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The Nakba, of which the Palestinian people have had a very bitter experience, occurred as a result of external political developments that took the majority of Palestinians by surprise: the growing Jewish immigration to Palestine at the end of the 19th century and the British Mandate over Palestine, which sounded the alarm bell for the Palestinians, since the British had promised the Jews a homeland in Palestine in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The Palestinians became aware that a catastrophe had befallen them: Here was their land under the control of a foreign power that encouraged Jews to take possession of it, giving them rights at the expense of the indigenous people who, in addition, discovered that these new immigrants were importing weapons via the port of Jaffa. The feeling grew among the Palestinian population that a plot was afoot to take over the country by force, threatening their aspiration for independence, pulling thus the rug from under their feet.
Consequently, the Nakba did not start in 1947 with the partition of Palestine between Jews and Palestinians, nor in 1948 with the establishment of the Jewish state on Palestinian land and the expulsion of a great part of the Palestinian inhabitants of the Galilee, the coastal areas and the Naqab (Negev). The roots of the Nakba go back as early as the turn of the century. Because of that, resistance against the manifestations of the Nakba also started around that date, closely shadowed by folk literature which faithfully recorded every event and every battle, as well as the names and lives of every martyr, including the most intricate details.1 Indeed, Palestinian folk songs have recorded the events of the Nakba and the resistance with the expertness and exactness of a historian, and so did folk tales, myths and sayings. And just as these songs and tales recorded the names and biographies of their national heroes and glorified their deeds, they also recorded the names of traitors, collaborators and spies.

A Hero in Prose and Verse

An example is the epic that records the personal tale of Abu Ikbari. The work is divided into two parts: one recounts the life story of the hero in prose; the second complements it and is in verse. Through the two parts, we are acquainted with Abu Ikbari, the freedom fighter from the village of Beita in the Nablus district. We learn how he escaped from prison to fight the British Mandatory authorities. The piece contains certain dramatic elements where one of the prisoners takes on the role of a spy. He says that he escaped from prison and would like to join the resistance. He performs his role to perfection and leads Abu Ikbari into an ambush set by the British forces. As a result, Abu Ikbari is martyred. The epic describes the event in minute detail, as well as the ensuing catastrophe that befell the area as a whole:

       They told me on the back of a mule they brought him;
                   The town square with him they roamed.2

The line conveys the enormity of the event as viewed by the Palestinians, and also reveals the British tactics that aimed at sapping the morale of the people by exposing their hero's body in the town square in Nablus.

The poem goes on to enumerate the martyr's exploits and virtues:

       I saw Abu Ikbari lying on the palace ground
                   Around him the soldiers have erected a battleground.
       Alas! The jungle lion, noble and generous
                   His body will end up buried in a ravine.
       The whole town weeps and glorifies me;
                   The men weep and the women lament.

The epic poem "Muhareb Deeb," by the folk poet Al-Jaba'i, describes the resistance and riots that took place during the 1936 uprising. Among the characters in the poem figures the Palestinian leader Abdel Qader Husseini. He goes to Bani Ne'im in Hebron to initiate peacemaking among the popular leadership. A spy informs the British of a gathering of revolutionaries in Bani Ne'im. A confrontation with the British forces ensues and several Palestinian fighters and figures fall. The incident is detailed in the following lines:

       We went to Bani Ne'im, all of us
                   One thousand armed men, complete of number.
       Twenty-four planes hovered above our heads
                   And two hundred tanks around us thundered
       And two thousand soldiers flanked our rear
                   With cannons and they were carrying guns...
       With my own eyes I saw the lion when he fell
                   Abu Khleif, O son of nobleness and bounty;
       With bayonets upon him they fell
                   And they refused to desist...
       Eighty men that day were martyred
                   And the wounded, my friend, could not be counted.

Similarly, the martyrdom of Muhammad Jamjum, Ata A-Zeer and Fuad Hijazi, known as the martyrs of 1929, is described with great precision. The poem evokes how the martyrs raced to the gallows and how one of the martyr's mothers called on her son from behind the prison door and how all Palestine bewailed the fate that befell these men, and goes on to describe the general strike that was declared following the event. In spite of the atrocity, and the gravity of the catastrophe, the people retain their pride, which is expressed in the ululation of a woman at the moment of hanging:

       The gibbet is your crown,
       The shackles your anklet,
       Your death for your country is but glory,
       O, you paragon of men.

Five Stages

Students of the Nakba in Palestinian folk literature can clearly note the distinction between the days of adversity and the days of exaltation lived by the Palestinian people during the last eighty years of this century. This form of literature has faithfully chronicled events and reflected the popular position towards them. Accordingly, the following stages can be traced:

1. From 1920-1938. The folk poets registered the successive revolts that took place during this period: the Yaffa/Jaffa revolt, the revolt of 1929, the prelude to the 1936 revolt and the revolt itself. Folk literature of this period mirrors the feelings of the people that were embodied in the rejection of the British Mandate and Jewish immigration, as well as their call for independence and their condemnation of the Arab countries for having conspired against the Palestinian people and for having failed to provide the necessary help.

2. From 1947-1948. During this period, the features of the Nakba are clearly delineated. The Israelis had succeeded in kicking the Palestinians out of their land and homes and, therefore, the period is characterized by great sorrow manifested by a sizable output of elegies.

       I came to bid you good-bye, my family hearth
                   Aching, I wipe my tears with my scarf.
       If time grows long and I with my own am not reunited,
                   Of weeping my eyes will stream out blood.

