Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish, whose words were seen as encapsulating 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.
Tributes for Darwish poured in on Sunday, a day after the 67-year-old writer died from complications following heart surgery in a U.S. hospital in Houston, Texas.
"He translated the pain of the Palestinians in a magical way. He made us cry and made us happy and shook our emotions," said Egypt's vernacular poet Ahmed Fouad Negm.
"Apart from being the poet of the Palestinian wound, which is hurting all Arabs and all honest people in the world, he is a master poet," Negm told Reuters in Cairo.
Darwish came to see his mother before his heart operation. "He told me it was a dangerous procedure and I told him he shouldn't have it," she told Haaretz on Sundday in her home in the village of Jadeida in the Western Galilee.
"I told him we should put our faith in Allah," the 85-year-old woman continued. "He decided to have the operation anyway, and now I've lost my Mahmoud." Despite being bed-ridden, her anguish at her loss shows she is acutely aware of what happened.
Darwish's funeral in Ramallah will be the first sponsored by the Palestinian Authority since Arafat died in 2004.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of national mourning. People held candle-lit vigils on Saturday and Sunday in the darkened streets of Ramallah, where Darwish's poems were read aloud and some mourners wept.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said his country shared Palestinian admiration for "this great figure whose poetry, which reflects nostalgia and liberty, speaks to us all.
"Mahmoud Darwish knew how to express the attachment of an entire people to its land and the absolute desire for peace. His message, which calls for coexistence, will continue to resonate and will eventually be heard," Kouchner said in a statement.
The poet, born in territory that is now Israel, had made his home in the West Bank city since returning in the 1990s from a long exile during which he rose to prominence in Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
"The Palestinian question, in Mahmoud Darwish's poetry, was no longer a legend, but the story of people made of flesh, blood and feelings," said Zehi Wahbi, a friend of Darwish and a Lebanese television presenter and poet.
For Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, Darwish was "the voice of Palestinian civilisation, with its pains, sadness and ambitions."
Palestinians were earlier Sunday preparing to have Darwish's body laid to rest in Israel, Israel Radio quoted Palestinian sources as saying on Sunday.
According to the sources, Palestinians intended for Darwish to be buried either in his home village in the western Galilee, that had since been demolished with the Moshav Ahihud erected in its place in 1950, or in the neighboring village Jadaida, where Darwish's family still resides.
Darwish will be buried next to Ramallah's Palace of Culture, and a shrine will be erected in his honor, said Ramallah Mayor Jeanette Michael.
"Mahmoud doesn't just belong to a family or a town, but to all the Palestinians, and he should be buried in a place where all Palestinians can come and visit him," said his brother, Ahmed Darwish.
Arab press reports on Sunday said that Darwish asked in his will to be buried in Palestine.
Gaza's Culture Ministry also planned to set up a mourning tent starting Monday, officials said.
"With the death of Darwish, Palestinian literature has lost one of its pillars," said Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal.
In an interview with Haaretz last year, Darwish spoke about death, saying, "Let it not come like a thief. Let it take me in a swoop." on Saturday, after having experienced clinical death once, the poet passed away.
Darwish did not spare the Palestinian Authority's leadership of his criticism. He fired his barbs at them just as he did at the Israeli occupation and Israel's leadership. But his greatness was rooted in his ability to capture and then forge the collective memory of the Palestinian refugee experience in his poems. In his famous poem "Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone?" he tied the Palestinians' experience of exile with the living remnants they left behind: The horse left alone, the abandoned well and the key to the empty house kept in the pocket of every Palestinian.
Darwish was born in the village of al-Birwa, which was located east of Acre and destroyed in 1948. He was a member of Israel's Communist Party before he left the country for Beirut, where he joined the Palestine Liberation Organization. In 1988 he wrote a manifesto, intended as the Palestinian people's declaration of independence from Israel. That same year he aroused controversy with his poem "Passers Between the Passing Words," in which he called upon Israelis to leave Israel and take their dead with them. "So leave our land / Our shore, our sea / Our wheat, our salt, our wound," he wrote.
Darwish was very familiar with the Israeli experience and was interested in Israeli poetry, with which he often engaged in debates. "I like Yehuda Amichai's poetry very much," he said in an interview a few years ago. But Amichai's poetry, he added, made him realize that the Palestinians' war with Israel was not just military in nature, but also cultural and literary. While Hebrew national poetry strengthened the Jews' claim to a country, he explained, Palestinian poets felt exempt from proving their claims to the land, which he said was a weakness.
With all his criticism, he remained hopeful that peace between Israel and the Palestinians was attainable. "I do not despair," he told Haaretz. "I am patient and am waiting for a profound revolution in the consciousness of the Israelis. The Arabs are ready to accept a strong Israel with nuclear arms - all it has to do is open the gates of its fortress and make peace."
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