Lieberman worried about Darwish’s poetry
TAYBEH (Israel) - When Israel Army Radio broadcast a debate on a poem by famed Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, the station faced the wrath of Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and other right-wing government officials.
Following the mid-July educational programme University on Air, Lieberman summoned station head Yaron Dekel for a reprimand on why he broadcast Darwish’s poem Identity Card.
To Lieberman, the poem stands against Zionism and calls for the expulsion of Jews from their native Israel.
According to the English-language Israeli Channel 2 television, the following words angered Lieberman: “Write down on the top of the first page:/I do not hate people/ Nor do I encroach/But if I become hungry/The usurper’s flesh will be my food/Beware…/Beware…/Of my hunger/And my anger!”
Written in 1964, Identity Card is about Israel’s military control of civilian life, specifically of Palestinians who became Israeli citizens when the state of Israel was created in 1948. The aspects of life the poem targets include travel, the feelings of Palestinians facing Israeli soldiers at checkpoints and the humiliation of the occupation.
After Darwish gave his initial reading of the poem in Nazareth in 1965, it quickly spread across the Arab world, becoming a protest song and a symbol of political and cultural resistance against foreign occupiers.
Darwish is considered a hero for his daring anti-occupation poetry. The subjects he picked for his poems were close to every Palestinian’s heart. They include identity, belonging, dispossession and exile from the homeland — subjects that are often thorns in the sides of many right-wing Israelis.
Indeed, they were to Lieberman. In his meeting with Dekel, Lieberman said Darwish’s poems cannot be part of the foundational narrative of Israeli society as was displayed in the programme broadcast on Army Radio.
Lieberman stated: “By that logic, the complete legacy of the Jerusalem Mufti Amin al-Husseini, a prominent Palestinian-Arab nationalist and Muslim leader during the British mandate period, or the literary merits of Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, could also have been included.”
While attending a recent naming of Mahmoud Darwish Street in Taybeh, an Arab city in Israel, former Knesset member Mohammad Barakeh said: “We know that Lieberman is a racist but when he compared Mahmoud Darwish to Adolf Hitler, he crossed a line.”
The controversy with Israel Army Radio began when Miri Regev, Israel’s right-wing Culture and Sport minister, tried to control the radio station’s playlist, preferring more Israeli-oriented, patriotic music over that of foreign artists. She also asked Lieberman to stop funding Israel Army Radio as it offers “a platform to the Palestinian narrative that opposes the existence of Israel as a Jewish democratic state”.
However, Lieberman does not have the authority to get involved with Israel Army Radio’s programming. He said, however, that the use of “texts against Zionism, which are used to this very day as fuel for terror attacks against Israel”, must not go unchallenged.
Lieberman said that the point of having a military radio station in a democratic and complex society such as Israel is to strengthen solidarity, not to deepen divides.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel expressed concern over the “increasingly intensifying infringements on democratic freedoms in Israel”.
The main threats, it said on its website, come from the arenas that are supposed to guarantee democracy: The Knesset and government leadership. Through anti-democratic legislation and attempts to hinder the operations of human rights organisations and political groups, freedom of expression, human dignity and equality and freedom of assembly are affected, it said.
Dekel stressed the “importance of the protection of free speech”, arguing that “studying a text does not equate to agreeing with it”.
Darwish was born in 1941 in the Palestinian village of al-Birweh. After the village was destroyed by Israeli forces in 1948, his family escaped to Lebanon. When they tried to return one year later, they became internally displaced persons by not being able to reach their destroyed village and instead had to settle in nearby Deir al-Asad.
When Darwish joined the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1973, he was not permitted to re-enter Israel.
In 1995, the award-winning poet was granted permission to live in the West Bank city of Ramallah. There, he said he felt that he was living in exile and that the West Bank was not his “native homeland”.
He died following heart surgery in 2008 at the age of 67. His work has been translated into several languages, including Hebrew, and it is often quoted and studied in Israel.