W. Said was born in Jerusalem, Palestine and attended schools there and in
Cairo. He received a BA from Princeton, an MA and PhD from Harvard. He is
University Professor at Columbia. He is the author of Orientalism, The
Question of Palestine, Covering Islam, Culture and Imperialism,
Representations of the Intellectual, The Politics of Dispossession,
Peace and its Discontents, and Out of Place. His latest book is The
End of the Peace Process.
writings and lectures on the Palestinian conflict, you constantly refer to the
centrality of 1948.
I don’t think
you can understand what’s happening today and the situation of the
Palestinians unless you understand what happened in 1948. A society made up
principally of Arabs in Palestine was uprooted and destroyed. Two-thirds of
the Arab population of 870,000 people was driven out by design. The Zionist
archives are quite clear about this, and several Israeli historians have
written about it. Of course, the Arabs have said it all along. By the end of
the conflict in 1948, Palestinians were a minority in their own country.
Two-thirds of them had become refugees, whose descendants today number about
four and a half million people scattered throughout the Arab world, Europe,
Australia, and North America. The balance of the people became subjects to the
Israeli military occupation in 1967 when the West Bank and Gaza, along with
Jerusalem, were taken over and occupied. Nineteen forty-eight is the date on
which the Palestinian search for self-determination begins. It doesn’t begin
in 1967. That completed the Israeli conquest.
not only was all of the land of the Palestinians, roughly 94 percent, taken
over militarily by the state of Israel as land for the Jewish people, which
meant that the Arabs who remained and who are now roughly 20 percent of the
population of Israel, were not entitled to hold land. Most of the land in
Israel is now controlled by the state for the Jewish people. Second, 400-plus
Arab villages were destroyed, which were then replanted, so to speak, by
Israeli settlers who built the kibbutzes. Every kibbutz in Israel is on Arab
property that was taken in 1948.
festering wound of 1948 has remained, since at the same time Israel has said,
we bear no responsibility for what happened to the Palestinians; they left
because their leaders told them to. All sorts of propaganda were used. Second,
there’s been no attempt by the Israelis, even during the last meetings
between the Palestinians and the Israelis at Camp David in July, to consider
the right of return of every Palestinian to the place from which he or she was
driven out in 1948. That is the core of the whole thing.
“the peace process.”
process began in 1993, when a secretive agreement was made between the PLO and
the Israeli government to give the Palestinians and the Palestine Liberation
Organization under Yasir Arafat some territory and authority over that
territory in the West Bank and Gaza. However, given the tremendous disparity
in power between the Israelis and the Palestinians, in effect the peace
process has been a repackaging of the Israeli occupation. Israel still
controls 60 percent of the West Bank and 40 percent of Gaza. It has annexed
Jerusalem, and has filled the territories with settlers, including the ones in
Jerusalem where about 350,000 Israelis are there illegally. These are
settlements and a military occupation that is the second longest in the 20th
century, the longest being the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.
the peace process has involved the Palestinian leadership in accepting Israeli
terms: A small redeployment of Israeli troops; the settlements continue;
Jerusalem is still under Israeli sovereignty and settlement; the borders and
the water are controlled by Israel; the exits and entrances are controlled by
Israel; security is controlled by Israel. What the Americans and Israelis were
doing was to get Palestinian consent to this repackaging of the occupation.
It’s been presented to the public as moving towards peace, whereas it’s
been a gigantic fraud. Only that could possibly explain the extent and depth
of the Palestinian rebellion that has taken place since September 29.
Of course, the
Israeli army is called the Israeli Defense Forces. The line has been that the
Israeli army is a defensive one. The media have presented it as if they are
defending Israel from Palestinians. The Palestinians have no arms to speak of
except for some small arms among the police. It’s been a population of
stone-throwing youths against Israeli missiles, helicopter gunships, tanks,
and rockets. The most important thing is that all the fighting has taken place
inside Palestine, because of the Israeli military occupation. So to use the
word “defense” here is a grotesque misnomer. This is an occupation force
inside Palestinian territory, whereas the Palestinians are resisting military
occupation and the Israelis are prolonging the occupation, and making the
civilian population pay the price of resistance.
