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poems on palestine

Poems That Tell a Tale of the Struggle for Palestine

Poetry evokes emotions. Perhaps when the world turns a blind eye to the horrors in Palestine, it is crucial to read poems.

In these crazy times, there is nothing like poetry to remind ourselves of humanity. And we all need some poetry right now to feel for Palestinians, their children who are bombed by the Israeli forces—and whose memories are forever etched in the tragedies of today.

Dead fathers. Uncles who just lost their legs. Mourning mothers on the streets. And a weeping baby across the alley.  Even as the people, in scores of thousands, rush against the tide of bombs dropped over their heads. All these are reminders of what we are witnessing these last few months and weeks—and forever since eternity, in Gaza and elsewhere.  

In my inquisitiveness to read about Palestine, I have come across some very provocative, brilliant poets and writers: Edward Said, Mahmoud Darwish, Samih-Al-Qasim, Mourid Barghouti, Fadwa Tuqan, Rafeef Ziadah, among others.

Here are some of the tragedy-induced poems on the Palestinian situation.

“We Teach Life, Sir.” – Rafeef Ziadah

A fellow journalist once said to Rafeef Ziadah this: why don’t you stop teaching your children hatred, and this will be all be over?

Ziadah’s poem “We Teach Life, Sir” is an impassionate response to this and a more significant critique of media representation of the Palestinian condition. In this poem, Ziadah refuses to contain her voice within “sound-bites and word limits”.

Today, my body was a TV’d massacre.
Today, my body was a TV’d massacre that had to fit into sound-bites and word limits.
Today, my body was a TV’d massacre that had to fit into sound-bites and word limits filled enough with statistics to counter measured response.
And I perfected my English and I learned my UN Resolutions.
But still, he asked me, Ms. Ziadah, don’t you think that everything would be resolved if you would just stop teaching so much hatred to your children?
I look inside of me for strength to be patient but patience is not at the tip of my tongue as the bombs drop over Gaza.
Patience has just escaped me.
Pause. Smile.
We teach life, Sir.
Rafeef, remember to smile.
We teach life, Sir.
We Palestinians teach life after they have occupied the last sky.
We teach life after they have built their settlements and apartheid walls, after the last skies.
We teach life, Sir.
But today, my body was a TV’d massacre made to fit into sound bites and word limits.
And just give us a story, a human story.
You see, this is not political.
We just want to tell people about you and your people so give us a human story.
Don’t mention that word “apartheid” and “occupation”.
This is not political.
You have to help me as a journalist to help you tell your story which is not a political story.
Today, my body was a TV’d massacre.
How about you give us a story of a woman in Gaza who needs medication?
How about you?
Do you have enough bone-broken limbs to cover the sun?
Hand me over your dead and give the list of their names in one thousand two hundred word limits.
Today, my body was a TV’d massacre that had to fit into sound-bites and word limits and move those that are desensitized to terrorist blood.
But they felt sorry.
They felt sorry for the cattle over Gaza.
So, I give them UN resolutions and statistics and we condemn and we deplore and we reject.
And these are two equal sides: occupier and occupied.
And a hundred dead, two hundred dead, and a thousand dead.
And between that, war crimes and massacre, I vent out words and smile “not exotic”, “not terrorist”.
And I recount, I recount a hundred dead, a thousand dead.
Is anyone out there?
Will anyone listen?
I wish I could wail over their bodies.
I wish I could just run barefoot in every refugee camp and hold every child, cover their ears so they wouldn’t have to hear the sound of bombing for the rest of their life the way I do.
Today, my body was a TV’d massacre.
And let me just tell you, there is nothing your UN resolutions have ever done about this.
And no sound-bite, no sound-bite I come up with, no matter how good my English gets, no sound-bite, no sound-bite, no sound-bite, no sound-bite will bring them back to life.
No sound-bite will fix this.
We teach life, Sir.
We teach life, Sir.
We Palestinians wake up every morning to teach the rest of the world life, Sir.