3. From 1953-1961. This period saw the growing hopes of the Palestinian people in achieving liberation, based on the call by Gamal Abdel Nasser (the Egyptian president of the-then United Arab Republic) for the liberation of Palestine in words and deeds, and the direction of Egyptian and Palestinian fedayeen to carry out operations inside occupied Palestinian land. As a result, the image of Gamal Abdel Nasser became paradigmatic of the liberator:

       The glory of Arabdom for Gamal,
       And the disgrace for Nuri Said.
       Eden in his seat
       Is hit with an arrow in the jugular.

4. From 1965 to the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in 1993. During this period, armed struggle became the slogan as a response to the Nakba. The pursuit of arms and a confrontation with Israel were the path to follow inside the homeland, in Arab land and on the diaspora front, as a means of bringing the plight of the Palestinians to the attention of the world, as well as to defending their existence and identity. The Palestinian uprising during this stage was seen as a remedy for the Nakba as it turned an afflicted people into one conscious of its distinctive national identity and combative capacity. Admittedly, the uprising failed to liberate the land through armed struggle, but it succeeded in achieving Arab and international recognition of the identity of the Palestinians as an independent entity and with inalienable rights. Folk literature of this period played a very prominent role in crystallizing the transformation that took place among the Palestinians from a life of refuge and dispersion to the awaited return to the homeland. The freedom fighter and the martyr were the uncontested symbols of a period where martyrdom was considered the means for the proclamation of the rights of the Palestinian people:

       She is a freedom fighter and we are all freedom fighters
       We got used to death and to sacrifice
       This is our way and from it we shall not deviate
       And for your sake, O our revolution, we will die.

The last five years of this stage witnessed a new form of Palestinian struggle, the Intifada, which started in 1987 and relied mainly on the use of stones, mostly by Palestinian youth. This popular uprising called for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and for a withdrawal of the Israeli army from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Arab East Jerusalem. This new form of revolt was also a response to land confiscation, settlement building and the control over water and natural resources by the Israelis, practices which the Palestinians viewed as a continuation of the Nakba. Even during the Intifada, the idea that the Palestinians had been forsaken by their Arab brethren still persisted. The output of songs and poems during that period give expression to that sentiment:

       He said speak O history, speak about them
       Whose hands got enamored with the stone.

       Lion cubs, children in the age of innocence,
       They harked to the call of the homeland.

       He said speak O law and speak O justice
       About the lion cub, valiant and bold,
       Forsaken he was by uncle and aunt
       And in the arena he was left alone to fight.

       And he called upon the cross and the crescent3
       And he said, Bear witness O dark nights,
       My worries alone I endure.
       And bear witness that blood like a deluge flows
       From our aged, our women and children,
       And bear witness to my piercing cry.
       Death becomes desirable and my head is held high
       Life does not please when steeped in depravity.

5. The establishment of the Palestinian National Authority. This stage is characterized by the growing perception among the Palestinian people that the establishment of the PNA and the return of a few thousand refugees (mostly from the PLO), were a response to the Nakba. This new development heralded for them the beginning for their recovering some rights, especially that the dispossessed had now some form of self-government and independence within the liberated cities.
The characteristics of this period are reflected in the output of folk poetry, songs, and in chanting in demonstrations, saluting the leader, the revolution, and the state. They talk about independence as though it were already an actuality.

Within Israel

The stages reviewed above in Palestinian folk literature about the Nakba do not apply in the same way to the reality of the Nakba among the Palestinians who became Israeli citizens after 1948, nor to those in the diaspora, due to the difference in experience lived by these people. Those who remained within the Israeli state after its establishment were subjected to a period of stringent military rule and, for them, the Nakba took a variety of forms: loss of land, confinement within villages, denial of jobs, starvation, the use of collaborators and spies. After the mid-sixties and the end of military rule, the struggle of the Palestinians living within Israel became a fight against discrimination, and a demand for equality within the State of Israel.
Inside Israel, the role of the collaborator and the spy gained prominence as they worked with the Israeli authorities to subjugate their own oppressed people, and were, thus, on the side of the oppressor. Naturally, Palestinian folk literature there is characterized by an abundance of songs and poems satirizing and condemning collaborators:

        With Jaber and Awad and Nakhlah
                   And Salim and the rest of the band
       Each waiting for his master
                   Eshkol to hold out his hand;
       Men heaping worries
                   With the oppressor upon the oppressed
       We have to smack at once
                   The puppets of Levi Eshkol.

However, some texts can be found in folk literature that actually justify collaborators and their dark deeds. This tragi-comical attitude stems from the fact that spies and collaborators provided the Palestinian inhabitants with permits from the Israeli authorities, allowing them to commute between one village and another. This, of course, reflects the harshness of the military rule that prevailed and that denied the Palestinian population within Israel access to any place, except with permits that only collaborators could obtain for them. This is what one song says about a Palestinian spy:

       Why do you malign him?
       By God, he is good.
       He brought permits
       For the Triangle4 line
       He brought permits.


1. See Nimer Sirhan, The Encyclopedia of Palestinian Folklore (Amman, 1988) and Our National Songs (Amman, 1968); see also the series Archives of Palestinian Folklore (Amman, 1988).
2. Palestinian folk poetry and songs are usually rhymed and are written in colloquial Arabic, and sometimes even in dialect.
3. Muslims and Christians.
4. The Triangle is an area in the northwestern part of Palestine that stayed within Israel in 1948.

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