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With an Iron Pen - Tal Nizan (editor) FRIENDLY  SAMPLE  PRINTING

Tal Nizan (editor)
With an Iron Pen

Hebrew Protest Poetry 1984-2004

Published 2005
189 pages, paperback, 21X13.5,
retail price 13 Euro

ISBN: 965-7120-47-0
About this title in Hebrew


With an Iron Pen | Tal Nizan (editor)

Contents, introduction, poems

Copyright for poems and introduction by the editor, the poets and their translators. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be stored, transmitted or published, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the copyright owners.

The sin of Judah is written with an iron pen
and with the point of a diamond it is engraved
on the tablet of their heart.
-- Jeremiah 17:1


"Every fear, every doubt, every objection":
an introduction / Tal Nitzan

I. And the Land, Is It Yours To Inherit?

Meir Wieseltier / Move a Little
Ramy Ditzanny / Cry the Beloved Country
Arik A. / Palestina-Eretz Yisrael
Dotan Arad / [Palestinian souls]
Ramy Ditzanny / We'll Build Our Homeland
Aharon Shabtai / Mice of the World, Unite!
Lyor Shternberg / Ben-Gurion
Rami Saari / The Only Democracy (in the Middle-East)
Liat Kaplan / The Horizon's Clenched Mouth

II. The Arrogance of Our Self-Destruction

Maxim Gilan / In Enemy Land
Natan Zach / A Small Song for the Fallen
Moshe Dor / Asteroid
Lyor Shternberg / Morning
Meir Wieseltier / Sonnet: Against Making Blood Speak Out
Asher Reich / Some Israeli Thoughts
Natan Zach / Language
Tuvia Ruebner / [Lice have conquered you]
Tal Nitzan / Khan Younis
Dvora Amir / A Landscape Etching
Orit Meital / At the Far Reaches of the East
Dahlia Falah / Thursday at Angel's Bakery
Dahlia Falah / The Night After the Surgeries
Meir Wieseltier / The Tel-Aviv Subway
David Avidan / A Prayer to Allah God Our Father

III. The Fruit Has Died Before the Tree

Tuvia Ruebner / [This is not what we wanted]
Aryeh Sivan / Mite
Dahlia Ravikovitch / Associations
Tal Nitzan / Torn
Dvora Amir / Ballad for an Old Palestinian
Aharon Shabtai / To Dr. Majed Nassar
Yochai Oppenheimer / Roadblock
Dahlia Ravikovitch / The Story of the Arab Who Died in a Fire
Asher Reich / The Watching Heart
Yitzhak Laor / Every Day is Memorial Day
Yehuda Amichai / from And Who Will Remember those Who Remember

IV. And the Hands - They Were the Soldiers' Hands

Rami Saari / Soldiers
Aharon Shabtai / Toy Soldiers
Zvi Atzmon / Rebellion of Words
Admiel Kosman / A Poem for Mohammed
Yitzhak Laor / Calf
Zvi Atzmon / from Forty Days on a Sand Dune
Yigal Ben-Aryeh / Love Song for Armored Vehicles
Ramy Ditzanny / Urine on the Battlefield
Tzvika Shternfeld / [The Company Marched]
Ronny Someck / Transparent
Amir Or / There is a God
Gilad Meiri / Execution
Shai Dotan / One Minute

V. And If the Dead is a Child, Will Someone Gather Him Up?

Aharon Shabtai / To a Pilot
Aryeh Sivan / I Protest
Yosef Ozer / Coca Cola and Pants
Maya Bejerano / [Strips of light on the wall]
Ramy Ditzanny / Purim Purim
Mei-Tal Nadler / Nur
Orit Meital / October 2000
Yitzhak Laor / The Love of the Truth
Dan Daor / The Man Who Caused Hilmi Shusha's Death, It Seems
Sharron Hass / Blood Diary
Dahlia Ravikovitch / A Mother is Walking
Yitzhak Laor / Landscape with Fear
Tal Nitzan / The Target

