Samih al-Qasim was born to a Druze family in the town of Zarqa in Jordan. His father, Muhammad al-Qasim al-Hussein, was from the village of al-Rama in the Upper Galilee. His mother was Hana Shihadeh Muhammad Fayyad. He had four brothers—Qasim, Sa‘id, Sami, and Mahmud—and two sisters, Shafiqa and Sadiqa. He and his wife, Nawal Salman Hussein, had four children: Muhammad, Waddah, Umar, and Yasir.
In 1941, Samih al-Qasim returned with his family to al-Rama and attended the Latin Nuns School and al-Rama School between 1945 and 1953. He then continued his education in Nazareth at the Terra Sancta College between 1953 and 1955 and subsequently at the Municipal Secondary School between 1955 and 1957. Thus from age nine al-Qasim was educated in Israel after it was established in 1948.
Al-Qasim began his professional career as a government teacher and taught at primary schools in the Galilee and al-Karmel. But the Israeli education minister ordered his dismissal from his post because of his literary, political, and nationalist activities. So he worked at many jobs. He was a worker in the industrial district in Haifa, an assistant electrical welder, a gas station attendant, and inspector in the Urban Planning Department in Nazareth. In 1958, al-Qasim, who was politically close to the banned al-Ard Arab nationalist movement, established a semi-secret organization called the Free Druze Youth Organization.
Samih al-Qasim was among the first Arab Druze youth to defy the compulsory military service imposed by the Israeli authorities on his community in the framework of a “divide and rule” policy. Inducted by force in 1960 into military service, he refused to carry arms and was put in jail until the army command agreed to assign him non-military tasks. He began by teaching soldiers; then he was sent on a nursing tour in the Sarafand camp and finally to the morgue at Rambam hospital in Haifa.
Al-Qasim began to compose poetry at an early age. His first collection of poems, Pageants of the Sun, was published when he was nineteen years old. His second collection, Songs of the Footpaths, appeared in 1964. His poetic creativity lasted to the end of his life. In one of the last interviews he gave, he said: “I have spent my life in the service of the ode.”
In the early 1960s, al-Qasim began to work as a journalist. This came about as a result of an invitation from the editorial board of the magazine al-Ghadd issued in Arabic in Haifa by the Israeli Communist Party. By the mid-1960s, he was editing the Arabic edition of the Hebrew magazine HaOlam Hazeh (This World), published in Tel Aviv by the leftist Israeli activist Uri Avnery. After he resigned from that magazine, he was invited to join the editorial board of the Haifa daily al-Ittihad, the organ of the Communist Party in Arabic, and al-Qasim settled in Haifa.
On the morning of the Israeli aggression on 5 June 1967, al-Qasim was arrested inside the editorial offices of al-Ittihad newspaper and spent some time in the Damun prison on Mount Karmel. While in prison, he submitted a request for a nominal membership of the Communist Party and some years later was elected a member of the party’s central committee.
In 1968, he and Mahmud Darwish joined a Communist Party delegation to the World Youth Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria, and in 1971 he travelled to Moscow where he studied for a year at the Institute of Social Sciences.
In 1973, Samih al-Qasim helped to establish the Arabesque Publishing House in Haifa and ran the Popular Arts Institute in the same city. For several years he headed the Arab Writers Union in Israel.
In the early 1970s he became editor of the cultural magazine al-Jadid, published by the Communist Party, and remained its editor for ten years. By the mid-1970s, he had co-founded the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality and was a member of the Druze Initiative Committee as well as the National Committee for the Defense of Arab Lands.
Al-Qasim resigned his editorship of al-Jadid following a dispute with the Communist Party leadership over its attitude to the political developments in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev. Al-Qasim was an enthusiastic supporter of the policy of perestroika (restructuring) pursued by Gorbachev.
In Nazareth, and along with writer Nabih al-Qasim, he issued a cultural quarterly called Ida’at and was also honorary editor of the newspaper Kull al-‘Arab, which was published in the same city.
