Dr. Salwa Gouda – The image of Gaza in Arab conscience
Guest editorial

Gouda LE Gaza P&W January 2024

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Live Encounters Gaza Poetry & Writing, January 2024

The image of Gaza in Arab conscience, Guest editorial by Dr. Salwa Gouda.

Gaza in the background, painting by Harry Fenn (1881-1884)
Gaza in the background, painting by Harry Fenn (1881-1884).

When I started writing this editorial, I asked myself, “What more can I say about Gaza than has not already been said?” It is the subject of innumerable books, articles, poems, and dissertations written in all the languages of the world. For the Arabs, Gaza has a great importance. It is one of their most beloved cities. The name ‘Gaza’ comes from the word ghazwa in Arabic, which carries the meaning of strength. Gaza has had several other names given to it throughout history, including “hazani.” It is a Canaanite word of Canaanite origin, “Gaza Hashem,” and it refers to the people of Hashim bin Abd Manaf, the grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad. The Hebrews called it “Gaza,” the ancient Egyptians called it “Ghazatu and Ghadtu,” and the Persians called it “Hazanot,” which means treasure. But it is in the hearts of everyone in the Arab and Islamic world, ‘Gaza,’ the Palestinian Arab.

Gaza is a coastal city located south of the eastern coast in the Mediterranean Sea, and it is the largest Palestinian sector with a population of about two million people, according to its last census in 2023. The city was founded by the Canaanites in the fifteenth century BC. Due to its high economic status, it was occupied by many invaders, including the Romans, Byzantines, and the English. Muslims entered the city in the year 635 AD. In addition to its antiquity because it is among the oldest cities in the world, it has something that distinguishes it from the rest of the cities of Palestine, it is where the grave of Hashim bin Abd Manaf, the second grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad bin Abdullah, is located. This is why it was called “Gaza Hashim.” It is also the birthplace of Imam Al-Shafei’s 767 AD who is a prominent figure for Muslims.

The Gaza Strip, a siege area with an area of 365 square kilometers, whose people suffer from life in poor conditions of violence and restrictions imposed whether on land, air or sea. It suffers from multiple crises, and all its rights have been violated by the occupation since 1948. The civilian population of the Gaza Strip has been subject to sanctions and forced displacement from their homes for decades.

Moreover, Gaza is not only a symbol of resistance, diaspora, and exile but also a source of inspiration for Arab poets and thinkers who devoted much of their lives and careers calling for its freedom from occupation. There is a huge tradition of Arabic literary texts written about Palestine.

Edward Said was considered one of the Palestinian intellectuals who presented the Palestinian issue on a large scale in the West, and although his proposals were understood within a comprehensive framework in terms such as imperialism, colonialism, post-colonialism, and Orientalism, he was in the end one of those who led the world to a new understanding of the issue. He said in his summary of the self, the truth, and the time that he lived between homeland and exile, “I am Palestinian, but I was expelled from it since childhood, and I lived in Egypt without becoming Egyptian. I am Arab, but not Muslim, and I am Christian, but Protestant, and my first name is “Edward,” even though my surname is Said which means happy in Arabic.”

Mahmoud Darwish also propagated for the freedom of Palestine all over the world through poetry. He had no other weapon except his talent with words. In 1984, he wrote: “The earth is narrowing us down, cramming us into the last aisle,” and he continued:

And we saw the faces of those who
Would throw our children away
From the windows of this final space
There are mirrors that our star will polish
Where do we go after the final frontier?
Where do birds fly
After the last sky?

Why this issue, which contains the poems of twenty Arab poets about Gaza?

I felt that I should do something with the only talent for communication that I have: translation. The voice of poetry should be heard. It is not only the responsibility of politicians and armies; the soft power of art also paves the way for peace. I would like to ensure that the issue of Gaza is not an Arab or Middle Eastern dilemma, but it questions the essence of our humanity. Our humanity is at risk as we all belong to one human civilization, and we are all responsible.

This editorial is written with uncontrolled tears. What should I write more about Gaza? The fearful sounds of bombing innocent people echo in my heart. What should I write? The screams of the children deafen the ears of the universe. No sound will prevail above the symphony of the murdered citizens of Gaza. But I should write not as an Arab belonging to this area but as a human being and scholar who should have a role to play in eradicating this turmoil of violence, hatred, and deaths.

We are born for life, not for death and bombs; born for taking our turn in the construction of life, not for demolishing it. People in Gaza need to see their kids grow up in front of their eyes, like all parents in the world, not to bury them in a war that they have not decided and are not responsible for. They are born for new possibilities, music, poetry, dreams, and love.

© Dr. Salwa Gouda

Salwa Gouda is an Egyptian literary translator, critic, and academic at the English Language and Literature Department at Ain-Shams University. She holds a PhD in English literature and criticism. She received her education at Ain-Shams University and California State University in San Bernardino. She has published several academic books, including “Lectures in English Poetry, and “Introduction to Modern Literary Criticism” and others. She has also contributed to the translation of “The Arab Encyclopedia for Pioneers,” which includes poets and their poetry, philosophers, historians, and men of letters, under the supervision of UNESCO. Additionally, her poetry translations have been published in various international magazines.

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