Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Steve Kowit: Intifada

 “They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country.                                      
Why should they accept that? They may perhaps forget in one or two
generations’ time, but for the moment there is no chance.” 

                                                  ― DAVID BEN-GURION  

                (quoted in The Jewish Paradox by NAHUM GOLDMANN)

.

Because Nebuchadnezzar, the Chaldean king, & his Babylonian armies 

destroyed the First Temple, & the Court of Judah suffered expulsion, 

and because of the sword of Merneptah, 

the sting of the lash of Assyrian armies, & legions of pious Crusaders 

condemning the Torah to flames, & we were led off by halters, 

enslaved in Armenia, Georgia, the Caucasus, 

                        because we suffered Chrysostom’s rage, 

Luther’s Hitlerian frenzy, the Dominican fathers’ Inquisitorial cross, 

because we were numbered among the transgressors, 

scattered among nations, expelled from the Rhineland, Bavaria, Spain, 

brought as the lamb to the slaughter at Prague, Nemirov, Tarnapal, Bar, 

Salonika, because we were dragged thru the streets of the shtetl  

& set to the torch in the shul, were crucified, blinded, 

                        boiled in oil & buried alive, 

because we were stuffed into cattle cars & our neighbors said nothing, 

were gassed in the showers, died screaming for mercy, 

                         & no one protested, 

am I now to rejoice that my Palestinian brothers & sisters,

dispossessed of all that was theirs by Ben Gurion’s bloodthirsty

armies of conquest & plunder, are even today being chained at the wrist,  

blindfolded, mocked, spat upon, kicked to the ground, 

                         pummeled & bloodied 

& left there to rot in the heat of the Negev?

.

Because the Einsatsgruppen mowed down the Jews in the streets 

do I turn my back now and forget that the farmers of Khan Yunis 

were murdered in cold blood, that the shepherds of Kafr Quasim 

were shot where they stood, that the massacred women & children 

of Dier Yassin were flung into wells, that the village 

where Mahmoud Darwish was born no longer exists, that seven 

hundred & fifty thousand indigenous Palestinian Arab people

                         were ethnically cleansed,

forced to flee for their lives to the squalor of refugee camps 

while the sanctimonious Zionist settlers stole all that they owned. 

That the infants & aged & sickly who could not survive that 

tormented journey are buried out there where they fell. 

.

Am I to forget that unspeakable terror, that despair? 

Am I to forget that the Palestinian homeland was stolen?

.

My mishbucha look elsewhere, turn away with a thousand excuses.

Benny Morris & Ari Shavit shake their heads gravely: “Don’t you see, 

had we not done those unspeakable things, our wonderful Jewish 

state could not have come to exist?” Amused, from their graves, 

Joseph Goebbels & Philipp Bouhler wink at each other & grin. 

.

Because of the curfews, expropriations, expulsions, the knock at the door, 

because of the Anschluss, the Kristalnacht riots, 

because of the boot of despair & the cheek of denial, 

because we have suffered the smokestacks of Auschwitz,

the mass graves of Chelmno & Belsen, 

because we fell at the walls of the ghetto, 

am I to pretend now that the people of Ramla, Al-Lyd, Balad al-Shaykh,  

Khisas & Haifa—those shepherds & farmers & teachers & merchants 

& mothers & workers—have not the right to return to the land 

that was stolen, the land that is incontestably theirs, 

the land that their fathers had tilled for a thousand years.  

.

Because I am Ashkenazi, a Jew, son of the tradesmen of Krakow, 

Lithuanian fiddlers, Talmudic scholars, the wandering peddlers of Minsk, 

child of the Khazar diaspora, exile—as are we all—in this world, 

am I not of the Amalekite people as well, part Moabite, Chaldean, Toltec  

& Pawnee, son of a long line of Canaanite cobblers, Nigerian ploughmen, 

child of those who escaped here from Melos, Soweto, Sharpsville,

Zimbabwe, Belfast, Jakarta? I am Kurdish, Armenian, 

of the wandering Romani people, of Calcutta’s untouchable 

Harijan masses, part Lacandon, Quiche & Yana, of Tasmanian blood, 

born of the Sac-Fox nation, son of the Bayou, a runaway field slave, 

sojourner, nomad, pariah, untermensch, heir to this world of nettles & dust. 

.

That is to say, I am of the shebab, of pure Palestinian blood, 

A Fedayeen son of Jerusalem shepherds, child of al-Nakba, son of those 

with the bayonet at their throat, the ones beaten, raped, & expelled 

by Ben-Gurion’s terrorist settler militias.

 .               

Should I forget the Lebanese dead? The blood of Shatilla & Sabra? 

