Fw: Edward Said: The Only Alternative

Dr. George Snedeker snedeker at SPAMconcentric.net
Thu Mar 22 19:36:27 MST 2001


> Why the Palestinian struggle has failed
>
> The Only Alternative
> By Edward Said
>
> I first visited South Africa in May 1991: a dark, wet, wintry period,
> when Apartheid still ruled, although the ANC and Nelson Mandela had been
> freed. Ten years later I returned, this time to summer, in a democratic
> country in which Apartheid has been defeated, the ANC is in power, and a
> vigorous, contentious civil society is engaged in trying to complete the
> task of
> bringing equality and social justice to this still divided and
economically
> troubled country. But, the liberation struggle that ended Apartheid
> and instituted the first democratically elected government on 27 April
> 1994, remains one of the great human achievements in recorded history.
> Despite the problems of the present, South Africa is an inspiring place to
> visit
> and think about, partly because for Arabs, it has a lot to teach us about
> struggle, originality, and perseverance.
>
> I came here this time as a participant in a conference on values in
> education, organised by the Ministry of Education. Qader Asmal, the
> minister of education, is an old and admired friend whom I met many years
> ago when he was in exile in Ireland. I shall say more about him in my next
> article. But, as a member of the cabinet, a longtime ANC activist, and a
> successful lawyer and academic, he was able to persuade Nelson Mandela
(now
> 83, in frail health, and officially retired from public life) to address
the
>  conference on the first evening. What Mandela said then made a deep
> impression on me, as much because of Mandela's enormous stature and
> profoundly affecting charisma, as for the well-crafted words he uttered.
> Also a lawyer by training, Mandela is an especially eloquent man who, in
> spite of
>  thousands of ritual occasions and speeches, always seems to have
something
> gripping to say.
>
> This time it was two phrases about the past that struck me in a fine
> speech about education, a speech which drew unflattering attention to the
> depressed present state of the country's majority, "languishing in abject
> conditions of material and social deprivation." Hence, he reminded the
> audience,
> "our struggle is not over," even though -- here was the first phrase --
the
> campaign against Apartheid "was one of the great moral struggles" that
> "captured the world's imagination." The second phrase was in his
> description of the anti-Apartheid campaign not simply as a movement to end
> racial
> discrimination, but as a means "for all of us to assert our common
> humanity." Implied in the words "all of us" is that all of the races
> of South Africa, including the pro-Apartheid whites, were envisaged as
> participating in a struggle whose goal finally was coexistence,
> tolerance and "the realisation of humane values."
>
> The first phrase struck me cruelly: why did the Palestinian struggle
> not (yet) capture the world's imagination and why, even more to the point,
> does it not appear as a great moral struggle which, as Mandela said about
> the South African experience, received "almost universal support... from
> virtually all political persuasions and parties?"
>
> True, we have received a great deal of general support, and yes, ours
> is a moral struggle of epic proportions. The conflict between Zionism and
> the Palestinian people is admittedly more complex than the battle against
> Apartheid, even if in both cases one people paid and the other is
> still paying a very heavy price in dispossession, ethnic cleansing,
military
> occupation and massive social injustice. The Jews are a people with a
> tragic history of persecution and genocide. Bound by their ancient faith
to
> the land of Palestine, their "return" to a homeland promised them by
> British imperialism was perceived by much of the world (but especially by
a
> Christian West responsible for the worst excesses of anti-Semitism) as
> a heroic and justified restitution for what they suffered. Yet, for
> years and years, few paid attention to the conquest of Palestine by Jewish
> forces, or to the Arab people already there who endured its exorbitant
cost in
> the destruction of their society, the expulsion of the majority, and the
> hideous system of laws -- a virtual Apartheid -- that still discriminates
> against them inside Israel and in the occupied territories. Palestinians
were
> the silent victims of a gross injustice, quickly shuffled offstage by a
> triumphalist chorus of how amazing Israel was.
>
> After the reemergence of a genuine Palestinian liberation movement in
> the late '60s, the formerly colonised people of Asia, Africa and Latin
> America adopted the Palestinian struggle, but in the main, the strategic
> balance was vastly in Israel's favour; it has been backed unconditionally
> by the
> US ($5 billion in annual aid), and in the West, the media, the liberal
> intelligentsia, and most governments have been on Israel's side. For
> reasons too well known to go into here, the official Arab environment was
> either overtly hostile or lukewarm in its mostly verbal and financial
> support.
>
> Because, however, the shifting strategic goals of the PLO were always