VI. He Who Demolishes a Person's Home

Dvora Amir / Retinal Tear
Maya Bejerano / A Woman with a House on her Head
Aryeh Sivan / Written and Signed
Yoram Levi Porat / Fifteen Minutes to Demolition
Maxim Gilan / from In a Ruined House
Aharon Shabtai / The Fence
Avner Treinin / from The Olive
Rahel Dana / There's Noone Here
Avner Treinin / From the Songs of Tu Be'Shvat
Agi Mishol / Olive Tree
Gil Engelshtein / [You've changed your name]

VII. Sing for Us from the Songs of Zion

Dahlia Ravikovitch / They Required a Song of Us
Yitzhak Laor / Yeru, Yeru, Yerushalayim
Agi Mishol / To the Muses
Rami Saari / Searching the Land
Meir Wieseltier / Pro & Con
Ramy Ditzanny / The Rising Column of Dust
Dahlia Ravikovitch / Lullaby
Ronny Someck / This
Aharon Shabtai / The Reason to Live Here

VIII. Things that Have No End

Tuvia Ruebner / [Oh, let the darkness cover our eyes!]
Tuvia Ruebner / [The hot is parched]
Zvi Atzmon / With a Steel Point
Liat Kaplan / Now is the Time
Tuvia Ruebner / Victim Again
Salman Masalha / One from Here
Tamir Greenberg / In Praise
Yitzhak Laor / Leviathan City
Tali Letuvisky / Call the Snakes
Yitzhak Laor / Decree of the Day
Natan Zach / Good Intentions
Meir Wieseltier / You & Us
Rami Saari / Everything Must Be Given Back
Liat Kaplan / [In Answer to the Question What Am I Still Doing Here]
Dahlia Falah / Then We Didn't Yet Know

IX. Perhaps It Can Still Be Stitched Together

Yehuda Amichai / from Houses Houses and One Love
P. Cole / Do You Know of the Land Where the Pomegranate Blooms
Asher Reich / Under an Olive Tree

"Every fear, every doubt, every objection":
Extracts from an Introduction by Tal Nitzan*

(English translation and copyright by Rachel Tzvia Back)

Ideological or political poetry in a broad context spreads itself out over a range of thematic interests, from straight-forward political subjects to poems wherein the "I" itself is a political statement. In contrast, this anthology - With an Iron Pen: Hebrew Protest Poetry 1984-2004 - seeks to narrow the framework, and to track the trajectory of Hebrew poetry in the last 20 years in its relation to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people and their lands in the West Bank and Gaza. In the 38 years of its duration, this occupation has penetrated and changed every aspect and realm of Israeli life - including, of course, the realm of poetry.

The previous wave of Hebrew protest poetry unfolded in the wake of Israel's incursion into Lebanon in 1982, and those poems were collected in two anthologies: No End to the Battles and the Killing (Kibbutz HaMeuchad Press, 1983) and Border Crossing (Sifriat Poalim, 1983). Regarding the unity of stance, the situation of those poets was different and, in a fashion, "simpler" than that of poets protesting the occupation: in those poems the poets focused their protest on one specific war which had at its center a defining trauma - the massacre in the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in September 1982. In contrast, the Israeli occupation is a multi-faceted, multi-front phenomenon that has spanned almost four decades, wherein trauma follows trauma with relentless speed, horror and frequency. Despite the ever-increasing severity of the war crimes of the occupation, the violence and killing of innocents occur on both sides of the Green Line: also the occupied Palestinians murder innocent Israelis through suicide bombs in civilian centers. Indeed, the two-sided - albeit unequal - nature of the horrors in the Middle East complicates the rebuke and protest of Hebrew poets who must address also the violence perpetrated by the oppressed.

