On Reading Morani Kornberg-Weiss’ ‘Dear Darwish’

Late Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish. (Photo: File)

By Vacy Vlazna

Dear Morani,

“We who are born here on this divine land, we who are dedicated to the message of peace and freedom and the defense of human values, and of the strength of the olive tree…we declare our presence as a wound crying in the depths of time and space in spite of the tempests which try to rend our roots from the very earth to which we gave our name.” — Mahmoud Darwish (D)  at the 50th anniversary of the Nakba.

Sixteen years later the wound still gushes forth sumud.*

I applaud your conversion from Zionist ideology to support for the one-state solution.

So when I received your book of poetry, Dear Darwish, I was excited with the possibility that here could be another welcome Israeli voice to join respected Israeli dissidents like Gila Svirsky, Miko Peled, Maya Wind, Ilan Pappe, Tali Shapiro, Amira Hass, Rami Elhanan, Yehuda Shaul, Avigail Abarbanel, Jeff Halper, Dorothy Naor, Guy Butavia to name but a few.

However the poems in your collection reveal that your ‘transformation’ has some way to go before you reach the place, where, for example, Peled and Pappe, free from Zionist brainwashing, speak, neither ‘for,’ nor ‘to’ but ‘WITH’ the Palestinians against injustice.

“Mahmoud, these letters
are not “for” you.
They are to you” (43)

You have yet to shift from ‘a form of contact’ to an authentic belonging which will occur when you have sublimated your incessant I, I, I, and embraced the living, breathing, suffering Other, and when you have freed yourself from the inherent theft and victim mentality that is Israel along with the hasbara* hype of similarity and balance between the Palestinian and Israeli experiences. Darwish claims the victor,

“finds puzzling the absence on the Arab side of the phenomenon of guilt and self-recrimination. This puzzlement, the proof of a desire to treat victim and killer as equals, demands that the victim cry together with his killer over a shared misery” (D)

A faux shared misery as in your poem, “I often like a hostage/ confined to my own history,” where your compare your social confinement to Israel’s unlawful and sadistic torture suffered by Palestinian prisoners.

I had expected that by giving your collection the title, “Dear Dawish” that I, along with you, would enter into a relationship with Palestine’s monumental poet, a poet whose aching soul is the soul of all Palestinians aching for their violently appropriated homeland.

However, such a relationship is tenuous here, particularly missing is an emotional connection with the emotive and passionate Darwish, inhibited by the invalid opening and underlying premise of your poetry; you are not ‘telling the same story’ nor is there a fusing of the same wounds,

“For now: our wounds shift
their edges into the center
formulating a perfectly
symmetrical square “(43-4)

Moreover, motive dictates why Palestinians and Israelis do not ‘share the blood on our hands’. The Israeli motive is the theft of the whole of ancestral Palestine (a war crime). Yet Israeli hasbara insists that Israelis and Palestinians are equal; that there is a war going on between them. There is no war.

There is a monolithic high-tech war criminal armed to the nuclear teeth pillaging the Palestinian homeland, livelihoods and lives opposed by heroic albeit scant Palestinian resistance sans a navy, airforce, army.

Take your juxtaposition of Gilad Shalit and Aziz Salha. Typically à la Israel, Shalit is rendered a victim, ‘a frightened young Gilad’ who has potential blood on his hands while Aziz is caught by the camera, literally red-handed along with 1027 prisoners (freedom-fighters) in the prisoner exchange ‘who had blood on their hands’ suggesting they don’t deserve to be released.

But, had you ‘internalized’ Darwish, rather than smearing his non-violent hands with blood, you would have spoken of the obscene disparity under Israeli law between Israeli murderers and Palestinian political detainees, such as the 1027 mentioned.

Darwish, in Journal of an Ordinary Grief writes at length about the Kufr Qasem Massacre in “He Who Kills Fifty Arabs Loses One Piaster.” He shares with us the eyewitness testimonies of the ‘needless’ massacre and the egregious pardoning of the Israeli butchers. Colonel Shadmi, the officer in charge,

“was tried in a sham military court appointed by the chief of staff. The trial was over quickly, and the court found that Shadmi had made only a “technical error,” and so issued him a rebuke and imposed a fine of one Israeli piaster.” (D)

The inequality continues to this very day with Israeli soldiers and settlers enjoying impunity for the murder of unarmed Palestinian men, women, the elderly and children for throwing a rock or for daring to defend Palestine. Apparently, Israel has coveted and clinched the monopoly over the right to defend one’s nation and people.

