report on E. Said lecture (Berlin)
hazel_motes52 at hotmail.com
Tue Dec 4 10:49:25 MST 2001
Edward Said gave a lecture in Berlin last Sunday (Dec. 2), which I attended,
entitled, "The Moral and Ethical Dilemma of the Palestinian Question." For
whoever may be interested, here is a summary of Dr. Said´s talk:
Germany´s efforts to come to terms with its past is incomplete without
considering the Palestinians, the "victims of the victims." Israel was
established on the ruins of another society -- Europe bears a huge burden
for the origins, at least, of the conflict; Britain, Germany etc. cannot
hide behind the shadow of the U.S.
Last night we saw another terrible event (the weekend suicide bombings in
Jerusalem and Haifa). Also over the weekend, U.S. bombs fell on several
Afghani villages, killing scores of people. Over 20 Palestinians have also
been killed -- shot, bombed, killed by missiles-- in the last few days,
including 5 children killed in a refugee camp by a bomb, left as a trap by
the Israeli army. There is no excuse for any of this....
How to understand this terrible situation? We must consider the vast
disparity of power: Israel vs. the Palestinians, and U.S. vs. the Afghanis.
Palestinians are also unprotected, subjected to military occupation; they
have no work, no hope, no end in sight....
while Israel receives about 5 billion dollars a yr from U.S. -- largest in
the history of foreign aid (not just U.S. foreign aid)
Suicide bombings a desperate attempt to break out of a circle of steel --
Humans make their own history, not God, or nature; this history (of the
region) and reality are submerged from sight, dehumanized --
80% of respondents in a poll in the U.S., before Sept. 11, asked "what does
´Palestinian´ bring to mind," responded, "terrorism." But, in the words of
Shakespeare´s Shylock, we too bleed, suffer...
we must try to see it through the eyes of Palestinians.
This area is densely saturated with historical, religious significance --
during 10,000 yr history, there are many histories; Jewish history is one
small strand (Canaanites, Phoenecians, etc. etc.)
Jewish ascendancy in ancient Palestine, from which Israel claims legitimacy,
lasted about 200 years (in time of king David and his successors) - but
there were so many other civilizations, cultures -- the region is teeming
with the traces of other civilizations.
The Palestinian people were the modern inheritors of this multi-cultural
history, until mid-20th century. Part of larger Arab, mostly Muslim, world.
Toward end of 400-yr. Ottoman occupation (WWI), they joined side of British
and Allies, in exchange for promises. Yet the British and French were
already secretly devising plans for division of these lands -- never an
effort to consult the inhabitants, similar to current conference in Bonn (on
future Afghan gov´t).
Balfour Declaration--promise to Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann Nov. 1917 --
Zionists expand settling effort after the war --
Europe considered support to Israel, after WWII, as a sort of reparation for
the Holocaust. Why were we designated to pay the bill, for something that
happened in Europe, by Europeans? Why not give them a piece of Europe?
Jews settling in Palestine -- only 5% of total population of Pal. in 1917,
30% in 1948.
Arabs, Palestinians failed miserably to organize militarily -- 870,ooo
Palestinians driven out by Zionist armies, militias, often through such
terror attacks as the Dir Yassin massacre (April 1948), by Begin´s Irgun --
over 500 villages destroyed --
responsibility of Ben-Gurion, Rabin --
new images, realities created -- "land without people for a people without
land" myth -- "a long Jewish history here" --
no Arabs allowed to buy, lease land in the new "Jewish state"
never a constitution or bill of rights; Israel the only nation today that
has no fixed borders. Ben-Gurion carefully removed a reference to borders
from a 1948 speech -- "one never knows", don´t want to be restrained.
Moshe Dayan admitted in 1976 that "every town here used to have an Arab
in 1967, the rest of Pal. conquered. since 67, all we here is "violence
continues" etc. -- the fact that the occupied territories are indeed
occupied is rarely mentioned.
Now there are three Pal. populations (in Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza,
and in the diaspora) -- inevitably, a fragmented history.
Consequence of the concerted effort to make us disappear, disperse and
separate us, as the "Peace Process" has.
This is a consistent, unrelenting campaign -- summer 82 invasion of Lebanon,
killed 19,000, all Palestinians or Lebanese, by I. army.
The first Intifada was an anticolonial rebellion, not succesful; so-called
Peace Process begun with weak Arafat leadership. This has only led to
further depradations, suffering; no word in negotiations about end to
occupation; disparity in power maintained; settlements built etc., initially
by Labor gov´t of late 60s. Today 400,000 settlers.
Only 17% of West Bank, Gaza in Pal. hands today -- and that is 17% of 22% of
historic Palestine. Gaza is among the very most miserable, heavily populated
areas in the entire world -- tiny amount of water available, 60%
unemployment, 70% poverty (defined as income under $2 a day).
The West Bank now contains 220 little disconnected cantons -- separated by
military checkpoints, Bantustan-like.
in Hebron, city of 120,000, 300 settlers live in heart of the city, control
20% of the city, as well as entrance and exit to main mosque, supported by
7,000 troops. 24-hr. curfew while settlers do as they please. This is why
current Intifada broke out.
This issues are not tangential to central Asia -- and not just because of
Bin Laden´s cynical efforts to expropriate the Pal. cause.
Israeli leaders also claim, since Sept. 11, "we must fight terrorism" etc.
Sharon equates Arafat with Bin Laden. Over 80 Palestinian leaders have been
assasinated during current, 14-month Intifada, compared to one Israeli
leader -- yet this assasination (of the ultra-right tourism minister, Zeevi)
leads to occupation of 6 Pal. towns, further collective punishment and so
on, houses in these impoverished areas bulldozed. A hopeful sign -- Israeli
group that opposes home demolitions -- very important symbol of human
decency, courage --
not all resistance is terrorism;this issue will not go away.
Israeli army and settlers have destroyed 200,000 olive trees in last 14
months -- principal crop for poor Pal. peasants -- for no purpose, except
sadistic punishment, humiliation.
Unable to travel, schools closed -- people driven to terrible actions;
religious enthusiasm of the worst kind given encouragement by these
conditions, rather than humane impulses.
This has suited the U.S. gov´t perfectly -- they, and W. Europe, have armed,
financed the occupation. As they financed a whole generation of fanatics in
Afghanistan, elsewhere (in 1980s) -- cheap oil, plentiful arms sales
characterize the region. Better to keep the oligarchical system intact, keep
the Palestinians in their place. There is one air field in Gaza, and the
Pal. Authority must get permission from Israel to use it (parts of this air
strip were destroyed today by the Israeli army - JC, Dec. 4).
Main sin of the Palestinians--to be there, in Israel´s way. Systematic
efforts of Israel to de-develop Gaza, destroy its economy, have been
The conflict has been so humanly impoverishing (Said mentioned an example of
an Israeli musician, Daniel B - i don´t know his hame - playing a recital at
the Palestinian university, Bir Zeit - an example of human decency surving).
It is immoral and indecent of Israeli peace activists to say "where is the
Palestinian peace camp?" People under an occupation don´t have time to have
a peace camp -- we need an end to occupation.
(Said made some remarks on the inadequacy of the Pal. Authority and of
Arafat.) What we need is a vision that is above the sordid present -- a
vision with integrity, not always prepared to waver. After occupation, there
must be coexistence, based on equality of citizenship, not on race or
religion. This may look like a long-range utopia -- but what other vision
has any hope?
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