UC Berkeley Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

Consuming Palestine: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in Metropolitan Popular Culture

Consuming Palestine: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in Metropolitan Popular Culture

By Nicole Bilan

Poetry written in zones of conflict inevitably reflects the politics that surround it. Whether implicit or explicit, the two are almost inseparable – the act of writing becomes a political statement, and the author or poet becomes an activist. Using Edward Said’s seminal essay, “Permission to Narrate,” I focus on the role of poet as activist and narrator within the Israel-Palestine conflict, comparing the poetry of Dareen Tatour and Yona Wallach, two female poets who write from within the Israeli State. Tatour and Wallach are separated by nearly half a century, and both write from very different positions within Israeli society. Wallach is a Jewish Israeli, whilst Tatour is a Muslim Palestinian-Israeli, yet both are victims of oppression by the State. This essay attempts to discern the political significance of their narration as influenced by the positions they occupy in Israeli society, comparing their poems in order to explore the “right” to expression within the confines of a Zionist State. Setting their poetry against the religious backdrop of the conflict and using religious doctrine as a point of commonality between the two, it examines the significance of their words and the narratives they construct, analyzing the political and personal nature of “narrating” a conflict. Said’s essay is used as a point of departure to assess the process of “other-ing” and how the voice of the “other” can be expressed through poetry, concluding that through poetry, the identity of the “other” is reclaimed, constructing an alternative affirmative identity in retaliation to the oppressor. Finally, the essay concludes by evaluating how this affects the reception of each poet within the State, and how it distinguishes the ability to shock from the ability to threaten.

To explore the act of claiming a “permission to narrate,”[1] we must first ask what it consists of. To “claim” a permission is not to ask for it; likewise, to need “permission” is to placate or bend to the will of a higher power. The two seem at odds with one another, in an oxymoronic relationship between submission and assertion. In his essay, Said explores the tension that arises from the assertion of Palestinian and Israeli identities, both based upon an intrinsic entitlement to the same land and defined in opposition to the “other.” To create an identity against the “other” is also to create an identity for the “other” – one based on defamation and degradation, destabilizing the “other” narrative and denying them a legitimate voice. The idea of a fundamental claim to a land and of identity asserted in opposition to an “other” are themes that underscore the writing of both Dareen Tatour and Yona Wallach. Each uses poetry as a vehicle to declare their position as the victim of oppression and to condemn the social structures that delineate their supposed inferiority. The poet is at loggerheads with the society within which they are writing, reclaiming their identity by the same assertion of opposition, making the act of writing a political statement, one that gives a voice to an unheard, or silenced, perspective.

On first reading their poetry, it seems as though Wallach and Tatour both emphatically deny the idea of seeking, or even claiming, “permission,” instead asserting their positions by directly challenging Israeli society. Yet it is important to note that Wallach writes from within the State, albeit from the periphery as a woman in the 1960s, whilst Tatour’s poetry is informed by a completely marginalized perspective, as a Palestinian woman born and raised in Israel in the 21st century. Wallach writes in a triumphantly Zionist political climate, the Six Day War granting Jewish people access to the Wailing Wall in 1967 after 19 years of Jordanian rule.[2] Her criticism is not of the actions of the Israeli State against Palestinian natives, but of the patriarchal Israeli State against the women who live within it. Tatour, however, writes as a Palestinian-Israeli in the present day, incarcerated in 2015 for circulating her poem “Resist, My People, Resist” in response to increasing brutality against Palestinians.[3] Both narrate the Israeli State from an oppressed perspective, but a crucial difference is made clear in their reception: where Wallach is celebrated and canonized, Tatour is imprisoned. It is a difference in reception which binds them together as a pair of parallel figures; reading and comparing their poetry provokes us to question the legitimacy of their claims to narrate; who grants them this elusive permission, and why? To read their work against each other is to analyze the structures that bind them in a hierarchy of oppression, and to view their resistance in a wider context. We are drawn to examine their resistance and its political significance on a larger scale – in the act of narrating, what danger do they pose to the State? We establish their writing, and their criticism, as two sides to the same coin: Wallach writes from within a Zionist framework in a bid to “improve” it, and Tatour, at least geographically, writes from within the same structure, subverting and denying its power in an attempt to dismantle it from the inside.

