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Thousands mourn 'national' Palestinian poet

Latest update : 2008-08-14

Palestinians gave their national poet Mahmoud Darwish the equivalent of a state funeral in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday. Darwish, 67, died on Saturday from complications after heart surgery in Houston, Texas.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered for the equivalent of a state funeral on Wednesday for Mahmud Darwish, the towering Arabic poet who gave voice to their bitter decades-old struggle.

Darwish, considered the national poet of the Palestinians and the author of their 1988 declaration of independence, won a number of international prizes and is widely considered one of the Arab world's greatest writers.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas presided over a midday ceremony attended by senior officials, Arab Israeli parliamentarians and dozens of foreign dignitaries at the Muqataa, his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

"The story of our people is your story Mahmud, and by our meeting it was made more complete and more beautiful," Abbas said in a eulogy. "You remain with us, Mahmud, because you represent everything that unites us."

He went on to express the hope that "the flag he raised so high with his poems will one day fly high over the minarets of Jerusalem, its churches and walls, the eternal capital of our inevitable Palestinian state."

Abbas said Darwish would one day be interred in the Holy City along with his iconic predecessor Yasser Arafat, who was buried in Ramallah in 2004 in a funeral attended by hundreds of thousands of people.

The coffin, draped with a Palestinian flag and yellow flowers, was then driven through the streets of Ramallah to a burial place near the town's Cultural Palace in a procession viewed by tens of thousands, according to Palestinian police.

Organisers had earlier unfurled some 5,000 flags printed with pictures of Darwish, who came to Ramallah in 1995 after a quarter-century abroad, and hung several large posters of him off the sides of buildings.

Darwish, who died on Saturday at the age of 67 in a US hospital from complications following open-heart surgery, was first flown to Jordan, where Palestinian and Jordanian officials attended a two-hour ceremony.

There the popular Lebanese musician Marcel Khalife sang "My Mother," one of many of Darwish's poems set to music.

"I long for my mother's bread/ My mother's coffee/ Her touch/ Childhood memories grow up in me/ Day after day/ I must be worth my life/ At the hour of my death/ Worth the tears of my mother."

Darwish will be laid to rest in a grave facing the outskirts of Jerusalem, the hoped-for capital of a Palestinian state which he had yearned for in poems imbued with the agony of exile and loss.

Darwish penned over two dozen books of poetry and prose in a career spanning nearly a half-century, writing searing verses that captured the Palestinian experience of war, exile and the unfinished struggle for a lost homeland.

In "Diary of a Palestinian Wound" he wrote: "This land absorbs the skins of martyrs/ This land promises wheat and stars/ Worship it!/ We are its salt and its water/ We are its wound, but a wound that fights."

Born in 1941 in an Arab village in what is now northern Israel, Darwish and his family fled during the 1948 war that followed the creation of the Jewish state, though they returned to Israel a few years later.

Darwish has been harshly critical of Israel over the years and was detained several times in the 1960s before going into self-imposed exile in 1970. Over the next 25 years he lived briefly in Paris, Moscow, and several Arab capitals.

A sequence of poetic prose written about his experience of life in Beirut during the Israeli invasion and bombardment of Lebanon in 1982 was translated into English in 1995 under the title "Memory for Forgetfulness."

Darwish served on the executive committee of Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation until 1993, when he resigned in protest at the Oslo autonomy accords.

Date created : 2008-08-13