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Hanna Siniora

Yehudit Oppenheimer

Mossi Raz

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Frances Raday




Vol.3 No.2 1996 / Autonomy or Statehood?

In Memoriam Emile Habiby

Emile Habiby: You All-Sarcastic Enchanter

     by Mahmoud Darwish

Now, as you are shrouded by your own voice, and as we stand around you, the echo from your most distant self returns to you.
Now, we do not take you into any exile, nor do you bring us to any homeland. In this land of meanings and wounds, a man is turned into a saint at the moment of his birth, and [turned into] a living martyr stained with scarlet anemones from vein to vein.
I had an appointment with you here in Nazareth, the "Nazareth of Annunciation and Indication," so I wore my heart as a shoe and carried my misgivings in my hand: Will I, this time, reach this hell's paradise, or will the mirage teach me, once again, that the land has another land, close to it yet far? You were not the motive for the call, but the distant embrace. Was it not possible for me to find both my guide and my path? Or have the destinies grown accustomed to the game of presence and absence, and to the heart reviving from its drunkenness: Do not dream of what you deserve not; thus, this meeting is no more than a farewell.
Who bids whom farewell, you all-sarcastic enchanter, [who is even] sarcastic about my stand here? Here, I see you survey the scene with your mischievous look, for no reason other than that you know yourself and you know us, one by one, from the first invader to the last returnee. You know that it is the self, not the subject that makes man run, from the cradle to the grave, in search of his self... You suffered in this journey, as you suffered to find literature there, in that region straining with questions. Here, on this ancient little land, dialogue takes place between the real and the mythical, the temporal and the spiritual, the relative and the absolute, the ephemeral and the eternal, between right and wrong, war and peace. And here, indeed, is the beginning, as well as the end.
Remaining in Haifa alive and alive.
Remaining in Haifa - this is the name you gave yourself, not to differentiate between he who remains in the exile of his identity and he who returns to the identity of his exile; rather to engrave over the manuscripts what you did not need to confirm, except to confront a time during which the mother's legitimacy was put in doubt, when the confident force became capable of possessing the present and questioning the past, in order to dictate its version to you, that is "stone confronting people."
"Your people have not committed any sin, except to carry the name of this identity which you now chisel onto a piece of marble and into the collective memory:
Remaining where he was born, in the place where he maintained, uninterrupted, the innate and constant organic link between the land, its history and language; the place where he continued listening with awe, humility and love to the discourse of the heavens to earth, in order to live his simple life, satisfied with his share of water, air, and light, and the succession of seasons and invasions, so that the land, which lost its nature, becomes the land of multiplicity, tolerance and peace.
The nature of historical development at the juncture of human destinies decided to make this holy land a country for two peoples, after its Palestinian people had been subjected to its contemporary tragic fate, and had made extraordinary human sacrifices to consolidate their national identity and right to independence. From the beginning until this moment, you were calling for peace among peoples, which is the right of all peoples. Peace that is predicated on justice, equality and the rejection of the monopolization of God and land, so that a real historical reconciliation can be reached between the two peoples, through the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
Now, as you are shrouded at this juncture by the color of the murky dusk, bloodied with hope and despair, [bloodied with] a combination of certainty and doubt, more than one of the remaining generations express their indebtedness to you, for the method with which you solved the controversy of existentialist and cultural tension between nationality and identity, the sole method, which is staying and defending their right to equality, as well as supplying the components of identity with cultural and national elements without which the people can exist no more ....
How, dear [friend], how full of contradiction you are, which is one of the mirrors of our contradictions that crack the language as a result of the great tendency of the tragedy to put on a mask of comedy. In each one of us there is one of you, and we are all within you. In each moment of our era, there is more than a date that changes before giving us an opportunity to adapt or a chance to remember. With a history that approaches us like a run-away train, what do you do when mercy commits suicide? Sarcasm was not your literary choice as much as your argument in the face of this frivolity, and your way of choosing an observation tower and a place to stand on an equal footing, both with the adversary and fate.
If we are playing, then these are the rules of the game: a tongue for a tongue and not a plane against a bird ... You can never go back [in time] to modify your desired fate. This was your ultimate sorrow: to have abandoned politics from the start, and to have been a man of letters from the start. Who are you? [Your are] the son of your historical condition and your individuality. It is not of this country's traditions to have mercy on its sons so that they may be normal like the other peoples. Nor is it of this country's traditions to allow the victim to blame himself. In you there are spaces and voices; crossroads and their accidents. In you are the hero, the victim and the witness; and the self, the group and the other. All are within you, to the extent that it is impossible for the individual in you to be the story-teller, for you are the story, open in all directions to all oddities and to all questions, except to one:
Does the victory of the form constitute the defeat of [inner] meaning and does the defeat of the device constitute the death of the idea?
Now, as you are shrouded by your idea of the three self-truths - freedom, justice and peace - your entire people, your Arab nation and its brethrens, from the ends of the desert to the ends of the sea, and their faithful friends your friends from the peace forces in this country and the world over ¬they are becoming more loyal to your idea. Like you, it is the testament of the free to the free; and this is the identity of our common human existence, on the land of noble human values and of cultural, religious and national pluralism. The land of peace is thirsting for peace.
Corne along with us, Abu Salam [Emile Habiby], and let us go for a while with you and to you, there, where you wish to sleep, an ever watchful guard of the heart's inclination to Haifa. Forgive us, teacher, for what you have done to us and to yourself. Forgive us, for in a little while we will return to ourselves, feeling incomplete.

Words at Emile Habiby's funeral in Haifa, May 3, 1996.

Translated from the Arabic, as published in the monthly Haifa-based literary magazine, Masharif, June 1996, by Khalil Tuma; ed. Muhammad EI-Hassan.








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