What amazes me most is that we, as a people, have shared our collective story of being thrown out of our homeland, Palestine, with each other and with many others- actually we have bored the world with this collective story- but somehow the individual Palestinian shies away, or perhaps is too afraid, to share the very personal story of being thrown out of her or his home, living room, or bedroom. These personal stories are seldom told, not even to our own children, perhaps not even to ourselves. I guess the wound remains open.
I was to grow used to hearing, around New York, the annoying way in which people would say: 'Edward Said, such a suave and articulate and witty man,' with the unspoken suffix 'for a Palestinian.' It irritated him, too, naturally enough, but in my private opinion it strengthened him in his determination to be an ambassador or spokesman for those who lived in camps or under occupation (or both). He almost overdid the ambassadorial aspect if you ask me, being always just too faultlessly dressed and spiffily turned out. Fools often contrasted this attention to his tenue with his membership of the Palestine National Council, the then-parliament-in-exile of the people without a land. In fact, his taking part in this rather shambolic assembly was a kind of noblesse oblige: an assurance to his landsmen (and also to himself) that he had not allowed and never would allow himself to forget their plight. The downside of this noblesse was only to strike me much later on.
Edward genially enough did not disagree with what I said, but he didn't seem to admit my point, either. I wanted to press him harder so I veered close enough to the ad hominem to point out that his life—the life of the mind, the life of the book collector and music lover and indeed of the gallery-goer, appreciator of the feminine and occasional boulevardier—would become simply unlivable and unthinkable in an Islamic republic. Again, he could accede politely to my point but carry on somehow as if nothing had been conceded. I came slowly to realize that with Edward, too, I was keeping two sets of books. We agreed on things like the first Palestinian intifadah, another event that took the Western press completely off guard, and we collaborated on a book of essays that asserted and defended Palestinian rights. This was in the now hard-to-remember time when all official recognition was withheld from the PLO. Together we debated Professor Bernard Lewis and Leon Wieseltier at a once-celebrated conference of the Middle East Studies Association in Cambridge in 1986, tossing and goring them somewhat in a duel over academic 'objectivity' in the wider discipline. But even then I was indistinctly aware that Edward didn't feel himself quite at liberty to say certain things, while at the same time feeling rather too much obliged to say certain other things. A low point was an almost uncritical profile of Yasser Arafat that he contributed to Interview magazine in the late 1980s.
Hitherto, the Palestinians had been relatively immune to this Allahu Akhbar style. I thought this was a hugely retrograde development. I said as much to Edward. To reprint Nazi propaganda and to make a theocratic claim to Spanish soil was to be a protofascist and a supporter of 'Caliphate' imperialism: it had nothing at all to do with the mistreatment of the Palestinians. Once again, he did not exactly disagree. But he was anxious to emphasize that the Israelis had often encouraged Hamas as a foil against Fatah and the PLO. This I had known since seeing the burning out of leftist Palestinians by Muslim mobs in Gaza as early as 1981. Yet once again, it seemed Edward could only condemn Islamism if it could somehow be blamed on either Israel or the United States or the West, and not as a thing in itself. He sometimes employed the same sort of knight's move when discussing other Arabist movements, excoriating Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party, for example, mainly because it had once enjoyed the support of the CIA. But when Saddam was really being attacked, as in the case of his use of chemical weapons on noncombatants at Halabja, Edward gave second-hand currency to the falsified story that it had 'really' been the Iranians who had done it. If that didn't work, well, hadn't the United States sold Saddam the weaponry in the first place? Finally, and always—and this question wasn't automatically discredited by being a change of subject—what about Israel's unwanted and ugly rule over more and more millions of non-Jews?I evolved a test for this mentality, which I applied to more people than Edward. What would, or did, the relevant person say when the United States intervened to stop the massacres and dispossessions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo? Here were two majority-Muslim territories and populations being vilely mistreated by Orthodox and Catholic Christians. There was no oil in the region. The state interests of Israel were not involved (indeed, Ariel Sharon publicly opposed the return of the Kosovar refugees to their homes on the grounds that it set an alarming—I want to say 'unsettling'—precedent). The usual national-security 'hawks,' like Henry Kissinger, were also strongly opposed to the mission. One evening at Edward's apartment, with the other guest being the mercurial, courageous Azmi Bishara, then one of the more distinguished Arab members of the Israeli parliament, I was finally able to leave the arguing to someone else. Bishara [...] was quite shocked that Edward would not lend public support to Clinton for finally doing the right thing in the Balkans. Why was he being so stubborn? I had begun by then—belatedly you may say—to guess. Rather like our then-friend Noam Chomsky, Edward in the final instance believed that if the United States was doing something, then that thing could not by definition be a moral or ethical action.
