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On his deathbed: A letter by Mahmoud Darwish Open in fullscreen

Mahmoud Darwish

On his deathbed: A letter by Mahmoud Darwish

Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet and author was regarded as the Palestinian national poet [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 August, 2017

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"Being Palestinian is not a motto. The Palestinian is a human being, a tormented soul with daily questions; both national and existential. The Palestinian has a love story."


Exactly nine years ago, Palestinian literary legend Mahmoud Darwish passed away.

Just three months before his death he wrote this letter when he was invited to be a patron at the Palestine Festival of Literature.

He could not be there in person because of his deteriorating health.

The letter read:


My dear friends,


I regret that I cannot be here today to see you all personally.

Welcome to this grief-stricken land, whose perception in literature is more beautiful than its reality. Your courageous show of solidarity is more than just a greeting to people deprived of their autonomy and the right to live a normal life, it’s an expression of what Palestine now is and what Palestine now means to the human.

It is a representation of the writer’s responsibility of directly engaging with issues surrounding justice, truth and freedom. The writer must search for truth and must show what is really happening in Palestine.

We are now in the sixtieth year of the Nakba. There are those who dance now on our graves, and they consider us their feast. But the Nakba is not a memory; it is a continuous uprooting that makes Palestinians more worried about their existence. The Nakba continues because the occupation continues. Continuing occupation means the continuation of the war.

This permanent war waged by Israel against us is not a war to defend its existence; it is a war over our existence. The conflict is not, therefore, a conflict between two existences, as the Israeli discourse promotes.

The Arabs have collectively presented a collective peace project to Israel in exchange for its recognition of the Palestinian presence in an independent state. But she rejected him, because her logic says: "What has become for me is for me, and what remains for you is yours and me!"

The Nakba continues because the occupation continues. Continuing occupation means the continuation of the war

You are here, dear friends, to see the facts for how they are. Yesterday we celebrated together the end of apartheid in South Africa. And here you see it thriving here in all of its power.

Yesterday, we celebrated together the fall of the Berlin Wall, and here you see it rising here, like the giant snake on our necks, not to separate the Palestinians from the Israelis, but to separate the Palestinians from themselves and from seeing the horizon. This is not to separate history from lies, but to marry history and racist injustice.

Life here, you see, is not something taken for granted, it is a daily miracle. Military barriers separate everything from everything else.

Everything, even the landscape, seems temporary and exposed because bulldozers change it. Life here is less than life, more like slow death. Ironically, the escalation of repression, blockades, daily routine killings and the expansion of settlements take place in the context of the so-called peace process in a vicious circle, threatening to kill the idea of peace in tormented souls. Peace and religion are legitimate: freedom and justice. The occupation is also the legitimate father of violence.

Ironically, the escalation of repression, blockades, daily routine killings and the expansion of settlements take place in the context of the so-called peace process in a vicious circle, threatening to kill the idea of peace in tormented souls

Peace has two parents: Freedom and Justice. And occupation naturally instigates violence. Here, on this slice of historic Palestine, two generations of Palestinians have been born and raised under occupation.

They have never known normality. Their memories are filled with visons of hell. They see their tomorrows slipping through their fingers. And though it seems to them that everything outside of this reality is heaven, they refuse leaving for a heaven. They stay, because they are afflicted with hope.

During these difficult times of history, Palestinian writers live. Nothing distinguishes them from their country-people – nothing except one thing: writers try to gather the fragments of this life and of this place in a form of words; words that they try to make whole.

I have spoken before of the hardships of being Palestinian, and how difficult it is for a Palestinian to be a writer or a poet. On the one hand you have to be true to reality, though on the other, you have to be faithful to your literary profession.

Palestinians have been born and raised under occupation. They have never known normality. Their memories are filled with visons of hell

In this zone of tension between the prolonged “State of Emergency” and between the writer’s literary imagination, the language of the poet moves. The poet must use words to resist the military occupation. And the poet has to resist – on behalf of the word – the danger of the banal and the repetitive. How can the poet achieve literary freedom in such mindless conditions? And how can the poet preserve the literariness of literature in such ruthless times?

The questions are tough. But each poet or writer has their own way of expressing themselves and their reality. The one historic condition does not produce one form of texts, or even texts that sound the same, for writers are many and they are diverse. Palestinian literature does not fit into ready-made moulds.

Being Palestinian is not a motto, nor is it a profession. The Palestinian is a human being, a tormented soul with daily questions; both national and existential. The Palestinian has a love story, who contemplates a flower and a window open to the unknown. The Palestinian has a metaphysical fear, and an inner world utterly resistant to occupation.

A literature born of a defined reality is able to create a reality that surpasses reality. Not a search for a myth of happiness to flee from a brutal history, but an attempt to make history less mythical, to take the myth back to its proper, figurative place, and to transform us from victims of history, into partners in humanising history.

My friends and colleagues, thank you for your honourable act of solidarity. Thank you for your brave initiative to break the emotional siege that has been inflicted on us. Thank you for resisting the invitation to dance on our graves. Know that we are still here; that we still live.

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