renowned Palestinian poet and novelist Mourid Barghouti died
on 12 February 2021, at the age of 77 in Amman,
He was born in the village of Deir Ghassaneh,
near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank in 1944, 4 years
before the State of Israel came into existence.
1963, Barghouti travelled to Cairo to study English
Literature. After Israeli authorities occupied the West Bank
in the 1967 Middle East war, they banned him from returning
back to his village near Ramallah.
most of his life in exile in Egypt, Hungary, Lebanon and
Wherever he was, under whatever circumstances,
he wrote poetry. “I gave everything to poetry, which is the
centre of my life. All my travels, writings and readings are
Barghouti published 12 poetry
collections. Some have been translated into
In 1993, after the peace agreement signed
between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation,
he was able to return briefly to his birthplace.
visit led to Morid Barghouti’s writing his autobiographical
novel I Saw Ramallah.
This book in particular, sharing
the sadness and longing of a life in exile, has struck a
chord with readers around the world as it ‘humanises’ the
Palestinian people, what they have had to, and continue, to
endure for so many years.
Barghouti’s death will be
mourned by many people, Arabic speakers and Arabic Studies
students. Poetry is a valued cultural tradition, that goes
back many, many years.
A year or so ago, a few friends
got together in Christchurch to share quotes and short
readings from Palestinian writers. I prepared this little
excerpt, for two of us to read out.
RAMALLAH by MOURID BARGHOUTI
23 years old, studying literature in a foreign country. Your
country is at war. The war ends. Your side is defeated and
you are not allowed to return home. You are stateless,
moving from city to city, not knowing where you
“They call us the displaced ones.
Displacement is like death. One thinks it only happens to
After 30 years, you can
return. You won’t stay long because your son is not
permitted in. What are your thoughts while waiting for
permission to cross the bridge into the other side? Maybe,
in all honesty, you don’t romanticize your
“I asked myself, what is so special
about it except that we have lost it” It is a land, like
any other land.”
Maybe you think of your
grown son and his generation,
that never planted or built or made their small humble
mistakes in their own country. Generations that never saw
grandmothers squatting in front of the ovens to present us
with a loaf of bread to dip in olive
And when you are finally allowed to
cross over the river, you see that “they” are still in
charge, and you see modern roads that you cannot travel on,
leading to huge houses where “they” live.
life like under Occupation?
“True, life was
not paradise before.”
People say this and
then someone adds,
And then he falls silent.
Occupation prevents you from managing your affairs in your
own way. It interferes in every aspect of life and death; it
interferes with going anywhere and coming back, with going
to market, the emergency hospital. And politics is ever
“Politics is the family at
breakfast, who is there and who is absent and why. Who
misses whom when coffee is poured into the waiting
You learn of the destruction of
olive groves, a cruel blow, a kind of cultural genocide, for
traditional culture revolved around the
“Olive oil is the gift of the
traveller, the comfort of the bride, the reward of autumn,
the boast of the storeroom, the wealth of the family across
You have come home but things
are not the same. And now you must say goodbye to your
“Can the earth contain the cruelty
of a mother making her coffee alone on a Diaspora
If we Westerners were
introduced to Palestinian writers and poetry, we would see
the situation in historic Palestine in a different