Samih al-Qasim is regarded as one of the pillars of contemporary Arabic poetry and one of the most prominent poets of the Palestinian resistance. He made the cause of his Palestinian people his own and illumined its humanitarian and universal aspects. His poetry displays his pride in his Arab identity, attachment to the land, and religious tolerance. A number of his poems have been turned into revolutionary songs that circulated widely.
Following his first collection of poetry, Pageants of the Sun (1958), he published over the course of his career more than seventy books, including poetry collections, prose works, and plays, and his works have been translated into more than ten languages. He won many prizes and medals, including the prize at the Grenada International Festival “Poesía en el Laurel”; the prize for the best translation into French in 1988 for selections from his poems by the Moroccan writer and poet Abdellatif Laâbi; the prize for poetic creativity awarded by the Kuwaiti Al-Babtain Foundation; the Jerusalem Medal for Culture, the Arts and Literature awarded by the late Palestinian president Yasir Arafat; the Naguib Mahfouz Prize for an Arab author awarded by the Egyptian Writers’ Union; and the Palestine Prize for Poetry awarded by the Palestinian Ministry of Culture.
Samih al-Qasim died in Safad Hospital. His body was carried to his village al-Rama where thousands turned out for his funeral from the Arab villages and towns in Israel.
Selected Poetry Collections
"مواكب الشمس". الناصرة: مطبعة الحكيم، 1958.
[Pageants of the Sun]
"دمي على كفّي". الناصرة: مطبعة الحكيم، 1967.
[My Blood on My Palm]
"سقوط الأقنعة". بيروت: دار الآداب، 1969.
[The Fall of the Masks]
"ديوان سميح القاسم". بيروت: دار العودة، 1970.
"الموت الكبير". بيروت: دار الآداب، 1972.
[The Great Death]
"وما قتلوه وما صلبوه ولكن شبه لهم". القدس: منشورات صلاح الدين، 1976.
[They Killed Him Not, nor Crucified Him but so It Appeared to Them]
"ثالث أكسيد الكربون". حيفا: 1976.
"ديوان الحماسة" (الجزء الأول والثاني والثالث). عكا: منشورات الأسوار، 1978 و1979 و1981.
[The Diwan of Valor]
"الجانب المعتم من التفاحة، الجانب المضيء من القلب". بيروت: دار الفارابي، 1981.
[The Dark Side of the Apple, the Illumined Side of the Heart]
"شخص غير مرغوب فيه". بيروت: دار الكلمة؛ عمان: دار الخليل للنشر، 1986.
[Persona non Grata]
"لا أستأذن أحداً". لندن: دار رياض الريّس للكتب والنشر، 1988.
[I Ask No One’s Permission]
"سأخرج من صورتي ذات يوم". عكا: منشورات الأسوار، 2000.
[One Day I Shall Emerge from My Portrait]
"بلا بنفسج: كلمات في حضرة غياب محمود درويش". الناصرة، منشورات إضاءات، 2008.
[Without Violets: Words Spoken in the Presence/ Absence of Mahmud Darwish]
"مكالمة شخصية جداً! (مع محمود درويش). الناصرة: منشورات إضاءات، 2009.
[A Very Personal Call (with Mahmud Darwish)]
حزام الورد الناسف، الناصرة، منشورات إضاءات، 2009.
[The Exploding Belt of Roses]
"مراثي سميح القاسم". بيروت: دار الآداب، 1973.
[The Elegies of Samih al-Qasim]
"خذلتني الصحارى". الناصرة: منشورات إضاءات، 1998.
[The Deserts Have Let Me Down]
"كلمة الفقيد في مهرجان تأبينه". عكا: منشورات الأسوار، 2000.
[Speech by the Deceased at his Memorial Service]
"عجائب قانا الجديدة". الناصرة: منشورات إضاءات، 2006.
[The New Miracles of Qana]
"أنا متأسف". الناصرة: منشورات إضاءات، 2009.
[I Am Sorry]
"قرقاش". الناصرة: المطبعة الشعبية في الناصرة، 1970.