> clouded by useless terrorist actions, were never addressed or
> articulated eloquently, and because the preponderance of cultural
discourse
> in the
> West was either unknown to or misunderstood by Palestinian policymakers
and
> intellectuals, we have never been able to claim the moral high ground
> effectively. Israeli information could always both appeal to (and
> exploit) the Holocaust as well as the unstudied and politically untimely
acts
> of Palestinian terror, thereby neutralising or obscuring our message,
> such as it was. We never concentrated as a people on cultural struggle in
the
> West (which the ANC early on had realised was the key to undermining
> Apartheid) and we simply did not highlight in a humane, consistent way the
> immense depredations and discriminations directed at us by Israel. Most
> television viewers today have no idea about Israel's racist land policies,
> or its
> spoliations, tortures, systematic deprivation of the Palestinians just
> because they are not Jews. As a black South African reporter wrote in
> one of the local newspapers here while on a visit to Gaza, Apartheid was
> never as vicious and as inhumane as Zionism: ethnic cleansing, daily
> humiliations, collective punishment on a vast scale, land appropriation,
> etc., etc.
>
> But, even these facts, were they known better as a weapon in the
> battle over values between Zionism and the Palestinians, would not have
been
> enough. What we never concentrated on enough was the fact that to
counteract
> Zionist exclusivism, we would have to provide a solution to the conflict
that,
> in Mandela's second phrase, would assert our common humanity as Jews and
> Arabs.  Most of us still cannot accept the idea that Israeli Jews are here
to
> stay, that they will not go away, any more than Palestinians will go away.
> This is understandably very hard for Palestinians to accept, since they
are
> still in the process of losing their land and being persecuted on a daily
> basis. But, with our irresponsible and unreflective suggestion in what we
have
> said that they will be forced to leave (like the Crusades), we did not
focus
> enough on ending the military occupation as a moral imperative or on
> providing a
> form for their security and self-determinism that did not abrogate ours.
> This, and not the preposterous hope that a volatile American president
would
> give us a state, ought to have been the basis of a mass campaign
> everywhere. Two people in one land. Or, equality for all. Or, one person
> one vote.
> Or, a common humanity asserted in a binational state.
>
> I know we are the victims of a terrible conquest, a vicious military
> occupation,
> a Zionist lobby that has consistently lied in order to turn us either into
> non-people
> or into terrorists -- but what is the real alternative to what I've been
> suggesting? A
> military campaign? A dream. More Oslo negotiations? Clearly not. More loss
of
> life by our valiant young people, whose leader gives them no help or
> direction? A
> pity, but no. Reliance on the Arab states who have reneged even on their
> promise to
> provide emergency assistance now? Come on, be serious.
>
> Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are locked in Sartre's vision of
> hell, that of "other people." There is no escape. Separation can't work in
> so tiny a land, any more than Apartheid did. Israeli military and economic
> power insulates them from having to face reality. This is the meaning of
> Sharon's election, an antediluvian war criminal summoned out of the mists
of
> time to do what: put the Arabs in their place? Hopeless. Therefore, it is
up
> to us to provide the answer that power and paranoia cannot. It isn't
enough
> to speak generally of peace. One must provide the concrete grounds for
> it, and those can only come from moral vision, and neither from
"pragmatism"
> nor "practicality." If we are all to live -- this is our imperative -- we
> must capture the imagination not just of our people, but that of our
> oppressors. And, we have to abide by humane democratic values.
>
> Is the current Palestinian leadership listening? Can it suggest
> anything better than this, given its abysmal record in a "peace process"
that
> has led to the present horrors?
> ------------------------------------------------------
>
> Does history repeat itself? Or are its repetitions only penance for
> those who are incapable of listening to it? No history is mute. No matter
> how much they burn it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses
> to shut its mouth. Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was
> continues to tick inside the time that is. The right to remember does not
> figure
> among the human rights consecrated by the United Nations, but now more
> than ever we must insist on it and act on it. Not to repeat the past but
to
> keep it from being repeated. Not to make us ventriloquists for the dead
but
> to allow us to speak with voices that are not condemned to echo
> perpetually with stupidity and misfortune. When it is truly alive, memory
> doesn't contemplate history, it invites us to make it.
>  - Eduardo Galeano
>    from Upside Down
>
>






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