In Memory of Edward W. Said (1 November 1935 – 25 September 2003), A Great Humanist and Thinker

Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, shown here at a lecture at the American University in Beirut in June in his last trip to Lebanon, died in New York at age 67, September 25 2003, after a battle with leukemia. Said was a leading voice in the Palestinian struggle and a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University. His books include "Orientalism", "A Question of Palestine", and "The End of the Peace Process".REUTERS /Mohamed Azakir REUTERS JS - RTR3MQ2

Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, shown here at a lecture at the American University in Beirut in June in his last trip to Lebanon, died in New York at age 67 after a battle with leukemia. A leading voice in the Palestinian struggle, a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, his books include “Orientalism”, “A Question of Palestine”, and “The End of the Peace Process”.REUTERS /Mohamed Azakir

I quote here two paragraphs from Edward Said’s 1979 article “Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Victims”, which surveys  the background of the tragic situation in which the Arab Palestinians still find themselves. His survey conforms entirely with my own sense of this background, & illuminates & informs it even further. I would highly recommend that at this point you (especially if you’re a Jew) read the essay too. Here is the link. (The emphasis in the first paragraph is mine.)

“[…] world opinion has not been – until the 60s and 70s [when] the Palestinians forced their presence on world politics – very much concerned with the expropriation of Palestine. I said earlier that in this regard the major Zionist achievement was getting international legitimization for its own accomplishments, thereby making the Palestinian cost of these accomplishments seem to be irrelevant. But it is clear from Herzl’s thinking that that could not have been done unless there was a prior European inclination to view the natives as irrelevant to begin with. That is, those natives already fit a more or less acceptable classificatory grid, which made them sui generis inferior to Western or white men – and it is this grid that a Zionist like Herzl appropriated, domesticating it from the general culture of his time to the unique needs of a developing Jewish nationalism. One needs to repeat that what in Zionism served the no doubt fully justified ends of Jewish tradition, saving the Jews as a people from homelessness and anti-Semitism, and restoring them to nationhood, also collaborated with those aspects of the dominant Western culture (in which Zionism exclusively and institutionally lived) making it possible for Europeans to view nonEuropeans as inferior, marginal, and irrelevant. For the Palestinian Arab, therefore, it is the collaboration that has counted, not by any means the fulfillment of Jewish nationalism. The Arab has been on the receiving end not of benign Zionism – which has been restricted to Jews – but of an essentially discriminatory and powerful culture, of which in Palestine Zionism has been the agent.

“[…] the great difficulty today of writing about what has happened to the Arab Palestinian as a result of Zionism is that Zionism has had a large number of successes. There is no question, for example, that most Jews do regard Zionism and Israel as urgently important facts for Jewish life, particularly because of what happened to the Jews in this century. Then too Israel has some remarkable political and cultural achievements to its credit, quite apart from its spectacular military successes until recently. Most important, Israel is a subject about which, on the whole, the Westerner can identify with with less reservations than the ones experienced in thinking about the Arabs who are after all outlandish, strange, hostile Orientals: surely that is an obvious fact to anyone living in the West. Together these successes of Zionism have produced a prevailing view of the question of Palestine that almost totally favors the victor, and takes hardly any account of the victim.”

A simple human story & an inspiring article by Ilana Hammerman: ‘The Illegal Entrant (Male), the Illegal Entrant (Female) and I’

Haaretz, 17.09.2015

Hebrew: השב”ח, השב”חית ואני /

My translation (with thanks to Sol Salbe, who put me onto this marvelous article, which I wish all my friends would read, and I wish them & all of us what the author wishes us in it):

I ended the year 5775 and my 71st year by smuggling a Palestinian laborer and his young niece from their village on the West Bank to my city, Jerusalem, where two days of work had been found for the laborer and two days of fun awaited the girl. The laborer got into the boot of my car and the girl sat in the seat beside me. Family members stood to the side and smiled with embarrassment, and the three of us set out on our way: the one folded up in the back, concealed, the one sitting erect and lovely and visible in the front, and also the one sitting in front, me – the excited driver, who’d been given the opportunity to do a good deed [a ‘mitzvah’] to end another year according to the Hebrew calendar and another year of her life, and in this way to wish herself and those traveling with her that [here the author cites a traditional Hebrew new year’s wish] may a year with its curses end, and a year with its blessings begin.

May a year with its curses end: I will not number all of those curses here, only those little ones that led me to do this deed, not for the first time or the last: the laborer has been unemployed most of the months of the year because in the area where he lives there is no work, not for him and not for thousands of others in the neighboring villages. In Israel there is occasionally work for him, but he, like those others, lives under a military closure order and Israel refuses to give him an entry permit to within its borders that it has fortified and blocked in the heart of his [home]land. True, he could have walked for hours, detouring around the roadblocks, squeezed through breaches in the fence that everyone knows about – hundreds do this and the army hunts down a few of them and turns a blind eye and lets the majority of them pass – but this laborer is not enough of a sportsman and not enough of a hero. He could also have chosen the surer way and bought a permit with money – but he doesn’t have enough to pay the price, more than 2,000 shekels [approx. US$500] a month, and the prices are rising fast as the distress increases.

