PALESTINE’S POPPIES
AND POETS
Anne Fairbairn AM
Palestine is a wild garden with blood red Poppies forever blossoming throughout the summer and also during the Season of Mists. When, at the dawn of each day when Palestine is veiled like a bride, the dunes aglow with dew-diamonds, Poppies remain with their message.
Again in Spring while Wattles shower gold over the sand and streams, as the Larks are forever singing and Butterflies gathering, from the hills to the sea when the low country is lush-green with Barley, Palestine’s scarlet Poppies are glowing across the sand dunes and down to the coast where the sea is constantly washing in.
Yes, Palestine’s crimson Poppies are blossoming to this day across the graves of our courageous Australian Light Horsemen … But can these old battlegrounds ever truly be made beautiful? These prolific Poppies are indeed Palestine’s flowers of memory. Today also glowing over graves of thousands of Palestinians and of all those who perished in Gaza’s recent agony … In this ancient Land of Palestine during years of tragedy, at the touch of the sea breeze Poppy petals fall in despair from slender stems, to lie softly across sand-dunes and graves.
It is as if some rare birds had shed their crimson plumage. These Poppies are indeed the symbols of ongoing suffering … It now seems that Palestine is timelessly shrouded by sorrow as day after grief-sodden day, greedily, mercilessly, there’s the purloining of another Palestinian property, yet the world fails to raise the question of accountability.
Is this lack of concern for human rights the ultimate iniquity? For surely the perpetrators must take responsibility - For what are quite clearly crimes against humanity.
Poppies will surely remain the symbol of Palestine’s tragedy and of the continuing suffering of the Palestinian people - as so potently expressed in the poetry of Samih al Qasim:

'Thorns are tearing our flesh each day,
But we're living like slaves anyway.
The Acacia is drooping …
Poppies are drooping …
Rafah's gates are sealed by wax …
And locked by curfew …
Each door in Rafah opens like a wound.
So lke our Poppies we are weeping.’


Mahmoud Darwish also makes clear in poetry:

'Mount Carmel is in us …
The grass of Galilee is on our lashes …
This land absorbs the skin of martyrs,
This land promises wheat and stars.
Worship it! We are its salt and its water.
We are its wound … A wound that fights!
We cling to our dreams through bitter nights!'



Fadwa Tuqan who always holds a poppy, echoes the words in her poetry:

'Along our road of agony
Jerusalem is whipped … soldiers
Are drawing blood, but the world's heart
Often seems closed to our tragedy.'


Her brother, Ibrahim, a martyr, remembers a martyr:


'Serene in spirit
Steadfast of heart … his soul possessed
Of high endeavour … more noble than all.
On the path of greatness he walks tall.'
- His tribute could be to himself ,,,

May Sayigh also holds a Poppy in her hand. 'Please listen' she insists, to my words:

‘Mourned by Poppies that do not die,
Tomorrow when Sparrows return to Gaza
To peck at our blue window sills
And the scent of Jasmine fills the air,
The Henna tree will remain alone.
- Alone like a stranger in despair…


Tawfiq Zayyad writes defiantly:

'In Nablus, Gaza and Janine,
We shall remain to guard the shade
Of pure vines and each Fig and Olive tree.
As our Poppies console our weeping hearts’



NOTE
The poets quoted in this poem are highly acclaimed Palestinian poets.

Samih al-Qasim was born in 1939 in the Galilee-Palestine to a Druze family originally from Ramallah. After studying in Moscow, he returned to Israel committed to the struggle for Palestinian liberation. He was held under house arrest and imprisoned many times by the Israeli occupation because of his activism.  He has published six poetry collections, and some of them have been translated into English (including the Saqi anthology of Palestinian poetry,) Victims of a Map), French and other languages; some of his nationalistic poems have been put to music. He is the editor in chief of the Palestinian newspaper Koull El Arab and the director of the Foundation for Popular Culture in Haifa. He regularly performs his poetry at recitations in Galilee. Al-Qasim has refused to leave Israel. He is quoted as saying ‘I have chosen to remain in my own country not because I love myself less, but because I love my country more.’

Mahmoud Darwish was born in 1942 and died in 2008. All poetry is emotional. Palestinian poetry is especially so. Modern Palestinian poets put into words the reality of living under occupation. Bemoaning the loss of their land, they tell their stories with sorrow, pain, and hope. Mahmoud Darwish is well known for this. His poems are a tribute to the Palestinian struggle and resistance. Darwish is considered one of the most important poets of today, and is recognized as a major literary voice for the Palestinian people. Mahmoud Darwish was born in 1942 in the village of Birwa in the Galilee, in the northern region of what was then Palestine. In 1948, the Darwish family left their hometown after the area was declared part of the new state of Israel, and settled in a town called Dayru I-Assad. Over the ensuing years, Darwish was subject to house arrests and imprisonments for political activism. His poetry is reflective of the struggles he encountered living under occupation during this time. In 1970, Darwish spent one year of study at a university in Moscow, and made the decision to not return to his homeland. He spent the next twenty-six years living in Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia and Paris and finally returned to his native land for a visit in 1996. His poems are mostly composed of plain words and a simple style. Yet with their simplicity, his words are profoundly felt. In all his poems Darwish expresses strong sentiments about his love for his homeland, his pain over the occupation of it, and his undying hope its return. His intense longing for his home is evident in the following twp poems/

Fadwa Tuqan is the Grande Dame of Palestinian letters, is considered as one of the best Arab pioneering contemporary poets, was born in Nablus in 1917. She began writing in the traditional forms, but was one of the leaders of the use of the free verse in Arabic poetry. Her works deal with feminine explorations of love and social protest. After 1967, she also began writing patriotic poems. Her autobiography published in 1985, ‘A Mountainous Journey., was translated into English in 1990. Tuqan received an International poetry award in Palermo, Italy. She was awarded the Jerusalem Award for Culture and Arts by the PLO in 1990 and the United Arab Emirates Award in 1990. She also received the Honorary Palestine prize for poetry in 1996. She was the subject of a documentary film directed by novelist Liana Bader in 199

May Sayigh was born in 1940 in Gaza. She obtained BA in sociology from Cairo University. She was the president of the Union of Palestinian Women and has been very active in the cause of Palestinian women. She has published a number of poetry collections, as well as a prose account of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon in ‘The Siege’. She lives in Paris.

Tawfik Zayyad or Tawfeeq Ziad, was born in Galilee in 1929 and died in 1994. He studied literature in Russia. After returning home, he was elected Mayor of Nazareth on 9 December 1973, as head of Rakah, a communist  party, a victory that is said to have ‘surprised and alarmed’ Israelis.] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tawfiq_Ziad#cite_note-1#cite_note-1>  Elected to the Knesset in the 1973 elections on Rakah's list, Ziad was active in pressuring the Israeli government to change its policies towards Arabs - both those inside Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories. A report he co-authored on Israeli prison conditions and the use of torture on Palestinian inmates was reprinted in the Israeli newspaper Al Hamishmar. It was also submitted to the United nations by Tawfik Ziad after a visit to Al-Far'ah prison on 29 October 1987. It was subsequently quoted from at length in a UM General Assembly report dated 23 December 1987, where it was described as ‘Perhaps the best evidence of the truth of the reports describing the repugnant inhumane conditions endured by Arab prisoners.’ Ziad died on 5 July 1994 in a head-on collision in the Jordan Valley on his way back to Nazareth from Jericho after welcoming Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization back from exile. At the time of his sudden death, he was still Mayor of Nazareth, a member of the Knesset and ‘a leading Arab legislator’. A street is named after him in Sheb ‘Amr.