These different methods of resistance can quite literally be seen in the languages in which they are writing. Wallach uses the language of the Israeli State in a feminist critique, and Tatour positions herself in opposition to Zionist rhetoric by writing “Resist, My People, Resist” in Arabic. It is a direct address to Palestinian-Israelis and the Arabic-speaking population outside of Israel, condemning the State while claiming a Palestinian right to narrate within its confines, just as Wallach’s poem, “Hebrew,” claims a right, via the manipulation of the Hebrew language, to freely express sexuality within a patriarchal society. It analyses and subverts the gendered language in which it is written, presenting Hebrew as a “sex maniac”[4] to comment upon the oxymoronic obsession with chastity and sexuality. It is positioned as a polar opposite to English, where you “don’t have to think before referring to sex,”[5] simultaneously emphasising the gender neutrality of the English language and the cultural stigma of Israeli society which dictates that women must repress, must “think” about, and then censor their sexual liberty. A complication does arise when reading the poem in its English translation, which omits the gendered language (the English language reader does not perceive the gendered “you,” which cannot find a direct translation into English). Wallach weaponizes female sexuality through her adoption and portrayal of Hebrew; it “peeks [at you] through the keyhole,”[6] revealing something covert in its addressee, removing the clothes and exposing the speaker as a (thoroughly feminine) voyeur who “sees you naked,” [7] without granting the reader the ability to turn away. In translation, we lose Wallach’s playful yet politically charged manipulation of gendered language in the poem, which deliberately uses unusual conjugations and draws attention to the pronouns of gender. It is a confrontational assertion of gender and power in femininity, its purposeful misuse of female/male conjugations in the Hebrew language[8] turning on its head “the way a crowd [or ‘audience’] is masculine in Hebrew.”[9] She characterizes the language that “hides a woman,”[10] and arguably erases them from discourse, as a “woman bathing / Hebrew is Batsheva clean.”[11]

The poem is far from a condemnation of Hebrew; rather, it is a call to reclaim the language, fast-paced and relentless in its urgency:

Hebrew is a sex maniac

and whatever those feminists complain about

who seek stimulation outside the language

with an intonation that interprets things

signs of only male and female in a sentence.[12]

The poem’s lack of punctuation gives no pause for the reader. In a snowballing accumulation of words that is reminiscent of an incantation, it wonders “what the man does to a woman / what he gets in return,”[13] a vaguely threatening promise of retribution perhaps referring to their “strange sexual relations.”[14] The incantation builds in the breathless speed of the sentences, characterized by the disjointed ruptures of the short lines contrasted with the fluid rhythm of the words themselves. The “signs” that recur in the last portion of the poem “mark”[15] men and women, transforming gendered language into a visual label tattooed onto the skin of reader and speaker, a visceral evocation of Hebrew mysticism which is carried through the structure of the poem; the incantation becomes a religious song.

Wallach acknowledges the impossibility of neutrality and anonymity in a language that gives signs of “only female and male in a sentence” and seeks to exploit the “sex maniac” that Hebrew is, finding the possibility and promise of equality within it. Bemoaning “whatever those feminists complain about / who seek stimulation outside the language” for their ignorance, Wallach urges them to recognize the power that gendered language holds; through it, she expresses sexuality boldly and fearlessly, manipulating and subverting patriarchal oppression by using its own language. She exhorts the reader to “love her [Hebrew] now without cover of words,”[16] and declare their gender with pride, as opposed to equating neutrality with equality. That a feminine Hebrew “sees you naked” is no longer engendered by sinfulness as defined by the Talmud, which likens a woman singing to an “illicit sexual liaison,”[17] and prohibits women from singing unless “it is not a voice of lust-provoking songs and the listener does not intend to derive pleasure from her voice.”[18] Instead, the poem takes the lust that characterizes the sinful act of song and turns it against the masculine voyeur: “Hebrew” as a form of religious incantation is ingrained with explicitly sex-based language to convey a sense of power in femininity and in the female voice, claiming a right to language and expression within a sphere of patriarchal control. The sexualised figure of “Bathsheva” regains her power as she scrutinizes her voyeur for the first time, and Hebrew is reclaimed by the feminist narrative, resolutely gendered as a “she.”

