Homeland, an open palm

The Conference of the Birds (ISBN 978-1-937786-02-1) by Alexis York Lumbard and Demi on wisdomtalespress.com


In this time of bloody knives and 2000-pound bombs, this horrible moment of war, trauma and mourning, when terrorists hold hostages and all of Gaza is held in terror, and death is everywhere, words cannot kill.


Words are protected speech, at least in our country.  We must protect all speakers — even when they say hateful words.


Still, in such a dark time, we all must be especially mindful not to inflict pain on others in our community, by our words or by our actions.


Words can threaten and injure.   Words can spread hate and they can spread fear.


Trauma is Greek for “wound.”    Words can wound, as the survivor of a knife attack suffers wounds, and the survivor of a bombing can carry her wounds with her for an interim period, or for the rest of her life.   Words can traumatize and re-traumatize.


It is hard to organize without slogans.    Still, I am already weary of them.


In this time of fear and hate, all of us must be very careful in the words we use and chant and post if we do not wish to hurt others in the communities to which we belong.  In this time, we must especially refrain from harm to Palestinians, and all Muslims, Israelis and all Jews.  We take care not to intensify the trauma and suffering others carry, just as we carry, with such painful burden —  even if that is not our intended purpose, even if our intended purpose is to further justice and peace in this tormented world.


Total evisceration leaves no trace.   Blood flows from fragments:   fragments of explosive devices, grenades, shrapnel.


In contrast, fragments of literature, art, prayer, silence, fragments of decency, of compassion, of narrative, are fragile, drowned out by the noise around us, including the sound of bombs falling on the heads of children or a thousand miles away, fleeting.


Still, these fragments of caring and humanity help to keep us alive, and bring some healing, in the darkest times.


In this spirit, the Fierce Urgency text below consists of fragments:   a passage from the Qur’an, encyclopedia entries, excerpts of poems, plays and interviews, images, photographs.


Works of literature and art challenge us, especially when we are full of intensity and rage, when we cannot be calm, when we lose our center.   We must slow down to absorb even a short poem, and we must breathe.


I offer these fragments to you at this moment in the spirit our San Francisco neighbor Rebecca Solnit invoked in her book Hope in the Dark:


“It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings.


“Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes — you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.”


Please put this aside if you don’t have the ability to be quiet right now, if you don’t have the time to read these fragments, and look at the pictures, slowly.


Please wait until you can sit calmly and breathe.    Even now, in this time of war, I hope you can find a glimpse of a peace that we can help to bring into existence, together, with the gracious help of the Hoopoe’s wisdom, and the open hands of our beloved poets.




1.  The Hoopoe (دُدهُه)



Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Naml 27:20–22.


بسم هللا الرحمن الرحيم . ْم َكا َن ِم َن ُهْد ُهَد أ ْ َرى ال َ َّطْي َر َفَقا َل َما لِ َي ََل أ َد ال َو ي َن َتَفقَّ ِ َغاِئب ْ ال .اًبا ُه َعذَ َبنَّ َعذِّ ََلُ ٍن ي ِ ٍن ُّمب ْ َطا ُسل ِ تَِينِّي ب ْ َيأ ْو لَ َ ُه أ َب َحنَّ ْ ذ ْو ََلَ َ َك ِم َش . ن ِديًدا أ تُ ِه َو ِجئْ ِ ِح ْط ب ْم تُ َما لَ ِ َحط ُت ب َ َف َمَك َث َغْي َر َب ِعيٍد َفَقا َل أ ٍن َيِقي ٍ َنَبإ ِ ب ٍ َسَبإ . سورة النمل ، اآليات

And he (Solomon) sought attendance among the birds and said: How is it that I see not the hoopoe, or is he among the absent? (20). I will surely punish him with a severe punishment or slaughter him unless he brings me clear authorization (21). But the hoopoe stayed not long and said, “I have encompassed [in knowledge] that which you have not encompassed, and I have come to you from Sheba with certain news” (22).


The Hoopoe plays a central role in the poem, 'Conference of the Birds' - as a ‘spiritual guide’ and leader of the pilgrim-birds. 

