Linguistics and Literature Studies 7(2): 51-56, 2019 http://www.hrpub.org
Resistance through the Language of Palestinian Poets
Nora F. Boayrid
Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Copyright©2019 by authors, all rights reserved. Author agrees that this article remains permanently open access under
the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 International License.
Abstract This study analyzed the language of
resistance in the poems of three Palestinian poets, namely,
Samih Al-Qasim, Mahmoud Darwish, and Tawfiq Zayyad.
The analysis incorporated Van Dijk’s (1997) approach to
Political Discourse Analysis (PDA). The elicited linguistic
features from PDA were analyzed against Van Dijk’s
(1993, 2005) Ideological Square Model and Johnson’s
(1987) Containment Schema. From the perspective of Van
Dijk’s (1993, 2005) ideological square model, the study
found that the poets’ expressions of resistance can be
presented under the positive self-representation and
negative other-representation with varying referents (i.e.
Palestine, Palestinians, or Israelis). The analysis from
Johnson’s (1987) containment schema showed that the
poets’ political position has an influential role in their
expressions of resistance and their views of themselves in
relation to Palestine, Palestinians, and Israelis.
Keywords Resistance, Palestinian Poets, Politics,
Discourse Analysis, Cognitive Linguistics
Within the first half of the 20th century, the term
literature of resistance has emerged among poets in
occupied Palestine as a result of their witness of the need
for a new literary mode to express the political issues and to
promote changes (Mir, 2013). The term is essentially called
(Adab Al-Muqawmah) that is coined by the Palestinian
writer Ghassan Kanafani (Hassan & Omar, 2011). Cudjoe
(1980) defined resistance as “any act or complex of acts
designed to rid a people of their oppressors” (p. 19).
According to Slemon (1995), literary resistance “can be
seen as a form of contractual understanding between the
text and the reader, one that is embedded in an experiential
dimension and buttressed by a political and cultural
aesthetic at work in culture” (p. 7).
Palestinians’ literature of resistance manifested in
different forms of arts have caught the eyes of critics and
researchers (e.g. Boullata, 2008; Darraj, 2008; Said, 1986).
The resistance in the poetry of Samih Al-Qasim, Mahmoud
Darwish, and Tawfiq Zayyad specifically, has been
approached differently by researchers. Researchers mainly
approached resistance as a discourse in the literary texts of
the poets through incorporating either stylistic analysis or
ecocriticism theory (e.g. Ahmed & Hashim, 2015; Khezri,
Ballawy, Poorabed, & Behroozi, 2018). The first approach
was through the use of stylistic analysis, according to Short
(1996), stylistic analysis “is a linguistic approach to the
study of literary texts” (p. 334). Ecocriticism theory is a
newly developed critical approach that examines the
incorporation of environmental elements in literary texts
usually to show social justices (Marland, 2013). Thus, as
explained by Ahmed and Hashim (2015), the movement is
a “new way for expressing human resistance via nature” (p.
Some researchers in Political Discourse Analysis (PDA)
that is concerned with analyzing political texts critically
(see Fairclough & Fairclough, 2013; Van Dijk, 1997)
called for an incorporation of cognitive linguistics
frameworks that can aid analysts identify forms of
language manipulation which is a core aim of PDA (e.g.
Hart, Rymes, Souto-Manning, Brown, & Luke, 2005). In
line with this, this study aimed to critically analyze how
Palestinian poets, namely, Samih Al-Qasim, Mahmoud
Darwish, and Tawfiq Zayyad expressed their resistance in
their poems and how their expressions were influenced by
their political positions. The analysis was done through
incorporating Van Dijk’s (1997) PDA and two cognitive
linguistics models: Van Dijk’s (1993, 2005) Ideological
Square Model and Johnson’s (1987) Containment Schema
(see the Methodology Section for more information about
the two models).
