Continuing the Debate About Darwish

Haim Watzman

Yisrael and Shalom,

In response to your comments on my post “Mahmoud Darwish, Zionist Poet,” if you read more carefully, you’ll see that:
a) I don’t put down the Jew, but rather express my admiration for Greenberg’s poetry;
b) I except myself from Darwish’s politics, while expressing admiration for his poetry;
c) I suggest that both poets are important figures in their national cultures, and that they need to be read and understood by the opposing nation.

Regarding the quotes you adduce, the context of the poem from the First Intifada indicates that the “land” he wants the Jews to get out of is probably the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, even if, when writing it, in the emotional turbulence of a quite justified Palestinian uprising against Israeli oppression, he meant he wanted the Jews out of all of the Land, that doesn’t obviate the fact in his political, as opposed to poetic, statements he consistently favored compromise and coexistence. But neither his poetic outbursts nor his political opinions are relevant to the literary value of his poetry and to the importance of it being read and understood by Jews and Zionists.

Regarding the quote from Time that Yisrael cites, I have to admit that I’m surprised. After all, all three of us, as religious Zionists, belong to a movement whose credo maintains that Jewish existence should not and cannot be limited to the mundane, the physical, and the secular. Without a soul and a spirit, the Jewish people will wither. When Darwish stated, in the midst of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and its capital, that “The Jews were great creators in the abstract. Now only their army is great,” he expressed a concern that I think all three of us share–even if we are all firm supporters of Israel’s need for a strong military and of its right to defend itself. And when he said “If the Palestinians find a homeland, they may discover the same dilemma as the Jews,” he was voicing a concern that his own people might also find themselves in danger, if placed in the same situation that the Jews are now, with their own sovereign state, of having patriotic militarism overwhelm their culture and spirit.

All the more reason why both sides should be reading each other’s poetry.

(I’d like to point out to South Jerusalem’s other readers that Yisrael Medad and Shalom Freedman have been loyal readers of my writing, despite our utterly different political outlooks [in fact, it would probably not be an exaggeration to say that Yisrael thinks that my opinions are kooky and perhaps even dangerous, just as I feel about his]. They’ve been critical, of course, but Shalom has also posted an admiring review of my book Company C on its Amazon page. I appreciate their ongoing attention.)

9 thoughts on “Continuing the Debate About Darwish”

  1. Thanks for warning your readers about me ;>)

    To explain further: I fully recognize the need for Jews to argue among themselves. I find it most difficult when Jews sell themselves cheap to the enemy, not that Haim has done that but his post, nevertheless, gives me a hook to hang up my “hat” on this point. For sure, coming from outside, Atzag’s poetry could be considered as ‘extreme’ as Darwish’s. But the situations were, and today are, different and therefore, I saw no need to slip and slide into a comparison of “we’ve got ours and they’ve got there’s and we are all in this together”. Atzag’s poetry stimulated reprisal attacks but they were reprisals, and they only targeted civilians because our civilians were targeted. No one is completely moral in this conflict but we should not try to vaunt our “immorality” without context.

    That’s it for now.

    P.S. Anybody from here coming to the conference tomorrow?

  2. I appreciated your initial post and forgot to ask what you meant by Zionist poet. Would you tell here?

    As for differences of opinion… fine and welcome… when those differences are expressed and exchanged verbally. I sense in your commenters that, among other issues, is a resistance to airing dirty linen. Seems to me, dirty or clean, linen is aired often and by anyone within or without the tribe/clan/group. Eco-kashrut and related concerns currently widely and publicly debated in the USA on kosher slaughterhouses comes to mind. In the 21st century global village we (Jews, any group) do not need to circle the wagons to discuss bitter truths about our actions.

    I find that open discussions show others how to conduct them. And we hunger for such discussions between and among our neighbors in the West Bank, Gaza, and elsewhere.

  3. I don’t know Shalom, but I have had the pleasure of being entertained by “Yisrael Medad.”

    Try as he might, however, Yisrael will never do more than entertain. He certainly will never impress anyone with his “writings” (or his -lol- “MA seminar”).