"عن الموقف والفن" بيروت: دار العودة، 1970.
[On Outlook and Art]
"من فمك أدينك". حيفا: منشورات عربسك، 1974.
[From Your Mouth I Condemn You]
"إلى الجحيم أيها الليلك". القدس: منشورات صلاح الدين، 1977.
[To Hell with You, O Lilac]
"الصورة الأخيرة في الألبوم". عكا: دار الكاتب، 1980.
[The Last Photo in the Album]
"الرسائل مع محمود درويش وسميح القاسم". حيفا: منشورات عربسك، 1989.
[Letters with Mahmud Darwish and Samih al-Qasim]
"الأعمال الناجزة للشاعر سميح القاسم، ودراسات نقدية حول تجربته الشعرية (7 مجلدات)". القدس: دار الهدى، 1991.
[The Complete Works of the Poet Samih al-Qasim; with Critical Studies about His Poetic Experience]
"الأعمال الكاملة للشاعر سميح القاسم (6 مجلدات)". القاهرة: دار سعاد الصباح، 1993.
[The Complete Works of the Poet Samih al-Qasim]
"إنها مجرد منفضة" (الجزء قبل الأخير من السيرة الذاتية). حيفا: دار راية للنشر، 2011.
[It’s Just an Ashtray; The Penultimate Part of an Autobiography]
Selected Translations of His Works
All Faces but Mine: The Poetry of Samih Al-Qasim. Translated from the Arabic by Abdulwahid Lu’lu’a. New York: Syracuse University Press, 2015.
Sadder than Water: New & Selected Poems/ Samih al-Qasim. Translated by Nazih Kassis, introduced by Adina Hoffman. Jerusalem: Ibis Editions, 2006.
Victims of a Map [a bilingual anthology of Arabic poetry] / Mahmud Darwish, Samih al-Qasim, Adonis. Translated by Abdullah al-Udhari. London: Saqi Books, 1984.
Je t’aime au gré de la mort, poèmes de Samih al-Qâsim. Traduits par Abdellatif Laâbi. Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1988.
الجعفري، وليد. "حوار مع سميح القاسم حول تجربة العمل السياسي في فلسطين المحتلة". "صامد الاقتصادي"، العددان 50 و 51، تموز-تشرين الأول، 1984، ص 296-306.
حليحل، علاء. "سميح القاسم: أفنيت عمري في خدمة القصيدة (مقابلة خاصة)". "الكرمل الجديد"، العدد 3-4، ربيع- صيف 2012، ص 171-213.
ديكان-واصف، سارة. "معجم الكتّاب الفلسطينيين". باريس: معهد العالم العربي، 1999.
شاهين، أحمد عمر. "موسوعة كتّاب فلسطين في القرن العشرين" (الجزء الأول). دمشق: المركز القومي للدراسات والتوثيق، 1992.
طه، محمد علي. "رفيق العمر وصديق الخير: ذكريات عن الشاعر سميح القاسم". "أوراق فلسطينية"، العدد 13، صيف 2016، ص 195-207.
كامبل، روبرت. "أعلام الأدب العربي المعاصر: سير وسير ذاتية" (المجلد الأول). بيروت: المعهد الألماني للأبحاث الشرقية، 1996.
كيوان، سهيل. "هوميروس من الصحراء: قراءات وانطباعات في أعمال سميح القاسم الشعرية والنثرية". عكا: منشورات مؤسسة الأسوار، 2000.
لوباني، حسين علي. "معجم أعلام فلسطين في العلوم والفنون والآداب". بيروت: مكتبة لبنان ناشرون، 2012.
Abdul Hadi, Mahdi, ed. Palestinian Personalities: A Biographic Dictionary. 2nd ed., revised and updated. Jerusalem: Passia Publication, 2006.
Campbell, Robert. Contemporary Arab Writers: Biographies and Autobiographies. Beirut: Orient Institute, 1996.
Descamps-Wassif, Sara. Dictionnaire des écrivains palestiniens. Paris: Institut du monde arabe, 1999.