Mahmoud Darwish is a symbol of cultural and national identity for many in the Arabic-speaking world. His poetry delves into the themes of exile and love by means of a beautiful use of language and imagery, often drawing upon the natural world. In his most famous poem, “Identity Card”, Darwish describes the experience of being a Palestinian living in Israel, where he was required to carry an identity card that identified him as an Arab. He was also a prominent essayist and has written on a wide range of subjects - politics, culture and literature. His novel, "Memory for Forgetfulness" is regarded as a masterpiece in modern Arabic literature and acts as a powerful reflection on the experiences of the Palestinian people during the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982. Through the deeply personal experiences exemplified in his work, both individual and collective, he serves as an inspiration for those all around the world struggling for justice and liberation.
Darwish was born in 1941 in the village of Al-Birwa in Galilee, Palestine - at the time, under a British mandate. In 1948 he and his family fled in the “Nakba”, an event which displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. He then was a refugee in various places: in Galilee, in Lebanon and finally settling in Haifa. Throughout this difficult time, Darwish found his passion in reading, and as a consequence of his poverty, resorted to stealing books. However, upon the bookshop owner’s discovery of Darwish’s actions, he was so impressed by Darwish’s love for literature that he let him borrow his books. This act of kindness helped shape Darwish’s worldview that literature can inspire and transform individuals and societies. In 1970 he studied in the USSR, before moving to Egypt and Lebanon. As a consequence of joining the PLO in 1973, he was banned from re-entering Israel; however, he was permitted to return in 1995.
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Freddie is a first year European and Middle Eastern Languages student at Oxford University. He researched and wrote this article as part of the Oxford University Micro Internship programme.