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Tuesday, 7 March, 2000, 09:32 GMT
Poetry sends Israel into political storm
poet mahmoud darwish
Mahmoud Darwish writes of the pain of exile
The Israeli Government is facing the threat of a no-confidence motion over its decision to include works by a Palestinian poet on the school curriculum.

The row centres on proposals by the reformist Education Minister, Yossi Sarid, to introduce poetry by Mahmoud Darwish - regarded as the Palestinian national poet.


The first step of real peace is to know the other side, its culture and creativity

Mahmoud Darwish
Mr Darwish, who was banned from Israel for 26 years, writes of the pain of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes in Arab-Israeli wars.

Mr Sarid said he had decided that pupils should study the poet's works because "it is very important to know one another".

"Ignorance is not the best recipe for good neighbourliness," he said.

Time 'is not ripe'

But the opposition Likud party accused Mr Sarid of "legitimising the negation of Zionism" and said it would introduce a no-confidence motion.

Mr Barak has since sought to distance himself from his education minister's decision, saying the time "is not ripe" to teach Darwish in schools.

Correspondents say the emotional dispute over a few lines of poetry illustrates how hard it is for Israelis and Palestinians to put aside longstanding resentments.


Ignorance is not the best recipe for good neighbourliness

Yossi Sarid
Mr Darwish said he was astonished that his work had caused such controversy.

"It is difficult to believe that the most militarily powerful country in the Middle East is threatened by a poem," he said.

He added: "The first step of real peace is to know the other side, its culture and creativity."

Poet 'is anti-Israel'

But Israeli right-wingers say that some of Mr Darwish's work is virulently anti-Israeli.

In an essay to mark the 50th anniversary of Israel's founding in 1998, Mr Darwish wrote that the Jewish state was founded on the "dual injustice" of dispossession and occupation.

Palestinian villages were "razed to the ground" by "Zionist perpetrators of myth and crime", he wrote.

Mr Darwish's home village of Barweh was destroyed in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Vote in prospect

The no-confidence move, tabled for next week, coincides with a feud within Mr Barak's cabinet over Mr Sarid's policies.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which accuses Mr Sarid of sidelining his Shas deputy minister, says it may support the no-confidence vote.

However correspondents say it is more likely to embarrass the prime minister than bring him down.

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See also:

08 Oct 99 |  Middle East
Row over 'new' Israeli history
06 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Ray of hope for Palestinian refugees
18 Jan 00 |  Middle East
Barak turns to Palestinians
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