The Mahmoud Darwish poem that enraged Israeli politicians

The Palestine Project
3 min readJul 21, 2016

ID Card

Mahmoud Darwish

Write it down! I’m an Arab
My card number is 50000
My children number eight
And after this summer, a ninth on his way.
Does this make you rage?
I am an Arab.
With my quarry comrades I labor hard
My children number eight
I tug their bread, their clothes
And their notebooks
From within the rock
I don’t beg at your door
I don’t cower on your threshold
So does this make you rage?
Write it down!
I am an Arab.
I am a name with no honorific.
Patient in a land
Where everything lives in bursting rage
My roots were planted before time was born
Before history began
Before the cypress and the olive trees
Before grass sprouted
My father is from the plough clan
Not from the noble class
My grandfather was a peasant farmer
Had no pedigree
Taught me the pride of the sun
Before teaching me to read
A shack to guard groves is my home,
Made of branches and reeds
Are you pleased with my status?
I am a name with no honorific.
Write it down!
I am an Arab.
Hair color: charcoal
Eye color: brown
A cord around the quffiyeh on my head
My hand as hard as rock
That scratches if you touch it
My address:
I am from a forgotten abandoned village
Its streets nameless
All its men in the fields and quarries
Does this make you rage?
Write it down!
I am an Arab.
You have stolen my ancestors’ groves
And the land we cultivated
I and all my children
Leaving nothing for us and all my grandchildren
Except these rocks
Will your government take them
Like people say?
Write down on the top of the first page:
I do not hate people
And I do not steal from anyone
But if I starve
I will eat my oppressor’s flesh
Beware, beware of my starving
And my rage.

1964. Translated from Arabic by Salman Masalha and Vivian Eden

(Excerpt from article by Vivian Eden • Haaretz • 21 July 2016)

When he wrote this poem, Mahmoud Darwish was an angry young poet, living in Haifa. He was born in 1941 in the village of El-Birweh (subsequently the site of Moshav Ahihud and Kibbutz Yasur), fled with his landed family in 1947 to Lebanon, returning to the Galilee to scrape by as outsiders in Dir al-Assad.

At the time of writing, the Arab locales in Israel were controlled by the Military Government established in 1948 (and abolished by Moshe Dayan in 1966) and every area of civilian life from registering a birth to traveling outside the locale required a document signed by the military governor.

The exhortation “Write it down, I am an Arab” is addressed to an imagined functionary of that bureaucracy and it is also an exhortation from the poet to himself to write the experience of his community.

As Salman Masalha wrote after Darwish’s post-surgery death in Houston, Texas in 2008, “He found his way to the Arabic-language press of the Israeli Communist Party, and his star as a poet quickly rose. After the war of June 1967… Palestinians on both sides of the border were joined as one group with a fresh wound. Even the neighboring Arab world suddenly discovered an Arab-Palestinian minority, whose members had been forgotten in parts of Palestine and who had become citizens of the State of Israel.”

Darwish left Israel to join the Palestine Liberation Organization and become the Palestinian national poet. “Write Down, I’m an Arab” is the title of a documentary about his life by Israeli filmmaker Ibtisam Mara’ana-Menuhin.

Over the years he refined his skills and wrote more sophisticated poetry but this one was always in demand, and he would read it reluctantly, but to great applause. It is without a doubt a formative text for Arab Israelis.

*Musing: What’s the difference between an important poem and a good poem?