“We didn’t need anything, the soil was enough,” he says as he looked into the distance, reminiscing about his early memories in Palestine.
Poet Mohammed Abu Daya draws people in wherever he goes. Speaking on the sidelines of the Palestinians Abroad conference in Istanbul, Turkey, Abu Daya is sat with his supportive grandson by his side.
I was born shortly after the First World War. By then, Palestine was in ruins as a result of the war. The soil was infertile, the infrastructure was a wreck and we had to rebuild our lives and our country.
“Because of that, my family began to plant and bring the soil around us back to life. Eventually, the land was restored and we became self-sufficient. We didn’t even need jobs because all we ever really needed was the food that grew from the ground and the water that was flowing through our rivers,” he explains.
“Being self-sufficient did not mean we were able to get away with not going to school,” he laughs. “I remember, I had to go to school during the day and come back and go straight to our [farm] land. This was the norm.” “Poverty was non-existent, even. Nature gave us everything and no one went hungry. Even those who did not have money were able to live. Those who were richer gave to the poorer and we made sure that we had a solid middle class,” Abu Daya says. People survived on kindness, the community was supportive.
Abu Daya comes from an area not far from the Gaza Strip, the declaration that his family’s land had become part of the newly formed State of Israel in 1948 left him and his family refugees.
The Nakba ended his life in rural Palestine. His family refused to leave, though their lives were in danger they stood their ground, many were killed but the rest remained. Until they were forced out.
“When we were forced to escape when the Zionist attacks reached us, we did it with the hope of leaving temporarily. Just before escaping, my dad told me to start planting, so by the time we hoped to return, the fruit and vegetables would be ripe and ready to eat. We never returned and we were then forced to admire our country and dream of its liberation from afar.” Since then, Abu Daya has refused to forget Palestine. His love for his homeland is evident in everything he does. The way he insists on only wearing his traditional Palestinian dress, the way he reiterates his love for his Palestinian identity, and most importantly, his poetry.
This spoken word is his “route to Palestine! And something he believes should carry through generations.
“My grandchildren are scattered all over the world, some of whom have never lived in an Arab country. But they are proud Palestinians and I make sure I teach them how to write poetry in Arabic so they can continue to advocate for the Palestinian cause in this beautiful form.” “I would tell everyone outside, not just my grandchildren that they are important to the Palestinian cause and their Palestinian identity is something that they must never let go of. Palestinians in the diaspora are ambassadors for Palestine and are ambassadors for our culture,” Abu Daya insisted. “Poetry is more than an outlet for me; poetry is the medicine of the heart. When we write poetry, we express our pains, our sorrows and we preserve them for ourselves and our future generations. It’s very important for me for this reason that my grandchildren and the future generations of Palestine continue to write poems.”
It is the next generation’s role to free Palestine and return their families’ lands, he stresses. “I have given my grandchildren the deeds to our land, the deeds my father gave me. No state can question this paperwork with the name of Palestine on it.”
Palestine could be the rose of the Middle East. The diaspora must not forget this and must do all they can to preserve our culture and history.
As he ends our meeting reciting a poem about a Palestinian mother, the crowds form. Everyone is taken by his manner, his writing, his passion. People say Arabs mistreat women, but “Arabs love women the most in the world, and the proof is that our greatest works of poetry begin with compliments and praise for women, women who are sweet.”