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This article is taken from PN Review 130, Volume 26 Number 2, November - December 1999.

On Taha Muhammad Ali Gabriel Levin

Having found Taha Muhammad Ali's store on Casanova Street in the old quarter of Nazareth empty, I sat on one of the small, wicker-topped stools and let my eyes roam about the shop. The shelves running up to the high, vaulted ceiling were crammed with imitation pearl-studded scabbards, ceramic bowls of various sizes and shapes, colourful kafiyehs, olive-wood camels, inlaid boxes, nargilas, postcards of the crusader church rising above the shops at the end of the narrow street.

This wasn't exactly what I had expected. Some months earlier, when I'd first tried to translate two of Taha Muhammad Ali's poems, I had been told by a friend, who was then editing an anthology of Palestinian poetry, that the poet was a dealer in antiquities. Ali was born and raised, my friend had explained, in the village of Saffuriya, located on the site of what had once been the ancient town of Sepphoris, and at the age of seventeen was forced to leave with his family for Lebanon, after his village was razed to the ground by the Israeli army in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. A year later he and his family slipped back across the border and eventually settled in Nazareth.

Ali, I now realized, was in truth the proud owner of a souvenir shop. The only objects that might have passed for antiquities were some old farming implements and the waist-high jug once used by villagers for storing grain, leaning against the wall ...


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