The Hoopoe, ca. 1610, Janangir Period, Chazen Museum of Art


Birds in the Quran: Hoopoe

Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D., Islamic Research Foundation International


The hoopoe (hud-hud) is an elegant bird, which is related to the hornbill. It gets its unusual name from its shrill call of “hoops, which rings clear and far and is repeated two or three times… The hoopoe’s (hud-hud) call is soft and musical, repeated every couple of seconds. Because of this sound it makes the bird got its name in many languages. For example in English it becomes ‘hoopoe’, in Persian and Urdu it is “hud”…


Prophet Solomon was a king and the ruler of Syria and Palestine whose armies consisted of troops made of men and Jinns and birds. It is possible that the birds were employed for communicating the messages, hunting and for other suitable services.


In the Qur’an (27:20) we read that Prophet Solomon reviewed his birds and found Hoopoe (hud-hud) missing. His most mobile arm was the birds, who were light on the wing and flew and saw everything like efficient scouts. Prophet Solomon expresses his anger and his desire to punish Hoopoe severely if he does not present himself before Prophet Solomon with a reasonable excuse.  Within a short while Hoopoe returns and says, “ I have obtained knowledge of things which you have no knowledge. I have brought sure information about Saba (a well known rich people of southern Arabia, now the present day Yemen. Their capitol city was Ma’rib which lay about 55 miles to the north­east of Sana, the present capitol of Yemen). There I have seen a woman ruling over her people: she has been given all sorts of provisions, and she has a splendid throne. I saw that she and her people prostrate themselves before the sun, instead of Allah.!”


Prophet Solomon said, “We shall just now see whether what you say is true, or that you are a liar. Take this letter of mine and cast it before them; then get aside and see what reaction they show.” Qur’an, 27: 27-28.


How King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba were brought together by a hoopoe | Christie's

Baysunghur in the guise of Solomon with the Queen of Sheba, Timurid Herat, mid-15th century (detail).


The Hoopoe (Upupa epops Linnaeus, 1758) in Palestine‫‬

Norman Ali Bassam Khalaf-Prinz Sakerfalke von Jaffa, University of Palestine, Al-Zahra Gaza Strip, Palestine, August 2016


The Hoopoe or Hudhud (دُدهُه in Arabic) communicated with Prophet Sulaiman (Solomon) (Peace Be Upon Him) – who spoke to animals –, and the story was mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. The Prophet Sulaiman-Hudhud communication took place in Al-Quds (Jerusalem), Palestine, where the Prophet has his palace. The Hoopoe (Upupa epops Linnaeus, 1758) is a common resident in the north and central Palestine, and is a common migrant and winter visitor in the south of Palestine. The hoopoe was chosen as the national bird of Israel in May 2008 in conjunction with the country’s 60th anniversary, following a national survey of 155,000 citizens, outpolling the white-spectacled bulbul (Wikipedia; Khalaf-von Jaffa, July 2016).




According to one ancient Arabian tradition, for example, hoopoes originally bore crests of solid gold, bestowed upon them by Prophet (King) Solomon in gratitude for shielding him with their wings from the burning sun one day as he walked through the desert. So many of their number were killed for this valuable accoutrement, however, that eventually they came before Solomon, who was so wise that he could even understand the language of birds, and beseeched him to help them. Touched by their tragic plight, Solomon agreed to do so, as a result of which the hoopoes’ crests were transformed from gold into feathers, thus saving their species from extinction (Shuker, 2011).


The hoopoes are also said to have brought to Prophet Solomon the shamir – described in the Talmud and Midrash as a tiny but very magical worm that could cut through solid stone, and which greatly assisted him, therefore, in building his First Temple in Jerusalem. (In a similar vein, the hoopoe is also credited with knowledge of where to find a mystical plant called the springwort, whose touch can break through the hardest rocks and stones.) And in the Holy Koran, it was the hoopoe that discovered the Queen “Balqees” of Sheba and informed Prophet Solomon of her existence. Other Arab traditions claim that the hoopoe could unerringly guide Prophet Solomon to undiscovered subterranean springs by using its long bill as a water-divining rod, and consider it to be a doctor among birds, gifted with medicinal powers that can cure any ailment (Shuker, 2011).


