We Never Left – A Poem by Susan Abulhawa

I want to share with you a poem by our friend (and 2019 ICMEP Gala speaker and Champion of Justice Award recipient), Susan Abulhawa.  Susan is a Palestinian-American author (her acclaimed Mornings in Jenin has been translated into 32 languages and sold over a million copies), poet, and activist.  She is the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, which we at Indiana Center for Middle East Peace support through the sale of their olive oil, as well as one of the co-founders of the Palestinian literature and poetry festival, Palestine Writes.

Take five minutes to listen to her read her poem, “We Never Left.”

     Photography by Sanad Abu Lateefa, Majdi Fathi, Ahmed Deeb


No matter what you ask
Because we are the people of the land.
Because we are the keepers of her stories
     passed down to us from the olive trees.
Because her rivers run through our bodies
     and our grandmothers embroidered her landscape
     on our skin since ten thousand years
Because we saddled her first horses
     we sang her first ballads and
     we harvested her wheat with love
     no matter who held guns over us
Because our poetry watered her gardens
     since before she was Canaan
Because we danced when she married the Mediterranean Sea
     and we made her wedding cake a tray of
     kanafe from Nablus
Because we were always there.
We are the Jews and the Christians and the Muslims
     we lived converted between religions
     settled from pilgrims left and returned
     mixed with our conquerors
     died by their swords and
     nourished her soil with our bodies.
But we never left.
But we never left.
But we never left.
When Henry VIII sent Anne Boleyn to the tower
     we were in Palestine.
When Marie Antoinette was marched to the guillotine
     we were in Palestine.
When Galileo gazed at the heavens
     we were in Palestine.
When Columbus got lost, pillaged, and raped where he landed
     we were in Palestine.
When Queen Nzinga ruled the kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba
When Genghis Khan broke through China's great wall
When the suffragettes marched
When all of your history
     it was us who were there.
Not in Europe or Russia or Poland or
Brooklyn or Yemen or
Iran or Iraq
     but in Palestine
     continuously for millennia.
Because we created her dances
     we terraced all her hills and
     nestled our homes in her grooves,
Because we slept, ate, gave birth
     married, loved, aged, and died in her arms
     since time was fitted for a calendar.
Because now she's under a foreigner's boot
     her curves decapitated by urban planners
     her trees cut and burned by their hate
     her body scarred and siphoned dry
     her pomegranate owned and caged
     her zatar buried in concrete and
     her wild tumultuous history
          violently stuffed into a plastic box
          branded with a new name and an epic myth.
They've killed her birds,
taken our hummus and falafel hostage in a museum
they built over the graves of our ancestors.
But we know and
     only we can tell her native stories,
     sing her native songs and
     dance for her a promise from her children
determined to make their way back
to the embrace of her sun-kissed hills and
     her orange and olive groves
to revive her desiccated rivers
     that they might again roar with life
     as they did when our family
     was whole on her banks.
We will
     always write our love letters to her
     always sing and paint and sew and
     cook her favorite foods
     and think and fight and cry and plant
     and harvest and celebrate for her
     our Palestine.
We lean on each other
     we count on our friends and
     repudiate to the normalizers of our oppression.
We persist.
We exist.
We are one nation
     one history
     one heritage
     one people
     determined and destined to go home.

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