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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 48 New Delhi November 17, 2018

Edward W. Said’s The Question of Palestine

Sunday 18 November 2018, by Arup Kumar Sen

Edward W. Said’s The Question of Palestine was written in 1977-78 and published in 1979. He wrote a 27-page preface to the 1992 edition of the book in which he summed up the long and complex history of oppression and resistance of the Palestinians: “Two decades after Black September (1970), the main aspects of Palestinian life remain dispossession, exile, dispersion, disenfranchisement (under Israeli military occupation), and, by no means least, an extraordinarily widespread and stubborn resistance to these travails. Thousands of lives lost and many more irreparably damaged... Where Israeli troops shot, beat, and harassed civilians, the Palestinians devised modes for getting around and crossing barriers...”.

Said drew our attention in the Preface to the multiple oppressive acts of Israel, and the mode of characterisation of Palestinians by the Israelis: “...the summary arrests, deportations, house destructions, maimings, and torture of Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza; the use of poisonous, dehumanizing rhetoric by senior Israeli politicians, soldiers, diplomats, and intellectuals to characterize all Palestinian acts of resistance as terrorist and Palestinians as non-human (“cockroaches”, “grasshoppers”, “two-legged vermin”, etc.)...”.

Said, in spite of his empathy for the Palestinian struggle for survival, could maintain sanity in his pronouncements. He concluded his Preface with the following insightful observation: “...neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a military option against the other; this fact is as striking now as it was when I wrote The Question of Palestine thirteen years ago. The task for the Palestinian people is still to assure its presence on the land, and, by a variety of means, to persuade the Israelis that only a political settlement can relieve the mutual siege, the anguish and insecurity of both peoples. There is no other acceptable secular—that is, real—alternative.”

Edward W. Said left this world one-and-a- half decades ago. But, the trajectory of his thoughts and their ethical moorings ignite our minds in exploring a better world.

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