Long before it was known to me as a place where my ancestry was even remotely involved, the idea of a state for Jews (or a Jewish state; not quite the same thing, as I failed at first to see) had been 'sold' to me as an essentially secular and democratic one. The idea was a haven for the persecuted and the survivors, a democracy in a region where the idea was poorly understood, and a place where—as Philip Roth had put it in a one-handed novel that I read when I was about nineteen—even the traffic cops and soldiers were Jews. This, like the other emphases of that novel, I could grasp. Indeed, my first visit was sponsored by a group in London called the Friends of Israel. They offered to pay my expenses, that is, if on my return I would come and speak to one of their meetings.I still haven't submitted that expenses claim. The misgivings I had were of two types, both of them ineradicable. The first and the simplest was the encounter with everyday injustice: by all means the traffic cops were Jews but so, it turned out, were the colonists and ethnic cleansers and even the torturers. It was Jewish leftist friends who insisted that I go and see towns and villages under occupation, and sit down with Palestinian Arabs who were living under house arrest—if they were lucky—or who were squatting in the ruins of their demolished homes if they were less fortunate. In Ramallah I spent the day with the beguiling Raimonda Tawil, confined to her home for committing no known crime save that of expressing her opinions. (For some reason, what I most remember is a sudden exclamation from her very restrained and respectable husband, a manager of the local bank: 'I would prefer living under a Bedouin muktar to another day of Israeli rule!' He had obviously spent some time thinking about the most revolting possible Arab alternative.) In Jerusalem I visited the Tutungi family, who could produce title deeds going back generations but who were being evicted from their apartment in the old city to make way for an expansion of the Jewish quarter. Jerusalem: that place of blood since remote antiquity. Jerusalem, over which the British and French and Russians had fought a foul war in the Crimea, and in the mid-nineteenth century, on the matter of which Christian Church could command the keys to some 'holy sepulcher.' Jerusalem, where the anti-Semite Balfour had tried to bribe the Jews with the territory of another people in order to seduce them from Bolshevism and continue the diplomacy of the Great War. Jerusalem: that pest-house in whose environs all zealots hope that an even greater and final war can be provoked. It certainly made a warped appeal to my sense of history.
Suppose that a man leaps out of a burning building—as my dear friend and colleague Jeff Goldberg sat and said to my face over a table at La Tomate in Washington not two years ago—and lands on a bystander in the street below. Now, make the burning building be Europe, and the luckless man underneath be the Palestinian Arabs. Is this a historical injustice? Has the man below been made a victim, with infinite cause of complaint and indefinite justification for violent retaliation? My own reply would be a provisional 'no,' but only on these conditions. The man leaping from the burning building must still make such restitution as he can to the man who broke his fall, and must not pretend that he never even landed on him. And he must base his case on the singularity and uniqueness of the original leap. It can't, in other words, be 'leap, leap, leap' for four generations and more. The people underneath cannot be expected to tolerate leaping on this scale and of this duration, if you catch my drift. In Palestine, tread softly, for you tread on their dreams. And do not tell the Palestinians that they were never fallen upon and bruised in the first place. Do not shame yourself with the cheap lie that they were told by their leaders to run away. Also, stop saying that nobody knew how to cultivate oranges in Jaffa until the Jews showed them how. 'Making the desert bloom'—one of Yvonne's stock phrases—makes desert dwellers out of people who were the agricultural superiors of the Crusaders.