So much for just a few of the laborer’s troubles, because of which, or maybe it just seems so to me, he looks so painfully gray. Because of them too, perhaps, he’s also skinny enough to squeeze into the boot of the car. While the girl’s still flowering in her youth. True, her father’s unemployed too, and neither she nor her brothers – she and they study at the university – have a chance of finding work when they complete their studies, but in the meantime she’s still enjoying the boon of youth and the talents and the grace she has been blessed with. All she lacks is a little more living space, to travel and tour in, and to broaden her world of experiences – she’s a girl who is full of life and full of curiosity. She’s already driven to the beach with me, and since then she hasn’t stopped asking me to take her to visit in Jerusalem. On that day I suggested that she join us and for the first time in her life see the city that is holy to her – a half-hour’s drive from her home to the roadblock and about a quarter-hour’s drive beyond it, and Jerusalem would already be spread out before her, and now she would enter it.

And so. peacefully and securely, the three of us reached the city center. We dropped the laborer uncle at his place of work, to fill in holes in walls, to smooth and plaster and whitewash them with his skilled hands and his work tools which had squeezed in with him in the boot, and his niece and I went out to tour and wander around and unwind in both the western and the eastern parts of the city. We walked and we traveled on the light rail, we went up to the tops of buildings to view the spectacular vistas of the Old City, we strolled through its alleys, entered its churches that were full of pilgrims, ate in a restaurant, had a dessert in a café, and with the waning of the day we sat for a while in the garden of my home. We made plans for the next day and lay down to sleep, tired but happy.

The next day the sun shone, the laborer worked, and we toured and unwound. And again the day waned and again we set out, the illegal entrant (male), the illegal entrant (female) and I. And we returned peacefully and securely to their homes in the imprisoned village south of the walls and the fences, had a dessert there with coffee and fruits, and I returned to my home to their north, which is imprisoned too, although in a different way.

A simple human story, a most fitting one to close the bad year that has ended, and to wish that the one that’s beginning will be blessed with thousands of similar stories. May 5776 be a year when we don’t just sit on the porch, but get outside our four walls and listen to the voice of our hearts, and make it happen that, between the sea and the Jordan, Palestinian and Jewish settlements and streets will be filled with Palestinian and Jewish men, women and children; that more and more Israelis will ignore the huge red signs planted at the entrances of Palestinian settlements to warn and to frighten and to threaten, and will ignore the laws and the arbitrary military orders and all the stupid and evil policy of separation and hatred – and will be guests there and hosts here. And will find out, like myself and others who are already doing this, how pleasant it is to be a guest and to be a host and how interesting it is to get to know the neighbor, the other, closely, face to face, to become acquainted with different human and cultural vistas, to share similar personal joys and woes; and, especially, to learn the taste of overcoming the fear and the siege that is imposed here upon all of us – the taste of freedom.

After all, how marvelous and liberating it is for an ordinary Israeli man or woman to take into their hands not the law but the liberty to knock down partitions that are internal and to ignore partitions that are outside; how good it is to be friends with our Palestinian neighbors in this small plot in the Middle East that is not yet as destroyed and torn and bleeding like its neighbor to the north, and most of its inhabitants want nothing more than to live their allotted portion of life on this earth in tranquility. To dwell with their families and among their communities, to eat and to feed sufficiently, and from time to time also to rest from their toil, to slightly release the reins of routine and to travel and tour and have a good time.

* * *

“What’s wrong with you Israelis, why won’t you allow us to breathe? During the month of Ramadan you permitted all the Palestinians from the West Bank to enter Israel, to drive to the beaches, to Jaffa, to Acre, to Haifa, to visit friends and relatives, and the people were happy and no bombs exploded and no knives were drawn – right? Believe me, I no longer care about the politics, not about the State of Palestine not about the State of Israel: I want to be a citizen in a state that will allow me to live and to earn a living with dignity and to be a free person.” – the words of an Arab taxi driver I rode with not long ago.

I’ve been hearing these things from Palestinians for years now, and of course I don’t agree – after all, I’m a political person, and from the heights of my comfortable position in life I side with a political solution. In the past, when it was still possible, I sided with two states for two peoples, and now, when it appears that it’s too late for that, I side with one state, a state of all its citizens, but since this solution too is not shining for us from the edge of the horizon, not for the millions of Palestinian Arabs and not for the millions of Israeli Jews who live here, and neither these nor those have another place to go to – since this is the case, I find myself at the outset of the new year once again fondly remembering the humane inspiration of my teacher and mentor from distant days, Albert Camus, the courageous author and intellectual. For even though I didn’t agree with the political position he took during the war in Algiers and later I also despaired about his humanism – now, when all hope is almost lost, I nevertheless find myself seeking to hold on to his simple and innocent humanism, and also trying to implement it in myself.