In a stark contrast to Wallach’s thoroughly Jewish Israeli claim to the narrative, Tatour establishes an Arab Palestine, as opposed to a Zionist Israel, using the Arabic language. The geography of her poem centers itself in the religious epicenter of Israel and Palestine, which she uses to convey a sense of Palestinian entitlement, not based in political strategy or history, but personal suffering. Speaking in first person, she writes:

In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my sorrows

And carried the soul in my palm

For an Arab Palestine[19]

The Palestinian is presented as a vulnerable yet resilient victim of persecution, carrying the “soul” of a nation “in [their] palm,” depicting the fragmentation of the Palestinian identity as a result of displacement by the Israeli “colonialist’s onslaught,”[20] the suffering of a citizen forced into martyrdom. It could, however, be interpreted as a parallel between Jesus and the Palestinian speaker: the location itself is where Jesus was crucified, the “wounds” are evocative of the violent process of crucifixion, and the speaker “breath[ing her] sorrows” could be likened to Jesus’ Seven Last Words from the Cross.

In this light, Tatour’s poem could be read as a gospel or sermon, using Biblical rhetoric to incite rebellion in the face of suffering and persecution, consolidated by the original circulation of her poem read aloud in a YouTube video.[21] She encourages her reader to “follow the caravan of martyrs”[22] and “cast them [Israelis] aside for a coming time,”[23] “shed[ding] the disgraceful constitution”[24] that has been imposed upon them. The “caravan of martyrs” could be seen as a reference to the expulsion of the Jewish people from Egypt (perhaps in an attempt to highlight the injustice and double standards upon which the Israeli State is founded), whilst the instruction to “cast them aside” is not unlike the “casting out” of evil. The symbol of the “caravan” straddles time, from the Biblical to the current situation of displaced Palestinians in refugee camps. It implies a culture founded in displacement, conceptualizing Palestine as a homeland, and intrinsically attaching it to the Palestinians themselves. The caravan becomes a site of religious myth; the Palestinian people are holy “martyrs” who hold a divine right to the land, contrasted by the image of the caravan, a picturesque symbol of their involuntary nomadic lifestyle. The “settlers’ robbery”[25] is a violent act against these saintly figures, condemning their persecutors as lowly thieves, whilst alienating them, referring to the Israeli people as “settlers” to reinforce the Palestinians’ nativity.

The figure of the Palestinian “martyr” holds a sense of power in their existence as a form of resistance: the parallels drawn to the figure of Jesus are used to denote a sense of passivity in their power, in that the displaced Palestinian in a caravan both holds and claims a divine right to their homeland, just as the image of Jesus on the cross embodies and symbolizes a religion. The imperatives that underscore the religious allusions remove the poem from merely presenting the speaker as meek in their victimhood; rather, it elevates them to a position of power and divinity. The religious language is mixed with the language of resistance, transforming the peaceful preaching of Jesus (and his acceptance of suffering to redeem humanity) into a violent rejection of suffering and a call to arms, imploring them to:

pay no mind to his [the colonialist’s] agents among us

Who chain us with peaceful illusion.

Do not fear doubtful tongues

The truth in your heart is stronger

As long as you resist in a land

That has lived through raids and victory.[26]

What seems to be a plea for religious love and acceptance in its instruction to “not fear doubtful tongues” is a cry of dissent and collective anger in the face of “peaceful illusion.” The noble is not idealized in Tatour’s sermon; instead, the need for resistance is sanctified as the only method for continued Palestinian existence. The “flags” that they “never lower”[27] are not white, but mark Palestinian territory, defiantly erected until “I evict them from my land”[28] – they define a Palestinian “promised land,” inherently linked to the Palestinian people. It takes on their characteristics, and suffers alongside them, having “lived through raids and victory.” The land is holy and is saturated with Palestinian blood – the Palestinian martyrs occupy the same position as Christ in sacrificing themselves in order to redeem their land for posterity, just as Christ sacrificed and suffered for the redemption of humankind.

Just as the poem begins with Jerusalem and the crucifixion of Christ, it ends with a final call:

Resist, my rebellious people.

Write me as prose on the agarwood;

My remains have you as a response.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist, my people, resist them.[29]

The repetition of “resist, my people” is rhetorical in its effect, wholehearted in its animation and unification of an oppressed people, whilst the indictment to “write me as prose on the agarwood / my remains have you as a response” again portrays her in parallel to the figure of Jesus. The act of “writ[ing] as prose on the agarwood” could be read as the body of Christ on the Cross. Therefore the speaker’s “remains” are the entombed body of Christ – the “response” is the continued solidarity and resistance of her followers. Through her adaptation of religious language, Tatour creates a circular narrative which begins and ends with divine martyrdom. Tatour, as a Muslim woman, uses the language and religious tradition of the Jewish and Christian faiths to convey Palestinian resistance. It subverts the structure of Zionist belief to represent the suffering and indignation of the Palestinian refugees, defamiliarizing and redefining the language which represents the oppressor. In positioning a nameless speaker as an almost holy figurehead, Tatour redefines the Palestinian victim as intrinsically powerful in their unified resistance in spite of persecution.