Aside from a few exceptions, during the twenty years represented in this anthology and until the end of the 1990s, Hebrew poetry all but ignored the occupation. However, in the last five years, the necessary and long-awaited moral and literary awakening has occurred, and the phenomenon of protest poetry has spread. Every year, more and more poets are writing protest poetry, and this genre of poetry no longer belongs to the "political poets" alone. Alongside poets who have devoted entire books or poem series to protest against the occupation (for example Aharon Shabtai, Ramy Ditzanni, Maxim Gilan, Rami Saari), and alongside poets such as Yitzhak Laor and Meir Wieseltier for whom political protest has been a mainstay of their poetic oeuvres, there now stand more and more poets who are unaffiliated politically but who are producing work addressing the political events of this region in general and the injustice of the occupation specifically. This anthology includes 99 poems by 45 poets, with poets ranging from octogenarian Tuvia Ruebner, who is traditionally identified as a Holocaust generation poet, to Gil Engelstein, a high school student; from recipients of the illustrious Israel Prize for Poetry to young poets who have yet to publish their first books; from Salmaan Masalha, an Israeli-Arab poet who writes in Hebrew, to Yosef Ozer and Dotan Arad who are identified with the Jewish religious poetry journal Meishiv HaRuach. The extended silence has at last been broken, and protest against the occupation has become an important, central and generative subject of contemporary Hebrew poetry.

In a seemingly paradoxical fashion, the poets of this anthology have utilized the obstacles set before them to create a new arsenal of techniques and devices to represent the situation. Thus, the sense of being a minority and of impotence before the omnipotent nature of the occupying structure expresses itself in a wide range of tones: sorrow ("a type of sigh remains because things are falling in on themselves", Arik A.); lament ("No, no, this is not what we wanted, not this," "Oh, let the darkness cover our eyes!", Tuvia Ruebner); doubt ("the protest lines are all seen as the actions of a leftist masturbator/ why bother", Ramy Ditzanni); loathing ("with what cement have they filled your heads", Aharon Shabtai); weariness ("the land / is as heavy and tired as I am / tired to death", Asher Reich); despair ("To where can we still flee from ourselves?" Tuvia Ruebner; "How horrible is this place, our home", Liat Kaplan); and pessimism ("In any case there will be another war", Dalhia Falah; "And no one will be left to collect all the corpses", David Avidan).

One type of rigorous poetic protest, which may be defined as the poetics of empathy, expresses itself in this collection in poems of mourning and rage over the Palestinian victims of the occupation - victims who are invisible and nameless to the military forces, the governing structures and to a large part of the public and the media. This type of poetry is dominant in the work of Dahlia Ravikovitch, one of the first Israeli poets who resisted any hierarchy of suffering or distinction between victims, and who consistently and vigorously protested the usage of "our" dead as a justification for war and the glorification of death as holy and heroic. It is important to emphasize the degree of resistance apparent in this type of poetry, which goes beyond compassion and identification with the victims: the oppression of another people necessitates a denial of their humanity. Thus, empathy toward that same people is dangerous and forbidden, for it might undermine the certainty of the finger on the trigger or the foot on the bulldozer's pedal. Indeed, the subversion of these poems expresses itself in their insistence on foregrounding the humanity and humanness of "the enemy".

Beside its literary and documentary value, protest poetry grants its reader a guide toward resistance in a time and place where resistance is rare, pushed to the margins, deemed unacceptable. Before a ruling authority whose "horrible self-righteous scream" increases the more it tramples others "with a steel leg" (in Natan Zach's words), before a conformist media that, by and large, dismisses "every fear, every doubt, every objection" from its reports (in Aharon Shabtai's phrase), poetry becomes a rebellious act that unsettles axioms, generates question-marks, and asserts the right of readers and writers as one to doubt, protest and rise up.

Therefore, the importance of protest poetry in general and this collection of Hebrew protest poetry specifically cannot be measured in quantitative or practical terms. Often the footprints that this poetry makes in the minds and hearts of the public can be seen only from the distance of time. The ethical stand taken by the poets and poems of this anthology represents today the minority position - a minority that is seen as "self-hating" and desecrating sacred ideals by the majority of the Jewish Israeli public. And still, throughout history, literary creations have preceded - have, in fact, precipitated - changes in attitudes and societal norms. The day will come when the poems collected in With an Iron Pen will be read as the voice of common-sense and of honest hearts in dark times.


[Palestinian souls] / Dotan Arad

Palestinian souls
are dancing on my balcony
under the white crescent moon
dancing and never touching
keeping a distance
leaving behind pale footprints
on the tiles

salaam aleichum
aleichum salaam
(three times)

Palestinian souls are standing behind the wall
looking for the cracks

Palestinian souls
are hiding in my house
behind the furniture
the white-washers of words don't manage
to erase their fingerprints
from the paint
their suitcases on their knees.
They're waiting for a phone-call.

