Kamal Butros Nasir

(1925 – 1973)

Palestinian nationalist, poet and politician, he was born in Gaza in 1925, where his father was working at the time. Both his parents were from Bir- Zeit. He had two brothers and three sisters; the older brother was sick and passed away when Kamal was a young boy.

Kamal Nasir studied at Birzeit High School, then went on to the American University in
Beirut where he graduated with a degree in Political Science in 1945. At AUB, he won the poetry prize for his poem “The Orphan”.

He had started writing poetry at an early age. As a young teenager he dedicated one of his first poems to a cousin who died at the age of nine after falling from the window in their grandfather"s house. His poetic abilities were nurtured by the annual Suq Okath held at the school. He wrote nationalistic poems, poems about love, beauty and nature, but after 1948 a lot of his poetry focused on the pains, hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people.

After graduating from university, he enrolled in the School of Law in Jerusalem while at the same time teaching Arabic, but that was interrupted due to the Nakbah. After the annexation of the West Bank to
Jordan in 1949, he started a career in journalism.

He published al-Ba"ath newspaper in Ramallah, and then set up al-Jil al-Jadid, a literary periodical. His paper was closed by the Jordanian government because he spoke out for justice and freedom and very often found himself thrown into prison. In 1956 he was elected to the Jordanian Parliament representing the Ba"ath party for the Ramallah District, but was expelled from Parliament during martial law in Jordan and was on the run for a long time. A cousin drove him secretly in the trunk of his car out of Jordan and took him to Nablus, where his sister was living. From there a friend working in the UN took him across the border to

He was allowed to return to Jordan after a general amnesty there 1966. His father had passed away while Nasir was in exile, and so he was never reunited with him.

As a result of the Arab-Israeli war in June 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank, and Nasir became active in the resistance movement and in the National Guidance committee and was one of the first to get expelled to
Lebanon by the Israeli military. There, he joined the PLO and was appointed editor of the PLO newspaper, Filastin al-Thawra.

Beginning in February 1969, he served as the official spokesman of the PLO, and was referred to as “the conscience of the Revolution” for his truthfulness and insistence on justice.

Nasir was assassinated in Beirut by an Israeli hit team lead by Ehud Barak, on April 10, 1973. Barak became Prime Minister of Israel from1999-2001. The Israelis landed at night on the beach at
Beirut, and assassinated two other Palestinian leaders --Kamal Adwan and Yousef El-Najjar—as well as Kamal Nasir. His writing and poetry must have been a great threat to Israel: they riddled his mouth and right hand with bullets after they killed him.

Only one collection of poetry Jirahun Tughanni (1961) was published during his lifetime. After his death his friends published more of his poetry and prose in two separate volumes.

Many of his poems were put to music by three musicians who were teaching at Birzeit University, mainly his cousins Rima Nasir and Amin Nasir, and the renowned Arab musician Yousef Batrouni. Many of the poems were sung by the Birzeit choir on graduation day.

A few lines of one of his last poems “The last Testimony” (Al wassiyah el Akheerah)

Beloved… Should you receive the news, And friends come to you with foreboding eyes, Be gentle and smile, For with my death I have brought them life. I have slain my spring into autumn, to immortalise the spring, Onto it the dreams of my people I have lain, Unto it I shall live and I shall pray, Possessed by an artist’s ecstasy, singing in my limbs, Teaching me love, striving, pervading my soul and my being. Thus the splendour of my dream shall remain, Thus immortal in my people’s hearts I shall be remembered.

Translated by Tania Tamari Nasir
Reproduced with permission.