Mahmoud Darwish once wrote, of Gaza, “We are unfair to her when we search for her poems.” We are certainly unfair when we scrabble anywhere for poems, searching for aesthetic pleasure in others’ suffering. But here, poetry seems to have welled up from the need to speak, to create, to defy silence:
Most of the Arabic writing about Gaza that came out of the last month was first-person reportage on events. But some of it mixed together with other elements to create otherworldly or impassioned prose.
The piece that most stunned me in the last month was not by a Gazan, but by Jerusalem-based playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi. His “The underground ghetto city of Gaza“ ran in Haaretz on August 4. Zuabi has said elsewhere that he would prefer people to see “dreamlike poetry in his work rather than political drama”; it’s hard to imagine how they would miss it:
And we start to hope that if we keep on digging, all the way to the core, if we don’t stop, if we perforate the land like a honeycomb, if we make it as flimsy as silk, maybe it will suddenly collapse in on itself. And then, like a tray piled with cups of coffee and cookies that crashes to the floor in a mess of crumbs and glass, it will all mix together. The upper part and the lower part will blend. And the rules will change. And we’ll be able to say with a sigh of relief: Here is a piece of sky mixed with a cracked piece of sea; here is Shujaiyeh mixed with Sderot; here is Zeitoun mixed with the Mount of Olives; here is compassion mixed with relief; here is one human being mixed with another. And we’ll know that we were saved from the living death in which we are trapped, and now we’ll join the life of above, and with them build a new land. [Read the whole piece.]
Atef Abu Sayf, a novelist and the editor of The Book of Gaza, a short-story collection published this year by Comma Press, wrote a number of pieces. Perhaps the first was “I Do Not Want to Be a Number,” which ran in Slate (translator not named):
I do not want to be a number, to be a piece in the news, a name mentioned by a beautiful TV anchor waiting impatiently to finish reading news from Gaza. I do not want to be a small number in a large one, a part of the data. I do not want to be an image among thousands of images that the activists and sympathizers share on Twitter or post on Facebook, rained down on with likes and comments. [Read the whole piece.]
Abu Sayf also had “Eight Days in Gaza: A Wartime Diary” in the New York Times (translator not named):
My wife, Hanna, is arguing with the kids over what to buy to celebrate Eid, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. She has forbidden them to go to the grocery store, and she’s adamant that they won’t visit the Internet cafes or the PlayStation shop near my father’s place. They don’t understand the impossibility of shopping at a time of war. [Read the whole piece.]
Gaza-based writer Hedaya Shamun shared several pieces of hers with ArabLit. After the thirteenth day of Operation Protective Edge, she shared “The Taste of Coffee in Gaza,” trans. Shaimaa Debees:
War changes the taste of coffee. Sweets are no longer as they were before, and no one wants to touch them once the kids have gone. A bitter taste settles into our eyes and into our hearts. Today is the thirteenth day of the war — of the sudden death. Every day we greet, leave, and call each other, attempting to support each other, but time gets us! We all feel those terrible shells that are so close to our heads. [Read the whole piece.]
Poet Nathalie Handal, who is from Bethlehem, published two sets of poetry in the last month: Confessions at Midrange: The Voices and Faces of Palestine – Summer, 2014 and Three Poems for Gaza on World Literature Today. From “Gaza“:
Once in a tiny strip
dark holes swallowed hearts
and one child told another
withdraw your breath
whenever the night wind
is no longer a land of dreams
And “Confessions at Midrange“:
My heart has telescopes
my eyes have invisible streets
my portrait is of a nation
with a hundred square feet of clouds—
maybe god is a country
my eyes can’t see.
Gazan author Refaat Al-Areer was editor of the 2013 collection Gaza Writes Back, a reaction to the Cast Lead invasion of 2008-2009. During Protective Edge, Al-Areer lost his brother Mohammed. In The Electronic Intifada, Al-Areer crafted a portrait of his relationship with his younger sibling:
When I heard they wanted to name my new brother Mohammed, I started crying and shouting, “I don’t want you to name him Mohammed. I want you to name him Hamada! I want Hamada!”
I used to scream my lungs out every time someone called him Mohammed until no one dared do so. He was then known to all as Hamada (which is a pet name for Mohammed). Everyone called him Hamada except, to my disappointment, my dad, who always used his official name, Mohammed.
Ever since, I felt a very strong connection towards Hamada. It was like he was my son, like I owned him, like I had to take care of him and to make sure his name remained Hamada. [Read the whole piece.]
Another Jerusalem-based writer, Amani Rohana, writes “A Story from a Bus in Jerusalem.” Like Al-Areer’s story, Rohana’s is part of Israeli-American poet Moriel Rothman-Zecher‘s list of 39 recommended readings about Israel’s latest attack on Gaza. From Rohana’s “Bus”:
Lately, I am just tired of having conversations about anything. Every once in a while, when I find the strength to leave my university dorms in the French Hill, I am advised by my concerned mother not to speak in Arabic in public. Given the limited resources provided to challenge that fear, I choose not to speak at all. Sometimes, however, you are forced into a conversation, and by that, you are forced to choose between your own conversation and that of others, knowing that either way, you are going to have to bear unbearable consequences, which would include, in the best case, longer, more dreadful conversations.