Wallach, too, repurposes the language of religion – though unlike Tatour, her poetry is self-reflective, controversial, and individualistic in its treatment of faith. Hers is one directly at odds with what can at times be a sterile, formal religious doctrine. She conveys longing for a tangible God with a “sweet body”[30] and a “sweet voice”[31] that “pass[es] under [her] window,”[32] in an intimate and altogether very human connection. She transposes the sublime to the ordinary, and the patriarchal to the feminine, in an almost blasphemous abstraction of religion grounded in sexual attraction and romantic love opposed to chaste reverence. The physical relationship between worshipper and deity in “Never Will I Hear the Sweet Voice of God” is a personal and reciprocated devotion to a God that “comes…through my window”[33] in a clandestine relationship between woman and God alluding to the Plagues of Egypt.[34] Instead of a violent Angel of Death, Wallach details “the form of his motion as he moves enchanting the air / never will the voice of longings pass the threshold,”[35] drawing parallels to the story of Passover via her depiction of a sexual encounter with God. Her language is overtly religious, yet carries erotic connotations:

how will I remember this beauty and not weep

days will pass in my life like tremors in the body

near shards of touch-traces more shattered from weeping.[36]

The recurring motif of “weeping” evokes a Biblical image of grieving, perhaps referring to the bereaved parents of the Plague, and the “tremors in the body” could be read as sobs, but the “touch-traces” are a gentle caress; God, in this context, is viewed in the capacity of a lover, the “tremors” likened to a sexual climax, and the “weeping” a consequence of abandonment. What was once a private and intimate relationship is now alienated and austere. But Wallach’s depiction of this relationship, however romantic, is taken by many critics as deeply blasphemous,[37] degrading God from a divine status to partaking in a sexual relationship with a human woman.

I would argue, however, that Wallach does not diminish religion, but elevates the status of women using an abstract notion of worship grounded in mysticism,[38] similar to how Tatour uses the figure of Christ in her poem. It posits the speaker as equal to God, which, although blasphemous, is a theatrical retaliation to oppression within the religious and social contexts which posit European Jewishness as the top of a social order. The poem could be read as an “erotic hymn in which divine lover and earthly beloved whispered to one another descriptions of secret and intimate beauty,”[39] continuing a mystic tradition of sacred Eros in which the “divine lover and earthly beloved” are twofold: the mortal speaker of the poem and the God that she sleeps with, and the holy speaker who whispers to the reader a description of secret and intimate beauty. It could be said that the poem itself is a rewriting, or at least alludes to, Canticle 3:1 of the “Song of Songs”:

Upon my couch at night I sought the one I love–

I sought, but found him not.

“I must rise and roam the town,

Through the streets and through the squares; I must seek the one I love.”

I sought but found him not. I met the watchmen

Who patrol the town.

“Have you seen the one I love?” Scarcely had I passed them

When I found the one I love. I held him fast. I would not let him go

Till I brought him to my mother’s house.

To the chamber of her who conceived me.

(Canticle 3:1– 4; JPS translation)[40]

The speaker is designated as the Shekhinah, the “feminine-receptive element within the Godhead,”[41] whispering to the reader of the beauty that is “God,” her lover. The speaker in “Never Will I Hear the Sweet Voice of God,” unlike the speaker of Canticle 3:1, is a passive mourner, referencing the keening of Yemenite women and their integral role in the ritual of mourning.[42] She does not actively search for her God, nor is this God experienced or known by the unpopulated “wide open spaces”[43] of the outside world. Instead, this mourning of the lost relationship between God and mortal lover is intimate and sacred, in a way that contradicts the idea of the rather more public worship and seeking of God as lover proscribed by Canticle 3:1. By occupying the position of Shehkinah, the speaker is not just Israeli, they are “Israel,” just as Tatour renders the Palestinian as “Palestine”; Wallach redefines a feminine Israel in a way reminiscent of her approach in “Hebrew.” The patriarchal society is narrated by a feminine voice, one that claims a direct and personal link to the religious values upon which Zionism is based.

