Contemporary Palestinian Resistance Poetry, collected and translated by A.M. Elmessiri, illustrated by Kamal Boullata, Arabic calligraphy by Adel Horan, (Washington DC: Three Continents Press, 1982).
Erez Bitton’s second collection of Hebrew poems, The Book of Mint, appeared in Israel last summer, three years after Moroccan Afternoon. Bitton is an unusual man by any standard. He was born in Oran, Algeria, in 1942 and immigrated to Israel shortly after the establishment of the state in 1948. His parents had come to Oran from an oasis village in the Draa valley of southern Morocco, and their youth and his was imbued with the culture and nostalgia of Moroccan Jewish life, its tastes and smells, and the bite of their Judeo-Arabic dialect.
The Future and the Ancestor
The dead’s right grain
ls woven in our flesh
within the channels of the blood
Sometimes we bend
beneath the fullness of ancestors.
But the present that shatters walls,
and invents the road to come,
Right in the center of our lives
begets our race
and sows the salt of words.
Let the memory of blood
be vigilant but never void the day.
Let us precede ourselves
across new thresholds.
I am a woman…