In his new book, Before the Next Bomb Drops: Rising Up from Brooklyn to Palestine, Remi Kanazi writes a poem titled “Sumoud” about a young boy named Ahmed.
Ahmed’s father is being held by Israeli under administrative detention, a practice of indefinite incarceration without charge or trial. He is on hunger strike to demand his rights, like many current Palestinian prisoners.
Kanazi reveals that the father isn’t just struggling for his own freedom. Rather, Ahmed sees his father’s hunger strike as way to counter Israel’s efforts to make the Palestinian plight invisible:
who starved himself
to raise a mirror
up to the world
Kanazi’s poems also raise a mirror up to the world. From Israel’s colonialism and violence in Palestine to US state violence in Brooklyn and Ferguson and to the students on campuses across the country who are rising up to organize for Palestinians’ rights, Kanazi takes his audience to the frontlines of activism and myriad, interconnected struggles for justice.
“For me, even though struggles are unique and manifestations of racism operate differently here than in Palestine — and sometimes there’s a lot of similarities — we’re at an important moment,” Kanazi said in a recent interview with The Electronic Intifada. “Black folks are coming to the streets and they’re demanding that other people show support as well. … I think that all of us have the important task of standing up and doing something about it.”
In “Say Their Names,” Kanazi weaves together terrifying incidents of bombing campaigns, drone strikes, police killings and attacks on schoolchildren. He implores his readers to reject the labels used to dehumanize victims of terror and instead remember the names of those people killed in war and violence.
terrorist, savage, Islamofascist
create boxes to put Muslim men in
ghetto, thug, gangbanger
create cages to surround Black men with
hero, liberator, savior
create pedestals to put occupiers on
And in his poem “Refugee,” Kanazi tells the story of a daughter of someone who was exiled from Palestine in 1948 during the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe), the ethnic cleansing carried out by Zionist forces.
these fields are ours she told me
before the Europeans and Brooklynites
before the swimming pools army jeeps and barbed wire
before the talks, roadmaps and Swiss cheese plans
before declarations rewrote history those hills met footprints
and that can’t be erased
like village massacres can’t be erased
like broken bones policies can’t be erased
like the screams ringing in her father’s ears can’t be erased
we are the boat returning to dock
we are the footprints on the northern trail
we are the iron coloring the soil
we cannot be erased
Kanazi has made several videos of his poetry performances, including one that commemorates his grandmother’s expulsion from Palestine, another that criticizes the injustice of normalization — the Israeli push for the abnormal situation of occupation and apartheid to be treated as if it were tolerable — and one produced last year with Suhel Nafar of the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM that tackles repression of student activism on US campuses. These poems are also featured in his new book.
Listen to the interview with Kanazi, including a performance of several new poems from the book, via the media player above.
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