Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Kamil Nasir: Fighting on the Side of Beauty
It was not only childhood memories that pressed. Others, more recent ones,
came. I recalled an incident, early after the 1967 War, when my husband and I
accompanied our cousin Kamal Nasir, Palestinian nationalist and poet, on a visit
to West Jerusalem. He needed to go there to settle a traffic violation fine.
After years of separation we were excited and apprehensive to find ourselves,
once again, in West Jerusalem, inaccessible to us since 1948. Jerusalem was and
still is at the core of every Palestinian's life, as a reality and as a symbol
of our belonging to the land, and like children happy to be back at the scene of
our youth we set out on a moving journey of memories .
Hanna and Kamal were exchanging stories and anecdotes of growing up in
Jerusalem, their old haunts, Cinema Rex, the coffee shops, the YMCA where they
played tennis, where Hanna learned how to type, where they attended concerts
given by the Palestine Symphony and where the Palestinian musician Salvador
Anita gave his memorable organ recitals. They remembered how once a year Jewish
musicians from the Symphony, under the direction of Arnita, would come from
Jerusalem to Birzeit College (now Birzeit University) to perform at commencement
exercises with the school choir in which Kamal, with his warm tenor voice, was
an enthusiastic singer.
I remember, as if it were yesterday, how during that same visit to
Jerusalem with Kamal we saw a little Israeli girl crossing the street, happily
carrying her violin, confident and at peace with herself and the world. Noticing
her Kamal, the committed humanist, known for his love of children and of music,
looked at us, looked back at her and in the grand manner of the orator that he
was, his face radiating compassion, said: "Look at her, a mere child, carrying
her violin, her music. How can I, as a Palestinian leader, label this Israeli
child an enemy. How can I disregard her people's humanity even if they have
dispossessed me of my country?" His words carried with them the ardent need for
peace, and a hidden yearning for a Jerusalem he had once known.
Ironically, soon after that moving incident Kamal, in December, 1967, was
amongst the first Palestinians to be deported by the Israeli government. He was
a threat to the security of the state, so they said. In 1973 Kamal, then the PLO
spokesman and an ardent believer in justice and liberation for all mankind, was
brutally assassinated with two other Palestinian leaders by an Israeli commando
force that raided their apartments in Beirut. His murderer, decorated and hailed
as a hero, is now a well-known Israeli politician. In the concert hall I felt
the same unbearable pain and indignation that I first felt when years ago I saw
photographs of Kamal's violent death, his bullet riddled body crucified on the
floor, his joie de vivre stilled, his voice silenced and his pen dried. I
remembered the devastation of loosing a friend, of being robbed of a
Daniel Barenboim's music rose to awaken me to reality. What would Kamal
say, if he was to see me now, his friend, casually sitting in a concert hall in
the midst of an Israeli audience? Would he approve, would he understand? Was I
betraying his memory? I felt confused and distraught, then I heard his voice
coming to me, tolerant, kind. "Tania, music, art and love are the most powerful
gifts the world has given us, a blessing that we should use to bring peace and
justice, to heal wounds and soothe pain. You are not betraying me, on the
contrary you are re- enforcing the essence of what I believed in." and as if in
an after thought I heard him ask: "Do you remember that incident, years ago in
Jerusalem, when we saw that little Israeli girl with her violin? Maybe she is
here, now, in the audience with you?"
His eyes were twinkling and his smile
offered a promise.
Story originally posted at DailyKos
Permission from This Week in Palestine to repost from Rima Nasir Tarazi's The Palestinian National Song: A Personal Testimony and Kamal Nasir: The Conscience and the Poet
Beloved, if word of my death reaches you
And the lovers cry out:
The loyal one has departed, his visage gone forever,
And fragrance has died within the bosom of the flower
Shed no tears...smile on life
And tell my only one, my loved one,
The dark recesses of your father's being
Have been touched by visions of his people.
From Kamal Nasir's Last Poem
"When you are the underdog in the fight, your weak position gives you the opportunity to fight on the side of beauty," said Golden Globe winner Hani Abu Assad to the Guardian.
"When you only have beauty to express yourself, to fight with, then you establish a feeling for beauty, for how you create from the ugly side of civilization."
Palestine's poets attest to Abu Assad's assertion and, in a telling reminder that the pen is mightier than the sword, are often targets of Israel's executioners.
The most famous, Ghassan Kanafani, was killed in 1972, along with his fourteen year old niece, in a car bombing attack in Beirut. Both Basam Abu Sharif and Anis Sayegh, a researcher who never held a gun in his life, were maimed from letter bombs. According to Sayegh,
"The Zionists dealt with the Arab intellect in the same way it dealt with the
Arab weapon. And they fought them in the same way they fought the resistance
fighters of the Palestinians and Arabs who are defending their people’s right.
They saw a gun in the book, an ammunition depot in the school, condemnation in
the files and a time bomb in the open truth."
One of many Palestinian intellectuals, who had nothing to do with the killing of the athletes at Munich's Olympics, Kamal Nasir, Palestinian poet, was murdered in his bed on April 10, 1973, by Israel's Ehud Barak, dressed up like a woman.
