Palestinians farewell poet Samih al-Qasim

Monday, September 1, 2014
Dozens of Syrians from the occupied Golan Heights marched into the funeral chanting a powerful stanza in remeberance of al-Qasim. Photo Patrick Strickland/Electronic Intifada.

The summer sun beat down on August 21 as thousands of Palestinians set out on a silent march in al-Rama, a Palestinian town in the northern Galilee region of present-day Israel, honouring the recently deceased poet and activist Samih al-Qasim.

The 76-year-old al-Qasim, who battled cancer for three years, died late on August 19.

Placards bearing verses of al-Qasim’s poetry and Palestinian flags bobbed above the marching crowd, which eventually arrived at the town’s main amphitheater. Al-Qasim’s relatives, prominent religious figures and politicians all spoke.

Adham Toubie, 18, also from al-Rama, said that al-Qasim’s death is a “huge loss” for Palestinians everywhere. “His loyalty to Palestine, to our Arab identity, is known by everyone,” he told Electronic Intifada.

Born in 1939 in Jordan, al-Qasim lived most of his life in al-Rama.

As a young man, he was jailed by Israel several times during the 18-year period of military law imposed on Palestinian citizens of Israel following the 1948 Nakba ― the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

A minority of Druze religious leaders struck a deal with the Israeli government in 1956. It meant Druze males were required to serve in Israel’s military.

Born to a Druze family, al-Qasim’s conscientious objection led to his first jailing in the early 1960s.

His tireless activism as a member of the Communist Party ― the only non-Zionist political group at the time ― landed him behind bars and under house arrest several more times, most notably when he and other communists were jailed during the 1967 War.

Refuse ― Your People Will Support You, a group campaigning for conscientious objectors, sent a delegation of members to the funeral to express its appreciation of al-Qasim’s life and work.

Toubie, who is the latest person to join Refuse, explained that al-Qasim’s “life is evidence” that there “is no contradiction between being Palestinian and Druze”.

“Both his life and his poetry are an example for us,” added Toubie. “He made it possible for us today to refuse to serve in the occupation’s army.”

Toubie is scheduled to start his mandatory military service in March next year. He intends to surrender himself for jailing “rather than stand at a checkpoint in Ramallah or Jenin and oppress my people,” he said.

One of the funeral’s most powerful moments was when a delegation of Syrians from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights arrived. Dozens of men and women from the Druze religious community raised Palestinian and Syrian flags as they marched into the amphitheater, chanting in unison.

They sang out:

Your soul is returning to Damascus, Syria.
Syria lives on in your gleaming poetry
The Arabs forgot the Golan and Palestine
Syria continues to say your land is returning
Samih, O’ symbol of culture and literature
Your leaving is the biggest tragedy of Palestine.

Much of al-Qasim’s poetry was markedly Palestinian, nationalist and anti-colonial. Lesser-known works dealt with the subjects of love and the hardships of daily life, among others. In his final poem, he addressed death directly:

I don’t like you, death
But I’m not afraid of you
And I know that my body is your bed
And my 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.

Al-Qasim, Palestine’s “resistance poet”, left behind a lifetime’s worth of literary and political work that will continue to inspire the struggle against Israel’s ongoing regime of occupation, colonisation and ethnic cleansing.

[Reprinted from Electronic Intifada.]

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From GLW issue 1023