Rafeef Ziadah live performance of “We Teach Life, Sir” in London

“Passport” – Mahmoud Darwish

Mahmoud Darwish, rightfully regarded as Palestine’s national poet, has written some of the tragic poems on Palestine and the Palestinian condition. This poem was first published in 1964 in his celebrated work The Leaves of the Olive Tree. This poem discusses what it feels like to hold a passport without an identity—or hold an identity without a passport.  

They did not recognize me in the shadows
That suck away my colour in this Passport
And to them my wound was an exhibit
For a tourist who loves to collect photographs
They did not recognize me,
Ah… Don’t leave
The palm of my hand without the sun
Because the trees recognize me
All the songs of the rain recognize me
Don’t leave me pale like the moon!

All the birds that followed my palm
To the door of the distant airport
All the wheat fields
All the prisons
All the white tombstones
All the barbed boundaries
All the waving handkerchiefs
All the eyes
were with me,
But they dropped them from my passport

Stripped of my name and identity?
On a soil I nourished with my own hands?
Today Jacob cried out
Filling the sky:
Don’t make an example of me again!
Oh, gentlemen, Prophets,
Don’t ask the trees for their names
Don’t ask the valleys who their mother is From my forehead bursts the sword of light
And from my hand springs the water of the river
All the hearts of the people are my identity
So take away my passport!

“Enough for Me” – Fadwa Tuqan

Fadwa Tuqan (1917-2003) was one of the famous poets of Palestine who not only wrote on love and womanhood but also wrote about Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

“Enough for Me” is a short poem, translated by Naomi Shihad Nye with Salma Khadra Jayyusi, reflecting on what it feels like to embrace being a Palestinian in terms of death—and rebirth. She thinks of her rebirth as a flower played with by a Palestinian child.

Enough for me to die on her earth
be buried in her
to melt and vanish into her soil
then sprout forth as a flower
played with by a child from my country.

Enough for me to remain
in my country’s embrace
to be in her close as a handful of dust
a sprig of grass
a flower.

“We Deserve a Better Death” – Mosab Abu Toha

Mosab Abu Toha, a Palestinian poet and writer from the Gaza Strip, tells us: “In Gaza, Death is Safer than Life”. In October 2023, Abu Toha, along with his wife and children, evacuated their home and moved to Jabaliya refugee camp after Israel’s warnings about bombing the area. This poem is a reflection of the condition of Gazans in the face of Israeli violence.

We deserve a better death.
Our bodies are disfigured and twisted,
embroidered with bullets and shrapnel.
Our names are pronounced incorrectly
on the radio and TV.
Our photos, plastered onto the walls of our buildings,
fade and grow pale.
The inscriptions on our gravestones disappear,
covered in the feces of birds and reptiles.
No one waters the trees that give shade
to our graves.
The blazing sun has overwhelmed
our rotting bodies.

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Photo by nour tayeh on Unsplash

“Fuck Your Lecture on Craft, My People Are Dying” – Noor Hindi

Noor Hindi, a Palestinian-American poet, has published her debut collection of poems, Dear God. Dear Bones. Dear Yellow, in 2022. She has been an ardent advocate of the Palestinian liberation—and the liberation of all those oppressed people. This is a poem of her reminder about the condition of Palestinian children and men and women.

Colonizers write about flowers.
I tell you about children throwing rocks at Israeli tanks
seconds before becoming daisies.
I want to be like those poets who care about the moon.
Palestinians don’t see the moon from jail cells
and prisons.
It’s so beautiful, the moon.
They’re so beautiful, the flowers.
I pick flowers for my dead father when I’m sad.
He watches Al Jazeera all day.
I wish Jessica would stop texting me Happy Ramadan.
I know I’m American because when I walk into a room
something dies.
Metaphors about death are for poets who think ghosts
care about sound.
When I die, I promise to haunt your forever.
One day, I’ll write about the flowers like we own them.

Poems that tell a story

These poems capture the essence of what it feels like to be a Palestinian—and trace the Palestinian experience, their struggles, experiences, and hopes for the future.

While there is no end to the Israeli violence in Gaza, these poems can act as a reminder to empathize with another’s suffering. I hope these poems can allow us to think of the situation in Gaza and Palestine at large for a moment or two.  

Cover Photo by James Cousins on Unsplash

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