In the spirit of what is written in his book “Algerian Chronicles 1939–1958”, published this year by Carmel Publishers in a Hebrew translation by Shoshana Kerem [the quote below is from Justin O´Brien’s English translation of “Appeal for a Civilian Truce in Algeria”, 1956]:

“I know that the great tragedies of history often fascinate men with approaching horror. Paralyzed, they cannot make up their minds to do anything but wait. So they wait, and one day the Gorgon devours them. But I should like to convince you that the spell can be broken, that there is only an illusion of impotence, that strength of heart, intelligence, and courage are enough to stop fate and sometimes reverse it. One has merely to will this, not blindly, but with a firm and reasoned will. People are too readily resigned to fatality. They are too ready to believe that, after all, nothing but bloodshed makes history progress and that the stronger always progresses at the expense of the weaker. Such fatality exists perhaps. But man’s task is not to accept it or to bow to its laws.”

And I add here, inspired by a term coined by Camus, “The Rebel” [the coinage is in the original French: “L’Homme revolté”] – not to bow , not only to the laws of fatality but also to the laws of men, when your heart and your mind tell you that they’re not legal and not humane and not just – and when civil courage and love of humanity and of liberty give you, give us, the mental and emotional powers to rebel against them. This is my hope and these are my wishes for the new year in the Hebrew calendar and in my life may we be blessed with these mental and emotional powers.

Amen and so may it be willed – by our will.

Hillel Cohen’s 5689/ 1929 / Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict Published in English

A couple of months ago I posted a translation of Rachel Elior’s review of three important books, one of which was Hillel Cohen’s 5689. This book has now appeared in English translation. I found this out because a Facebook friend, the indefatigable Sol Salbe who keeps so many of us updated about events related to Israel/Palestine (& other things as well) posted this status today:

(& if you click on “Comment” just above this line, you’ll find that I’m indebted to Ran Greenstein for picking up an error in a date translation in my original translation of Rachel Elior’s review [I’ve corrected it now], and also a reply of mine to two commenters who wrote that the conflict began earlier…)

Born into Hebrew, born into Jewhood…

Nitza posted this today, A portrait of both of us, on the background of fragments of the Hebrew biblical text on the moving & powerfully symbolic story of Abraham’s binding & almost-sacrifice of  his “only” son Isaac (Genesis 22.1–18).

n bornintohebrew
“I was born into Hebrew / & that, it becomes clear, is fate”, she wrote in Hebrew.

She indeed was born into Hebrew, in Tel Aviv, Palestine, in 1943. I wasn’t. I was born into Polish, in Warsaw, Poland, in 1936.

But we were both born into Jewhood, which, like a language, is something you’re born into — even more than a language, my own experience tells me, for I stopped thinking in & speaking Polish even before I arrived in Australia in 1947 as a refugee, but haven’t stopped feeling Jewish since I learned I was a Jew, in Shanghai. & though not born into Hebrew, I learned a lot of it during my teens & early twenties, and much much more after I “ascended” to Israeland in 1959 & lived there for close on four decades.

& today, here in Australia, we both live in two languages — English & Hebrew, thinking & speaking in one as often as the other & sometimes both in the one sentence, & reading & writing both from right to left & from left to right…

& we are both enriched by this bilingualism, which is also a biculturalism, for in & by means of Israeli Hebrew the Zionist nation-building project in Palestine has engendered a rich culture that transcends & sometimes critiques & opposes Zionism — a culture that connects to (& sometimes critically deconstructs) works from all periods of Hebrew & Jewish culture & also, through translations, to works from countless other cultures, periods and languages.

The biblical story that Nitza relates to in this work has in fact been taken as a motif in numerous works in Israeli Hebrew literature and visual art, often in bitter protest at the nation’s sacrificing its sons “for the nation”, & sometimes relating it to the story of Abraham’s casting out his first son, Ishmael.

Here’s a sonnet I wrote on this theme quite a few decades ago (in English):

unsacrificed (2)
And here, for reference, is the chapter from Genesis, in English, & in Hebrew, followed by a further remark.


Well, so far, if this mythical Abraham represents a primal ancestor of all Jews, in some of his “offspring” (the ESV’s euphemistic translation of “seed”, a word that emphasizes the patriarchalist genetics of Judaism) “all the nations of the earth” have indeed been “blessed”, but in or by others that is not exactly the case. Ask those who live under occupation, or who are forced exiles from, the country where this story is said to have happened.

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