Opinions of Peter Belmont
Speaking Truth to Power

My Double Plagiarism With Apologies to Mahmoud Darwish

by Peter A. Belmont / 2011-05-11
© 2011 Peter Belmont


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Addressed to those who misunderstood Mahmoud Darwish’s poem published in English in the New York Times, April 5, 1988. (The full poem seems to have been taken off-line by NYT.)

Some years have passed. The situation has not improved. The poem below is mine. I do not, in reality, accuse anyone of plagiarism. I wrote it in 1988 and have slightly edited it for publication here.

Mahmoud Darwish is considered Palestine’s greatest poet. I apologize for misappropriating any of his work. My intention is to shine my light—not his—on the situation.

Here, tho, is part of his:
Dig up your dead take their bones with you and leave our land Live where you wish but do not live among us It is time for you to get out and die where you wish but do not die among us.

Get out of our land our continent, our sea our wheat, our salt, our sore our everything, and get out of the memory of memories.
taken from here.

When his poem was published, it caused a great uproar. Israelis, it seemed to me, protested too much, even the then-supposed liberal Zionists who might have been expected to demonstrate understanding of the plight of the Palestinian people, expressed in a way in his poem.

The situation is if anything worse today than it was in 1988, when, you may recall, on November 15, the PLO recognized Israel and sought the peace which has since proved so impossible to pry from the hands of Israel, which has never lost an opportunity to refuse a just and lasting peace.

A detail requires explanation. In 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were expelled, became exiles and refugees during the Nakba (catastrophe), an unnecessary but deliberate element of Israel’s war of independence.

Most exiles were forced to walk, with whatever they could carry, to Gaza, to Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, Jordan. Many assumed they would return soon and carried with them the keys to their houses, the deeds to their land. As far as I know trucks were not used. Call the trucks poetic license. The refugees of 1948 are with us still, and their children, and their children’s children. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states the right of every person to return to his own country, and these refugees have no other country than that part of Palestine now called pre-1967 Israel. Many UNGA resolutions call on Israel to permit peaceably intended Palestinians to return to their homeland. Israel refuses to this day, and instead claims a right that no-one else, and certainly not UNGA-181 (1947) which proposed the partition of Palestine, ever imagined, that it be a “Jewish State”.

Why “double plagiarism”? First, I pretend, here, that Darwish has plagiarized from Israeli sources. Second, I pretend that my voice is Darwish’s. which, of course, it is not and never will be.

A Confession of Plagiarism

Israelis, O Israelis! How fearful my poem makes you.
Why does this cry from the heart so grip your souls?
This is no treaty, no negotiation.
No policy is this, no proposal, not even so much as a dream.
This, my poem, is no more than a cry from the heart.
Israelis, O Israelis.

Israelis, O Israelis, do not be confused. My poem is just
A cry from the heart. No great thing.
But, and this I must confess:
My poem reeks of plagiarism.

”Live where you wish, but do not live among us,” I wrote.
This was plagiarism.
In 1948, you put Palestinians on trucks,
Israelis, O Israelis, and took us across your borders, saying,
”Live where you wish, but do not live among us.”
I have plagiarized the message of your trucks.

”Die where you wish, but do not die among us,” I wrote.
But this too was plagiarism.
For 40 years you have closed your borders to us,
Israelis, O Israelis, saying
”Die where you wish, but do not die among us.”
Israelis, O Israelis, I have plagiarized the message of your laws, your borders, your guns.

”Get out of the memory of memories,” I wrote.
But this, too, was plagiarism.
I echoed that first, great, Zionist poem,
”A land without a people for a people without a land.”
I echoed Golda’s magnificent sonnet,
”The Palestinians? There are no Palestinians!”
I echoed your resplendent covenant,
Stately and majestic
And all in blank verse writ:
”There is no-one on the other side with whom to negotiate.”
”Get out of the memory of memories,” I wrote,
But I have merely plagiarized the message of your wilful blindness.
We Palestinians left the memory of your memories
Before you ever met us,
Before you forgot us,
Before you will ever admit that we exist.

Hear Israelis, O Israelis, the Palestinian people are One!
We exist! Hear us, see us, feel us, taste us.
Remove us from the oblivion to which you have consigned us.
Remove yourselves from the obliviousness
Into which you have been content to settle.
Answer our call.

Israelis, O Israelis, you have read my poem
And too casually assumed,
Too easily considered,
Too naturally supposed,
That the cry you heard was Palestinian.

But tell me, Israelis, O Israelis,
How can you tell
That this was not a Jewish cry,
My poem a translation from the Hebrew?

I have re-read my poem, Israelis, O ever-fearful Israelis,
And I will tell you.
In all honesty,
Even I,
I myself,
Cannot tell.


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