In writing a feminine State, Wallach consolidates her criticism of a duplicitous society that holds men and women to different standards of virtue and virginity. She delivers a denunciation of these attitudes through this abstraction, using the figure of God in their relationship as a way of treating female sexual expression as something sublime, almost holy. The speaker is not just the Shekhinah and therefore Israel, but Shekhinah and therefore God: Canticle 3:1 is the “canticle that God sings every day.”[44] In giving this recitation of the Canticle to the female voice, the feminine element of the Godhead embodies the Godhead in its entirety. Sexual desire is seen as a method of worship, and an integral part of humanity, without which the speaker is incomplete. The constraints of religion and society have robbed women of a fundamental part of the human experience in an attempt to repress them: given their sexual freedom, they are equals with God. It is a controversial comparison, but it is this provocative grandeur that makes a political statement.

This raises a fundamental question: is a socially acceptable narrative required to express fact, or does this “requirement” contradict the fundamental premise of claiming a permission to narrate? Both Tatour and Wallach’s poetry is subversive, and herein lies its power. It follows the logic that “obtaining permission to narrate is not simply a matter of speaking but a matter of speaking in a way that may be heard.”[45] Outraged and scandalized whispers are what “absorb, sustain, and circulate”[46] their poetry; it is not a rewriting of a national rhetoric, or a submissive plea, but a defiant provocation of the Israeli State in highlighting its inequalities. Neither Tatour nor Wallach seek “permission” to write; rather, they write against the very notion of needing approval and social validation. Their poetry is an assertion of the individual against a patriarchal, violent society, delivering a fearless condemnation of the Israeli State. Yet the same whispers that sustain their poetry were enough to warrant Tatour’s arrest, which, ironically, projected her into an international consciousness. But why, for Wallach, does controversy lead to integration into the national literary canon, whereas for Tatour it leads to incarceration?

Perhaps it lies in the coding of the poetry – Wallach’s mysticism emphasizes her work as a means of artistic expression, whereas Tatour’s “Resist, My People, Resist Them” is direct in both language and meaning. Wallach’s poetry is performative, an uncomfortable individualistic display staged in front of an “astonished audience,”[47] whilst “Resist” is written in language that literally and symbolically defines an “us” and “them,” “othering” the Israeli community in the same way that Palestinians are “othered” by State rhetoric. It is the polar opposite to Wallach’s poetry, which is based upon a direct relationship between reader and poet – instead of “us” and “them,” it is “me” and “you (plural).” In reversing the binary of “us” and “them,” Tatour effectively writes against the Zionist rhetoric. Wallach is wholehearted in her Zionist belief; her poetry could be read as particularly abrasive constructive criticism, whereas Tatour boldly and directly contradicts the basis upon which the State is founded.[48]

The difference in the reception of their poems, and the treatment of the poets themselves, can be attributed to the relative precarity of Tatour’s situation in comparison to that of Wallach. As a Muslim woman and a Palestinian-Israeli, Tatour writes from a position in the oppressed “base” of Israeli society, already viewed as a threat to the establishment in the mere fact of her existence within the borders. As opposed to Wallach, whose poetry is circulated and made legitimate by the physical form it takes in her published collections, Tatour’s poetry is illegitimate and covert in its social reception, relying upon social media to find its audience.[49] The vulnerability of Tatour’s poetry is, in part, linked to its online dissemination. Via the platform of social media, her poetry is simultaneously a free expression of dissent and a call to arms that detractors align with the Jihadist poetry which also relies upon social media as its form of “publication.”[50] Its form categorizes the whispers that sustain their poetry: where Wallach’s poems are spread by outraged and scandalized whispers of the artistic elite in the Israeli superstructure, Tatour’s poem finds its voice in the same whispers that perpetuate a hushed resistance in the Palestinian-Israeli base.

To compare “To Kidnap in the Land” and “Resist” is to see two completely different portrayals of Israel. Tatour casts Israel as the “settler’s robbery”[51] of an “Arab Palestine”[52] – she condemns their “disgraceful constitution”[53] that “chain[s them] with the peaceful illusion”[54] of the “colonialist’s onslaught,”[55] likening their situation to that of slaves in their forced subservience and suffering at the hands of the Israeli State. Wallach, predictably, is the polar opposite in her presentation of the State; in fact, in “To Kidnap,” she depicts the Palestinian population as the aggressors, and maintains the Zionist rhetoric of victimization. The poem can be read as the perspective of a nameless Palestinian soldier, “kidnapping” the youth of innocent Israeli children through the constant threat he poses. He seems to resent the Jewish presence in the land, remarking that

I kidnap like only I know how to kidnap.