3. The souls of Palestinians are growing thicker
are growing angry

woven in secret
from the combination of letters
on the radio
and already they stand before me
without blood or bone
without flesh or limbs
without a kefiyah
playing words in lyrical Arabic for me
plucking on the strings of my guilt.

I take them for a walk through the garden.
Don't forget to prune the cherry tree
and don't forget to sit under the vine
in pretend peace
this house is built on arches
shatter all the dreams
with an axe
and remove the word peelings
from the ground

Lest you bear the blame of exile.

Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back

Torn / Tal Nitzan

At night he comes to me,
the boy from the scorched bus.
He is torn from me, again and again
as his hands are torn from him, and his legs,
and I'm his mother.
A quick word
Maybe it was cut off in his mouth
when he was swallowed by fire.
All night long I try to bring him back
to his childhood
where knew how to take comfort
in my kisses on every blow and bruise.
By morning the radio bird
rises from a car to my window
to screech revenge:
They shot or didn't shoot,
a shell or maybe not,
into the kitchen or onto a cot
unto the third generation or maybe fourth,
two kids (what were they doing there anyway)
or just a pregnant woman,
a deaf old man or a blind soldier -
Now arise, get thee out
from nightmare to nightmare.

Translated by Tal Nitzan, with Vivian Eden

Ballad for an Old Palestinian / Dvora Amir

The soul is a black forest
the soul is a stone on the crossbar of a well
suspended between two worlds

By day a downy cloud seals the roof of his house. By night
the moon rests on it like a silver jewel in holiday wrapping.
Early in the morning the old man leaves the village,
"The autumn leaves have again painted the sparrows' wings
yellow and orange," he thinks.
He wonders, how does the tree know itself in borrowed colors
. Through naked groves, over stone terraces, he walks to his abandoned village
where he'll meet a few old spirits, friends.

Today it is told among the hills - his grandson was shot.
On a stretched canvas,
on a bed of twigs the boy's body is tossed about.
Evacuated, like one wounded in battle, to a secret gathering place.
His body is jolted upward, swaying on the storm of mourners,
lifted up brought down, and again floating above as if wanting to rise toward the sky.
"I had a grandson, small, one, mine.
I had a dreaming grandson. With my own eyes I saw how he stood
with closed eyes before the mirror, watching himself dream."

The soul is a black forest
the soul is a stone on the crossbar of a well
suspended between two worlds.

Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back

Soldiers / Rami Saari

What's left behind us, what do we leave behind?
Lands of long mourning
filled with quiet olives,
the shadow of mosques on the horizon, smoky skies.
Along the remote paths
wrecked by bombs
an exhausted convoy shuffles: tools of destruction
and the young men. We don't remember
the beautiful songs we once knew by heart.
In the conflicted past
blue shirts and red flags turned into one fabric
of lies. From the hill
where we stood, you can see
the secrets of destruction. Sometimes
we still wonder why we insisted on keeping
the human image we've lost.

Translated by Lisa Katz

Poem for Mohammed / Admiel Kosman

Mohammed, oh Mohammed, are you still awake?
The soldiers are sleeping while the wind blows
over the curled-up village, and I am the messenger
or watchman.

Something like that.

Strange: can a blind man be a watchman?
Someone up there needs to check.
Perhaps there's been an oversight.
Perhaps my file was switched with someone else's?

The wind blows
over the curled-up village, and I am the messenger
or watchman.

Something like that.

Ridiculous. After all I've been duly appointed as a representative
of my party, and also guard, soldier on horseback, policeman,
faithful envoy, the one and only, oh oh, watch out, my Mohammed,
don't tell them my secret.
And don't wake them up.

The wind blows
over the curled-up village, and I am the messenger
or watchman.

Something like that.

Who knows? Listen

and you'll hear me:
if tomorrow by mistake you awaken
those dead-and-buried in the village ground,
digging in yesterday's sands, everything
inside will crumble and be gone.

The wind blows
over the curled-up village, and I am the messenger
or watchman.

Something like that.

