Palestinian Poet: History Laughs at Both Victim and Aggressor

Mahmoud Darwish draws thousands to rare public reading in Ramallah; new poems use sarcasm to reflect Palestinian plight.

Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish said on Wednesday his new works blend sarcasm and a deep sense of hope in their treatment of the decades-old conflict with Israel.

Darwish drew thousands of Palestinians to a rare public reading in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday night.

The crowds unable to get seats in the city's Cultural Palace watched him on outdoor screens nearby. Newspapers said millions abroad watched him live on al-Jazeera.

Darwish told Reuters that his new poems reflected a sense of hope, and were also laden with a necessary sarcasm.

"Sarcasm helps me overcome the harshness of the reality we live, eases the pain of scars and makes people smile," Darwish said in an interview.

"The sarcasm is not only related to today's reality but also to history. History laughs at both the victim and the aggressor," Darwish said in an interview.

Darwish, 67, has developed a strong international following, with his poems translated into over 20 languages.

In a new poem called "The Written Script", Darwish relates a dialogue between a victim and his enemy who fall into a hole together and are waiting for someone to throw them a lifeline.

The poem depicts the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and hints that the Israelis were heading towards suicide, taking the Palestinians with them, if Israel continued to occupy Palestinian territories.

"At the beginning we wait for luck...We are both afraid but we do not exchange words about our fear or anything else because we are enemies," the victim says in Darwish's poem.

"The silence between us was broken. He asked: what shall we do? I said: nothing, We will exhaust the probabilities (of salvation). He said: And where does hope come from? I said from the air."

Darwish then refers to the futility of what he believes to be "unfair" negotiations between sides in conflict and adds "time a killer and his victim die together in one hole.

Israel and the Palestinians have launched U.S.-sponsored final status negotiations with the aim of reaching a framework deal on the nature of a future Palestinian state before President George W. Bush leaves office in January.

However, there have been few tangible signs of progress in the talks.

In powerful poems in rich, classical Arabic, Darwish has often been called "the poet of resistance" for reflecting the suffering of Palestinians under occupation and the harsh life of refugees in exile.

But he has defied this definition and says he has moved on, attracting a new generation and people from all walks of life.

"Some people ask how do you attract the young and so many different people when your poetry is complicated and different. I say my accomplishment is that my readers trust me and accept my suggestions for change," Darwish said.

Adila Laidi, a lecturer at BirZeit University near Ramallah, aid "Darwish's power lies in his ability to describe the Palestinian feelings in a way they themselves cannot."

He seems to be succeeding in attracting a new audience.

"His poetry is complicated and full of contradictions. It brings out the contradictions inside us. While the Palestinians want peace, they cannot gnore how the conflict is affecting their lives," engineer Ghadeer Khoury, 23, said.

Darwish was a child when his family was driven from their Arab village el-Birweh to Lebanon when Israel was created in 1948. His family later returned to live in another Arab town. He was jailed several times and stripped of his Israeli citizenship before he left the country to join the exiled Palestine Liberation Organization.

In 1994 he resigned his seat on the PLO's ruling Executive Committee to protest the 1993 interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals which he says failed to bring an end to the conflict. In his new poem "The Dice Thrower", Darwish tells the story of his life, says death was coming yet still clings to life.

"To Life I say: Go slow, wait for me until the drunkenness dries in my glass...I have no role in what I was or who I will is chance and chance has no name...I call the doctor 10 minutes before the death, 10 minutes are sufficient to live by chance," Darwish said.