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Edward Said: Dissident Voice

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  • World View <ummyakoub@yahoo.com>
    Edward Said Dissident Voice December 22, 2002 The daily hemorrhage of Palestinian lives and property accelerates without respite. Both the Arab and Western
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 6, 2003
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      Edward Said
      Dissident Voice
      December 22, 2002

      The daily hemorrhage of Palestinian lives and property accelerates
      without respite. Both the Arab and Western media report horrifically
      sensational suicide bombings, complete with pictures and names of
      the victims as well as gut-wrenching details. I do not hesitate now
      to say again that these efforts are morally repugnant and
      politically disastrous on all sorts of grounds. But what I find just
      as awful is the fact that Israel kills a far larger number of mostly
      unarmed Palestinian civilians -- a 90- year-old man here, a whole
      family there, a mentally disabled youth today, a nurse yesterday,
      and so on -- and refuses to stop or in any way place restrictions on
      its troops who have visited mayhem on the Palestinians unremittingly
      for far too many recent months. Most of the time, however, these
      dreadful slaughters are reported on the back pages of newspapers and
      never mentioned on TV. As for the continued practice of extra- legal
      assassinations, Israel is allowed to get away with phrases from
      journalists who use words like "alleged" or "officials say" to cover
      their own irresponsibility as reporters. The New York Times in
      particular is now so clotted with such phrases in reporting on the
      Middle East (Iraq included) that it might as well be re-
      named "Officials Said".

      In other words, the fact that illegal Israeli practices continue to
      deliberately bleed the Palestinian civilian population is obscured,
      hidden from view, though it continues steadily all the time: 65 per
      cent unemployment, 50 per cent poverty (people living on less than
      $2 a day), schools, hospitals, universities, businesses under
      constant military pressure, these are only the outward manifestation
      of Israeli crimes against humanity. Over 40 per cent of the
      Palestinian population is malnourished and famine is now a genuine
      threat. Non-stop curfews, the endless expropriation of land and the
      building of settlements (now numbering almost 200), the destruction
      of crops, trees, houses have made life for ordinary Palestinians
      intolerable. Many are leaving, or as is the case with the
      inhabitants of Yanun village, must leave because settlers' terror
      against them, the burning of their houses, and threats against their
      lives make it impossible to stay.

      Ethnic cleansing is what this is all about, although Sharon's
      demonic plan is to do it in tiny daily increments that won't
      properly be reported and are never seen cumulatively as part of a
      general pattern. With the Bush administration backing his policies
      unconditionally, no wonder that Sharon can afford to say "we are
      placing no restriction on our operations. Israel is under no
      pressure. No one is criticising us or has the right to do so. We are
      talking here about Israel's right to protect its citizens."
      (Reuters, IHT 15 November, 2002). Why this kind of arrogance goes
      unanswered or isn't immediately associated with the kind of thing
      for which Slobodan Milosevic is now being tried in the Hague is a
      sign of how mendacious the international community has become. With
      US cover, Sharon kills Palestinians at will under the guise of
      fighting terrorism.

      Were this not bad enough, there is in addition the sorry state of
      Palestinian and Arab politics, many of its leaders and elites never
      more corrupt, rarely more injurious to their people as now. Neither
      collectively nor individually have these people put up any
      systematic strategy, much less even a systematic protest against
      Washington's announced plans to re-draw the map of the Middle East
      after the invasion of Iraq. All these regimes can do now seems to be
      either to market themselves as indispensable to the US or to
      suppress any sign of dissent in their midst. Or both together. The
      unseemly bickering and disorderliness of the Iraqi opposition in
      London -- under the watchful eye of the US's Zalmay Khalizad, an AUB
      graduate, once a neighbour of mine in New York, now a neo-
      conservative protégé of Cheney and Wolfowitz -- gives an excellent
      idea of where we are as a people.

      Representatives who represent only themselves, the condescending
      imperial patronage of a power that is about to destroy a country in
      order to grab its resources, the tyrannical, discredited local
      regimes (of which Saddam's is the worst) ruling by terror, the
      absence of any semblance of democracy within, and without, such
      regimes -- these are not reassuring prospects for the future. What
      is especially noticeable about the general situation is the
      powerlessness and silence of the overwhelming majority of the
      people, who suffer their humiliation within an envelope of overall
      indifference and repression. Everything in the Arab world is done
      either from above by basically unelected rulers or behind a curtain
      by undesignated, albeit resourceful, middlemen. Resources are
      bartered or sold without accountability; political futures are
      designed for the convenience of the powerful and their local sub-
      contractors; human compassion and care for the citizens' well being
      have few institutions to nurture them.