In many cultures throughout its extensive Eurasian and African zoogeographical distribution range traditionally deem the hoopoe to be a guide or leader of other birds through dangerous realms to their ultimate destination, as well as a messenger from the invisible supernatural world (this latter role of the hoopoe also features in Aristophanes’s famous play, The Birds). To the ancient Egyptians, it symbolised gratitude, and even appeared as a hieroglyphic. There is also a widespread folk tradition that the hoopoe can forecast storms. Bearing in mind, however, that scientists have shown that it can indeed detect minute atmospheric electrical (piezoelectric) charges that sometimes precede a storm or even an earthquake, this particular example of hoopoe folklore is clearly based upon fact (Shuker, 2011)…


Mantiq al-Tayr, The Language of the Birds


The Conference of the Birds


Abū Ḥāmid bin Abū Bakr Ibrāhīm (c. 1145 – c. 1221; Persianابوحامد بن ابوبکر ابراهیم), better known by his pen-names Farīd ud-Dīn (فریدالدین) and ʿAṭṭār of Nishapur (عطار نیشاپوری, Attar means apothecary) — a Persian poet, Sufi and pharmacist.


Q.27:16-17: And Solomon was David’s heir. He said: “O ye people! We have been taught the speech of birds, and on us has been bestowed (a little) of all things: this is indeed Grace manifest (from Allah.)” And before Solomon were marshalled his hosts – of Jinns and men and birds, and they were all kept in order and ranks.


“The world’s birds gathered for their conference

and said: ‘Our constitution makes no sense.

All nations in the world require a king;

how is it we alone have no such thing?

Only a kingdom can be justly run;

we need a king and must inquire for one’…

They argued  how to set about their  quest.

The hoopoe fluttered forward; on his  breast

There shone the symbol of the Spirit’s Way

And on his  head Truth’s  crown,  a feathered spray.

Discerning,  righteous and intelligent, He spoke:

‘My purposes  are heaven-sent;

I keep  God’s secrets, mundane and divine,

In  proof  of  which  behold the holy sign

Bismillah* etched forever on my beak

No one can share  the grief with which  I seek

Our longed-for Lord…”


* Bismillah (بسم الله) is a phrase in Arabic meaning “in the name of God” that occurs at the very start of the Qur’an and opens the Basmala.


In a 12th-Century Iranian Poem, a Vision of Solidarity We Need Today ‹ Literary Hub

Mantiq al-Tayr, The Language of the Birds (detail)


The Conference of the Birds

A theatrical adaptation by Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carriere, La Centre International De Creations Theatrales


In 1972, the group undertook its most ambitious project – a trip to Africa Brooke. Brook and his troop were travel through five African countries, playing in villages in it, never seen any theatrical performance.  The 8,500-mile journey, which was the last one hundred days, began in the Sahara desert, and moved to the remotest towns of West Africa. They traveled in Land Rovers with electrical equipment, food and water supplies, cooking utensils, small baggage, sleeping bags, corrugated boxes, knapsack, tents, clothing, blankets, and bamboo sticks.   They also took with them one long piece, the conference of the birds, which they have been working on in Paris. Conference, by the 12th century, Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar, has a simple story: a flock of birds undertake a search for God. In the course of the journey, the birds become discouraged, but the leader convinces them to remain firm. In the end, a few survive only to discover that they themselves are the embodiment of the Divine.



One day, the birds of the world, those we know, and those that nobody knows, all gather together for a great conference.  When they were met, the Hoopoe, trembling with emotion, placed herself in their midst.


“Dear birds, I am troubled.


Wherever I look, I see nothing but quarrel, desperate fights, for a scrap of territory, wars for a group a few grains of corn.


This can’t go on.


For years, I have traveled by sea and by land.  I have covered vast distances and I know many secrets.


Listen to me.


We have a king.


We must find him.


Otherwise, we are lost.”


Helen Mirren – The Helen Mirren Archives » Peter Brook, influential director in Helen's early theatre career, dies at 97

Yoshi Oida, Peter Brook and Helen Mirren in Africa


Epigraph to Unfortunately, It Was a Paradise, Selected Poems of Mahmoud Darwish

University of California Press, 2003

Mahmoud Darwish, recognized among Palestinians and throughout the Arab world as “national poet of Palestine” and “voice of the Palestinian people,”  was born in 1941 in the village of al-Birwa, which was destroyed by Israeli forces in 1948.


Pero yo ya no soy yo

Ni mi casa es ya mi casa.


(But now I am no longer I,

nor is my house any longer my house.)


Federico Garcia Lorca


The Nakba 72 Years On: The Current Status of the Question of Palestine

Palestinian refugees, 1948, Arab Center, Washington D.C., Creative Commons


The Hoopoe

Mahmoud Darwish, 1993 (excerpts)

Translated by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forche


“We have not yet come to the land of our distant star.

The poem threads us through the needle’s eye

to weave the aha of a new horizon.

We are captives, even if our wheat grows over the fences,

and swallows rise from our broken chains.

