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Palestine's Voice
by Seth Sandronsky
October 20, 2004

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Review of From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map: Essays by Edward W. Said. (Pantheon Books, 2004)

An important intellectual, the late Edward W. Said taught many people around the world how to better grasp complex truths about life in the Middle East.

He did that by being a strong voice for the Palestinian people. Said was a prolific author (his classic book Orientalism is a must-read for those studying the Middle East) who also taught English and comparative literature at Columbia University. His posthumously published From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map: Essays collects 46 of his last political works, written between December 2000 and July 2003. The articles, many of which first ran in Arabic papers, take readers from the U.S.-brokered 1993 Oslo peace accord between Israel and Palestine through the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Among other things, Said clearly forecast how Oslo would not improve the lives of the Palestinians who suffered under Israeli occupation and who still endure daily attacks, checkpoints, roadblocks and searches by Israeli forces, supported by the U.S. government with its “two party monopoly.”

Against that backdrop, many Palestinians living in occupied Gaza and the West Bank get by on $2.00 a day, part of an impoverished mass of nearly three billion people worldwide. The NY Times reported that in early 2002 the jobless rate in Gaza and the West Bank was 40 percent versus nine percent in Israel.

Both President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry back Israel’s apartheid wall in the Palestinian West Bank, which, when completed, will separate an estimated 300,000 Palestinians from the land they farm. Consequently, these agricultural laborers will be forced into the wages system. In occupied Palestine, then, one sees this basic trend of the capitalist economy, underway for centuries.

Said analyzes the propaganda of the Israeli lobby and America’s corporate media. Both misinform Americans about Palestinians. Meanwhile, Americans’ taxes fund Israel’s aggression against a people who have no military nor state.

Accordingly, Said was at his best when detailing the hidden lives of the Palestinians. “The average American,” he wrote, “hasn’t the slightest inkling that there is a narrative of Palestinian suffering and dispossession at least as old as Israel itself.” The absence of this view in mainstream U.S. society reveals its importance.

A talented pianist, Said was not anti-Jewish. This slur is usually used by politicians and pundits against those who criticize Israel. In fact, Said was a secular humanist—one who believes in people’s ability to use reason to create a better world. He rejected all forms of religious extremism—Christian, Islamic and Jewish.

In addition, Said faulted Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian president, for cooperating with the U.S.-backed Israeli military occupation of Palestine. He wrote of Arafat: “The illusion that he is Palestine and Palestine him stubbornly persists.”

For Said, the illusion of Arafat as Palestine is a cover for the American and Israeli governments’ attempts to steal Palestinian land. To me, this treatment of native people by those with a basic monopoly on the weapons of advanced warfare sounds a bit like our own history in the United States.

Indeed, I wish that Said had used his essays to flesh out similarities between America and Israel. Both countries were born from the power of British capitalist imperialism. Each became a settler state with an ideology of herrenvolk, or master race. In the United States, white supremacy was very popular and justified black slavery, and it united white lower and upper classes in an alliance of territorial expansion based on the killing of American Indians. The same basic pattern of barbaric violence toward Palestinians marked the 1948 creation of Israel and its expansion.

Said was generous in his praise for individuals who waged peace such as Dr. Mustafa Barghuti of the Palestinian National Initiative. Others include the Israeli reservists who refused to serve in occupied Palestine. Said also honored Rachel Corrie, an American with the peaceful International Solidarity Movement who was slain by an Israeli soldier driving a bulldozer (made by the Caterpillar Corp.) while trying to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian house in Rafah.

Having visited South Africa twice, Said was notably impressed by how the African National Congress (ANC) engaged and worked together with white South Africans who also opposed racial apartheid. Palestinians should heed the ANC model of political liberation, Said wrote.

U.S.-backed Israeli assaults on Palestinians have increased since the 9/11 attacks. I agree with Said that the U.S. war in Iraq has further destabilized the Middle East and is really about corporate America controlling Middle Eastern oil. Politically, this is a non-issue for the Democratic and Republican parties during the 2004 presidential campaign.

Ultimately, Israelis and Palestinians must learn to live with each other in equality, Said wrote. In his words, “what we need is a vision that can lift the much-abused spirit beyond the sordid present, something that will not fail when presented unwaveringly as what people need to aspire to.” Exactly.

Said passed away in September 2003. He is buried in Lebanon.

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at:

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