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by Bushra Rehman

For the last few months, I’ve been working on a series of essays on Palestine. I’ve now written and erased my words until there is nothing left but the original title of the series. It could fit on a button: “Islamophobia is not the answer to Anti-Semitism.” Eventually, this title too had to be scratched. Because although anti-Muslim sentiment is fueled by and benefits U.S. imperialism and Israel’s apartheid practices, Palestinian Christians suffer as well.

Each day I tried to work, I felt myself covered with dust. I read of the erasure of Palestinian names from Israeli maps and how each erasure was attended by a massacre of innocents. I felt myself consumed in darkness while reading stories of Al-Dawayima where an entire village of Palestinian citizens was murdered, beaten, raped, their bodies thrown down into the town well by Israeli soldiers. I tried to write of the massacre of the people of Nasir al-din, Tantura, Eilabun, but the ghosts silenced me with their hunger.

These massacres are the seeds of Israel’s creation. The occupation of Palestinian land and apartheid conditions for Palestinians continue to this present day. At the same time, there is an enforced ignorance of the history of Israel and its government’s current crimes. As a Muslim-raised New Yorker, I am baffled and horrified almost every day by how little people know about Palestine. There is a creation of a fake history right before our eyes, the kind of history that hurts the most.

In the end, I could only begin writing this piece with the words given to me by John Murillo, a poet, teacher and friend of friends. Through Cave Canem, he shared Gabriel Garcia Lorca’s “Theory and Play of the Duende.” The beauty of Lorca’s words were branches I could grasp to see me to the other side. Below, you’ll find a cento made from this talk, which says what I feel but still am struggling to write.


The Endless Baptism


He was covered in fine ash

peppery sneezes racked his body


from the soles of his feet, my father

diminutive as a green almond,

tired of lines and circles,

went down to the docks by himself


he came upon a drunken soldier

who laughed and passed roses

through his arms.


A weeping prophet

my father grasped saltpetre flowers,

the verses of Jeremiah[i],

broke them

under his tender rosy foot


broke the razor, the wheel of the cart,

the hut. The soldier

sobered up, shook wormy

pages of Testament in his fist,

dusted dried blood-pollen from their buds

his profile cut like the edge of a barber’s razor, but


my father with the prickly beard of shepherd

prophets, with the heads of his children

threaded with barbed wire, sleeping in dust,

with the minds of his children made ill

with limitation, hurled a pot of ink

at the talking monkey soldier


it missed, wounded the eaves and balconies

of the soldier’s ill-begotten city,

released the fragrance of bees

the soldier fearing the scent of violets

repeated in a voice of beaten tin, Hertzl[ii]

warned, people will say we are butchers, but

let the blood of the poor and the thieves flow


with the fragrant cypress

of a barren butter moon, with nothing

left to lose, but a voice of scorched centuries,

my father spoke: A country of death,

the vast night will press its waist against you

until your children, too, will sleep in the weeds

with the eyes of dead fish at dawn.


God forbid, all of this.



To read more about the destroyed villages and the Nakba, visit http://www.alnakba.org/villages/villages.htm and http://www.soundofegypt.com/palestinian/adult/massacres.htm.

To watch a poignant response to the massacre of Al-Dawayima, view Annmarie Jacir’s “Salt of this Sea” starring Suheir Hammad and Saleh Bakri.

[i] The verses of Jeremiah were mentioned in Lorca’s talk and it is these verses from the Hebrew Bible which are used to justify the creation of the State of Israel.

[ii] The drunken soldier quotes and misquotes the Hebrew Bible and Theodor Hertzl, the founder of Zionism, a philosophy and movement whose goal is the creation of a Jewish state. Hertzl’s thoughts on the methods of creating the state of Israel were contradictory. He wrote both about living peacefully with the original residents of the Jewish State (whether it was in Uganda or Palestine) and “spiriting” these same residents away across the border and not allowing them back in. Hertzl wrote: “The process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” Based on how little most U.S. citizens know of the brutal treatment of Palestinians, how even Israelis are fed a false history, this last line has come to pass.


This piece was originally posted on www.thefeministwire.com

Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

Bushra Rehman
About Bushra Rehman

1 Comment

  • Claire ‘Word by Word’
    6:27 PM - 30 June, 2012

    Reading your post reminded me of Mahmoud Darwish’s excellent poems in the english translation I have of ‘Unfortunately, It Was Paradise’.

    There is an inscription in the beginnnig which reads:

    Pero yo ya no soy yo
    Ni mi casa es ya mi casa.

    But now I am no longer I,
    nor is my house any longer my house.

    Federico Garcia Lorca

    A Rhyme for the Odes (Mu’allaqat) is one of my favourites.

    Bonne Continuation,

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