Translated from the Hebrew by Lisa Katz

A Mother is Walking / Dahlia Ravikovitch

A mother is walking with a dead child in her belly
this child has not yet been born.
On his birth day the boy will be born dead
head first, back and behind
and he won't wave his hands
and they won't tap his bottom
and they won't put drops in his eyes
and won't diaper him
after washing his body.
He won't be like a living child.
And his mother won't be calm and proud after delivery
and she also won't be worried about his future,
and she won't ask herself how will she support him
and does she have enough milk
and does she have enough clothes
and is there space in the room for another cradle.
This child is wholly righteous
uncreated before he was created.
And he'll have a small grave at the edge of the cemetery
and a small memorial day
and a small memento.
This is the history of the child
who was killed in his mother's belly
in the month of January 1988
for reasons of national security.

Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back

They Required a Song of Us / Dahlia Ravikovitch

"How shall we sing a song of Zion
when we have not even begun to hear?"
- Lea Goldberg

Sing for us from the songs of Zion
which will ascend to a deaf ear.
Sing intimate songs
that the soul shies away from singing
beyond the inner circle
within the house.
Hasten and sing for us a new song
we'll pull the song from your throats with pliers.
What is the Holy Ark's curtain and the Temple
to you?
We have a wild need to cause pain
and torture.
For what are we without your agony?
A broken vessel.
Your hatred in your throats is also a broken vessel.
Look at us:
we have hung your lyres
far away
on the willows.
Now you must carve a path with cracked voices
like a donkey ascending the cliffs of Tyre
or like the bull's deep lowing
this way and that.

Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back

Note: The title of the poem and its first line - like the epigraph from Lea Goldberg - are all taken from Psalm 137, which opens with the famous phrase "By the rivers of Babylon". The lines "we have hung your lyres / far away / on the willows" are a revision of verse 2 from this same psalm.

[Oh, let the darkness cover] / Tuvia Ruebner

Oh, let the darkness cover our eyes!
To where will we flee from the sound of our hearts
claiming it was not our hands that spilt this blood!
To where can we still run from ourselves?

Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back

[The heart is parched] / Tuvia Ruebner

The heart is parched. The dirty blood is shining.
You, me, she.
What we have done even the merciful God will not forgive.
Panicked, we run wild through the City of Terror.

Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back

One from Here / Salman Masalha
A poem for the late hours of the night

It changes so fast,
the world. And for me it's already
absurd. Things have got
to the point that I've stopped
thinking about autumn. Because
after all, from here there's nowhere
to go. And anyway
even in the parks the trees are uprooted
and gone.

And at times like these, it's dangerous
to go out into the streets.
The road is so wet.
Blood flows in the main artery.
I count them:
one from here, one from there.
I count them
like sheep, until
I fall asleep.

Translated by Vivian Eden

The Love of Truth / Yitzhak Laor

Out of the love of truth, the source of all memory, I'm saving for you, my son, your first toy, and the first tooth that fell, a shining diamond your excitement over the wobbly tooth, out of the love of truth, the name of the midwife, Zamira, who showed you to me for the first time, and the name of the neonatal specialist, Dr. Boaz, who saved your premature life and watched over it (and over the lives of thousands of Jewish and Arab babies) like a blue blue flower, and the video clip from the news on which the boy Muhammed al-Durra from Gaza is begging for his life, before he is shot in his father's arms, the father begging for his son's life and the soldiers can't restrain themselves, because at home they aren't allowed to kill children in their fathers' arms, not in the doctor's waiting room, or on the bus traveling at dusk from the market back to their neighborhood, I'm saving it for you my son, so you can watch it again and again, as part of your childhood memories, for the sake of truth, which is the source of memory, the place to distinguish good from bad, to know whom to fear and whom to forgive, and to whom to extend a soft hand, keep your hands soft my son (and I've destroyed the photos of me in uniform, so you should know)

Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back

Note: Twelve-year-old Muhammed al-Durra was shot at the Al Shuhada Junction, while trying to return home with his father. Video footage of Muhammed trying to hide from IDF sniper fire in his father's arms was aired the world round. Muhammad died in his father's arms, as ambulances were not allowed into the area to evacuate him for medical care.

Tal Nizan (editor)

Tal Nizan (editor)
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