2. Statement of the Problem
Palestine has long been occupied by the Israelis and the
Palestinians showed resistance to the occupation through
different forms including arts (e.g. the Palestinian
Shammout’s paintings series called ‘Palestine: The Exodus
and the Odyssey’). Most researchers who analyzed the use
of resistance language in Palestinian poetry from a
linguistic perspective included a simplistic analysis of texts
52 Resistance through the Language of Palestinian Poets
(e.g. Ahmed & Hashim, 2015; Khezri et al., 2018). Hence,
this study aimed to critically analyze the poems of Samih
Al-Qasim, Mahmoud Darwish, and Tawfiq Zayyad from
the perspective of Van Dijk’s (1997) PDA and cognitive
linguistics models. The cognitive linguistics models were
used to unfold the relationship between the poets’ political
positions and their expressions of resistance and view of
themselves in relation to Palestine, Palestinians, and
Israelis. Thus, the present study aimed to explore the
1. How do the poets express their resistance?
2. Do the poets’ political positions influence their
expressions of resistance and view of themselves in
relation to Palestine, Palestinians, and Israelis?
3. Literature Review
Theorists and scholars from different fields contributed
to explaining the concept of resistance in relation to social
and political issues (e.g. Foucault, 1978; Grinberg, 2013;
Weber, 1978). Foucault (1978) links the concept of
resistance to power by stating that power exists everywhere;
subsequently, as he puts it “where there is power, there is
resistance” (p. 95). Grinberg (2013) explained the
closeness of resistance and power as concepts in relation to
the Israel-Palestinian case. He demonstrated that power is
manifested through violence that can come from the
dominant group ‘Israel’ and dominated group ‘Palestine’.
According to him, the dominant group can exhibit power
through physical or symbolic violence; the former can be
through coercion and harm, and the latter can be through
preventing political recognition of the dominated group.
When violence comes from the dominated group to call for
rights and/or to stand oppressive acts, then it is called
resistance. Which is defined by him as “the collective
action of dominated groups in reaction to the physical and
symbolic violence exerted on them by the dominant
groups.” (p. 210). Main figures of the dominated group
have a role in provoking actions against the dominant
group this is according to Weber (1978). This can be
explained from the perspective of symbolic power theory
proposed by Bourdieu (1991). Which means that social
elites are capable of influencing the behaviors of others
without acts of force but through soft power. In the case of
Palestinians, influential artists used art to protest and to
motivate the Palestinians to persist in the face of the
occupation of land (González, 2009). In the words of
Duncombe (2007), such kind of battle in art is “armed with
culture instead of guns” (p. 1). According to Al-Jazari
(1967) and Mir (2013), the Palestinian poets Samih
Al-Qasim, Mahmoud Darwish, and Tawfiq Zayyad were
among the main figures who used their writings to show
resistance and to move the Palestinians to persist.
Many studies have been done to analyze the use of the
language of resistance in the poetry of Samih Al-Qasim,
Mahmoud Darwish, and Tawfiq Zayyad. Khezri et al.
(2018) analyzed the use of literary style as a way to show
resistance in Samih Al-Qasim’s poetry “Persona
non-Grata”. The study found that Al-Qasim used an
interrogative style for several purposes but mainly to draw
the readers’ attention to the Palestinians’ struggle, to
express his resistance, and to deny the struggle. The
researchers found that Al-Qasim used the direct questions
to draw the readers’ attention to the Palestinians struggle as
in "Are you listening?". They also found that Al-Qasim
used rhetorical questions to express his resistance "you will
go, will your darkness be intensive?". To deny the struggle
Al-Qasim, as found by the researchers, used direct
questions to ask about issues that he knew about as in
"what is your name bride? Have you forgotten me?
Yabous?”. According to the researchers, Al-Qasim used
those questions to deny and resist the new name of
Jerusalem city which was known as ‘Yabous’.
Mahmoud Darwish has received criticism from Darraj
(2008) and Boullata (2008) for his inability to connect his
poetic devices to the discourse of resistance. Mattawa
(2014) justified Darwish’s struggle to show the connection
of his poetry to the discourse of resistance to his
preservations to keep sensibility alive in his poetry. He
further added that it is through this process of keeping
sensibility that he contributed to the discourse of resistance.
Langley (2012) demonstrated that Darwish used
imagination and sensibility to elevate Palestine and its
people from the eradication of their identity in reality. In
line with this, Sazzad (2016) analyzed how Darwish
portrayed his resistance towards the occupation of land in
many of his poems. In his analysis of “A Poem Which is
not Green, from my Country”, he demonstrated that
Darwish linked his resistance to the reaction of the land as
being silent which will eventually win as in “It will sing, it
will cry out”. Sazzad (2016) also showed that Darwish
expressed his resistance by showing how tragic the
situation is as in “you were as beautiful as earth”.
