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.”

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