    Chaim’s post, because it attempted to acknowledge Yisrael’s basic humanity (a challenge for anyone who has followed Medad’s rabid (comic) quest for Palestinian blood), seems to have calmed Yisrael long enough for him to type out a few conciliatory (self-promotional) words.

    Amusing to see “Yisrael, Social Climber” rather than the usual “Yisrael, Settler Thug.”

    Encore, encore.

  4. Judas,

    a) I have “entertained” you? Good. Either pay or at least clap?

    b) “Yisrael will never do more than entertain”
    Bet you I can do more.

    c) ” (or his -lol- “MA seminar”).” Actually I got a 90 in that, “השתקפות הזר בשירתו של אצ”ג
    for Prof. Ella Belfer. Go on, ask her.

    c) I have no “humanity”? but you do because you describe me as having a “rabid (comic) quest for Palestinian blood” – ah, am I a dog (Atzag would just love that imagery – Haim knows what I mean as I doubt you do)

    d) “a few conciliatory (self-promotional) words”? hey, I am a blogger. You, you can’t even identify yourself publicly – an inferiority complex? embarassed to through slurs around like that?

    e) “Yisrael, Settler Thug.” tsk, tsk.

    f) “Encore, encore.” just you wait.

    p.s. Judas, can I borrow 30 pieces of whatever?

  5. Tamar– Sorry I didn’t get around to answering your query until now. When I refer to Darwish as a Zionist poet, that’s of course meant ironically. As I said in my original post, his major themes are the same ones that many Zionist poets addressed, and they grow out of a sense of displacement and of a home/exile dichotomy that is part of both the Jewish and the Palestinian experience. Furthermore, Darwish was very conscious of these parallels.

  6. I am not sure I know how to answer Haim Watzman but I’ll just let a few thoughts flow .First, I not only appreciate Haim’s writing , I appreciate the kind of service he did for Israel in his army service. He showed committment courage, and responsible judgment over and above what most of us are capable of.
    I also understand the complex relation between a writer’s declared positions, and their occasional extreme expressions. I too know how writers can be misued by a cause. Neitzsche and the Nazis is a key example, though of course there was ‘smoke’ in the Superman concept.
    My objection is not to someone, anyone reading Darwish , or liking and praising his poetry- or sympathizing with the Palestinians. That is not my objection. My objection is to that very well- known, perhaps most well- known poem of his in which he sends those stranger Jews packing. Again the underlying theme of Palestinian Arab rejection of the Jews, and Arafat reiterated this in rejecting Barak’s offer, is that the Jews have no real historical connection with the land.
    One more point. There are certain outstanding even great cultural figures I simply will not allow myself to take aesthetic enjoyment from. Whether this is an aesthetic or moral judgment is a real question. But Wagner is not for me and Celine is not for me.
    There are certain ‘pleasures’ it is possible to live without.

  7. Shalom Freedman, have you ever stopped to wonder why “that” poem is so well-known in Israel? Compared to Darwish’s many other poems, say, Identity Card, is it similarly (in)famous among Palestinians? I don’t know, but I strongly suspect that each side picks and elevates to “perhaps most well-known” status those texts that resound most strongly with them. In that sense, may I suggest that “Those Who Pass Between Fleeting Words” reflects more acutely Israeli fears than Palestinian aspirations?
    Haim Gouri in his eulogy ( recounts Darwish commenting on the poem to Tom Segev: “Haim Gouri sometimes writes bad poems, too.”

    Arafat’s rejection of Barak’s “Generous Offer”, aka The New And Improved Allon Plan (Every PM Should Have One, I can hear Olmert saying) had nothing to do with the Palestinians’ alleged rejection of historical Jewish ties to the land. It had everything to do with the plan being unacceptable on its merits.

  8. Fiddler, if you are correct, then the same goes for Uri Tzvi Greenberg. Of course, if Darwish was the “national poet laureate” of “Palestine” I am guessing that that poem too is right up there with his “best” examples of writing.

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