According to Sazzad (2016), by unfolding the tragedy,
Darwish was trying to protect the land from eradication.
Ahmed and Hashim (2015) analyzed selected poems
written by Palestinian poets, among them is Tawfiq Zayyad.
The analysis incorporated ecocriticism theory to uncover
how the poets demonstrated their resistance. In their
analysis of Tawfiq Zayyad’s poem “The Impossible”, they
showed that in Zayyad’s view, the Palestinians’ resistance
is parallel to nature. According to them, he used animals in
specific to show the steadiness of their resistance as in “To
push an elephant through a needle’s eye”.
The reviewed studies showed that Palestinian poets
displayed resistance through the use of language. That is,
by raising rhetorical questions as in Al-Qassim’s poem
“Persona non-Grata”, by using tragic language as in
Darwish’s poem “A Poem Which is not Green, from my
Country”, and by using metaphors to present the
Palestinians’ persistence as in Zayyad’s poem “The
Linguistics and Literature Studies 7(2): 51-56, 2019 53
Impossible”. It is shown that each poet uses different
linguistic features to contribute to the larger concept of the
discourse of resistance. In the words of Edward Said, “one
has to keep telling the story [of Palestine] in as many ways
as possible, as insistently as possible, and in as compelling
a way as possible, to keep attention to it, because there is
always a fear it might just disappear.” (Said & Barsamian,
The study analyzed three poems written by Palestinian
poets. The first is “A Speech in the Unemployed Market”
by Samih Al-Qasim published in 1992. The second is
“Silence for Gaza” by Mahmoud Darwish first published in
1973. The third is “Here We Will Stay” by Tawfiq Zayyad
published in 1966.
4.2. Theoretical Framework
Van Dijk’s (1997) approach to Political Discourse
Analysis (PDA) was employed in the current study to
examine the use of language for political functions in the
selected data. The elicited linguistic features from PDA
were analyzed against Van Dijk’s (1993, 2005) Ideological
Square Model and Johnson’s (1987) Containment Schema.
Van Dijk’s (1993, 2005) Ideological Square Model
comprises the linguistic features that emphasize positive
self-representation and negative other-representation.
Similarly, they de-emphasize negative ‘us’ and positive
‘them’. That is, by employing the Ideological Square
Model, the researcher aimed to see how the Palestinian
poets showed resistance by means of using positive
self-representation of Palestine and the Palestinians and
negative representation of the occupiers.
To examine the relation of these linguistic features to the
poets’ political positions, the elicited linguistic features
were studied from the perspective of cognitive linguistics.
Specifically, from the point of view of Containment
Schema proposed by Johnson (1987). In his book The Body
in the Mind, Johnson (1987) illustrated that containment
schema is a cognitive image about a physical or a
metaphorical spatial position manifested in the use of
language. According to Hart et al. (2005), containment
schema is threefold structured consisting of an interior, an
exterior, and a container. Hart et al. (2005) illustrated how
this can apply to political discourse analysis; in the case of
immigrants as exemplified by them, the land is the
container, and immigrants being interior or exterior is
defined by physical or mental boundaries. This can be
realized in the English language by means of using spatial
prepositions such as ‘in’ and ‘out’; when using ‘in’ one is
physically or mentally involved, while by using ‘out’ one is
detached (Hart et al., 2005).
To achieve the aim of the study the analysis was as
follows: 1. Language use in each poem was analyzed
according to Van Dijk’s (1997) PDA. 2. The elicited
linguistic features were examined against Van Dijk’s (1993,
2005) ideological square model and Johnson’s (1987)
containment schema. 3. To answer the 2nd question, the
results of Johnson’s (1987) containment schema analysis
were related to the poets’ views of the political situation in
the land and their political positions.