It’s a very
ugly conflict and has been since the 1920s, when the Zionists introduced
terrorism into Palestine. It was one of the standard techniques of the early
groups of Zionist extremists, who put bombs in Arab marketplaces to terrorize
the population. This led to a crescendo during the 1930s and 1940s, when
terrorism was used by the Zionists against the British to hasten their retreat
from Palestine, which they did in 1948.
time, there has been a great deal of back and forth. In all cases, it has to
be remembered that despite the horrendous loss of life, and there is no way of
excusing or making up for the innocents who have lost lives, there has been a
vast preponderance of Palestinian losses. If you look at the example of the
figures of the last 6 weeks, there have been 180 Palestinians killed and 14
Israelis. Eight were soldiers. The Palestinians were all civilians. Terrorism
in this context has been for the Palestinians the weapon of the weak and the
oppressed. It has been very limited and sporadic, but amplified and blown up
to grotesque proportions by the Israelis, who always try to portray themselves
as the victims, whereas in this conflict they are not the victims. They are
The U.S. is
portrayed as an even-handed broker.
Israel is the
only state in the world that has received U.S. military and economic aid that
now roughly totals about $170 billion. Every U.S. political figure of note,
whether it’s a campaigner in a small district in northern New York State or
a presidential contender, has had to declare himself or herself an
unconditional supporter of Israel, because of the power of the Israeli lobby
and the fact that there is a very active and politically savvy and sensitively
placed community of supporters of Israel. U.S. policy has focused on the
defense and support of Israel in all of its ventures. Something like 60 UN
Security Council vetoes have been used by the U.S. to prevent censure of
Israel in cases that are flagrant violations of international law, whether
they range from torture to using helicopters and missiles against civilians to
settlements and illegal annexations.
So to say that
the U.S. is an even-handed broker is a preposterous mischaracterization. The
U.S. is very much in Israel’s camp. It should also be mentioned that most of
the officials involved in the peace process, beginning with Dennis Ross,
Martin Indyk, and Aaron David Miller are former employees of the Israeli
the conservative British weekly, observed that “the new Palestinian intifada
is rapidly assuming the form of a serious anti-colonial revolt.”
of the West Bank and Gaza with settlers and settlements and roads and the
constant expropriation of Palestinian lands, the destruction of crops and
olive trees to make way for roads, the redesigning of the geography of the
West Bank to permit its greater control, all these policies have, were it not
for the amnesiac U.S. media, followed the line of all classical colonialism.
So what has happened in the last six or seven weeks has been an attempt to
overthrow this, including the peace process, streamlining it so that the
Israelis can control without using so many troops, frequently using
Palestinians to police the people on behalf of the Israelis. Ironically, a lot
of the job of security has been handed over to Palestinian police, who have to
subdue precisely the people who are now the anti-colonial demonstrators.
pointed out that there are no maps in this most geographical of conflicts. Why
are maps important?
notoriously small attention span of the average TV viewer or reader of
newspapers, there’s very little awareness of the history or the geographical
topography involved. Most people say, the Arabs and the Jews are back at it
again, giving the notion that there are two equal sides and that one side is
beset, being victimized, the Israeli side. Whereas what has happened is that
for all Palestinians, 1948 and the founding of the state of Israel, meant that
essentially 78 percent of historic Palestine that was Arab has become Israeli.
That’s been conceded. The West Bank and Gaza together constitute 22 percent
of historical Palestine, and this is what the current fight is over. The
Palestinians are not fighting over the 78 percent that they’ve already lost.
They’re fighting over the 22 percent that remains. Of this 22 percent, the
Israelis are still in control of 60 percent of the West Bank and 40 percent of
Gaza. So if there were ever to be a Palestinian state, there would be no
contiguous territory. It would all be chopped into little pieces, controlled
by the roads, which the Israelis have built and which are now encircling each
of the Palestinian areas, which is why Palestinians today are besieged within
their little territory.
have made it impossible for Palestinians to move from one area to another,
from north to south from east to west. Greater Jerusalem, which is roughly 4
percent of the whole territory, has been annexed by Israel and the Israelis
plan not to give it back at all. The idea is that this area will be controlled
by Israel except for municipal services and issues like health, all those
problematic citizen problems that they want to give over to the Palestinian
Authority. Security and borders are under Israeli control. Even today Yasir
Arafat can’t go in and out of Gaza without Israeli permission, and they can
shut the airport, as they have, and shut the territory so that people can’t
move. In effect, they are being choked to death. This is the result of the
peace process. This is not the result of war. This is part of the disaster of
the agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinian leadership under the
aegis of the U.S., which is why it’s blown up.
your information coming from?
Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories is a bimonthly published in
Washington. The editor is Geoffrey Aronson. It’s a publication of the
Foundation for Middle East Peace. It’s the single most authoritative source
drawn from Israeli, Palestinian, and international agencies on the rate of
settlement building, the holding of settlements, the initiation of new
settlements, the destruction of property and the increase in the settler
Prize-winner Elie Wiesel, Pulitzer Prize-winner and New York Times columnist
Thomas Friedman, PBS’s Charlie Rose, and the Orientalist academic Bernard
Lewis pretty much all state that: Camp David collapsed because of Arafat’s
intransigence and his failure to seize a unique opportunity; that the Barak
offer went way beyond anything previously proposed; that it was a far-reaching
and generous compromise.
factually untrue. Before he went, Barak made it absolutely clear that he had
no intention of returning to the 1967 borders, which was the principle on
which the peace process was started—that there would be a return of all the
territory to the June 5, 1967 borders. Second, he made it absolutely clear
that there would be no return of the refugees. Third, he made it absolutely
clear that there would be no return of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty at
all. Fourth, he made it absolutely clear that he had no intention of uprooting
any of the settlements. These are the positions on which his whole subsequent
negotiation was based. He didn’t concede anything. He said, we will allow
you a form of sovereignty in the holy places. We will keep the Christian and
Armenian sections. You can have a little bit of sovereignty over some of the
Muslim holy places, but the real substantive sovereignty over East Jerusalem
will remain in Israeli hands. The vast majority of the city in terms of area
would remain under Israel. That was supposed to be a “forward-looking”
this, Arafat couldn’t agree. Not only because of the conditions, which were
terrible, but also for two other reasons. One is that Arafat was being asked
to end the conflict and end any Palestinian claims against Israel and thereby
ending any Muslim-Christian claims against Israel. He couldn’t do it.
Secondly, he was also being asked to give up Palestinian claims to the right
of return and self-determination, which again he couldn’t do. Far from it
being an opportunity for Arafat to take advantage of Israeli generosity, it
was an opportunity for Arafat effectively to commit suicide and to give Israel
the last prize, you might say the cherry on the sundae, which was everything
they wanted in addition to what Arafat had already conceded, which was 78
percent of what they had in 1948. He also conceded West Jerusalem. The
concessions Arafat made were vastly more generous and ill considered than
anything the Israelis did.
theme echoed by the pundits is the image of Palestinians as losers. Barak in
his Knesset speech on October 30 revived the Abba Eban comment that the
Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
information, from the very beginning, has always played on two levels. On one
level, there’s what they call hasbara, the Hebrew word for
information for the goy, the foreigners. There is the depiction of Israel as
forthcoming, democratic, defensive, victimized, generous and compassionate. In
other words, an image crafted to appeal to the Western liberal conscience.
Then, on the other hand, there’s what Israel says to itself and what Barak
says to his people. From the very beginning, whether it was Peres speaking or
Rabin or Yossi Beilin or Barak or Netanyahu, they all said the same thing.
They said, this is a peace process in which we lose nothing. Rabin said it
just a few months before Oslo was signed in 1998. He said, I wish Gaza would
sink into the sea. It’s such a millstone around our necks. It’s
overpopulated, a million people living under the most miserable conditions.
Why should we be responsible? We’ll keep the best land and we’ll give Gaza
to the Palestinians. That’s the basis of Oslo.
If you look
carefully at this history, you realize what, in my opinion, a suicidal game
the Israelis are playing. The basis of their politics is that the only
argument the Arabs can understand is violence. The occupation is a form of
violence against which throwing of rocks and the occasional terrorist outrage,
horrible though they may be, is nothing in comparison to the collective
punishment of 3 million people that has been going on for the last 33 years.
Israel was the only country in the world where torture was permitted. Twenty
percent of the population of the Israeli citizens of Israel, who happen not to
be Jews, Palestinians, are denied rights, not allowed to own land, rent it or
buy it. Their lands are regularly confiscated. Twenty percent of the
population gets one percent of the budget.
It also must be
said that Israel signed peace treaties with two Arab countries, Jordan and
Egypt, and still 20 years of peace with Egypt have remained essentially cold.