      The Palestinian situation embodies all this with startling drama. As
      the culmination of its 35-year-old military occupation the Israeli
      army has spent the last nine months destroying the rudimentary
      infrastructure of civilian life on the West Bank and in Gaza: people
      there, in effect, live in cages, with electrical and concrete fences
      or Israeli troops to guard and interdict their free movement. Yasser
      Arafat and his men, who are at least as responsible for the current
      paralysis and devastation because of what they signed away in Oslo,
      and for having given legitimacy to the Israeli occupation, seem to
      be hanging on anyway, even as extraordinary stories of their
      corruption and illegally acquired wealth dribble out all over the
      Israeli, Arab and international media. It is deeply troubling that
      many of these men have recently been involved in secret negotiations
      with the EU, with the CIA, with the Scandinavian countries on the
      basis of their former credibility as surrogates and servants of
      Arafat. In the meantime Mr. Palestine himself continues to issue
      orders and ludicrous denunciations, all of them either futile or
      years out of date; his recent attack on Osama Bin Laden is one
      example, as is his retrospective acceptance of the Clinton plan of
      2000. Still, he and his henchmen like the sinister Mohamed Rashid
      (aka Khalid Salam) continue to employ large sums of money to bribe,
      to corrupt, and to prolong their rule past all decency. No one seems
      to be paying attention as the infamous Quartet announces a peace
      conference and reform with one voice on one day, withdrawing the
      plan the next, while encouraging Israel in its repression on the
      third day.

      What could be more preposterous than the call for Palestinian
      elections, which Mr. Arafat of all people, imprisoned in an Israeli
      vice, announces, retracts, postpones, and re-announces. Everyone
      speaks of reform except the very people whose future depends on it,
      i.e. the citizens of Palestine, who have endured and sacrificed so
      much even as their impoverishment and misery increases. Isn't it
      ironic, not to say grotesque, that in the name of that long-
      suffering people schemes of rule are being hatched everywhere,
      except by that people itself? Surely the Swedes, the Spanish, the
      British, the Americans and even the Israelis know that the symbolic
      key to the future of the Middle East is Palestine, and that is why
      they do everything within their power to make sure that the
      Palestinian people are kept as far away from decisions about the
      future as possible. And this during a heated campaign for war
      against Iraq, during which numerous Americans, Europeans and
      Israelis have openly stated that this is the time to re-draw the map
      of the Middle East and bring in "democracy".

      The time has come for the emperor who claims to be wearing new
      clothes, which he calls democracy, to be exposed for the charlatan
      he really is. Democracy cannot be imported or imposed: it is the
      prerogative of citizens who can make it and desire to live under it.
      Ever since the end of World War Two, the Arab countries have been
      living in various states of "emergency", which has been a license
      for their rulers to do what they want in the name of security. Even
      the Palestinians under Oslo had a regime imposed on them that
      existed first of all to serve Israel's security, and second, to
      serve (and help) itself.

      For all sorts of reasons, among them that the cause of Palestine
      (like the liberation of apartheid South Africa) has always served as
      a model for Arabs and fair-minded idealistic people everywhere, it
      is today imperative that Palestinians take steps to restore the
      fashioning of their destiny to their own hands. The political stage
      in Palestine is now divided between two unattractive and unviable
      alternatives. On one side there is what is left of the Authority and
      Arafat, on the other the Islamic parties. Neither one nor the other
      can possibly secure a decent future for the citizens of Palestine.
      The Authority is so discredited, its failure to build institutions
      so basic, its corrupt and cynical history so compromised in every
      way as to render it incapable of being entrusted with the future.
      Only rogues will pretend otherwise, as some of its security chiefs
      and prominent negotiators are now pretending. As for the Islamic
      parties, they lead desperate individuals into a negative space of
      endless religious strife and anti-modern decline. If we speak of
      Zionism as having failed politically and socially, how can it be
      acceptable to turn passively to another religion and look there for
      worldly salvation? Impossible. Human beings make their own history,
      not gods or magic or miracles. Purifying the land of "aliens",
      whether it is spoken of by Muslims, Christians or Jews, is a
      defilement of human life as it is lived by billions of people who
      are mixed by race, history, ethnic identity, religion or
      nationality.

