The Tent Generations, Palestinian Poems
by Mohammed Sawaie
ISBN: 9781913043186

Three poems from The Tent Generations, Palestinian Poems – by Harun Hashim Rasheed, Zeinab Habash and Mahmoud Al-Najjar

Selected, translated and introduced by Mohammed Sawaie


Harun Hashim Rasheed



Laila came to her father
with pain in her eyes,
and fire in her gut
ablaze with yearning.
Her eyes were clouded
with visions weakened by sickness.
Bureij2 has put sorrow to sleep,
so there is neither voice nor tune.
Laila came to her father
when the years had weighed him down.
She said in a state of urgency,
parched with pain:
“Why, Father,
are we,
why are we strangers?
Don’t we have
friends and loved ones in this world?
Don’t we have intimate friends?
Don’t we have dear ones?
Why, Father,
are we . . . ?
Why are we strangers?
Why are we strangers?
Year follows year,
Father, without change,
no hope, no good news,
only pain and sorrow,
only sadness and affliction,
only a voice of fate
always hailing
my homeland.
Are we, Father
why, Father, are we strangers?

are we suffering,
in dejection and poverty,
continuing to wander
from one country to another?
Did we not have land,
where hopes flourished?
Where good news danced
above and birds sang?
Did we not have a homeland
whose name time glorified?
Are we, Father . . .
Why are we strangers?

our verdant land,
with its fresh water springs,
and sweet dreams
radiate with love?
Why do we no longer till
as free people with our own hands
and harvest the fruit of our country
to give and receive?
Why do we not
furnish it
with hard work so it nourishes us?
Are we, Father?
Why are we strangers?

Why are we in tents
in heat and cold?
Can we not go back home
and to the fields and to dignity?
Why are we in pain,
in hunger and in sickness
in misery and in affliction?
Are we, Father?
Why are we strangers?

I asked you
yesterday about my mother,
who left and did not return.
I asked,
my heart beating in anguish.
I asked, tears in my eyes
and you, immersed in silence,
neither speak nor hear.
Your silence is vehement, Father.
Your voice does not rescue me
so I shout:
Father, tell me
why are we strangers?

I asked you
a few days ago,
I asked you about my brother Ahmad.
You were about to remove from my sight
that black thought,
you were about to say: he died,
oh, Laila, he was martyred,
but you did not!
Why didn’t you do so?
Are we Father?
Why are we strangers?

Do you remember Salwa, Father?
I saw her yesterday,
troubled in the alleyway, lost, homeless,
sad, miserable.
Sickness has changed her
over time, oh Father,
it was not her, certainly
this is not my friend,
eyes full of pain
and a body all diseased.
Are we, Father?
Why are we strangers?

Please, by God, tell me
will we ever go to Jaffa?
Its cherished image
has been floating before my eyes.
Will we ever enter it with pride,
despite the times, in dignity?
Will I enter my room, tell me?
Will I enter it with my dreams?
And will I meet it, and it me?
Will it hear my footsteps?
Will I enter it by way of this heart
so homesick, thirsty?
had I, like birds,
wings to carry me,
I’d have flown in a heedless longing
out of yearning for my country.
But I am of the earth;
the earth continues to bind me.”

A hot tear
it flows, and after,
His daughter’s cry thunders
hammering his ears in the gloom,
and he shouts: “We shall regain it,
we shall regain that country,
never shall we accept a substitute for it,
never shall we accept a price for it!

No hunger will kill us,
no poverty will burden us,
hope will prevail
whenever vengeance beckons.
Patience, my daughter, patience.
Tomorrow, victory will be on our side.”

Gaza, 1951

1 This poem appeared in an anthology entitled Ma’ al-Ghuraba’ [Among Strangers] published in Cairo in 1954. The Lebanese Diva Fayrouz sang it in 1955, with musical composition by her husband ‘Asi al-Rahhbani and brother-in-law Mansur.
2 Bureij: A Palestinian refugee camp in the Central Gaza Strip, established in 1949 after the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland.


Zeinab Habash

(1943– )



“Kufr Qasim, no longer that sleepy, sedate village in the bosom of Palestine, has grown large and become a homeland, a symbol.”

They decimated
Kufr Qasim,
slaughtered her sons in her lap
stole her bracelets
and rings.
They hanged her,
Kufr Qasim,
from an old sycamore tree
they hanged her,
and from the tears in her eyes
nurtured crimes.
She was like a kiss on the lips,
Kufr Qasim;
a rose in the leaves of a palm tree,
a smile on the face of a little girl
her bosom was a dovecote!
You did not die, Kufr Qasim,
you became wounded truth
the wound grew, slaking the thirst;
of the entire garden,
its buds nursed on this wound
until satiety.



Mahmoud al-Najjar



My lifelong dream has been
to live in a land
called homeland.
They said: God’s world is spacious,
and has ample space for strangers,
and they may have a dwelling there.
My ribs replied, trembling
from humiliation and weakness:
“A delusion! Never have I experienced warmth
since leaving my homeland.”

c. 2010