Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 12:26 pm (KSA) 09:26 am (GMT)

Arabs mourn Palestinian ‘independence poet’

Darwish will get the equivalent of a state funeral in the West Bank on Tuesday
Darwish will get the equivalent of a state funeral in the West Bank on Tuesday

Palestinians on Sunday mourned the death of poet Mahmoud Darwish who gave voice to their decades-old struggle and is widely considered one of the Arab world's greatest writers.

Darwish, whose poetry encapsulated the Palestinian cause, will get the equivalent of a state funeral in the West Bank on Tuesday -- an honor only previously accorded to PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas declared three days of official mourning in a televised address after Darwish died on Saturday in a U.S. hospital from complications following open-heart surgery.

"How much does it pain my heart and my soul to announce to the Palestinian people, the Arab and Islamic world, and to everyone who loves peace and freedom, the passing of the star of Palestine," Abbas said.

He added that Darwish's absence "will leave a great void in our cultural, political, and national life."

The 67-year-old penned over two dozen books of poetry and prose in a career spanning nearly five decades that captured the Palestinian experience of war, exile, and the struggle for national self-determination.

He was the winner of numerous international literary prizes.

The three main Palestinian newspapers ran front-page obituaries of Darwish and Palestinian television broadcast file footage of his poetry recitals and performances of songs inspired by his work.

Symbol of Palestine

"The whole world knew Palestine by two names or two symbolic figures, Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Darwish," Mutawakal Taha, the head of the Palestinian writers' union, told AFP, referring to the legendary leader who died in 2004.

"Now Palestine is without a symbolic figure. It has been orphaned, just as poetry itself has today been orphaned by the passing of our poet."

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.

The 22-member Cairo-based Arab League said Darwish's death "deprives the Palestinians and all the Arabs of one of their most noted representatives for contemporary poetry and culture."

"With his poetry Darwish transcended all the frontiers and broke the chains of narrow patriotism in order to become the voice of Palestine," said Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa.

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."

"Poets never die," wrote Lebanon's parliament speaker Nabih Berri in his letter of condolences.

In 1988, Darwish wrote the official Palestinian declaration of independence and served on the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) until 1993, when he resigned in protest at the Oslo autonomy accords.

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