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 http://www.pna.org/mininfo/reports/er_1908.htm

An Essay By

Edward W. Sa'id

Published in the GUARDIAN, August 16 1997.
www.planet.edu/pna/mininfo/reports/er_1908.htm

Israel will only find real peace, argues Edward Said, if it stops blaming the Palestinians for everything evil that happens within its state - like last month's bombs - and begins to accept the Arab world, to offer genuine redress for past wrongs, and cede land to the Palestinians

It HAS taken four years for the Oslo peace process to peel off its wrappings to reveal the stark truth hidden at its core: there was no peace agreement, only an agreement to keep Israeli hegemony over the Palestinian territories, safeguarded by hypocritical rhetoric and military power. In this, there was a lamentable Palestinian failure to judge Israeli motives - especially under Labour - and to preserve a degree of scepticism. Instead, we entered a spiral of loss and humiliation, gulled by the United States and the media into thinking that we had at last achieved some measure of respectability and acceptance, bludgeoned by Israel into accepting its pathological definitions of security and dialogue, all of which has impoverished Palestinians, whose per-capita income has been slashed by half. We have lost our ability to move around freely, confined to the dreadful little Bantustans (about 3 per cent of the West Bank) that we insist on calling liberated zones, obliged to watch more settlements being built and more land taken, more houses destroyed, more people evicted, and sadistic collective punishments meted out without proportion or reason.

Western liberals must remember that Oslo was not a tabula rasa; it came after 26 years of Israeli military occupation and, before that, 19 years of Palestinian dispossession, exile, oppression. If Israel has all along insisted that it is not responsible for what has been visited on the Palestinian people since 1948, then it should explain why we, alone of all people, should forget the past, remain uncompensated. even as all other victims of injustice have the right to reparations and apologies. There is no logic to that, only the cold, hard, narcissistic indifference of amoral power.

I have not heard one Palestinian applaud or even mildly approve of the marketplace bombings last month. They were stupid, criminal acts that have brought disaster on our people. Yet the media and the Israeli and the US governments, united with Micronesia in the United Nations (a marvellous alliance), have insisted that Palestinian terror and violence be stopped.

Even the all-purpose Amos Oz has demanded that we decide between peace and violence, as if Israel had grounded its planes, stopped bombing and occupying South Lebanon (two 70-yearold Lebanese men were killed by Israeli planes at the time of the marketplace bombings: why is that not violence and terror?) and withdrawn all its troops out of the 97 per cent of the West Bank it still controls, along with the military checkpoints that it has planted between every major Palestinian centre.

lsrael's constant demands for security conceal the country's original sin - the fact that there was always another people in Palestine, and that every village, kibbutz, settlement, city and town had an Arab history Israel and its American supporters have rarely troubled themselves with any of these facts, which Israel is entitled to fabricate or anull on the ground and in the media as it suits its purposes. Neither of the two suicide bombers has been identified; neither, it is practically certain, came from the Palestinian territories; no recognisable party or group has claimed credible responsibility for the crime.

On the contrary, Israel, in its mania for security, has retained control of every exit and entrance into the territories, and it alone is responsible for West Jerusalem, where the attack took place. How dare the egregious Binyamin Netanyahu and his American minions demand that Islamic militants be summarily arrested, and Israeli security be guaranteed? Who does he think he is addressing as his bonded servant, and by what standards of human decency does he dare assume that the hundreds of Palestinians murdered during the Intifada, the victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacres - all of them directly the responsibility of Israel - are nothing compared to Israel's security needs?

Only a few weeks ago the Israeli justice system ruled unilaterally that victims of Israel's military during the lntifada were not entitled to pursue their claims against the state since it was a "war" situation. Who do they think they are, that they can make light of or ignore what they have done to us and still wrap themselves in the mantle of "the survivors"? Is there no term limit, is there no sense of respect for the victims' victims, is there no barrier to what Israel can do and continue to demand the privileges of the innocent?

As Anthony Lewis put it in the New York Times, Israel holds most of the cards; to blame the Palestinians for every misfortune or incident inside Israel is to jumble up blame with illusion. He is right, and right also to admit that there isn't much hope for peace in such circumstances. I have been unsparing in my criticism of Arafat and his associates for what they have done during the past five years: now I concur fully with his policy of refusing to negotiate on "security" as Israel defines it (ie rounding up "Islamic" suspects to Israel's satisfaction) until Israel fulfils the terms of Oslo that it has so far either blatantly violated or simply brushed off.

Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright repeat the formula now used as frontline propaganda by the Israeli lobby, "there is no equivalent between bombs and bulldozers". They need to explain to a recently evicted Palestinian family or those under curfew or whose houses have been destroyed, whose young men and women languish in Israeli jails or are strip-searched, who are driven out of Jerusalem so that Russian Jews can be settled in their homes, killed and deprived of any right to resist Israeli occupation policies, what is the equivalent of an Israeli-American bulldozer.

There is a simple racist premise underpinning the "peace process", and rhetorical ambushes set in its name, that Palestinian and Arab lives aren't worth as much as Israeli Jewish lives. Last year when 100 Lebanese civilians hiding in a UN shelter were deliberately targeted and killed by Israeli jets and helicopter gunships, there was no Israeli apology, no demand from the US that Israel should curb its bombers, no willingness even to accept the UN Secretary-General's report.

Is there any real meaning to the nonsensical charade that the US (and its army of former Israeli lobbyists, now in charge of the "peace process") still continues to pretend that it is somehow for "peace" can be an even- handed negotiator?

The only peace worth its name is an exchange of land for peace, on the basis of rough parity between the two sides. There can be no peace without some genuine attempt on the part of Israel and its Powerful supporters to take a step towards the people they have wronged, which they must take in humility and reconciliation, not with clever talk and cruel behaviour. Very few of us want back everything we lost in 1948, but we do want some acknowledgment of what we lost and of Israel's role in that mass dispossession (which so many of Israel's new historians have excavated with courage and assiduity). Many Palestinians do not want to return to their land, but they ask why any Jew, anywhere, has the theoretical right of return, whereas we have none at all. And Israel's citizens and its friends need to ask themselves openly whether they think that Israel can go on abusing and humiliating Palestinians, showing contempt for Arabs, flaunting its brazen actions and, at the same time, enjoy real recognition and acceptance.

The sad fact is that both the US and Israel are so out of touch with Arab actualities, so enamoured of cliche's about Islamic terror and Arab radicalism and anti-Semitism, that they seem to have missed the fact that Arabs want peace, that Palestinians want also to lead a decent life of independence and democracy, as much as the common Israeli or American. Why then lay up stores of resentment and hatred that will surely delay peace for Israelis and Arabs for years more?

Terror bombing is terrible, and it cannot be condoned. But the bulldozers of forgetfulness and righteous arrogance are also terrible. Israel's constant demands for security conceal, I think, a deep insecurity about Israel's original sin" - the fact that there was always another' people in Palestine, and that every village, kibbutz, settlement, city and town had an Arab history.

Moshe Dayan used to admit this publicly. The present generation of leaders hasn't his honesty. The worst are Israel's lobby and the pro-Israeli organisations in the US who repeat the dreadful clichés and celebrate Israel, without a trace of awareness that there is tragedy beneath every road, every act of military prowess, every settlement. What hypocrisy is it to rail against Islamic fundamentalism and to say nothing of Jewish fundamentalism that dehumanises every non-Jew and relies on Biblical promises that go back two millennia?

To mouth phrases about "getting the negotiations going" in such a context is to play King Canute, as if only State Department planners and Israeli policy-makers are capable of defining history and reality. The air needs to be cleared, honesty and simple fairness given a chance. Yes, Palestinians want peace, but not at any price and not the way Netanyahu and company define it with millions of conditions concealing an unbending rejection of the desire for Palestinian equality.

People respond to a call for justice and the end of fear and oppression, not to the heaviness of something called a "peace process" in which Israel has all the advantages (plus a nuclear arsenal) and demands that Palestinians are there only to give it "security". I fear that at present the atmosphere is too inflamed by lies, too corrupted by illusions and self-fulfilling incapacities to allow us all to move forward. But a start needs to be made somewhere and somehow, blame apportioned properly and responsibility assigned proportionately.

One cannot always expect a people without statehood, without rights, without hope, to act like diplomats sitting in seminar rooms talking about scenarios and confidence-building measures as so many abstractions. What we need now - and certainly the US can take the step - is a re-statement of the basic premise that there is peace only when land is given back, and that the goal is independence and statehood for two peoples in Palestine.

Start from that, and it might be possible to move towards the goal in as many steps as are necessary. But one cannot expect peace and security while palestinians continue to suffer and not one word is said about the causes of that suffering.


* Edward Said is University Professor of Literature and chair of the doctoral programme in comparative literature at Columbia University, New York. He was born in Jerusalem, member of the Palestinian National Council (PNC)
Palestine Ministry of Information August 19, 1997

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