Not in the old style. (In my opinion) you need to ignore

to not even know where they live in order to pull off

an acceptable kidnapping here, (strictly between us) no forests here

you only have to think twice

to find yourself on a Sabbath outing[56]

This introduces what seems to be a darkly comic analysis of “kidnapping” to the rest of the poem. Wallach, using a quasi-nihilistic sense of humour, reflects upon the notion that “kidnapping” or otherwise harming another is “acceptable” if the other is unknown – “you need to ignore / to not even know where they live.” It adds to an overall tone of boastfulness, consolidated by the fast pace of the poem and its abrupt, seemingly random, caesuras and breaks in the narrative. The bracketed comments are asides; we are brought into intimate conversation with the perpetrator in what is either a guilty confession or a bragging monologue. It takes on the identity of the Palestinian aggressor and exaggerates it to the point of monstrosity: “hidden” in plain sight, the “Negev youth are protected and walk around surrounded by kidnappers / of youth,”[57] a lurking threat to the future of Israel.

It is this stereotype of faceless perpetrator that Wallach uses and embodies, inserting her into a comfortably Zionist literary tradition of self-affirmation by dehumanization, and demonization, of the oppressed “other.” Tatour consciously writes against this rhetoric of dehumanization. Her graphic language in depicting violence (“They burned blameless children; / As for Hadil, they sniped her in public, / Killed her in broad daylight”[58]) and her explicit defiance of the State (“I will not succumb to the ‘peaceful solution’ / Never lower my flags / Until I evict them from my land”[59]) is less of a criticism or lament, and more of a political challenge. By invoking the dead by name, Tatour humanizes the Palestinian victims, and “others” Israel as a violent, faceless aggressor. In attributing an identity to the deceased, she consciously retaliates against the portrayal of Palestinians as a faceless group and demolishes the rhetoric of victimization and suffering used by Zionists to justify the establishment and continued existence of Israel.

In “othering” the Zionist superstructure and defying it with a violent language of resistance, Tatour’s poetry can be integrated into both a military rhetoric and classical Islamic poetic tradition. “Resist” can be simultaneously likened to the pre-Islamic ode of Zuhayr – just as Wallach’s writing can be related to the mystic Jewish/Hebrew tradition, Tatour roots her writing in a parallel tradition of Islamic mysticism. It dictates that “he who does not rise up to defend with his weapon / is defeated and he who does not fight oppression is oppressed,”[60] echoed by Tatour in “Resist”; where Zuhayr advocates for an active militant standpoint, Tatour’s words are her weapon, emphasizing the power of collective resistance. It is not unlike Wallach’s use of the Hebrew language to criticize the Israeli State; in both, words are weaponized, and their subversive quality coded into the structure and form of the poems. Just as Wallach uses the style of an incantation or a hymn, Tatour adopts and adapts the form of the pre-Islamic ode. It casts a different light upon the sermon-like qualities of the poem, its emphatic call to resist oppression and erasure now integrated into a rhetoric which immerses itself in the Palestinian identity and its attachment to the land. The motif of the caravan, explored earlier in this essay, becomes central in reading the poem as a rewriting of a pre-Islamic ode. It reflects the “rahīl,”[61] the journeying section of the pre-Islamic ode, presenting the caravans in a paradoxical relationship to the Palestinian identity. It shines a different light upon the Biblical interpretation that portrays the caravan as the emblem of diaspora, of a forced nomadic lifestyle and the distillation of homeland contained within each individual, instead elevating the displacement of Palestinians to an epic-equivalent. This could be said to underscore the Biblical narrative, taking the classical narrative as a “repository of history”[62] and manipulating it to convey a defiant continuation of that history, constructing a national narrative from the displacement and violence that threatens the cohesive identity of that same nation.

Tatour contributes to a contemporary qasida, taking the “archetype of the tribal warrior and his impossibly heroic deeds…ripe for application to any contemporary ‘martyr’”[63] and applying these same archetypes to the struggle of the subjugated Palestinian-Israeli, elevating them from the vulnerability of victimhood by inserting them into an established national tradition, but at the same time juxtaposing the precarity of their situation, and of the Palestinian national identity, with the historic legacy of the literary tradition. Their “impossibly heroic deeds” consist of their assertion of identity and a right to a homeland, and their martyrdom is an unavoidable consequence of their circumstance: they are “blameless children”[64] turned warriors, victimized and persecuted by the “othered” aggressor. In contributing to a national rhetoric whilst encouraging a collective resistance, Tatour asserts a Palestinian right to exist within the borders of Israel. By referencing both pre-Islamic tradition and a Christian narrative, she emphasizes the historicity of the Palestinian nation. It is an emphatic denial of “Golda Meir’s 1969 fiat that the Palestinians did not exist historically, had no communal identity, and no national rights.”[65] Literary tradition establishes a historic past of the nation. Therefore, in not only contributing to the progression of this tradition but also inserting the Palestinian refugees as central characters within it, Tatour claims a Palestinian permission to narrate that is intrinsically linked to the land. Her stance could be summarized by misquoting Said: “Palestinian nationalism has had to achieve formal and ideological prominence” not “well before any land has been gained,”[66] but well after any land had been lost.

