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Exiled: In Life and Death
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 11 - 08 - 2008

FLAGS were lowered at West Bank government buildings Sunday, ushering in three days of official mourning for poet Mahmoud Darwish, who helped forge the Palestinians' national identity and gave a voice to their yearning for independence.
Themes of his poetry -- the experience of exile and his concern over Palestinian infighting _ were also reflected in his death.
It remained unclear whether Darwish would be buried near his home village in what is now Israel, as requested by some of his relatives, or in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Burial in Israel would require special Israeli approval, and an Israeli Arab lawmaker, Wasel Taha, said he and other Israeli Arab leaders were approaching the Israeli authorities. Burial in Israel would make it harder, though, for large numbers of mourners to attend from across the Arab world.
Palestinian Authority official Yasser Abed Rabbo said he expected Darwish, who was a close friend, to be buried in Ramallah, the Palestinians' cultural center and seat of the West Bank government. Abed Rabbo said the body would arrive from the U.S. on Tuesday.
Underscoring Palestinian divisions, it was not clear Sunday whether the Hamas government in Gaza would join the three days of official mourning declared by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Islamic militant Hamas wrested control of Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas in June 2007, leaving him with control of only the West Bank, and the two sides remain locked in a bitter dispute.
Gaza's Culture Ministry planned to set up a mourning tent, starting Monday, officials said. Hamas' supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal, who is based in Syria, said that “with the death of Darwish, Palestinian literature lost one of its pillars.” In the past year, Darwish had become increasingly concerned about the political infighting. Moreed Bargouthi, a Palestinian poet, told the Voice of Palestine radio Sunday that he had spoken to Darwish before his surgery and that Darwish had expressed his worry about the bitter political divisions.
In Ramallah, flags were lowered to half-staff Sunday, to usher in the mourning period. Late Saturday, as news of Darwish's death spread, dozens of people lit memorial candles in Ramallah's main square. Some radio stations played Darwish poems set to music.
Darwish's works are taught in Palestinian schools and are also popular among the thousands of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel for security offenses. Prisoners traditionally spend their time in jail reading and organizing classes for each other. Darwish's occasional readings in Ramallah drew overflow crowds.
Darwish's poetry has been translated into more than 20 languages and he won numerous international awards. He first gained prominence in the 1960s with the publication of his first poetry collection, “Bird without Wings.”
It included the poem “Identity Card” that defiantly spoke in the first person of an Arab man giving his identity number -- a common practice among Palestinians when dealing with Israeli authorities and Arab governments -- and vowing to return to his land.
Many of his poems have been put into music _ most notably “Rita,” “Birds of Galilee” and “I yearn for my mother's bread” _ and have become anthems for at least two generations of Arabs.
He wrote another 21 collections, the last, “The Impression of Butterflies,” in 2008.
In 2000, Israel's education minister, Yossi Sarid, suggested including some of Darwish's poems in the Israeli high school curriculum. But then Prime Minister Ehud Barak overruled him, saying Israel was not ready yet for his ideas in the school system.


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