Palestine is an Arab land. Strangers have no share in it.
–a public broadsheet
A clear night. Trees wave
Their boughs in an airy whisper.
From above, Arab night stars
Sparkle over an Arab land.
The night-stars sparkle and blink
Sowing their trembling light
Upon the quiet city, El Kuds,
Where King Daoud dwells.
From there, they gaze
To the far-off city, El-Chalil,
The city where Father Ibrahim is buried–
Ibrahim who bore Ischak.
From there, their sharp line of light
Hastens to paint with radiance
The waters of the river, El-Urdun
Which Yakub with his crook crossed over.
A clear night. With an airy wink
Night-stars sparkle as is their custom
Upon the Arab hills
Which Musa saw from afar.
When I first read this poem, while studying Hebrew Literature at the Hebrew University in 1979, I was attracted by its knowing and bitter use of irony in satirizing the Palestinian sense that they merited exclusive proprietary ownership of Israel. While within the poem, Alterman savagely satirizes Palestinian exclusivist nationalism; he indirectly causes us to examine the same ugly phenomenon among Zionist exclusivists. In the current Israeli political debate, the 40% of Israelis who support population transfer (read ‘ethnic cleansing’) should rightly be called exclusivist.
The beauty of the poem is that it makes us realize that claims of exclusive “ownership” of the land by either side are preposterous. Though it takes a sixty year old poem to remind us of this, we can never hear the message often enough.