The Israelis say, we tried. We sent missions. But Israel is seen everywhere as
responsible for the use of massive weapons, disproportionate violence against
civilians, the continued expropriation of land, the building of settlements,
the trampling on Palestinian rights. This has made Israel a pariah state in
the Arab and Islamic world of three hundred million Arabs, 1.2 billion
Muslims. That’s why I say it’s suicidal, because in the end Israel is a
state in the Middle East. It has the support of the U.S. But how long can that
last? At some point the numbers are going to be against it. I figure that by
2010 there will be an equal number of Palestinians and Israelis on historical
Palestine. There will be demographic parity between Jews and Arabs. At which
point, how much can the Israelis control? By 2030 there will be twice as many
Arabs as there are Jews. So the Jews in Israel will be in a minority.
certainly acceptable that they should have political self-determination. But
it can’t be guaranteed by military means. That is not a long-term policy.
The only option is peace, and it has to be a real peace between equals as
opposed to a peace that is imposed on the weaker party by the stronger one.
In the 1987
uprising the Palestinians living in Israel were rather quiescent. However in
the 2000 intifada that has dramatically changed. Why?
One reason is
that the treatment of the Palestinian Israelis by the Israeli government has
historically been appalling. They were ruled by military edict until 1966. So
for 18 years, from the beginning of the state in 1948, they were an outcast
people in their own country, discriminated against in every way. They were not
allowed to move, to be properly educated, to have certain jobs. In 1966 the
military government was lifted and they were given a measure of improved
conditions. They were represented in the Knesset. They could vote in
elections. They can’t serve in the army. They can’t own land. During that
period, from 1966 on, they watched the alienation of their land continue
to take place. Many of the villages, like Um El Fahm, which was probably the
largest Arab village in Israel, lost 10,000 dunams, about 2,500 acres, of its
village land ceded to the Israel government. It was expropriated for military
purposes. They were going to turn it into a target range. So there was a
massive sense of being discriminated against for the simple reason that
they’re not Jews. It’s a kind of racism that affected the whole community,
and they finally rose up against it. They saw what the Israeli army was doing
in the West Bank and Gaza and they identified with the Palestinians there.
That’s the second most important thing.
Israelis have tried to do has been to destroy the sense of unity of these
people, who are divided by geography. The Palestinians of Israel are Israeli
citizens and the people in the West Bank and Gaza used to be Jordanians, or in
Gaza they used to be Egyptians. They’re now in an indeterminate state. The
Palestinians in Jordan and Lebanon are stateless people. One of the most
important achievements of the PLO was to make the people feel as one people. I
think the whole of the policy of the U.S. and Israel has been in the last 20
years to keep digging away at Palestinian identity, to fragment it, so that
people didn’t feel that they were part of the same entity who have suffered
collectively as a people.
Israeli, the thing to do now is to confront the problem within their borders.
Israel is unique in many ways. It is a state that has no constitution. It is
government by a set of basic laws. It makes very radical distinctions between
Jews and non-Jews, right down to the statistical abstracts. Everything is
governed by who’s a Jew and who isn’t. This is unworkable. It’s a state
that’s run effectively by religious authority. So many citizens of Israel
are genuinely worried about the fate of secular Jews who will not accept being
ruled by Orthodox and Conservative clerics. Rather than confront this in an
open way, there is this return to the traditional response of the Israelis,
either to deny or to reaffirm something completely different that has very
little to do with reality.
Palestinians bear a great responsibility, Palestinian intellectuals, but even
Palestinian citizens and other Arabs have a great responsibility to make this
known to Israelis, and to say, we are here, you are here. You can’t deny,
you can’t repress forever. You have to seek out the truth in your past, the
truth in ours. Maybe through a truth and reconciliation commission such as the
one that took place in South Africa. What’s stunning about this conflict is
that for 50 years, these two communities have been working on totally opposed
principles. The Israelis have said that they have a right to this land. There
was nobody here. In one way or another they’ve been saying this all along.
It doesn’t matter what happened in 1948. Let’s try to deal with 1967.
Those are unacceptable responses in the 21st century. It behooves everyone to
say, this is unacceptable behavior. You can’t wipe the slate clean to suit
you and your policy. You have to face the other party and try to take
responsibility for what you did, the way everybody has.
You wrote a
series of articles in Al-Ahram Weekly entitled “American Zionism.”
In the lead article you discuss an interview you had with Avi Shavit of Ha’aretz,
the main Israeli newspaper. You drew certain conclusions from that
I was trying to draw was that the Israeli position is that the Palestinians
are there, but they are a lesser people. The Israeli right wing says we
conquered them and they have to be our servants. The left wing says we can
rearrange them in some inoffensive way. Today because the Israelis live there
and they see Palestinians every minute of the day, as their servants and
waiters in the restaurants of Tel Aviv or their chauffeurs and taxi drivers,
all those people who work in the occupied territories and in Jerusalem, they
know they’re a physical presence. So that’s the Israeli Zionist awareness,
consciousness of Palestinians. The American Zionist by contrast really
doesn’t think of the Palestinians as a real thing at all. There’s a kind
of fantasy element in which Palestinians are a gratuitous ideological fiction
created to harass the Israelis and therefore avatars of anti-Semitism.