In ‘God dressed up like a soldier today’, you portray the belligerent superiority of the victor accurately (you would know having fulfilled your military service) but you have not grasped why the boy threw the rock. Miko Peled does, “All Israeli are settlers, all of Israel is occupied Palestine.”

Darwish describes the confusion felt by Israeli soldiers after the 1967 war for the tenacious connection of displaced Palestinians to their land and villages, “Nineteen years have passed, and they are still saying, “We are from Bir al-Sabi’.”

Thus, the toss of the rock is not spontaneous as you say, but ‘mapped out’ by Israeli killers and plunderers since 1947,

“It requires a certain spontaneity
A reaction to circumstance.” (20)

Dear Morani,

“A reaction to circumstance”?  I perceive this as an intellectual understatement arising from the inability to own Israeli violence viscerally.

Your struggle in ‘a dark room’ to atone, to repent, to learn, ‘to remit my errors’ is in the first and easiest phase: intellectualising the chaos; keeping the horror of truth at an arm’s distance is a shield. A denial. Avoidance. A defense mechanism.

The fear of knowledge is greater than the fear of pain

which may explain your ‘arrogant fantasy’ of choosing to ‘rendezvous’ and possess a dead poet as  intellectual avoidance of facing a living, feeling, challenging Palestinian poet,

“I will praise the Israeli who does not make excuses, who does not pretend to suffer as we do, who does not use the mendacious language of parity, who does not appropriate our culture and claim ancient personal belonging to our land; but one who mans up, owns what they’ve done, admits their presence is of conquest and alien colony, then asks forgiveness…because we will give it, but only when it is sincerely sought.” Susan Abulhawa

The intellectualisation of your occupation of Palestine is apparent in your poetry and language. For instance the poem, “The echo has no echo/ as she becomes the endless scream” (which appropriates lines from Darwish’s poem, The Girl/The Scream) is replete with the polysyllabic Latinised language of the intellect; ‘disturbance’, ‘permanent displacement’, ‘comprehension’, ‘logics’, ‘reverberates,’‘harmonic motion’, ‘exhibition of diffraction’.

Such emotional disassociation sharply contrasts Darwish’s simplicity and his intimate rendering of the girl in the commonplace innocence of seashore, family, house and taking ‘a stroll on the shore’ with her father.

Very telling is your omission of the seven people and her father who were slaughtered by ‘a warship playing a game.’ (D) The girl’s felt ‘agony of absence’ (D) for her fathers’ death, the “Blood in her palms blood in the clouds’ (D) her death under the  bombed rubble of her home are antiseptically cleansed by you,

“She lay between a point within chaos”, though it is tragically true,

“What matters is how she
proceeds over time”

Darwish’s girl over time has become little 3 year old Hala Ahmed Abu Sbaikha, who haemorrhaged to death when Israel bombed her Gaza home on Christmas Eve, 2013 and all the other children slaughtered by Israel for fun or for weapons testing – never for the hasbara of security.

The girl’s dying scream echoes the scream of hundreds of dying Palestinian children which is endless, eternal and alive: unlike and unequal to the glaring irony of Jewish children honoured in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem,

“The tribute to children. The reflection of
candlelight and their names overheard in the
backdrop of immense darkness.”

Dear Morani,

In your ‘Nakba Museum’ poems, the Nakba Museum for which you search will never create a balance – a neat equality between Jews and Palestinians. And I doubt that Darwish would sit silently in the museum (holocaust) beside you “not wanting to look into each other’s eyes because then we would have to share the embarrassment of not knowing the answers or of asking more questions”

Darwish didn’t flinch in the face of Israel’s mimicry and exploitation of the holocaust;

“that Israeli Zionist behavior toward the original inhabitants of Palestine is similar to the practices applied by the Nazis against the Jews themselves. It would also not be an exaggeration to say that the behavior of Israel and the Zionist movement vis-à-vis the rest of the world gives one the impression that they are using the blood of the victims as a commodity. They utilize the money and equipment they receive as payment for the victims of Nazism to destroy another people.” (D)