Am I to forget that Ashbir Yusef & Mahmoud Sabad were beaten to death, 

that Sohel Zantut’s son is still missing,

                         that Fadhi Salim has lost his right leg, 

that Sohel El-Ali was thrown from a bus, that Tamer Dasuki was shot 

in the back, that Mustafa Hamden was buried alive, that the husbands 

& sons disappear into prisons & the women weep by the rubble of stone 

& cement that had once been their homes in the Gaza to which

they had fled, and yet manage somehow still to go on—what choice

do they have?—while the Gush Emunim & the minions of Valdman, 

Schmuel Derlich, Zeevi, Begin, Shamir, Kehane, Sharon, & Bibi the Yahoo 

parade thru the streets, cursing the filthy Arabushim. Am I to forget 

the apartheid wall that steals yet more of the land & makes life 

more unlivable yet, the Bedouin villages razed to the ground,

                                                             the sociopathic 

shelling, that slaughter of women & children huddled in school rooms 

& shelters, & bekippad Sabras dance thru the Tel Aviv streets chanting

gleefully: No school tomorrow in Gaza; all of their children are dead. 

.

While the villagers pray & the young men throw stones, 

                                                             I stand in the shadows 

& watch. I say nothing. Shots have been fired. A handful of men 

are hauled off for beatings & administrative detention: 

Their confessions are written in Hebrew. A mother runs thru the darkness: 

Mustafa, she whispers, Mustafa? . . . Mustafa?

                         I hear the sharp breath intaken, 

the all but inaudible weeping, the desperate vows of revenge. I note well 

the names of the dead, whose homes the Occupation forces demolish,

the names of the children the settlers have kicked to the ground,

I note who is missing, whom the soldiers have beaten, whose land this time 

has been taken. In the back seat of the taxi, Samia Mahmoud is trying 

to breathe, a girl of 14 who will die if her father & she are not permitted

                                                  to cross. 

But the IDF soldier who stands at the checkpoint, a boy of 19, 

looks at the papers her father’s trembling fingers unfold & shakes his head No: 

                                               They will not be permitted to cross. 

.

Should I pretend I heard nothing? Saw nothing? 

That none of this was my business?  

Am I to forget that Israel Zenger declared that the Arabs must be removed, 

& that Yosef Weitz & Chaim Weizmann did also? 

& Ben-Gurion swore he saw nothing wrong with compulsory transfer, 

& Golda Meir has vowed that now that they’re gone 

                         we will not let them back? 

.

About the scald of the rope of bondage pricking my throat I wrap 

the kaffiyah. Let the young men take up their stones. Let the people arise. 

Let the lamps of the priests of the Lord of Plunder sputter & darken. 

Let the armies of occupation tremble. What was dread 

has been sharpened to mettle & festered to gall. I will no longer

listen in silence. Do I too, like my Zionist countrymen,

                         keep my mouth shut? 

Do I simply say nothing? Just turn my back? 

                                                      Do I too become the Good German? 

.

Because of the Oremus et pro perfidis judaeis, 

                         that terrible Good Friday Prayer, 

Because of the teargas attacks & the nighttime raids & the endless arrests, 

Because “Redeeming the Land” is a circumlocution for theft —

that never-ending settlement project, 

I stand with this heavy stone in my hand: unbending, defiant. 

Because of the Easter pogroms & the Nuremberg Laws 

                         and the Aryan Clauses, 

Because of those who have stood here before me 

to say “This cannot be done in my name,” I can no longer be silent,

because of Gush Shalom & the Yesh G’vul, & Breaking the Silence 

& Women in Black, & because of the terrible fate 

of The White Rose, I stand my ground at the edge 

of an olive grove in the village of Dir Istya. I can do nothing 

no longer. The theft of the Palestinian homeland tears at my soul. 

By virtue of Military Order 938 & the uncodified 

Jewish State Statute of 2014, in Occupied Palestine 

the Palestinian flag is not allowed to be raised. 

                                         Here, in this poem, I raise the Palestinian flag.


From Poems that Speak to Us:  Selected poems of Steve Kowit (Garden Oak Press: April, 2021). Included in Vox Populi by permission of Garden Oak Press and the estate of Steve Kowit.

.

Steve Kowit (1938 – 2015) was an American poet, essayist, educator, and human-rights advocate. He received multiple awards for his poetry including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and two Pushcart Prizes. His book In the Palm of Your Hand: A Poet’s Portable Workshop has been used in high schools, colleges, universities and writing workshops across the country since its publication in 1995.

Steve Kowit

Palestinian children throw stones at an Israeli Defence Forces tank in 2003. (Musa Al Shaer/AFP)

3 comments on “Steve Kowit: Intifada

  1. Rose Mary Boehm
    June 15, 2021

    Oh my God, I am crying.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara Huntington
    June 15, 2021

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Emily De Ferrari
    June 15, 2021

    Thank you

    Liked by 2 people

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