This section provides an analysis of the three poems
against Van Dijk’s (1993, 2005) ideological square model
and Johnson’s (1987) containment schema. From the point
of view of the ideological square model, in “Here We Will
Stay”, Zayyad employed the positive self-representation of
Palestinians including him by means of using metaphorical
images that have positive connotations, specifically being
strong and steady. This ‘we’ as a mean of resistance was
also manifested through the use of other linguistic and
stylistic features. Zayyad used repetitions and fronted some
words, according to Van Dijk (1997), both strategies have
political functions; either to emphasize or to draw attention
to a certain semantic role. Following is an extract from
Zayyad’s poem “Here We Will Stay”:
راﺪﺠﻟﺎﻛ نﻮﻗﺎﺑ , ﻢﻛروﺪﺻ ﻰﻠﻋ .. ﺎﻨھ
رﺎﺒﺼﻟﺎﻛ , جﺎﺟﺰﻟا ﺔﻌﻄﻘﻛ
رﺎﻧ ﻦﻣ ﺔﻌﺑوز
Here we stay
As a wall upon your chest
And in your throat
As a splinter of glass, as a cactus
And in your eyes
A storm of fire
Zayyad fronted the word ‘Here’ in many instances in the
poem, including the title. In this context, ‘Here’ refers to
Palestine and Zayyad used it to display the firmness of
Palestinians. By fronting ‘Here’, Zayyad is employing its
two political functions; that is, he both draws attention to
the persistence of Palestinians and emphasizes their
firmness. Similarly, ‘Here’ was repeated throughout the
poem which emphasizes his idea of resistance. The
Palestinians’ resistance, including the poet’s, was
transmitted through uses of metaphorical images that
showed strength; ‘a wall’, ‘a splinter of glass’, and ‘a storm
54 Resistance through the Language of Palestinian Poets
of fire’. This sheds light on the idea of positive
From the perspective of Johnson’s (1987) containment
schema, in Zayyad’s poem, there are a container and an
interior. Surprisingly, Israelis are the container and
Palestinians are the interiors. This is shown in instances
such as ‘upon your chest’, ‘in your throat’, and ‘in your
eyes’ where ‘your’ refers to Israelis. The uses of
prepositions such as ‘upon’ and ‘in’ uncover Zayyad’s
undeclared belief; he is aware that Israelis have strongly
settled in the land and Palestinians are remaining in spite of
that and are being interiors.
In “A Speech in the Unemployed Market”, Al-Qassim
emphasizes negative other-representation by means of
using verbs that suggest violence. The syntactic structure
of his sentences shifts between passive and active voice.
Van Dijk (1997) proposed that the use of active and passive
sentences in political texts works to emphasize either
agents or victims. That means when using an active
sentence, one draws attention to the agents of the action,
whereas when using a passive sentence, one’s aim is to
draw attention to the victims of the action. Following is an
extract from Al-Qassim’s poem “A Speech in the
Unemployed Market” that shows the use of active
ﻲﺑاﺮﺗ ﻦﻣ ﺮﺒﺷ ﺮﺧآ ﻲﻨﺒﻠﺴﺗ ﺎﻤﺑر
ﻲﺑﺎﺒﺷ ﻦﺠﺴﻠﻟ ﻢﻌﻄﺗ ﺎﻤﺑر
يﺪﺟ ثاﺮﯿﻣ ﻰﻠﻋ ﻮﻄﺴﺗ ﺎﻤﺑر
باﻮﺧو ..ناوأو ..ثﺎﺛأ ﻦﻣ..
ﻲﺒﺘﻛو يرﺎﻌﺷأ قﺮﺤﺗ ﺎﻤﺑر
بﻼﻜﻠﻟ ﻲﻤﺤﻟ ﻢﻌﻄﺗ ﺎﻤﺑر
You may steal the last foot of my land
And feed my youth to the prison
You may seize my grandfather's inheritance
Of furniture, rags and dishes
You may burn my poems and my books
And throw my flesh to the dogs
In this extract, Al-Qassim uses active verbs that suggest
violence from the occupiers ‘steal’, ‘feed’ (i.e. shows
violence in this context), ‘seize’, ‘burn’, and ‘throw’.
Through the use of active sentences, attention is drawn to
the doer ‘Israelis’; Al-Qassim’s way of resistance is to
unfold the damaging acts performed by the Israelis. To
draw attention to the victims, passive voice is used as in the
following line ‘Maybe I get withhold from my mother's
kiss’. This shifts the readers’ attention from focusing on the
oppressors to the victims.
