A person waves a Palestinian flag as Pro-Palestinian student protestors and activists demonstrate outside of Columbia University in New York on April 30, 2024 / Photo: AFP


"Thank you, a thousand times over! Our sadness has now grown up and become a man. And now, we must fight.”

That was the closing verse of a short but influential poem by iconic Palestinian poet, Samih Al-Qasim. It is entitled, "Rafah's Children."

Al-Qasim’s poem was published in 1971, over half a century before Israel began its invasion of Rafah, the apex of its supposed military achievement – read genocide – in Gaza, which started in October 2023.

The poem identified two major characters in Palestine's ongoing tragedy, starting with the Nakba in 1948: The Israeli, as a representation of war, and the Palestinian people, as a symbol of sumud - steadfastness.

Al-Qasim describes the Israeli as "the one who digs his path through the wounds of millions," and "whose tanks crush all the roses in the garden," and "who breaks the windows in the night" and "whose planes drop bombs on childhood's dream."

The second character, the Palestinians, are depicted as the "children of the impossible roots," those "who have never woven braids into coverlets," or "never spat on corpses or yanked their gold teeth."

The message of the Palestinians to their Israeli tormentors is, again, "Thank you, a thousand times over! Our sadness has now grown up and become a man. And now, we must fight."

Deep pain

I reflected on this poem during a turbulent flight to Amsterdam to speak about the Nakba to audiences, whom I later found to be deeply saddened, angry and at times, even confused by the degree of Israeli cruelty in Gaza.

I tried to organise my scattered thoughts. How do you speak about a pain so deep and growing, as if it was a mere political issue, a "conflict" between two sides, with purportedly "competing" narratives?

Is genocide a narrative? Is the quest for freedom a conflict?

"Did you know that more Palestinian journalists have been killed in Gaza in the matter of seven months than those who have died in WWII and Vietnam combined?"

I wrote that sentence in my notebook to emphasise, for the umpteenth time, the centrality of the Palestinian voice to the Palestinian story. I underlined the word "combined."

It seems that Palestinians must die in large numbers to make a case for themselves as to why they should be allowed to speak.

"Take your share of our blood—and go," wrote Mahmoud Darwish in his seminal poem, "Those Who Pass Between Fleeting Words."

Are over 35,000 dead, nearly 80,000 wounded and 11,000 missing under the rubble of Gaza enough for those seeking a "share of our blood" to finally let us be?

Another pressing question: Is this precious blood enough for us, Palestinians, to be granted, in the words of Edward Said, a "permission to narrate?"

So much of our efforts, as Palestinian intellectuals, journalists, historians, artists and even ordinary people have been dedicated to mere recognition of our very existence.

Recognise us

Existence, or the recognition of that existence, is the starting point to everything. It is the prerequisite to a life of dignity. Without it, our collective death and erasure often happens in total stillness.

Many oppressed nations perished this way, leaving nothing behind but the suppressed echoes of untold pain. We, Palestinians, resist so that we may preserve hope - for us, but also for all oppressed people everywhere.

Israel has done its utmost to deny us such a seemingly basic right - the very acknowledgement that we exist. This started even before the Nakba.

The Nakba was not just a disruptive event that has altered the very demographic identity of historic Palestine - replacing one nation with another, through violence and ethnic cleansing.

That aspect of the Nakba has been demonstrated countless times in books, maps, documentaries and the testimonies of those who survived the "catastrophe."

But there is more to the Nakba than the demolition of the hundreds of villages and the massacring or exiling of their native inhabitants.

The Nakba was Zionism's way of controlling the flow of history. The Zionist notion that "Palestine was a land with no people" was the first premise in the erroneous logic that positioned world Jewry – a supposed "people with no land" – as the rational inheritors of Palestine. Everything that has taken place since then was the outcome of this anti-historical scheme.

The erasure, however, is hardly confined to physical, material spaces. The war on Palestinian culture, religion, food, language are all part of that lingering zero-sum game that Israel has perfected from the very start.

The Nakba was merely the start of that process of erasure which manifested itself in a myriad of destructive and innovative ways. They included the bulldozing of olive groves, the demolition of homes, the seizure of land, the Hebrew-isation of street names and the conversion of ancient graveyards into parking lots. These are but mere examples.

The erasure, however, is hardly confined to physical, material spaces. The war on Palestinian culture, religion, food, language are all part of that lingering zero-sum game that Israel has perfected from the very start.

The war on Gaza is meant to be the final chapter of an ongoing Nakba:

"We are now rolling out the Gaza Nakba," Israeli Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter said last November. "Gaza Nakba 2023. That’s how it'll end."

"Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in October, infusing a biblical reference to justify Israel's devastating war in Gaza.

The nuclear bomb "is a possibility," Israel’s Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu said during an interview on November 5.

The hateful, violent language continues.

It's not over

But Israel will not write the last words of our own story, because Israel is no longer the entity shaping our own history, controlling our language and determining the fate of our people. The sons and daughters of the fellahin, the peasants of the past, the refugees of today, are "grown up" and fighting back.

The Palestinian people are no longer on the margins of history, hapless victims to be ethnically cleansed, massacred and relegated. Their resistance is now the stuff of legends, reflecting a historic shift that took over 75 years to be realised.

The reality is obvious for the world to see: Zionism, ugly, violent, politically splintered and morally bankrupt, and the Palestinian nation, youthful, empowered, unified around its resistance and principled to the core.

A day after I arrived in Amsterdam, hundreds of university students began a solidarity encampment. Their signs referenced the Nakba and the sumud, and denounced Zionist racism and Israel's genocide.

Palestinian flags waved everywhere. The students sang and chanted for Palestine and her people, echoing the chants of students at numerous other encampments across the western hemisphere, in fact the world.

Meanwhile, the news spoke of growing interest to recognise the state of Palestine. Some already did, others are about to.

This historic restoration of Palestinian hope for freedom is owed largely to their collective sumud and resistance. Without them, the Nakba would have begun and ended according to the Zionist Israeli script.

But the Nakba is now ours. We own it, not only as an experience of shared, collective pain, but as a reclamation of a long-denied justice.

"Our sadness has now grown up and become a man. And now, we must fight," wrote al-Qasim.

And, now, we must win. Our coveted freedom at last.

Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is ‘Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak Out’. His other books include ‘My Father was a Freedom Fighter’ and ‘The Last Earth’. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA).

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT Afrika.

TRT Afrika