Edward Said, prophet remembered

17 years ago this week one of the great public intellectuals died. His name, Edward Said.

Edward Said Dies; U.S. Scholar Was Leading Voice for Palestinians

By The Associated Press

  • Sept. 25, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — Edward W. Said, a Columbia University professor and leading spokesman in the United States for the Palestinian cause, has died, his editor at Knopf publishers said Thursday. He was 67. 

Said had suffered from leukemia for years and died at a New York hospital late Wednesday, editor Shelley Wanger said. 

Said was born in 1935 in Jerusalem, then part of British-ruled Palestine, but he spent most of his adult life in the United States. He wrote passionately about the Palestinian cause but also on a variety of other subjects, from English literature, his academic specialty, to music and culture. 

When it came to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Said was consistently critical of Israel for what he regarded as mistreatment of the Palestinians. 

He wrote two years ago after visits to Jerusalem and the West Bank that Israel’s “efforts toward exclusivity and xenophobia toward the Arabs” had actually strengthened Palestinian determination. 

“Palestine and Palestinians remain, despite Israel’s concerted efforts from the beginning either to get rid of them or to circumscribe them so much as to make them ineffective,” Said wrote in the English-language Al-Ahram Weekly, published in Cairo. 

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Rereading Edward Said’s 1979 classic reissued in 1992, The Question of Palestine, I  was struck by the sheer clarity of his thought and as one of the greatest public intellectuals of the last 50 years, his challenge to somnolent and putative Jewish Intellectuals.

Said understood then, as many do now the absolute and just claims of the Palestinian people.

He wrote then:

It is no exaggeration to say that for the first time in our struggle against Zionism the west appears ready to hear our side of the story. Therefore we must tell it, we must stand in the international theatre created out of our struggle against Zionism and there we must defuse her message dramatically.

In the West our aim should be first to engage the liberal Zionist establishment that has so long turned its back on Zionism‘s victims.

Every day Israeli Occupation practices on the West Bank and Gaza as well as Israeli attacks on civilians in Lebanon pass without so much as a gesture of disapproval from Jewish intellectuals who have traditionally been in the forefront of human rights causes. This community of writers, intellectuals, scholars and professionals has betrayed its human mission.

Why for example did not the mass expulsion of 250,000 civilians from their homes in South Lebanon,  Israeli forces using cluster bombs during the spring of 1978 elicit a single public expression of condemnation? The  outrages go on every day and no one says anything

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Said’s prophetic voice was not wasted. History as always open and he would be most gratified to see young Jews break from the false creed of Zionism the radical departure from the universal ethics of Judaism.