Wallach’s poetry is not apolitical by any means; it can be clearly read as a feminist reclamation of sexual desire against a repressive state or religion in its “porno-religious”[67] language. But where “Resist” embodies a quiet revolution that challenges, criticizes, and unsettles the foundation of the State and its methods, Wallach reclaims a space within the Zionist political sphere, not attempting to dismantle, but to rearrange it.[68] This is the crucial difference that distinguishes the two poets; this is where Tatour’s poetry becomes threatening to the State. It is in this conscious retaliation that she finds her narrative catapulted onto an international stage. Whilst Wallach’s subversive narrative is a shock, forcing society to consume and accept the “socially unacceptable” as an art form, Tatour’s poetry found international resonance because its narrative of resistance provoked the State to silence her: she becomes socially acceptable because the State decided that she was not.

Censorship is crucial in the global interpretation and reception of the poem, as the bid to silence Tatour projects her poetry to a larger audience, somewhat ironically. No longer a covert whisper, Tatour and her poetry provoke cries of outrage (quite literally) in the wake of her incarceration, drawing attention to both the conflict and to her personal victimization by the State. Tatour exemplifies and narrates an unspoken side to the conflict both in her writing and in the consequences of its reception; in her own words, her “trial ripped off the masks”[69] of the Israeli State and their persecution of Palestinian-Israelis. Reading “Resist” with the knowledge of her arrest, the poem takes on a second level of meaning. Her pleas for solidarity and her outrage at the persecution of Palestinians become personal – the reader is no longer addressed by the leader of an army, but an incarcerated woman, a defiant victim at the hands of a ruthless State. The urge to “resist” is saturated with desperation; its repetition is not the rhetoric of a public speaker but the last words of a figurehead. In this way, Tatour’s fate mirrors that of the Christ figure of the speaker, finally captured by her oppressor. Yet Tatour’s poem is still one filled with pride for a displaced nation, one that exists in spite of the attempts to destroy it. She not only maintains but acknowledges her stance as “warrior” and “martyr,” going against the notion of feminine behaviour delineated by the early Islamic poet, al-Shanfara. Like Wallach, Tatour denies the patriarchal rules that expect women to “cover up, keep your gaze lowered and don’t talk too much,”[70] exposing the persecution of Palestinian-Israelis in her writing and the tyranny of the State in her arrest, looking directly at her oppressor, and refusing to be silenced by them.

In the eyes of the State, Wallach “others” correctly; Tatour does not. It is a clear delineation of what is acceptable as a contribution to State narrative, and what is threatening to it. Tatour is simultaneously writing from within the State, and from outside it: she asserts herself at odds with Israel by claiming her right to remain within its walls. It is, in a way, akin to Wallach’s perspective as a woman forced to the periphery of society as a result of gender politics. Both use controversy to make themselves heard, but in drastically different ways. Wallach writes in comparative luxury; she has always had access to the international arena because she more or less conforms to a Zionist rhetoric, and therefore never had to claim permission – it was already implicitly granted. Tatour asserts, earns, and claims a permission to narrate in her provocation of the State, pushing her truth of oppression and suffering into a public consciousness via poetry: as art imitates life, so too does life, unfortunately, imitate art. ■




Tatour, D. [trans. Tariq al Haydar], Resist, My People, Resist Them, <https://freedareentatour.org/poems&gt; [accessed 10th February 2019]

Wallach, Y. [trans. Linda Stern Zisquit], Let the Words (Sheep Meadow Press, 2006)


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[1] Said, E. ‘Permission to Narrate’, Journal of Palestine Studies (University of California Press, 1984)

[2] Gavrieli-Nuri, G., ‘Saying “War”, Thinking “Victory” – The Mythmaking Surrounding Israel’s 1967 Victory’, Israel Studies , Vol. 15, No. 1 (2010), p. 95

[3] PEN America: Dareen Tatour, < https://pen.org/advocacy-case/dareen-tatour/&gt; [accessed 14th February 2019]

[4] Wallach, Y. [trans. Linda Stern Zisquit], ‘Hebrew’, Let the Words (Sheep Meadow Press, 2006) p. 112

All works cited are in the published English translations from the original Hebrew and Arabic.