We are captives of what we love, what we desire, and what we are.

But, among us there is a hoopoe who dictates

his letters to the olive tree of exile.

And our letters are returned for us to rewrite

what the rain has written-wild flowers on distant rocks.

An echo breaks in us and dies

in order for the journey to complete itself.

We were not basil returning in spring to our small windows.

We were not leaves for the wind to blow us back to our shores.

Here and there a clear line marks our route of wandering.

For how many years should we sacrifice our dead

to the oblivion mirrored in melodious ambiguity?

For how many years should our wounded lift

mountains of salt so that we might find the commandments?

Our letter is returned to us, and here and there

a clear line marks the shadow.

How many seas should we cross in the desert?

How many tablets should we leave behind?

How many prophets should we kill at high noon?

How many nations should we resemble before we become a tribe?

This path-our path-is a tapestry of words.

With it we mend the hem of the aba stretched between our solitude

and the vagrant land sleeping in our saffron dusk.

So let’s be an open hand, offering our time to the gods.

I am a hoopoe, said the guide to the master of things,

searching for a lost sky.

There is nothing left of us in the wilderness

save what the wilderness kept for itself:

a skin’s tatters on the thorn, a warrior’s song for his homeland,

and a mouth of emptiness….


“We are the strangers and we, the people of the deserted temple,

have been abandoned on our white horses searching for our last station,

reeds sprouting from our bodies and comets crisscrossing over our heads.

There is no place on earth where we haven’t pitched our tent of exile.

Are we the skin of this earth?


“Are you a Sufi, then? we asked.

He answered: I am a hoopoe. I want nothing.

I want only to have no want.

And he disappeared into the realm of his longing…


“Love transforms us. We become an ode opening

its windows to be recited and finished by doves.

We become a meaning that returns sap

to invisible trees on our souls’ embankments…


“Fly then, 0 birds, in the village squares of my heart, fly!

For what use is our thought if not for mankind?

We are of clay and light.

Did you recognize the crown above your head?

It’s my mother’s tomb…


“We still have steps no one before us has ever walked. So fly,

fly, then, 0 birds in the squares of the heart, fly!

Flock with our hoopoe, and fly!

And fly, just to fly.”


Mahmoud Darwish | Poetry In Voice

Mahmoud Darwish, 1941-2008


2.  Hulayqat and the Palmach


The area of Hulayqat from the Survey of Palestine, 1931, public domain.


Hulayqat — حُلَيْقات

Village Before 1948

The village was situated in an area of rolling hills on the coastal plain. It stood on the east bank of a wadi, immediately to the west of the Gaza–Julis highway, which ran parallel to the main coastal highway. Secondary roads linked it to a number of surrounding villages. In the late nineteenth century, Hulayqat was a small village on a gentle slope, flanked by a high sandy hill and a garden to the west. The village, which expanded toward the end of the Mandate, was rectangular in shape, with the long side of the rectangle extending along the highway. Its adobe houses stood close together and were interspersed with some small shops. The villagers were Muslims, and they obtained their domestic water from two wells inside the village. They worked mainly in rainfed agriculture, growing grain and fruit. Fruit cultivation was concentrated in the northwestern lands. In 1944/45 a total of 6,636 dunums was allotted to cereals; 115 dunums were irrigated or used for orchards. In addition to agriculture, people worked with the British-Iraq Petroleum Company after it began exploring the region for oil. Close to Hulayqat lay several khirbas that contained cisterns, a pool, and fragments of marble and pottery.


Occupation and depopulation

The History of the Haganah states that when the Palmach’s Negev Brigade destroyed the village of Burayr, ‘the peasants from the adjacent villages of Huleiqat and Kawkaba began to flee in the direction of the Hebron hills.’ This occurred on 13 May 1948, during Operation Barak . The Palmach established a position in the village. But Egyptian writer Muhammad Abd al-Mun’im states that Hulayqat was recaptured by Egyptian forces on 8 July, just before the first truce of the war expired. Egyptian armored vehicles took the village in a surprise attack from the north and held onto it until the second truce. Abd al-Mun’im states that the operation was in response to encroachment by Zionist forces in the area.


