This is how the Iraqi poet, living in exile in France for the past 40 years, expressed himself at a panel discussion at the 27th Jerusalem International Book Fair, thanking his adopted country for restoring his self-respect and humanity.
Salah Al-Hamdani sat on the panel next to Israeli poet Ronny Someck, also born in Baghdad in 1951. Influenced by Albert Camus, Al-Hamdani says that he chose exile because of the actions of the Baath regime in Iraq. Coming from a poor familyi, he enlisted in the Iraqi army but could not endure the atrocities carried out against the Kurdish children. His protests landed him in prison, and he realized that he had no further place in Iraq.
Al-Hamdani lamented the forced exile of the Jews of Iraq, which had a very negative effect on the Iraqi cultural scene, noting that he maintains contact with Iraqi Jews in London who continue to contribute to Iraqi culture. He first met Ronny Someck at a poetry festival in France five years ago and they immediately clicked. He has already visited Israel, where he met with Someck’s mother who, he says, is for him like his own mother who remains in Iraq and he has not seen for 30 years.
The meeting of the two poets, initiated by the Poetry Place, a literary project of a community center in Jerusalem, and sponsored by the Israel Foreign Ministry’s Cultural and Scientific Affairs Division, took place at the Jerusalem Cinematheque within the framework of the International Book Fair. It marked the publication of their joint book of poetry – “Baghdad-Jerusalem” – in French, Hebrew and Arabic. The preface was written by publisher Bruno Doucey, who notes Al-Hamdani’s phone call with Someck’s mother, conducted in the Baghdad Arab dialect, in which she expressed the hope that he and her son Ronny will some day be able to travel together to Baghdad and recite their poems. Doucey hopes their book will become a passport to the fulfillment of their joint aspirations.
Salah Al-Hamdani does not attach any political significance to his visit, noting that he is primarily seeking friendships with Iraqi Jews living in Israel, which he sees as a good place for cultural dialogue. Though aware that his very presence in Israel has political meaning, he was willing to take the risk.