[5] Ibid., p. 112

[6] Ibid., p. 112

[7] Ibid., p. 112

[8] Zisquit, p. xxix

[9] Ibid., p. 113

[10] Ibid., p. 113

[11] Ibid., p. 113

[12] Ibid., p. 113

[13] Ibid., p. 113

[14] Ibid., p. 113

[15] Ibid., p. 113

[16] Ibid., p. 114

[17] Cohen, L., ‘Without Music, Would We Even Be Jewish?’, The Guardian (2014), <https://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/mar/01/without-music-would-jews-be-jewish&gt; [accessed 10th February 2019]

[18] Lichtenstein, M, ‘Kol Isha: A Woman’s Voice’, Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, Vol. 46, No. 1 (2013) p. 17

[19] Tatour, D. [trans. Tariq al Haydar], ‘Resist, My People, Resist Them’, <https://freedareentatour.org/poems&gt; [accessed 10th February 2019)

[20] Ibid

[21] PEN America: Dareen Tatour

[22] Tatour, ‘Resist’

[23] Ibid

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid

[26] Ibid

[27] Ibid

[28] Ibid

[29] Ibid

[30] Wallach, Y.., ‘Never Will I Hear the Sweet Voice of God’, p. 69

[31] Ibid., p. 69

[32] Ibid., p. 69

[33] Ibid., p. 69

[34] Exodus 12

[35] Wallach, ‘Never Will I Hear the Sweet Voice of God’, p. 69

[36] Ibid., p. 69

[37] Cohen, Z.L., Loosen the Fetters of Thy Tongue Woman: The Poetry and Poetics of Yona Wallach, (Cincinnati 2003), p. 9

[38] Green, A., The Heart of the Matter: Studies in Jewish Mysticism and Theology, (University of Nebraska Press, Jewish Publication Society, 2015), p. 104

[39] Ibid., p. 104

[40] Ibid., p. 107

[41] Ibid., p. 105

[42] Cohen, L. ‘Without Music, Would We Even Be Jewish?’

[43] Wallach, ‘Never Will I Hear the Sweet Voice of God’

[44] Green, p. 107

[45] Ashcroft, B. ‘Representation and Liberation: From Orientalism to the Palestinian crisis’, Edward Said: A Legacy of Emancipation and Representation (University of California Press, 2010) p. 452

[46] Said, E. ‘Permission to Narrate’, p. 34

[47] Wallach, Y., [trans. Linda Stern Zisquit] ‘Tefillin’, Wild Light (Sheep Meadow, 1997)

[48] Cohen, Z.L “Loosen the Fetters of Thy Tongue, Woman, p. 7

[49] <https://arablit.org/2016/04/27/the-poem-for-which-dareen-tatours-under-house-arrest-resist-my-people-resist-them/&gt; [accessed 11th February 2019]

[50] Kendall, E., Reclaiming Islamic Tradition: Modern Interpretations of the Classical Heritage, (Edinburgh University Press, 2016), p. 231

[51] Tatour, Resist, My People, Resist

[52] Ibid

[53] Ibid

[54] Ibid

[55] Ibid

[56] Wallach, To Kidnap in the Land

[57] Ibid

[58]Tatour, Resist, My People, Resist Them


[60] Kendall, p. 230

[61] Ibid., p. 238

[62] Ibid., p. 225

[63] Ibid., p. 237

[64] Tatour, ‘Resist, My People, Resist Them’

[65] Said, ‘Permission to Narrate’, p. 31

[66] Ibid., pp. 31

[67] Tsoffar, R., ‘Staging Sexuality: Reading Wallach’s Poetry”, Hebrew Studies, Vol 2 (2002), p. 88

[68] Ibid., p. 91

[69] Shpigel, N. Israeli Arab Poet Dareen Tatour Gets Five-month Sentence for Incitement on Social Media, Haaretz Newspaper (31st July 2018), <https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/israel-hands-palestinian-poet-dareen-tatour-five-month-prison-sentence-1.6335232&gt; [accessed 12th Feb 2019]

[70] Kendall, p. 230