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As the most visible and certainly the most articulate Palestinian in America, the late lamented Dr. Said was a prime target. He mentions a few of the personal attacks in these essays. There was the buffoonery in Commentary trying to prove Said had been lying about his past. . Then there was the hocus pocus of holy horror about Said throwing, along with other Lebanese, a stone into a vast empty space in Israel from Southern Lebanon. Of course, Israel had just spent decades blowing up Lebanese villages and bombing Beirut hideously in 1982 and killing tens of thousands and conducting the hideous Khiyam torture chamber where thousands of Lebanese passed through in almost bestial conditions.
From Israelis, Said justifiably demands a lot. Israelis must realize that the Palestinians under Israeli rule have lived for thirty-seven years where their land massively has been taken away at will and given to the Israeli military or most often Israeli settlers. The settlers live on magisterial estates and steal most of the water while the indigenous inhabitants. Palestinians in large numbers for decades have forced to endure housing expropriation, beatings by Israeli soldiers, arbitrary detention, killings and torture by the racist settlers and soldiers. As Tony Judt observes in his intro to this book, the born again racist Benny Morris now says that major massacres by Israel were the cause of the Palestinian flight in 1948.
Arafat signed the Oslo accords in order to shore up his eroding power base and getting a new power base, that of policing Palestinian population centers for Israel.,. Palestinian land continued to be expropriated. Arafat & co. made little objection to this except when the crude tactics of Netanyahu necessitated a response. The territories were criss-crossed by these new settlements and Jew only roads, which isolated Palestinians into several cantons. This cantonization was essentially the "generous offer" for a state made by Barak in July 2000.
After six weeks of the intifada, the number of Palestinians killed, as Clinton sent Israel its largest helicopter shipment in a decade to use on Palestinian apartment buildings, was about 200 and the number of Israelis was fourteen, about half of them soldiers. "Collective Punishment" of Palestinians accelerated greatly, endless curfews were imposed, houses were blown up more wantonly than before. In October 2001, Israeli cabinet minister Rehavan Ze'evi, a racist thug, was killed in retaliation for the killing of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) leader two months earlier. Sharon retaliated by, engaging in "targeted assassination" of five more Palestinian leaders and killed twenty-one civilians and injured 160. He notes that the suicide bombings that occurred around December 1 2001 were terrible but should be seen within the context of the assassination of the Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, the killing of five Palestinian children in Gaza, as well the whole horrible human rights abuses of Israel over the decades.. Sharon has accelerated the humanitarian catastrophe by killing on a greater school and cutting off Palestinians even more so from each other and enclosing their agricultural land, cutting it off from their villages, within the Israeli side of the "wall."
As it is Sharon hopes that as he gallantly sends his tanks and missiles and helicopters against Palestinian children and people, armed with rocks and maybe some machine guns--people who have the right to resist under international law the occupation of their land--eventually the Palestinians will be ground down and accept the complete Judaization of Palestine.. Then as Said writes, he, Sharon, can make a deal to set up a rump "state" full of isolated areas controlled by various Palestinian gangsters. The remnants of the Palestinian authority want restored the situation of the 90's where they had their little fiefdoms and could make tons of money with Palestinian resources and real estate. But on the Palestinian side a secular mass movement has arrived led by Haider Abdel Shafi and Mustafa Barghouti. The Palestine National Initiative is based on participatory democracy, coordinated shipments of food and attempting to provide health care to besieged Palestinian villages. The courage of these people is unbelievable; Said writes about them with great power.
In front of a gathering of American Jews, Said notes, when the right wing zionist Paul Wolfowitz, as a representative of the Bush administration was forced to say a few platitudes about "Palestinian suffering" he was booed off the stage. Palestinians are dehumanized; Israel's assertion that Palestinians it kills are terrorists or unfortunate collateral damage in pursuit of them has had wide and ugly acceptance here. He spends a lot of time denouncing the Arab states for their ignorance of Israel. He notes that West originally set up many of these Arab regimes and in particular the United States props up the most brutal of them.
