A poem written by a Palestinian has produced a crisis of faith on the Israeli left. In conjunction with four months of unrest, the poem is also helping weaken public support for the idea of negotiating the future of the occupied territories with Arab leaders, several observers say. This shift could complicate the current peace initiative of United States Secretary of State George Shultz, who met here yesterday with top Israeli leaders. (Why Shultz is adopting a high public profile in Israel. Story, Page 3.)
Written by an Israeli-Arab regarded as a leading dove in the ranks of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the poem has been interpreted by many Israelis as a call to expel Jews from Palestine.
The author of the poem, Mahmoud Darwish, insists his poem has been misinterpreted and was intended only as a plea for Israel to quit the West Bank and Gaza.
For many leading intellectuals, who make up the core of Israel's peace movement, the poem has led to a reexamination of their assumption that Arabs are willing to ``share'' Palestine with the Jewish state.
The poem was published last month in an Arabic-language Paris weekly. Key verses - for example, ``Live wherever you like, but do not live among us,/ It is time for you to be gone'' - have been widely interpreted to signal that the ultimate aim of the four-month intifadah, or uprising, is to drive Jews from all of Palestine - including current-day Israel.
``The right has always argued that if you give [Palestinians] the West Bank they will turn it into a base of operations to attack Israel. Now it seems that prediction is being borne out,'' says one liberal intellectual, a professor at Hebrew University. The poem ``really had a chilling effect.''
The poem was a ``slap in the face,'' writes Hedda Boshes, a columnist for the Hebrew-language daily Haaretz. ``It has destroyed with one blow [the liberals'] entire thesis'' that there are moderate Palestinians with whom Israel can deal.
The more sober assessment of a number of Israeli liberals is that the poem and the impact it has had does not presage a realignment of Israeli politics, however. Instead, Israeli liberals believe negotiations, with all their risks, are still preferable to maintaining the status quo.
``The prevalent feeling [among liberals] now is that maybe the right wing was correct in its diagnosis [of Arab intentions], but that the left wing is still right in its prescription'' of trading land for peace, says Edie Zemach, a philosophy professor at Hebrew University in Israel.
Entitled ``Those who pass between fleeting words,'' the poem first appeared in the Hebrew press three weeks ago, where it has been the subject of intense press and literary scrutiny.
Part of the reason for the poem's impact is that Mr. Darwish has long been been considered a moderate and an advocate of peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews in Palestine.
``Many [Israelis] knew him,'' comments Mr. Zemach. ``He was somehow the incarnation of the sane, responsible Palestinian with whom we could talk.''
Many Israelis see the poem as symptomatic of the risks of relinquishing the territories. They assess its impact in starkly political terms.
``Calling on Israelis to get out of the entire country forever will have a uniting influence on Knesset,'' writes Chaim Shibi in the Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
``Those sleeping Israelis who had begun to wake up [because of the uprising] and ask if it wasn't time to speak to you - they may now decide that there is nothing to speak to you about other than via the barrel of a rifle,'' writes Amos Keinan, a well-known left-wing writer.
Another writer, from Israel's leading daily Ha'aretz, points to what he says is the emergence of a ``neo-conservative'' movement in Israel comprised of former liberals newly alive to the realization that ``many Arabs don't love us.''
But that view is discounted by many of the Israeli intellectuals who now freely admit to having a more realistic view of the risks of having an independent Palestinian state on Israel's border.
Those who pass between fleeting words O those who pass between fleeting words Carry your names, and be gone Rid our time of your hours, and be gone Steal what you will from the blueness of the sea and the sand of memory Take what pictures you will, so that you understand That which you never will: How a stone from our land builds the ceiling of our sky.
O those who pass between fleeting words From you the sword - from us the blood From you the steel and fire - from us our flesh From you yet another tank - from us stones From you tear gas - from us rain Above us, as above you, are sky and air So take your share of our blood - and be gone Go to a dancing party - and be gone As for us, we have to water the martyrs' flowers As for us, we have to live as we see fit.
O those who pass between fleeting words As bitter dust, go where you wish, but Do not pass between us like flying insects For we have work to do in our land: We have wheat to grow which we water with our bodies' dew We have that which does not please you here: Stones or partridges So take the past, if you wish, to the antiquities market And return the skeleton to the hoopoe, if you wish, On a clay platter We have that which does not please you: we have the future And we have things to do in our land.
O those who pass between fleeting words Pile your illusions in a deserted pit, and be gone Return the hand of time to the law of the golden calf Or to the time of the revolver's music! For we have that which does not please you here, so be gone And we have what you lack: a bleeding homeland of a bleeding people A homeland fit for oblivion or memory
O those who pass between fleeting words It is time for you to be gone Live wherever you like, but do not live among us It is time for you to be gone Die wherever you like, but do not die among us For we have work to do in our land We have the past here We have the first cry of life We have the present, the present and the future We have this world here, and the hereafter So leave our country Our land, our sea, Our wheat, our salt, our wounds Everything, and leave The memories of memory O those who pass between fleeting words!
by Mahmoud Darwish