Monday, December 29, 2008

A poem for Palestine

From all accounts yesterday's New York demonstration in solidarity with the people of Gaza against the murderous Israeli bombing assault was, although called at the last minute and held without a permit, strong and spirited, drawing 3,000 to 4,000 people to stand with Palestine. Now a new coalition of New York/New Jersey groups has been created. It's the Break the Siege on Gaza Coalition, and it has announced plans for another, bigger demonstration this coming Saturday, January 3. I'm hoping I'll be well enough by then to go. I feel awful about missing yesterday's protest. In the meantime, here's a statement by the youth group FIST on the Gaza crisis. And here's one from the International Action Center.

For a more literary take on the Palestinian struggle, check out the recent anthology Poets for Palestine. There's also the Arab-American literary journal Mizna.

Probably the greatest honor so far in my writing life is that Mizna published a poem of mine a few years ago. In lieu of my physical presence at the protests until I get over this flu, I'm reprinting it here, dedicated to the memory of the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who died this past summer and whose voice is sorely missed at this moment.


This is the Palestine poem I've needed to write for 30 years
to atone for cheering for Israel, '67, age 13. These are the lines
where I finally come clean: how I swallowed the tripe, even
as I grew, once I saw, I learned, once I'd heard about Deir Yassin.
I was scared to move, to cross the boundary from family, home,
all I knew, all they'd taught me it meant to be a Jew. That land
is ours, Mom said, given by God (in whom we don't believe);
it's safety, we need it, said Dad, after what we've been through,
it's ours by right, it's a guarantee. You can't change sides. They
threatened. They cried. They thundered: you'll kill us. You
won't be forgiven, they warned, you'll have torn us apart.
They said it would be a sort of suicide, a death of the self,
but they lied, and this is the poem where I tell the truth: that
massacre and theft disgrace my roots, that I claimed my future
by taking my stand with Palestine.

So this is the poem I owe--for the stolen land, for the
bulldozed homes, shattered bones, a nation scattered but
undiminished despite the blows. For Dearborn diaspora's rage,
for Right Bank slingshots, for elders who cling to keys
and dream of houses they were ousted from. For the
uprooted olive trees. This is the poem I have to write--
after curfews, checkpoints, the odious wall, after worst jobs,
insults, racist abuse, the buried babies and shortened lives--
these are the lines of sorrow and shame at the crimes that are
carried out in my name. This is the poem for Yafa, Ramallah,
Jerusalem, Jenin, for Nablus, Samakh, the towns that were
razed and those that remain. For these are the words of a
wandering Jew who dwells in the promise, the oath, the pledge,
the fist raised for the right of return, the shoulder against soldiers
rifles tanks. And this is my hand, my heart, my voice, the way
I chose and will never regret. And this is my vow to the cousins
who yearn for the beloved, unforgotten, unrelinquished place.
For the day that will come. For the great wrong reversed.
Yes, this is my duty. Yes, this is the poem it's an honor to write.
Yes, this is my love for Palestine.