“Are your loved ones trapped behind the wall?” — new video of Samah Sabawi poem

Marta Jelec has posted a delightful animation of Samah Sabawi’s poem “Defying the Universe”. Jelec is a student of international relations and English literature at the University of Exeter in the UK. She explains:

I made this stop motion animation for a project that I am doing for a digital and cyberculture studies module at university, looking at how reading has changed in the digital age. Sabawi’s poem, originally written in English and published online, describes the internal struggles her husband faces when confronting the guilt of leaving his family behind in Palestine, while he lives his life of “liberty.” By creating an animation of the poem, I aim to make the poetry more accessible to an English-speaking, non-Palestinian audience, by using non-ethnicized characters and simple and symbolic imagery. I aim to increase the possibility of empathy within digital audiences outside of Palestine.

Although the poet Samah Sabawi is a long-time contributor to The Electronic Intifada, I was not aware of this poem. It reminded me of the themes of separation and exile raised in Osama Qashoo’s films Inside Outside and No Choice Basis. Jelec gives us a fine reading of Sabawi’s moving poem, which is attached below.

Are your loved ones trapped behind the wall
Do they need the army’s permission
For their prayers to reach the sky
For their love to cross the ocean
And touch your thirsty heart
Are your loved ones trapped

Do you yearn to be in your family home
And when you call them
Do they always say

“we are well, alhamdollelah”
Does it surprise you

That they are whole

But you… you are broken
Must they always worry about you
Urge you to have faith in your exile
Must they pity you
For not breathing the air

Of your ancestors’ land
Must they always comfort you
Even when the bombs are falling
Do you ever wonder who is walled in
Is it you, or is it them
And when it finally dawns upon you
That their dignity sets them free
Do you feel ashamed of your liberty

Are your loved ones trapped behind the wall
Do they tell you stories
Of how they survive
The trees they’ve replanted
The homes they’ve rebuilt
Do they assure you life goes on
Old men still fiddle with their prayer beads
Mothers still bake mamoul on Eid
Families still gather under the canopies
With loaded bunches of grapes
Dangling above their heads
They nibble on watermelon seeds
They drink meramiah tea
Women perfect the art of match-making
Men talk of freedom and democracy
Children climb on a sycamore tree
Lovers woe in secrecy
And no matter how the conditions are adverse
Do your loved ones defy this universe
Your loved ones defy this universe