Some villagers apparently remained throughout the second truce, when heavy fighting between Egyptian and Israeli forces led to another exodus. Hulayqat was reoccupied on 19–20 October, the History of the War of Independence relates, in a two-pronged attack from Bayt Tima in the northwest and Kawkaba in the north. The battle between the Giv’ati Brigade and Egyptian forces involved combat at close quarters in some places. Israeli historian Benny Morris insists: ‘There had been no expulsions; the locals had simply fled in face of the approaching hostilities.’ On 20 October, the New York Times correspondent wrote that Hulayqat, ‘the most southerly point held by the Egyptians in the desert proper, fell last night after the heaviest battle of the campaign….’ The village was defended by 600 Egyptian regulars; around 100 of them were killed and a similar number taken prisoner, according to the Times. Egyptian writer Abd al-Mun’im adds that with the occupation of Hulayqat, ‘the enemy was able to open a road to his southern settlements and became a dangerous threat to our forces.’


Israeli Settlements on Village Lands

There are no Israeli settlements on village lands.


The Village Today

The site is partially forested. There are sycamore and Christ’s-thorn trees and cactuses growing on the site. One of the old roads has been covered by a modern street.


Entry/webpage in the Interactive Encyclopedia of the Palestine Question, a joint project of the Institute for Palestine Studies and the Palestinian Museum



Palmach members, Negev Brigade, 1948, Palmach Museum, Israel.

The Palmach

The Palmach (Strike Companies) was the enlisted brigade of the Haganah, constituting the military defense force of the Jewish Yishuv and Zionist movement until the establishment of the state of Israel (the army of the Jewish state in the making)…  The number of Haganah volunteers totaled more than sixty thousand.


Establishment of the Palmach

In the spring-summer of 1941, six mobile strike companies (Palmach) were established within the framework of the Haganah, as the national and regional combat reserve units, ready for immediate action. They were positioned in the eastern Galilee and Yizrael valley; western Galilee and Yizrael valley and Haifa region; in Samaria and the Sharon; in Tel Aviv; in the south and in Jerusalem…

In the spring-summer of 1942, during World War II, in light of the threat of invasion by the armies of Nazi Germany from the western desert and Egypt, the Palmach was supported by British army. The British trained its members in guerilla warfare against the German Army, in preparation for a German invasion, and in order to defend of the country’s central region…


The struggle against the British Mandate: immigration and settlement

During 1945 to 1947, when the British rule strove to suffocate the Zionist enterprise, conspired against the Jewish Settlement and prevented the immigration of Holocaust survivors, the Palmach actively fought the British on several fronts: organization of overland illegal immigration from neighboring Arab countries, and throughout Europe – accompanying and commanding most of the illegal immigration ships carrying Holocaust survivors – about 60 ships with tens of thousands of immigrants from all corners of Europe – and their disembarking on the coasts of Palestine despite the British blockade; defense and assistance in the establishment of new settlements despite British opposition; participation in mass demonstrations; conducting an armed struggle against the British rule…


In accordance with the instructions of the national leadership, in 1945 the Hebrew Resistance Movement was founded. As part of the movement, Palmach members participated, among others, in the following anti-British operations (not personal terror): release of illegal immigrants from the Atlit detention camp, bombing of railways on the Night of Trains, bombing of patrol boats in Jaffa harbor, attacks on the Coast Guard stations in Givat Olga and Sidney Ali, bombing of the radar station on Mount Carmel, attacks on mobile British police stations, blowing up of 11 bridges leading to the neighboring Arab countries (Night of Bridges) and more. These operations were linked to the battle for immigration and settlement, and the political struggle. In response, on Black Sabbath (the 29th of June 1946), many members of the Palmach were arrested in a widespread British operation against the Yishuv and its leadership.


The battle for transportation, protection of settlements against Arab attacks and conquest of additional regions

When the UN resolution declaring the establishment of a Jewish state in parts of Palestine was passed on the 29th of November 1947, the Arabs reacted with increasing violence, attacks on Jewish transportation and sieges on Jerusalem and other settlements – the Palmach was the first enlisted military force prepared to encounter the enemy and defend the Jewish Yishuv (about 600,000 Jews).


At the time, the Palmach was composed of 2,200 regular fighters and 900 reservists. Its four battalions immediately commenced operation, together with 4 new battalions formed when fighting broke out. This was the beginning of the War of Independence. Palmach units played a crucial role and enabled the Haganah and Yishuv institutions to organize and prepare for invasion by Arab armies.