On Iraq, he notes that the great suffering at the hands of the Iraqi people since the Gulf War, with their infrastructure for basic living destroyed, has been largely ignored. Iraqis are a proud people who in spite of Saddam's hideous human rights record, led the Arab world in education and technology before 1990. What right does the U.S, asks Said, have to decide to remove Saddam, when they provided him with so much of the materials to make the weapons that Bush, Cheney & co. have so terrorized the American people with? The Bush regime has used alot of bogus info passed on by Iraqi and Arab exiles who tell the neocons what they want to hear. Said writes that Cheney actually used the authority, of Fouad Ajami to assert that Iraqis would welcome Americans would ticker tape parades and flowers and stuff. Of course, Ajami has spent most of his career and life in the U.S. and really can't know what genuine Iraqis are thinking...Kanan Makiya is another such fraud; Said gives him rough treatment in another essay. Said notes that instead of chosing an Arab/Muslim expert with intimate knowledge of the peculiarities and complexities of Iraq and the region, to head the drawing up Iraq's new constitution but instead they chose Noah Feldman.
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On September 25th, 2003, the Palestinian people lost their most outspoken, influential, and, perhaps, only voice in the United States when Edward Wadie Said lost his battle with leukemia.
I have, regrettably, only recently discovered Professor Said's work so it would be foolish to think that I could possibly draft a fitting obituary. However, the timing and significance of Said's death cannot be overlooked. Within the last three years of Said's life, the world has witnessed the beginning of the Palestinian al-Aqsa intifada, the attacks of September 11th, 2001, and the subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is in this context that the essays within From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map have been written.
From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map is a collection of essays written by Mr. Said for the periodicals Al-Ahram, Al-Hayat, and the London Review of Books. The book is aptly split into three sections:
* The Second Intifada Begins, Clinton's Failure
* September 11, The War on Terror, the West Bank and Gaza Reinvaded
* Israel, Iraq, and the United States
Because this book is a collection of essays, the reader enjoys the added benefit of being able to view the tumultuous events of the past three years as a collection of snapshots rather than as one larger portrait. For example, in the essay, "Propaganda and War", Said expresses optimism regarding plans by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) to launch a massive public relations campaign on behalf of the Palestinian people:
"I was pleased to learn from ADC president Ziad Asali that his organization is about to embark on an unprecedented public information campaign in the mass media to redress the balance and present the Palestinians as human beings, as people who have had years and years of military occupation and are still fighting back. This effort has never before been made in the United States: there have been fifty years of silence, which is about to broken."
Unfortunately, "Propaganda and War" was published in Al-Hayat on September 9th, 2001, only two days before those plans were surely scrapped.
Said's willingness to break with the conventional wisdom on the topic of Palestinian autonomy has made him quite a controversial figure. From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map is no different. While his criticism of US foreign policy and leadership in the War on Terror are certainly no surprise, it is his scathing indictments of Arab and Palestinian leadership that may be most surprising to a Western reader. At a time when many in the Western world are trying to paint the world, and especially the Middle East, as black and white, Said offers a more complex view. As the world wrestles with the legacy of Yasir Arafat, for example, Said complains in November 2001 that Arafat is neither really a terrorist nor a visionary, but is simply an ineffective leader more concerned with his own grip on power than with the plight of his people:
"In short, there is no reason at all why Yasir Arafat and his ever-present coterie should grovel at American feet. My suggestion is that Arafat should stop his world tours and come back to his people (who keep reminding him that they no longer really support what he does: only 17 percent say they back what he is doing) and respond to their needs as a real leader must... He must lead the nonviolent protest marches on a daily, if not hourly, basis and not let a group of foreign volunteers do our work for us. It is a self-sacrificing spirit of human and moral solidarity with his people that Arafat's leadership so fatally lacks. I am afraid that this terrible absence has now almost completely marginalized him and his ill-fated and ineffective Authority..."
Said is also unflinching in his appraisal of Arab leadership throughout the crisis. In his early 2002 essay, "The Screw Turns, Again", Said offers the following:
"As for the Arab nonresponse, that has exceeded in disgrace and shamefulness the already abysmally low standards set by our governments for the past fifty years. Such a callous silence, such a stance of servility and incompetence in facing the United States and Israel, is as astonishing and unacceptable in its own way as what Sharon and Bush are about. Are the Arab leaders so fearful of offending the United States that they are willing to accept not only Palestinian humiliation but their own as well? And for what? Simply to be allowed to go on with corruption, mediocrity, and oppression..."
Some of the arguments that Said presents can seem repetitive at times but it does not damage the overall value of his unique perspective as a Palestinian-American. In fact, this repetition serves to, not only illustrate the author's exasperation, but also to remind the reader of the brutal occupation at a time when much of the West appears to have forgotten.
Said's essays, while controversial, present a perspective not often considered. At the very least, the essays contained in From Oslo to Iraq, are sure to spark heated debate and conversation in an arena sorely lacking alternate views and new energy. At most, these essays are a call to action; a call that must be answered.