Screaming Olives

Since 1967 almost a million Palestinian olive trees have been cut down by the Israeli authorities in order to ruin the Palestinian economy and by settlers attempting to uproot Palestinian culture. em>Screaming Olives is about the trees that have seen so much suffering: the Nakbah, the wars of 1967 and 1973, the invasions of Gaza and Lebanon, the Intifadas, the settler movement, the continuing blockade of Gaza. Farid Bitar – who has lived in exile for forty years – connects the story of his ‘stolen homeland’ to the stories of Selma, Eric Garner, Rachel Corrie, Emmett Till, Charlie Hebdo, the walls of Trump and Netanyahu. Screaming Olives is about a country that no longer exists, but refuses to die, about occupation, resistance and resilience. It’s a demand for the right of return for the five million Palestinians living in exile. And it is a refusal to be erased.

Cover image: Farid Bitar

Sample Poems

Nakbah

15 May 1948–6 June 1967


I have told this story

So many versions
That sometimes I forget
How it all started
An eternity away
Mother narrated the middle
I read the start

Father refrained from talking
I keep dwelling on the past
While I should build the future
The problem is
Every time I build the nest
Zion keeps destroying it

It all started a simple way
An innocent child
Growing in a sleepy town – Jericho
I still remember the mint tea
I still smell the rain evaporating.

Screaming Olives

Beyond the evergreen
The settler is very mean
The olive tree glimpsed
The oblivious coming
Carrying a tank of petrol
And an M-16 hanging from his shoulder
The branches started waving hurriedly
Then the olives joined in screaming
Like a chorus in a symphony
Call our owners – call our owners
But no comes
Wonder why?
Is it because the soldiers are busy
Sniping the farmers in the harvest
The tree started yelling at the MAN
Get out of my existence
Every time you come, I know I’m gone
Stop killing my babies
Stop suffocating my insides
Stop your savageness...

Emmett Till lynched in 1955
Way down near Selma Alabama
Ali on Grill, the settler taunted
Burned in Duma-West Bank-Palestine in 2015
Mississippi still.

Al-Shutat

Disaster dispersed dismemberment
Displaced but never discarded.
Passing old streets, destroyed houses,
I look for faces from long ago –
Where has everyone gone?
Another day lapses,
And another and another;
Ghosts dwell in the destroyed
Villages of ’48.
Exiled all my life, I will return one day
To the garden of my house to see
The Dome of the Rock from my rooftop;
Talk to my neighbour, visit the Indian Hospice,
My family’s compound,
Relive memories of the Napalm bombs
That blanketed the place
And burned and killed my family.

I remember water lilies,
The fig and lemon tree.
I once knocked on a door in Al-Qatamon.
A lady answered and shouted,
What do you want!
I replied, to see my father’s house.
She slammed the door in my face,
It must be another country you’re looking for.
I begged her to let me in, screaming,
This is my father’s house – I am holding the deed to it!

I passed by the ruins of Hebron’s Gate
Where my father’s shop once was.
And where the wall of Jerusalem once stood
Has now become No Man’s Land.
Why should ghettoes and death camps
Be repeated in Gaza and Jenin?
In Deir Yasin and the Khasin villages of ’47?
Why the Haganah’s ethnic cleansing
On the northern coast of Palestine?
Expulsions, attacks on local villages?

One day we Palestinians will return
To al-Barweh, Qatamoun,
Deir Yasin, and the Qazaza villages of ’48.
Rachel Corrie will be re-born.

My voice will keep circling the skies
So the conscience of the world will hear.
Darwish and Kanafani will resurrect.
The children will not have to starve in Gaza.

No more ethnic cleansing!
No more Balfour Declarations!
No more empty UN resolutions!
No more mass killings of a civilian population!
Simply no more!

I am asking for justice.
I am asking for dignity.
I am asking for my home back.

Remember us.
Keep praying for us.

To My Jerusalem

City of my birth, my memories of you
are both pleasant and painful.
I still run in the narrow streets of the Old City
along walls centuries old, built by
Salah Ad-Din, vanquisher of the Crusaders.

I walk the Via Dolorosa, in the footsteps of Jesus.
I enter the Dome of the Rock,
where Muhammad ascended to the seven skies.
I still follow in my father’s footsteps
as he heads for his shop –
narrow alleys, streets, and entrances,
the smell of jasmine and honeysuckle,
souqs, souvenir shops, and countless markets:
the spice market, the copper market,
meat market, sweets market...
Faces seen day in day out
in the tiny hummus and falafel cafes,
the family butcher carving our favourite
cuts of meat for Eid...
Memories of me running to the market
for my mother’s missing ingredients,
the smell of fresh coffee,
the coal burner in winter,
barbeque in spring,
and images of my mother
tending plants in the garden,
visiting the holy places – Omar’s Mosque,
the Holy Sepulchre,
stores, houses, bakeries...

I remember well the air raid sirens, too,
October’s War, 1973 – the Yom Kippur War,
fighter jets thundering in the sky, bombs exploding
as my brother and I run to safety.
The look of fear on my mother’s face,
the blackened windows, shuttered shops during curfew time.
I remember the anger of the Zionist enemy after the war.
I remember the demonstrations against the occupation.
I remember the fallen victims resisting the occupier.
I remember the happiness of the nation as the enemy was losing.

Then I remember better days,
when I played marbles in the dirt.
When I walked to school every day,
bought a shawarma sandwich
and drank 7 Up with my mother.
My beloved Jerusalem,
You live in my soul.
You live in my dreams.

Only Stones Remain

again and again
falling down on my head
and the dead are too many
to blame
only stones remain
Umm Ahmad wailing
holding a stone in one hand
hitting her face with the other
screaming,
where is my beautiful house
where is my beautiful life
where is my son I am looking for
I have his favourite toy
I found his arms
I found his legs
I can’t find his head
where is my beautiful child
where is my beautiful wife
where is my beautiful house
I am not talking about
talking heads
only stones remain
again and again
falling down on my head
I will rebuild Shuja’aiya
I will rebuild every stone
I will rebuild Beit Hanoun
that al-shaytan Zion destroyed

and the dead are too
many to blame.

Reviews

‘Screaming Olives captures the barbarity of the Israeli occupation in the voices of the trees and the Palestinian lives they destroy. This is a book to be read and re-read, and to learn and teach from.’

Sam Friedman

‘Screaming Olives bears a message the world needs to hear. It is delivered by the poet in a voice that is clear and without compromise.’

Steve Bloom