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Saturday, 20 April, 2002, 07:33 GMT 08:33 UK
Artists' response to West Bank violence
West Bank
Civilians must cope with cultural devastation
As the crisis in the Middle East continues, communities caught up in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians on the West Bank are trying to find ways to cope with the cultural damage.

Violence on both sides has meant that cinemas, arts centres, galleries and books being prepared for publication are being destroyed.

Poet Zakariah Mohammed, whose hometown is Ramallah in the West Bank, told BBC World Service's Arts In Action about the cultural destruction there before and after the latest Israeli offensive/

Father, what are these trees that stretch to the horizon in an unbroken row
The dead, my son, who left for the war and couldn't return

The Dead by Zakariah Mohammed

"Before the Oslo agreement there was no cinema in Ramallah," he said. "After there was a theatre and some cinemas.

"Now they are just destroying what we had built following the Oslo agreement - they just stormed the cinemas, theatres and the publishing house."


Although his poetry has been described as language which "echoes the real pulse and rhythms of contemporary Arab life", differing opinions on the role of artists have emerged.

The poet and Saudi ambassador to London, Ghazi Algosaibi, caused something of a diplomatic incident recently when he published a poem, The Martyrs, openly glorifying the work of the Palestinian suicide bombers.

Ghazi Algosaibi
Saudi poet Ghazi Algosaibi's recent work was controversial

He is a well-known poet in the Arab world, and wrote that suicide bombers "died to honour God's word".

In his poem he praised Ayat Akhras, an 18-year-old Palestinian who blew herself up in a Jerusalem supermarket on 29 March, killing two Israelis and wounding 25.

"Doors of heaven are opened for her," wrote Dr Algosaibi.


The Portuguese Nobel laureate, Jose Saramago, caused similar uproar by comparing the Israeli military campaign in the West Bank to the actions of the Nazis during the Holocaust.

As part of the International Parliament of Writers he recently visited the Palestinian West Bank.

He declared that the situation in Ramallah "is a crime that may be compared to Auschwitz".

And English poet Michael Rosen told Arts in Action how the passion that these statements generate is not just about the words themselves, but about the profile of the speakers as respected wordsmiths, philosophers of language.

He said that often in situations of conflict, "official bodies may try to make people forget who they are, but more often than not, people have a way of remembering.

"One of the most powerful ways we have of remembering is with words."

Commenting on the timeless power of poetry, Rosen said that "what makes poetry so powerful is its ability to imitate with its rhythms and sounds the very feeling it is describing".

He added that "with ideas, images, sounds and rhythms poetry can remember what we really care about".

Michael Rosen speaks to Arts In Action
"Memorable speech is a great threat"
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