At the beginning of the war, from December 1947 to March 1948, Palmach battalions were deployed in the Galilee mountains and northern valleys (Battalions 1 and 3), in the Jerusalem region (Battalions 4, 5, and 6) and in the Negev region (Battalions 2 and 6). Operations focused primarily on securing communication and access, and assistance to remote and distant settlements (Yehiam, Tirat Zvi, Ramot Naftali, Safed, Negev settlements), protecting supply convoys to the Negev, to besieged and shelled Jerusalem, to Gush Ezion, as well as initiated strikes at Arab groups of fighters.


In the second phase, until the 15th of May 1948 (the Proclamation of Independence), Jewish forces progressed to coordinated attacks on several fronts, aimed at opening the road to Jerusalem, gaining control of cities with mixed populations, transportation junctures, and police stations and military bases that were vacated as British forces left Israel.


The most prominent operations in which Palmach units participated were, among others, the battle for Mishmar Ha’emek, reaching Jerusalem and extending its borders, the conquest of Tiberius, capture of Haifa, encircling of Jaffa, freeing of the Upper Galilee, conquest of Safed and Beit Shean, surrender of Jaffa and release of the Western Galilee.


From “Synopsis of Palmach history,” Palmach Museum, Israel.


1936 "Falling Soldier", Iconic Photo by Robert Capa (Large 1964 re-strike) | eBay


Huleikat – the Third Poem about Dicky

Yehuda Amichai, 1989


“In these hills, even the towers of oil wells

are a mere memory. Here Dicky fell,

four years older than me, like a father to me

in times of anguish.  Now I am older than him

by forty years and I remember him like a young son,

and I am his father, old and grieving.


“And you, who remember only faces,

do not forget the outstretched hands

and the legs that run so easily

and the words.


“Remember: even the road to terrible battles

passes by gardens and windows

and children playing, a barking dog.


“Remind the fallen fruit

of its leaves and branches,

remind the sharp thorns

how soft and green they were in springtime,

and do not forget,

even a fist

was once an open palm and fingers.”



DDMRM7 Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000), Hebrew Poet.

Yehuda Amichai, 1924-2000


3.   Homeland


“A Love Story Bewteen an Arab Poet and His Land”:  An Interview with Mahmud Darwish

IPS Logo.    Journal of Palestine Studies Vol.31 No. 3-Spring 2002


In November 2001 , Mahmud Darwish, the “poetic voice of Palestine” and a leading cultural icon throughout the Arab world (see JPS 123), was awarded the prestigious Lannan Foundation Prize for Cultural Freedom. The prize was established by the Santa Fe-based foundation in 1999 to honor “people whose extraordinary and courageous work celebrates the human right to freedom of imagination, inquiry, and expression.” According to the foundation’s president, Darwish’s importance as a poet as well as his “courage in speaking out against injustice and oppression, while eloquently arguing for a peaceful and equitable coexistence between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews, [are] what motivates Lannan Foundation to honor him.” Though his poetry has been translated into more than twenty languages, little of his work is available in English.



In school, you read Neruda, Lorca, Nazim Hikmet, and also a number of Israeli poets. You have spoken very highly of Yehudi Amichai and of his influence on your work.



I think Yehudi Amichai is the greatest Hebrew poet. I met him twice, once in Tel Aviv in 1969, and once in New York at a PEN conference in 1985. In 1969, a group of Israeli poets came to meet a group of Arab poets in Haifa, and then they called to meet us again in Tel Aviv. With Moshe Dayan’s permission, I was able to go. Mr. Amichai was very polite, very human. He behaved as a friend. He didn’t tell me what he thought of my work directly, but in interviews he said kind things about me, which enraged other Israeli poets, who were very jealous. Amichai is greatly admired among the Palestinian elite and among the Arab elite. They read him in English, though there are some Arabic translations. Once I said in Paris that I liked the conflict between me and Amichai. We compete over who is more in love with this country, who writes about it more beautifully. I hope the conflict will continue in this manner. When I read him, I read myself…”



Photograph by Eyad Abutaha, Creative Commons


“Darwish and Amichai Share Poems in Heaven”

Philip Terman, 2019


“So let’s be an open hand,

one of them says, offering our time

to the Gods.  


The other responds:


Even a fist was an open palm

with five fingers.


And it goes on

like this, year after year, age

after age, these two souls hovering,


indistinguishable in the light,

reciting their spirit-selves one

after the other, no longer grieving


their respective exiles,


the breath of their words

shaping the winds

across the deserts

of their homeland,


which is the same homeland,


and now they recite together,


each listening hard

to the other’s language.”


Hoopoe in flight, photograph by Hari K Patibanda, Creative Commons