Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Darwish Dies at 67

World's most renowned Palestinian poet and divisive figure in Israel dies after heart surgery in U.S.

Mahmoud Darwish, whose poetry his fellow Palestinians embraced as the voice of their suffering, died on Saturday after heart surgery in Texas. A hospital spokeswoman in Houston said the 67-year-old poet died after an operation but did not specify the exact cause.

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."