Interview with Hussein Mohana

69 year old Hussein Mohana is a Palestinian poet and member of the communist party in Israel.1 Amid the rolling hills of Galilee, in the Druze village Peki’in, he welcomes us in his ornately decorated living room, where images of Garnal Abdel Nasser and Marx are prominently placed. Our colleague of the NLS, Khalil Sbeit, translates Hussein’s Arabic speech into Hebrew. Gil in turn translates the Hebrew into French for Patricia. Four people, three languages, at a table covered with enough succulent fruit for at least twenty people. Mrs. Mohana, with the look of a noble fairy godmother, comes and goes between the kitchen and the living room, wisely pacing her presence. As we leave, we are commanded to take with us a bag filled with fruit.

The advances of science dismiss both the role of the father and that of the mother.

Where are we going…? If there is no mother, there is no fatherland. Where the mother is present, the homeland can be constructed. It reminds me of a drawing by Naji-al-Ali, the Palestinian caricaturist of Ein-el-Helweh2. In this caricature, a Palestinian man and woman meet in a refugee camp in Lebanon. It is night, the ambiance, romantic. They look at the moon. The man says, “Do you see the moon, Fatima?” “The moon in our homeland is more beautiful”, she replies. That’s it, that’s the role of the mother. She is born to create the foundation of a native land, to tend to the home and give warmth to children. With regard to the fatherland, the mother is the central axis of life. The doctor cuts the umbilical cord, but an invisible cord continues to guide us all our life.

Such was my relation with my mother. I went to speak to her for anything and she in turn transmitted my requests to my father, even when I wished to get engaged. The relation with my father unfolds in other dimensions. He was a well-educated religious man. Even though I was not religious, he encouraged me to continue on my path towards knowledge, culture, humanity. He was very poor. My mother loved him because of his calm and his patience, but without her, I would not be living in my current home. We lived in a house of clay. My father didn’t dare commit to building a house of stone, since he considered we didn’t have sufficient money. In 1955, my mother herself began breaking stones to make rubble. In that era, that task was the most difficult in the construction process. This allowed us to begin constructing the ground floor of what later became my house. She was a strong woman, I always sensed harshness in her when one needed to be hard, and clemency when one needed to be lenient. I confess that my bellicose spirit and my tendency to enter into conflict come from her. There you have the essential, the foundation, of my relation to my mother.

What is the bellicose side that was transmitted to you from your mother?

My mother was belligerent, but without guns. In the same way, my militantism is political and social. I do not search out physical confrontation, but neither do I concede my rights. I do not make pretend, I do not act the sycophant. When I worked as a professor at the ministry of education, leftists were not welcome in the system. I was removed from my work for a year. My father would say, “Let it go, find another job.” But I fought and I was able to take back my post thanks to a court decision, despite my opinions.

How can one combine the defense of the nation and peace?

In 2008, during operation Cast Lead, I dedicated a poem to the Israeli poet Agi Mishol, where I said to her: Let us open together to stop this war. Let us offer flowers in marriage rather than placing them on tombs. This country does not only have people who argue. There is a camp named the camp of love and peace. For example, in 1982, during the Lebanon war, the only manifestation against the war took place in Tel-Aviv. 250000 people participated. I do not argue with the Jew because he is Jewish, but if he comes and takes my land and my house, I will quarrel with him. In Peki’in, we have a synagogue. In the time of the Ottoman empire and Mandatory Palestine, 90 Jews lived in Peki’in. One of those families still lives among us. Between men, one by one, there are no wars of interest linked to capital. This is my point of view. I do not search for the ideal City, but once there are governments that keep vigil over the property rights of everyone, we will live in peace.

What do you think of the mother insofar as she is woman?

All throughout history, women have been oppressed, discriminated. Even the text of the Torah discriminates against women. Lot’s wife is condemned to leave her house with the instructions to never look back. How is that possible? It is her homeland! She could not help herself, she looked back and was turned to a statue of salt. I wrote a poem on her dedicated relation to the fatherland3, and it was translated into Hebrew. I thought that would cause a certain indignation, since there one finds a certain questioning of the Torah. But it was accepted, even in Hebrew. I was interviewed about this on a literary television broadcast. Today, with all the believers in power, I would be imprisoned (laughter). It could be taken as blasphemy. According to them, no doubt, I should not be on the side of Lot’s wife, but on Lot’s side.

Religion is on the father’s side, and the poet on the side of the woman…

Not always. There are bigamous poets. For me, there is only one woman, my wife. She is for me a second mother, and I say that without any exaggeration; for me, there are no ugly women. It is a philosophical position. A woman can be beautiful in her form, in her soul, in her clemency. There is always something beautiful about her. I am not saying there is nothing negative about a woman, but if there is one who lies to me, she will tell the truth to others. Certain people say that I am a poet of love and fatherland. I pose the question: what have we written for woman? Is she no more than an object of amusement for man…?

In Israel there are movements of mothers who fight for peace.

Indeed, the movement “Four Mothers” played an important role in the removal of the Israeli army from Lebanon in 2000. Women do influence here and there, but they need financial and organizational support to become a political force. It’s too bad, for example, that they never thought to present themselves as an independent party at elections. The seniors made their own political party in Israel and obtained seven seats. Why not women? It’s possible, truly.

Interview recorded by Patricia Bosquin Caroz, Gil Caroz, and Khalil Sbeit in Peki’in, the 2nd of August 2014

Translation to English by David Hafner.

[1] Website (in Arabic): http://www.al-ahraa.com/page.aspx?id=2

2 Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon.

3 “Lot cries his wife”, 1988