D I S T I N G U I S H E D   D R U Z E
amih Al-Qasim
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The great Palestinian poet Samih al-Qasim on August 19, 2014, after a
long battle with cancer , passed away at the age of 75, a major loss to
Arabic and world literature.  Samih Al Qasim was a Palestinian Druze
whose Arabic poetry is well known throughout the Arab World.  His poetry
is influenced by two primary periods of his life: Before and after the Six-
Day War.  Al-Qasim has published several volumes and collections of
poetry He was part of the flowering of Palestinian “resistance literature”
which also gave the world the likes of Mahmoud Darwish,and Tawfiq
Zayyad – known as the “3 pillars”.

Al-Qasim came from a Druze family from the town of Rameh in the Upper
Galilee.  He was born in the city of az-Zarqa in northern Jordan while his
father served in the Arab Legion of King Abdullah.  He attended primary
school there and then later graduated from secondary school in
Nazareth.  His family did not flee Rameh during the Palestinian exodus of
1948 Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.  Thereby he grew up
under the military rule which was enforced on Palestinian communities
within Israel until the late 1960s. In his book About Principles and Art, he
explains,  “While I was still at primary school the Palestinian tragedy
occurred. I regard that date as the date of my birth, because the first
images I can remember are of the 1948 events.  My thoughts and images
spring from the number 48'

Al-Qasim worked as a journalist in Haifa where he ran the Arabesque
Press publishing house and the Folk Arts Centre and was the editor-of-
chief of the Israeli Arab newspaper Kul al-Arab.
He wrote for major publications such as al-Jadid and al-Ittihad.  He would recite many of his poems to large audiences at monthly
gatherings in the Arab towns and cities of the Galilee.  Al-Qasim refused to leave Palestine; In an interview he is quoted as saying
"I have chosen to remain in my own country not because I love myself less, but because I love my country more".  Principally,
though, al-Qasim was active as a writer, ensuring that the voice of Palestinians within Israel continued to be heard.   Al-Qasim’s
famous short poem “Slit Lips” perhaps best encapsulates the difficulty of showing the beauty of Palestinian literature and culture
to the world, under conditions of repression:

    I would have liked to tell you
    The story of a nightingale that died.
    I would have liked to tell you
    The story…
    Had they not slit my lips.

Al-Qasim was a powerful voice against Israeli oppression, both in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and also against
Palestinians living within the State of Israel.  He was one of the first members of the Druze community to refuse to serve in the
Israeli army by a conscientious objection, and during his life was subjected to periods of house arrest many times for his political
activism.  He also endured imprisonment and harassment by the Shin Bet secret police and censorship.  His son Wadih was also
jailed for refusing to serve in the Israeli military, and Samih al-Qasim remained outspoken on Palestinian issues as well as those
of the Druze religious minority until the end of his life.

He was honored in 2014 by the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies Translation of Arabic Literature Award.  The award,
which is co-sponsored by the King Fahd Center at the University of Arkansas and Syracuse University Press, includes a cash
prize for the writers and translators but – perhaps more importantly – publication for the translated titles. He was among the first
year’s winners with his Book All Faces but Mine, a collection of poetry by al-Qasim, which sadly came just months after the great
man’s death. A press release from Syracuse UP, which announced the awards, described al-Qasim as:  part of the flourishing of
Palestinian “resistance literature”.  

His funeral was attended by thousands of Palestinians who held a silent march in his hometown, honoring him on Tuesday, 19
August.  Placards bearing verses of al-Qasim’s poetry and Palestinian flags bobbed above the marching crowd, which eventually
arrived at the town’s main amphitheater. Al-Qasim’s relatives, prominent religious figures and politicians all spoke.  Refuse – Your
People Will Support You, a group campaigning for conscientious objectors, sent a delegation of members to the funeral to
express its appreciation of al-Qasim’s life and work.  Toubie, who is the latest person to join Refuse, explained that “al-Qasim’s life
is evidence” that there “is no contradiction between being Palestinian and Druze.”  “Both his life and his poetry are an example for
us,” added Toubie. “He made it possible for us today to refuse to serve in the occupation’s army.”  

Much of al-Qasim’s poetry was markedly Palestinian, nationalist and anti-colonial.  Lesser known works dealt with the subjects of
love and the hardships of daily life, among others. In his final poem, he addressed death directly:

    I don’t like you, death
    But I’m not afraid of you
    And I know that my body is your bed
    And my spirit is your bed cover
    I know that your banks are narrow for me
    I don’t love you, death
    But I’m not afraid of you.

Al-Qasim, Palestine’s “resistance poet,” left behind a lifetime’s worth of literary and political work that will continue to inspire the
struggle against Israel’s ongoing regime of occupation, colonization and ethnic cleansing.