Recently, Barak bragged about his Lebanon exploits in the Washington Post, whose reporter ignorantly dismisses Nasir, as well as Kamal Udwan, Abel Yusuf Al Najjar, Najjar's wife, and 100 other people who were killed that day as "terrorists."
"'It wasn't something new -- we were in this business,' Barak said in an interview.
In 1973, in Beirut, wearing high heels and a woman's wig, Barak helped gun down
three of the terrorists who murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.
'I was a brunette, I had a strawberry blonde behind me,' Barak said, with a
I first heard of Kamal Nasir from my late father, Baseel, who knew Nasir in Ramallah. My father was born in 1922. Nasir was born in Gaza in 1925, but his family lived in Bir Zeit. I was somewhat annoyed that my father, long since living in the states, had not heard of Mahmoud Darwish, famous contemporary Palestinian poet. "Do you know Kamal Nasir?" he challenged. "He was killed in front of his wife by Ehud Barak," he said angrily.
Musician Rima Nasir Tarazi, President of the Administrative Board of the General Union of Palestinian Women, recalls
"Between 1954 and 1956, Kamal Nasir was staying at his home in Birzeit and would
pour his soul out in passionate verses singing praises to the beautiful lost
homeland and calling on the masses to stand up for their rights. He would put
his poems before the three of us and we would decide amongst ourselves which to
choose. His song, 'Ya Akhi El-Lajea,' (Oh, My Refugee Brother) adapted to the
music of Fleifel immediately after the Catastrophe, had already become a
landmark song widely known all over Palestine. It was a call to rise and to act
against injustice and to stand up against attempts at humiliating our people and
bartering their rights for meagre food rations: 'They offered us poison in our
food / turning us into a docile and silent flock of sheep.'"
Tarazi writes that Nasir "was writing an elegy to a friend" when he was killed. "His body was found with hands outstretched, his mouth and right hand riddled with bullets."
Sina Rahmani paraphrases Edward Said: "Another saddening story he [Said] tells is that of the death of PLO spokesmen Kamal Nasir. Nasir was babysitting for a relative of Said who had gone with Said to Jordan to bury an aunt who had recently passed away. That very night that the two of them had left for Jordan, Nasir was assassinated by an Israeli strike team lead by Ehud Barak, who would become Prime Minister more than two decades later. Exemplifying the vindictiveness of the Israeli attitude towards Palestinians, the eloquent poet and writer Nasir was found riddled with bullets in his mouth and his right hand."
"His poetic talents," Tarazi writes, "which appeared early in childhood, were nurtured by the annual Suq Okath (a traditional Arab poetry contest) held at the College [Bir Zeit] and in which he always extemporized and excelled. He completed his education at the American University of Beirut where he won the prestigious poetry prize for his poem "The Orphan."
By murdering Nasir, who was exiled from Jordan only to return and be deported again by Israel along with hundreds of other Palestinian intellectuals in 1967, Israel "was to demonstrate, once again," according to Tarazi, "its commitment to destroying any embodiment of Palestinian identity and any resistance to its attempts at establishing facts on the ground. Thinkers and writers were viewed as a threat."
Ariel Sharon's legacy wrote Edward Said, will be that of an Arab killer, as will that of Nasir's gleeful executor, Ehud Barak. Kamal Nasir was a threat, but contrary to his rather stupid and short-sighted executioners' expectations, he remains a threat to Israel's injustice; it is in part from his painful experience of the "ugly side of civilization," that he created a wealth of beauty that will inspire and instruct "so long as men can breathe, or eyes can see." It is the legacy which my late father, neither a poet, nor an intellectual, bequeathed to me one day while we were talking in his Central California backyard.
"Nasir will always be remembered as a man with boundless love for his people and for humanity as a whole. His charm, compassion and tolerance won him several friends and admirers among people from all walks of life. As a poet, he was widely acclaimed for eloquently expressing the hopes and pains of his people, and advocating their cause. His charismatic public appearances were a source of inspiration to the masses that flocked to listen to him at every possible occasion."
Kamal Nasir's Last Poem addresses exile and the longing for return as he admonishes his "beloved,"
Tell my only one, for I love him,
That I have tasted the joy of giving
And my heart relishes the wounds of sacrifice.
There is nothing left for him
Save the sighs from my song...Save the remnants of my lute
Lying piled and scattered in our house.
Tell my only one if he ever visits my grave
And yearns for my memory,
Tell him one day that I shall return --
to pick the fruits.
In Letter to Fadwa, Nasir anticipates his death, inspires hope, emits courage, and conveys beauty:
If my songs should reach you despite the narrow skies around me,
remember that I will return to life,
to the quest for liberty,
remember that my people may call on my soul
and feel it rising again from the folds of the earth.
Rahmani, Sina. "Edward Said: The Last Interview, and: Selves and Others: A Portrait of Edward Said, and: The Battle of Algiers (review)" Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Volume 25, Number 2, 2005, Duke University Press, pp. 512-514.
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