RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) – Palestinians on Sunday mourned the passing of Mahmud Darwish, who gave voice to their decades-old struggle and is widely considered one of the Arab world’s greatest modern poets.
In a televised address after Darwish died on Saturday in a US hospital from complications following open-heart surgery, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas declared three days of official mourning.
“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.
“The absence of our great poet Mahmud Darwish, the love of Palestine and the pioneer of the modern Palestinian cultural project… will leave a great void in our cultural, political, and national life,” he said.
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 the winner of numerous international literary prizes, and is widely considered one of the Arab world’s greatest poets.
“Darwish is the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging,” the poet Naomi Shihab Nye once said of him.
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.
Darwish has been harshly critical of Israel over the years and was detained several times in the 1960s before going into self-imposed exile in 1970. Over the next 25 years he lived briefly in Paris, Moscow, and several Arab capitals.
A sequence of poetic prose written about his experience living in Beirut during the Israeli invasion and bombardment of Lebanon in 1982 was translated into English in 1995 under the title “Memory for Forgetfulness.”
In 1988 he 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.
He had been living in the West Bank town of Ramallah since 1995.
Following news of Darwish’s death, the Palestinian ambassador to Jordan said Abbas would send a plane to repatriate the body.
Atallah Kheiry also told AFP in Amman that Abbas had asked Palestinian officials to contact the Israeli authorities to press them to allow for the burial of Darwish in his native Galilee in northern Israel.