It is according to him, ‘emotional blackmail’ and he had all the answers,

“We bear no responsibility for the great tragedy which Europe inflicted upon the Jewish people.” He calls on “ the world’s conscience to summon up the courage to distinguish between the victim and the executioner, and to review the policy of duplicity in connection with the living and the dead, and to cease to elevate Israeli reality to the point of a sanctity which cannot be held accountable nor even criticised nor made to comply with international law, because this only encourages it to prolong its policy of arrogance and force and its belief in the capacity of this policy to force us into yielding whilst it evades the obligations of peace.”

You say,

“If the Nakba is still in progress
can we visit a museum.”

Miko Peled would answer there is no ‘If’. The Nakba is still in progress.

Commenting on the film, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Peled, like Darwish, draws the contemporary comparison between Nazis and Israelis, “This time Israelis are living across the fence from Gaza, but unlike the German family in the movie they are not oblivious to what goes on in the camp. For the most part Israelis are not only aware of the horrors that take place in the concentration camp near them, they see it as justified.”

Dear Morani,

Until you dare or are able to switch from the mind to the heart, your poetry will appropriate Darwish’s name. Appropriation is what Israelis do best and you admit it;

“You ask: “Who Am I, Without Exile?”
(this is the title of my transformation)

You are a stranger on the riverbank
like the water…river
binds me to your name.
Nothing carries me or makes me carry an idea.
binds me to your name…
There’s nothing left of you but me…
( I tried stealing this from you.)”

The strike-through, rather than suggest a change of heart, reminded me of Palestinian villages, like Darwish’s beloved Al Birweh, that were struck through and through in the Nakba by Jewish terrorists and continue to be struck through today by Israeli state terrorism in Ein Hejleh, Ni’lin, Bi’lin, Budrus, Silwan, Sheik Jarrah, Abu Dis, Khan Younis, Bab al-Shams ie – every Palestinian village.

Nor can you equate your ‘exile’ to that suffered by Darwish; the voice of 8 million indigenous Palestinians coerced into exile.

“You ask, “Who Am I, Without Exile?” I
answer: You are the bulb of the pregrown
plant carried in the stomach
of a squirrel. You ask: Who Are You,
Without Exile? I answer I am
the wandering exile seeping my roots
in our land.”

‘Our’ land. Which land?  The ancestral land of the exiled Palestinian or of ancient Kazah in Europe from which the majority of Israeli Jews did not wander but emigrated?

“To leave on our own accord is a privilege.”

As a latent dissident, you are an exile from an insane, brutal society. That can only be a good thing. But, for Darwish, exile is generations of lifetimes lost in the abyss of searing absence and anguish. The difference is clear when Darwish, in his beautiful poem, “A Soldier Dreams of White Tulips” asks an Israeli soldier after the 1967 war,

“-Would you die for the land?
All my attachment to the land is no more than a story or a fiery speech!
They taught me to love it, but I never felt it in my heart.
I never knew its roots and branches, or the scent of its grass.

–And what about its love? Did it burn like suns and desire?
He looked straight at me and said: I love it with my gun.
And by unearthing feasts in the garbage of the past
and a deaf-mute idol whose age and meaning are unknown.” (D)

Dear Morani,

Palestine needs her Israeli friends, needs you, and a just one nation solution can only emerge from the fierce, faced and deeply felt pain of the breaking of Israeli understanding that ‘the “purity” of Jewish existence in Palestine’ (D) is a war crime, that Palestine is, was, and always will be Palestinian birthright, identity and dignity and that, in this pain, is the starting point of peace and reconciliation for future generations.


* The Nakba (Catastrophe) – Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine that began in 1948

* Sumud – Palestinian steadfastness to their homeland. Darwish says, “Between memory and the suitcase there is no solution but resistance. Justice, freedom, belonging, and worthiness are only proclaimed through resistance.”

* Hasbara- lie, propaganda, spin

Dear Darwish by Morani Kornberg-Weiss, Blaza VOX Books, 2013

– Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was convenor of  Australia East Timor Association and coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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