The great Palestinian poet who voiced against Israeli oppression, Samih al Qasim has died aged 75 in a major loss to the Arabic and world literature.
Al Qasim, also a renowned writer, always ensured that the voice of Palestinians within Israel be heard. He was one of the first members of the Druze community to refuse to serve in the Israeli army. His life was dedicated to Palestine and was subjected to periods of house arrest, imprisonment, harassment by the Shin Bet secret police and censorship.
Born to a Druze family from the Galilee in 1939, in the city of Az Zarqa in northern Jordan, al-Qasim remained in Palestine after Israel was founded in 1948. He grew up under the military rule which was enforced on Palestinian communities within Israel until the late 1960s. He went to school in Nazareth, and was part of the flowering of Palestinian “resistance literature” which also gave the world the likes of Mahmoud Darwish, Tawfiq Zayyad and later Taha Muhammad Ali.
Al Qasim wrote for major publications such as al-Jadid and al-Ittihad, and managed the Arabesque publishing house in Haifa. Al-Qasim’s famous short poem “Slit Lips” perhaps best encapsulates the difficulty of showing the beauty of Palestinian literature and culture to the world, under conditions of repression. The two most accessible sources of al-Qasim’s poetry to readers of English are the anthology Victims of a Map, published by Saqi Books. Al-Qasim has published several volumes and collections of poetry.
He would recite many of his poems to large audiences at monthly gatherings in the Arab towns and cities of the Galilee. Al-Qasim died on August 19, 2014, after a long battle with cancer. His funeral was held on, August 21, 2014, in Rameh.