Saturday, October 24, 2020

Beloved Palestinian Druze Poet Samih al-Qasim Dies age 75

By Charlotte Armstrong - August 26, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Palestinian citizens of Israel]


“I don’t like you, death | But I’m not afraid of you | And I know that my body is your bed | And my soul or spirit is your bed cover | I know that your banks are narrow for me | I don’t love you death | But I’m not afraid of you.” 

These are the beautiful words that Samih al-Qasim recited after being asked his thoughts on writing poetry in the face of death; at the time of the interview, he had been battling liver cancer for nearly three years. Last week, the renowned poet lost his fight with cancer and died while in hospital at the age of 75.  

A resistance poet, “born for poetry and not for the gun”

Al-Qasim was born in 1939 in the Jordanian city of az-Zarqa, where his father was stationed as an officer in the Arab Legion of King Abdullah. The family returned home to Rama, a Palestinian town in the Upper Galilee, whilst al-Qasim was still young and remained there during the Nakba, the Palestinian “catastrophe” that accompanied the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

Although al-Qasim was only nine years old when the 1948 war broke out, he regarded that year as his real year of birth. “My thoughts and images spring from the number 48,” he explained in his book About Principles and Art.

In the early days after Israel’s establishment, a state of military rule was forced upon its Arab population and al-Qasim’s first collection of poems, Mawakib al-Shams or Processions of the Sun, can be read as a battle against it. Subsequently, the young poet became known as one of the famed “resistance poets,” a group of Palestinian poets that included the late Mahmoud Darwish and Tawfiq Zayyad

When asked by journalist Liam Brown about his thoughts on the label “resistance poet,” al-Qasim answered: “It was put upon me but I am proud of it. I am a resistance poet, and not only Arab and Palestinian resistance. I am a poet of international resistance.” 

Al-Qasim remained a powerful voice against Israeli oppression, both in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and also against Palestinians living within the State of Israel. As a result of his political beliefs and activism, al-Qasim was subjected to periods of house arrest, imprisonment, harassment and censorship. 

He also became the first Druze in Israel to publically refuse military service after he wrote a letter, to the then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, declaring that he was in fact born for poetry and not for the gun.

Compulsory military service for Druze men 

Whilst Muslim and Christian Arabs with Israeli citizenship are exempt from military service, Druze men are required to serve for three years in the Israeli army. 

At the beginning of June, 18-year-old Omar Saad was released from military service after spending a total of 150 days in prison. The Druze violinist, from the northern village Maghar, first stated his intention to refuse in late 2012, when he followed in al-Qasim’s footsteps and sent an open letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

“I refuse to appear for tests, because I oppose the law of conscription imposed on my Druze community. I refuse because I am a man of peace and I hate all forms of violence, and the military institution represents for me the peak of physical and psychological violence,” Saad argued in the letter. 

Although the Druze are considered to be an ethnic group that has assimilated well in the Israeli community, the voices of refusal have become stronger in recent years, and especially in the wake of Saad’s public refusal.

Along with others, 22-year-old activist Maisan Hamdan coordinates activities for the group, Refuse—Your People Will Support You, which supports conscientious objectors from the Druze community.

 “We believe that compulsory military service for Palestinian Druze is not a Druze issue, it's a Palestinian issue,” Hamdam told Palestine Monitor. “Every month we have more and more calls for help from people who want to refuse to serve in the army. Most of them prefer not to make this refusal public.”

Hamdan explained that Druze boys are pressured to serve in the military from a young age from both within Druze society and from the state. “First of all, if you refuse to serve then you may be forced to go to prison. Secondly, it has become normal for Druze men to serve in the Israeli army because the Zionist narrative has succeeded in separating the Palestinians into different religious and ethnic groups. The Israelis have created something called 'Druze nationality’ to take away the Druze from their Arab nationality.”

“And third, because the government promises that it will not confiscate Druze lands and will provide building permits [if they cooperate with the State]. It's all one big lie. The [Israeli] government has confiscated more than 80% of the Druze lands,” she added. 

Al-Qasim’s funeral

Several thousand people attended al-Qasim’s funeral in Rama last Thursday, including the former Palestinian President Ahmed Qurei. 

A delegation of Druze Syrians also travelled to al-Qasim’s home-village from the occupied Golan. It is reported that the small group expressed their solidarity with the resistance poet by chanting “the Golan and Palestine will be returned to their people...our land, our country.” 

Although he was not in attendance, the current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas released a statement on Wednesday commemorating al-Qasim’s life-long resistance. “Samih Al-Qasim, a poet with a grand national voice, has passed away after a life full of giving which he mostly dedicated to defend truth, justice and land.”

In one of his last interviews, however, al-Qasim said that he did not care how he will be remembered. “If the Palestinian people will be free, if the Arab world will be united, if social justice will be victorious in all the world, if there will be international peace. I don’t care who will remember me or my poems. I don’t care.”


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