Palestinian resistance poetry: “Identity card,” by Mahmoud Darwish

Indianapolis Liberator Introduction

Mahmoud Darwish, a longtime member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a prolific editor and writer, and recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize—among numerous other cultural and artistic awards—was six-years old in 1948, the year the world remembers as al-Nakba, or “the Catastrophe.”

On November 29, 1947, the U.N. illegally voted to partition Palestine, setting May 15, 1948 as the official date “Israel” would be “independent” of Britain. Immediately after the 1947 vote, the Zionists and their backers rapidly escalated their campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Months before May 15, 1948, Israel’s soon-to-be inaugural Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion and his associates carried out “Plan Dalet.” Their military operation targeted small Palestinian villages that were not bases of armed resistance, villages like al-Birwa in Galilee, where Darwish spent his earliest years.

The brutal Israeli war drove Darwish’s family into exile in Lebanon. They returned the next year to find the Israeli forces left their hometown in ruins to prevent the right of return the U.N. partition guaranteed. The Zionists destroyed the schools, Mosque, Church, and every house except for three in “Operation Dekel” on June 11, 1948. His family made a home in another Galilee village, and eventually Darwish took up residence in Haifa. He started writing and performing poetry in his late teenage years.

In 1961, Darwish joined the Israeli Communist Party at the age of 19. That same year the Zionists arrested him for the first time. The occupation forces arrested him two more times, in 1965 and 1967, and held him captive in his own house in Haifa for three years.

Although Israeli’s “basic law” enables the state to arrest and imprison any Arab or Palestinian without cause, he was arrested at least once for daring to travel in his homeland without a “permit,” which inspired “Identity card” and “The passport,” among others. His second arrest was for reading “Identity card” at a May Day event.

After studying in the Soviet Union for a year in 1970, he moved to Egypt for a job at the newspaper, Al-Ahram, before moving to Lebanon to serve as the editor of Palestinian Affairs in 1973. It was in Lebanon that Darwish joined the PLO, at which point he was banned from returning to Palestine. He rose through the PLO’s ranks, eventually serving on the Executive Committee and writing the Palestinian Declaration of Independence in 1988.

The poem below, transcribed by Zdravko Saveski, was first published in 1964.

“Identity card”

Write down!
I am an Arab
And my identity card number is fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the ninth will come after a summer
Will you be angry?

Write down!
I am an Arab
Employed with fellow workers at a quarry
I have eight children
I get them bread
Garments and books from the rocks…
I do not supplicate charity at your doors
Nor do I belittle myself at the footsteps of your chamber
So will you be angry?

Write down!
I am an Arab
I have a name without a title
Patient in a country
Where people are enraged
My roots
Were entrenched before the birth of time
And before the opening of the eras
Before the pines, and the olive trees
And before the grass grew

My father … descends from the family of the plough
Not from a privileged class
And my grandfather … was a farmer
Neither well-bred, nor well-born!
Teaches me the pride of the sun
Before teaching me how to read
And my house is like a watchman’s hut
Made of branches and cane
Are you satisfied with my status?
I have a name without a title!

Write down!
I am an Arab
You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors
And the land which I cultivated
Along with my children
And you left nothing for us
Except for these rocks …
So will the State take them
As it has been said?!

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!

Featured photo: Graffiti of Mahmoud Darwish in Tunis, Tunisia. Credit: Emna Mizouni.