A Palestinian Poet Takes Flight

Issue 288

Finan Suwwan Al-Abed is a mother of three who has been writing poetry in her spare time for decades.

Amba Guerguerian Jul 1

“I had the best Arabic teacher. He made me love the Arabic language,” says Finan Suwwan Al-Abed about why she started writing poetry. “When we moved from Palestine to Jordan, I was so attached to him that he was saying, ‘Please let me keep Finan, let her stay, let me adopt the girl, and she can be my child! My dad would laugh and laugh,” said Suwwan, who moved from Nablus, in the West Bank in Occupied Palestine — where her family had lived for generations — to Jordan when she was 10 years old in 1980. 

When she was eight years old, an Israeli informant began to work as a teacher at her school, and once he was exposed students took it upon themselves to strike, demanding his removal. Suwwan’s brother fervently promoted the strike.

“My father was scared for my brother,” said Suwwan. “He saw the signs that my brother would get himself into lots of problems fighting against the occupation.”

This worry, along with daily life becoming increasingly difficult under Israeli apartheid, led the family to seek refuge across the border. 

In Jordan, Suwwan shared a bedroom with four of her sisters, and “there was no place to put the books, no shelves on the wall or anything like that, so I put them all under my bed. My mom would say, ‘Finan, look at all the dust!’” 

“It was hard for us. Everyone in Nablus knew us. No one knew us [in Jordan],” said Suwwan. She and her family were denied entry when they tried to go back to Nablus around 1985. 

Suwwan’s family had been well embedded in their small village in Nablus City. Her father used her grandmother’s house to make the first school in the village. He was also responsible for setting up electricity in the village, which he provided from his property via a large generator.

In 1993 Suwwan moved to Western North Carolina and has lived in the area ever since. She married a Palestinian-American with whom she has three children. With work and childrearing, Suwwan had no time to try and promote a career in literature, but she has never stopped writing poetry.

“When there is something deeply I feel, I write about it,” says Suwwan, who began to write as a teenager. “Sometimes in the car I get an idea and I just pull over and write it down.”

“When Facebook started in 2008, I started to connect with poets from the Middle East,” explained Suwwan.

She was connected through Facebook with poet friends in Gaza, and they would deliver to her news.

”It was always bad news,” said Suwwan when I asked her why she wrote “Gaza,” the poem printed below. During the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, some of her Facebook friends “would disappear and I would hear nothing from them after that.”

I met Suwwan at a pro-Palestine protest in Asheville, North Carolina, just after Israel’s “tent massacre” in a “safe zone” in Rafah. As she read this poem in front of the crowd, I felt the same fervor that I feel when I hear the voice of Mahmoud Darwish. So when I approached her after to ask if The Indypendent could reprint this poem, I was shocked to hear this would be Suwwan’s first time being published. 

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