That’s what Bernard Lewis keeps saying all the time, this is Arab
anti-Semitism. Zionism is much more dangerous than Israeli Zionism.
A couple of
years ago you made a documentary film for the BBC called In Search of
Palestine. After being shown on BBC 2 and then on BBC World, it has more or
less disappeared. The BBC was almost totally unsuccessful in getting it on
U.S. television. Why was that?
history of films from a Palestinian point of view in this country. There’s
an organized response from the Zionist organizations to try to stop it, try to
block it. They try to argue it down. They try to make sure that the
advertisers pay a very heavy price for it in withdrawn support. If they want
to show one Palestinian film they have to show five films from the Israeli
point of view. What happened to my film was very much of that order. Nobody
would take it. The BBC couldn’t place it in this country. Finally, through
personal connections, I was able to get it on Channel 13 in New York, PBS, to
show it once, and I think it was shown on public television in San Francisco,
also once. Effectively the film has disappeared.
During the last
six weeks of the Al-Aqsa intifada that began in late September until
now, the New York Times on its op-ed page has not run any
pro-Palestinian articles except one by an Israeli who argued the Palestinian
case. Not a single Arab, with the exception of a Jordanian, and we’re
talking 50 op-ed pieces, maybe more, saying that he supported the peace
process, saying this was a pity, let’s go back to Oslo, and a very strong
article by an Israeli lawyer who’s in this country. The rest have all been
pro-Israeli. That’s been true of the Washington Post, of all the
major papers. In all the reporting no maps have been shown, so you can’t
really tell what the Palestinians have lost and where they are confined.
Mercifully, there are alternative sources. But the overwhelming official
consensus is that Israel is a besieged, victimized country.
What can be
done to reverse what you call the unhealthy quality of public discussion?
One has to
begin first by mobilizing the community of supporters in this country of which
there are many for the rights of the Palestinians and a genuine course toward
peace and reconciliation between Palestinians, Arabs generally, and Israelis.
So we need to mobilize opinion in this country. We must have more pressure,
because the polls that I’ve seen since the early 1970s all have shown that
most Americans, when given a quarter of a chance, will see the justice and the
injustice of the situation. So I think the constant monitoring of the media,
as some are beginning to do all over the country, to show the imbalances is
important. NPR and the networks, the newspapers, like the New York Times,
should be constantly bombarded with alternatives and letters and organized
campaigns to change their coverage. Second, I think the most important thing
is to delegitimize the Israeli military occupation. It has gone on for 33
years. The U.S. sells 40 percent of its entire arms outlay to the Middle East,
whether it’s the Gulf countries or Israel. They’re the largest purchasers
of arms in the world. What we also have to do is to take the curtain away so
that the debate about the Middle East is not hobbled by the fear of inciting
the Zionist lobby. Just because the New Republic or Commentary
take after somebody doesn’t mean that they should stop. One shouldn’t be
afraid of what is a paper tiger. They have very thin support.
In light of
the 2000 intifada, what does that mean for your proposal of a couple of
years ago for a binational state where Palestinians and Israelis would live in
I think now the
preeminent thing is the end of military occupation. The Palestinians and the
Israelis are so integrated; the territory is so small that you can’t have a
situation in which one population has imposed itself militarily on the other.
I’m very much against evictions and driving people off. I do think, however,
that the settlements have to be dismantled and the populations have to face
each other not only as neighbors but as coexistents in one basically
homogenous state which we call historical Palestine, whether you call it
Israel or a Palestinian state. The economies and the histories are so
intertwined that I still think that in the end a binational state is the only
long-term solution. In the interim, one would have to have two states in which
one is free of military occupation and then is able out of that freedom to
pursue policies that integrate it not just with Israel but with Jordan,
Lebanon, the other small countries that make up this very densely populated
and highly integrated part of the world. I still think
it’s the optimal solution and will come. But alas, a lot of time has to pass
and some of these tremendous vestiges of the past have to be worked through.
For information about cassettes or transcripts contact: Alternative Radio, PO
Box 551, Boulder, CO 80306; 800- 444-1977; www.alternativeradio.org.