From the perspective of Johnson’s (1987) containment
schema, in Al-Qasim’s poem, there are a container and an
interior. This can be explained from this line taken from his
poem, ‘You may dwell as a dream of horror over our
village’; the container is Palestine and its people ‘our
village’ and the interiors are Israelis ‘over our village’. The
container-interior relationship is manifested through the
use of the preposition ‘over’. This shows that, in contrary
to Zayyad, Al-Qasim believes that Israelis are the ones who
In Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “Silence for Gaza”, there
are positive self-representation and negative
other-representation. However, it is not the Palestinians
who are positively presented, it is the land ‘Gaza’. In his
poem, negative other-representation comprises
‘Palestinians’ and ‘Israelis’. This is shown in the following
line, ‘Gaza was born of fire and we were born of waiting
and crying over homes’. Israelis are described using verbs
that suggest being terrified and hateful; to him, the enemy
‘hates’, ‘fears’, and wishes to ‘drown’ Gaza as in ‘The
enemy hates her up to killing…Fears her up to
murder….And into the sea they wish to drown her’.
Darwish detaches himself and the Palestinians from the
land; thus, to him, there is Gaza, we, and them. This is best
illustrated in this line, ‘She does not want, and neither we
do’. The detachment is further drawn from the analysis
based on Johnson’s (1987) containment schema. In his
poem, there are a container and an interior. Gaza is the
container and Israelis are interiors that Gaza wishes to get
rid of. Which can be explained from this line taken from
the poem, ‘She wants to eject the enemy from her clothes’;
Palestine is the container ‘clothes’ and Israelis are interior
‘eject the enemy’. This revolves around the preposition
‘from’ which shows this type of schemata image. Darwish
does not see himself neither the Palestinians to be involved
effectively in the resistance, it is the land that fights and
resists in itself.
The analysis showed that Palestinian poets employed
different lexical and syntactic features that generally
contributed to the discourse of resistance. Under the
umbrella of Van Dijk’s (1997) ideological square model,
the Palestinian poets manifested different uses of positive
self-representation and negative other-representation.
While Zayyad emphasizes the positive self-representation
of Palestinians by means of using metaphorical images that
have positive connotations, Al-Qassim emphasizes
negative other-representation by means of using verbs that
suggested violence. Darwish, however, emphasizes both
positive self-representation and negative other-
representation; unexpectedly, negative other-
representation comprises ‘Palestinians’ and ‘Israelis’ as
shown in the Analysis Section. In time around the
60’s-70’s where Palestinians were faced with eradication
that led many to choose immigration to other lands,
Zayyad’s poem “Here We Will Stay” had a powerful role
in moving the Palestinians to persist (Rijke & Teeffelen,
2014). The discourse of resistance in his poem manifested
in the use of positive metaphorical images of Palestinians
and Palestine fostered many to persist as stated by Rijke &
Teeffelen (2014), “the olive tree with its deep roots in the
Linguistics and Literature Studies 7(2): 51-56, 2019 55
land, bearing fruits only after several years of growth,
became a widely used metaphorical expression of sumud”
(p. 87). This shows, as explained by the symbolic power
theory by Bourdieu (1991), the power of elites in moving
people to act through uses of soft power, in this case
through art. Johnson’s (1987) containment schema showed
that the poets’ political positions have influenced their
expressions and view of themselves as Palestinians.
Darwish who was in exile showed detachment from the
land in many instances in the poem. This is in contrary to
Al-Qassim and Zayyad who showed great attachment to
The study analyzed how the Palestinian poets expressed
their resistance through language. The analysis
incorporated Van Dijk’s (1997) PDA, Van Dijk’s (1993,
2005) Ideological Square Model, and Johnson’s (1987)
Containment Schema. The findings suggested that Van
Dijk’s (1993, 2005) Ideological Square Model was
employed by the poets differently by means of different
lexical and syntactic elements that served the political
function of resistance. The poets’ political positions
influenced their expressions of resistance and their view of
themselves in relation to Palestine as revealed by the
analysis based on Johnson’s (1987) Containment Schema.
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