Poetry & solidarity: The making of my Palestine consciousness

    Growing up in Turkey, Burak Elmalı reflects on his earliest encounters with the Palestinian cause through Turkish literature, and the messages of resilience, solidarity, and unity that continue to resonate today.

    Camp David, Oslo, Abraham Accords… Each of these handshaking ceremonies with glimmers of hope has brought its share of deadlock. Decades have passed, and today, we witness a heart-wrenching reality: thousands in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem are forced from their homes.

    In the radiant Ramadan days, a month in which the devil is enchained as per the Muslim annals, Al-Aqsa stands stained by the tears of bullets and the gasps of gas bombs, courtesy of unchecked Zionist oppression.

    Today, more than ever, Palestine cries out to be heard and embraced, resilient in the face of relentless attempts to silence its voice.

    In the grand chorus of global discourse, every voice sings its melody to tell the Palestinian story. Some appeal to the world stage, while others wield the enchanting power of concise words to convey profound truths.

    It was sometimes akin to the words of King Faisal, who once said, ‘Al-Aqsa is calling you.’ At other times, it resembled the lamentation found in a poem penned by the Turkish poet Sezai Karakoç after the reckless arson of Al-Aqsa in 1969: “You did not burn the soul of Al-Aqsa, what you torched is a sign made of stone, earth, and tree.” Everyone conveyed one story even if their voices differed.

    Yet, amidst this symphony of narratives, I find myself contemplating the rich tapestry of my awareness woven over time. It is a tapestry spun from the threads of my childhood encounters with Palestine, illuminated by the poetic works of Turkish literature and animated by the popular demonstrations in my city.

    With its enduring spirit, Palestine beckons us to listen and understand, even when some seek to forget.

    My first encounter with the Palestinian cause dates to a sermon in the mosque where I heard about the significance of Surah Al-Isra in the holy Koran. The first verse mentioned Al-Aqsa and its surroundings, “imbued with blessings,” which carry meanings of profound importance.

    Similarly, just as Jerusalem is the first qibla for Muslims, it was also spoken of as the foremost priority. Since then, my literary readings have offered me more context. 

    The Gaza flotilla raid of 2010 caused a seismic shift in my world. Back then, peaceful volunteers on a humanitarian mission were brutally attacked and nine of them were killed by the Israeli forces.

    I began to explore the literary tapestry of Turkish authors, especially those who brought the Palestinian cause to the forefront after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. In these works, Palestine emerged not just as a geographical entity but also as a literary symbol of resistance and resilience.

    It transcended mere spiritual significance to become synonymous with an enduring struggle that refused to be extinguished, a dynamic force that surged to life on every occasion. 

    And then, there was Nuri Pakdil, a well-known figure in Turkish literature whose name is often associated with Jerusalem. When I first came across his writings, shared by my history teacher during high school, I realised that his words carried more than just a fleeting vision of Jerusalem.

    They were a timeless beacon of guidance, a message that spanned a lifetime and illuminated the profound place of the Palestinian issue in the Turkish literary landscape as the works of Mehmet Akif İnan and Sezai Karakoç began to flourish among the Islamic youth movement in the late 1960s.

    In his poetic world, Jerusalem was not a passing thought; it was a lifelong commitment, a guiding star that never dimmed:

    “Live Mount Tûr

    Where in Jerusalem?

    I carry Jerusalem like a wristwatch

    Without adjustment to Jerusalem

    You spend time in vain

    Keeps ice

    Your eyes are blind


    Be a mother

    Because mother

    A child makes a Jerusalem

    When the man becomes a father

    Inside Jerusalem comes alive

    Come on, brother.

    Let Jerusalem’s power come to your feet.”

    In Turkish poetry, a treasure trove of artistic expression has paved the way for a profound awakening among young souls like mine, igniting our passion for the Palestinian cause.

    This literary richness, where diverse minds from various walks of life convene to engage in spirited discourse, has become the crucible in which a symphony of voices harmonises on a singular theme. 

    Over time, the narrative transcended the works of Ottoman Divan literature’s religiously tinted gaze from the 16th to the 18th centuries. It has gradually boasted a legacy of collective resistance and unyielding perseverance.

    The plight of Palestine, etched into the powerful verses of literature, has evolved into an enduring symbol, fortified by the recent tumultuous events like continued Israeli attacks on several refugee camps that have unfolded before our eyes.

    For me, its tone was so holistic and inclusive that it categorically rejected any form of ethnic difference. This universality had found its place in the lines of Sezai Karakoç like this:

    “And the city of Jerusalem

    The city built in the heavens and brought down to the earth

    The city of God and the city of all humanity.”

    From this vantage point, the names Jerusalem and Palestine resonate with an emotion so boundless that it defies geographical borders. This sentiment is a torch passed down through generations.

    Just as I, in a pivotal moment of this cultural transmission, found myself captivated by these verses in response to the abhorrent Israeli assaults, I am convinced that the construction of consciousness on this matter owes a debt of gratitude to the brave resistance of Palestinians against endless injustice.

    One of the works that particularly captured my interest for its message of geographical boundlessness and unity was by prominent Turkish author Cahit Zarifoğlu.

    Towards the end of his life, he wrote about the 1982 Lebanon War. I realised that in the Middle East, it is not about separation or differences but rather about the unity of sorrows, joys, and, ultimately, destiny.

    Beyond the borders that divide nations, this literary reaction rising against Israeli oppression was, and still is, a poignant lamentation against the lack of sought-after unity:

    “The tears of Beirut now,

    Right next to Jerusalem,

    While Muslims are distant,

    As if in another,

    Unreachable world.”

    One of the significant moments I recall in my journey of Palestine consciousness was the protest marches against Israel in the streets of my city. These rallies came sometimes in response to attacks in the West Bank.

    Other times they were held in protest of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, and occasionally marked the anniversary of Nakba. They were predominantly composed of university students, and together, we raised our voices to proclaim the same truth.

    Today, as I conjure up all these memories from the past, I understand one thing more clearly: the Palestinian cause deserves to be told and fought for even more today than in the past. In a world of mass media and endless connectivity, the impact of our words is stronger than ever before.

    While Israeli politicians sell the merits of normalisation in the region without any concessions, and far-right politicians like Itamar Ben-Gvir continue to blatantly advocate for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, solidarity is more important than ever.

    Watching recent deadly Israeli raids and the West Bank and forced evictions from Jerusalem I couldn’t help but recall a line from Necip Fazıl: “Estranged on your own land, a pariah in your own land.”

    My journey started with Turkish literature, but it has brought to a global community of people who will continue to stand with Palestine until there is no more estrangement, until each and every Palestinians can live in peace in their homeland.

    This article originally appeared in the New Arab Opinion section.

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