      But a large majority of Palestinians and, I think, Israelis, know
      these things. And fortunately a political alternative already exists
      that is neither Hamas nor Arafat's Authority. I am speaking here of
      an impressive formation of Palestinians in the occupied territories
      who in June of this year announced a new Palestinian national
      initiative (moubadara wataniya). Among its leaders are Dr Mustafa
      Barghouti and Dr Haidar Abdel-Shafi, Rawia Al-Shawa, and many more
      independents who understand that in its weakened state Palestinian
      society is being targeted for "reform" by parties whose real
      interest is to liquidate Palestine as a political and moral force
      for years to come. Idle talk of elections by Arafat and his
      lieutenants is meant to reassure outsiders that democracy is on the
      way. Far from it -- these people simply want to continue their
      corrupt and bankrupt ways by any means possible, including outright
      fraud. The 1996 elections, it should be remembered, were conducted
      on the basis of the Oslo process, the main aim of which was to
      continue Israeli occupation under a different title. The Legislative
      Assembly (al majlis al-tashri'i) was in reality powerless before
      both Arafat's edict and the Israeli veto. What Sharon and the
      Quartet now propose is an extension of the same unacceptable regime.
      This is why the National Initiative has become the inevitable choice
      for Palestinians everywhere.

      In the first place, unlike the Authority, it proposes liberation
      from, rather than cooperation with, the Israeli occupation. Second,
      it is representative of a broad base in civil society and therefore
      includes no military or security people and no hangers on of
      Arafat's court. Third, it argues for liberation and not a
      readjustment of the occupation to suit elites and VIPs.

      Most important, the initiative -- which I am happy to endorse
      enthusiastically-- puts forward the idea of a national unified
      authority, elected to serve the people and its need for liberation,
      for democratic freedoms, and for public debate and accountability.
      These things have been put off for far too long. The old divisions
      between Fatah, the Popular Front, Hamas, and all the others, are
      meaningless today. We cannot afford such ridiculous posturing. As a
      people under occupation we need a leadership whose main goal is to
      rid us of Israeli depredations and occupations, and to provide us
      with an order that can fulfil our needs for honesty, national scope,
      transparency and direct speech. Arafat has a history of double talk.
      Barghouti, on the other hand -- I use him as an example here --
      takes a principled line, whether he addresses Palestinians,
      Israelis, or the foreign media. He has the respect of his people
      because of his medical services in the villages, and his honesty and
      leadership have inspired everyone who has had contact with him. I
      also think it is very important that the Palestinian people should
      be led now by modern, well- educated people for whom the values of
      citizenship are central to their vision. Our rulers today have never
      been citizens, they have never stood in line to buy bread, they have
      never paid their own medical or school bills, they have never
      endured the uncertainty and cruelty of arbitrary arrest, tribal
      bullying, conspiratorial power grabs. Barghouti's and Abdel-Shafi's
      examples, as do those of all the main figures in the initiative,
      speak to our need for independence of mind and responsible, modern
      citizenship. The old days are over and should be buried as
      expeditiously as possible.

      I conclude by saying that real change can only come about when
      people actively will that change, make it possible themselves. The
      Iraqi opposition is making a terrible mistake by throwing its fate
      into American hands, and in so doing paying insufficient attention
      to the needs of the actual people of Iraq who now suffer the
      terrible persecutions of autocracy and are about to be subject to an
      equally terrible bombing by the US. In Palestine it should be
      possible to have elections now, but not elections to re-install
      Arafat's ragged crew, but rather to choose delegates for a
      constitutional and truly representative assembly. It is a lamentable
      reality that during
      his 10 years of misrule Arafat actively prevented the creation of a
      constitution despite all his ridiculous gibberish about "Palestinian
      democracy". His legacy is neither a constitution nor even a basic
      law, but only a decrepit mafia. Despite that, and despite Sharon's
      frantic wish to bring an end to Palestinian national life, our
      popular and civil institutions still function under extreme hardship
      and duress. Somehow teachers teach, nurses nurse, doctors doctor,
      and so on. These everyday activities have never stopped if only
      because necessity dictates unstinting effort. Now those institutions
      and those people who have truly served their society must bring
      themselves forward and provide a moral and intellectual framework
      for liberation and democracy, by peaceful means and with genuine
      national intent. In this effort Palestinians under occupation and
      those in the shatat or diaspora have an equal obligation to make the
      effort. Perhaps this national initiative may provide a democratic
      example for other Arabs as
      well.

      Edward Said is University Professor of English and Comparative
      Literature at Columbia University, and is a leading Palestinian
      intellectual and activist. Among his books are The End of the Peace
      Process: Oslo and After (Pantheon, 2000), Peace and Its Discontents:
      Essays on Palestine in the Middle East Peace Process (Vintage,
      1996), and Out of Place: A Memoir (Knopf, 1999). This article first
      appeared in Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt)

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