Low point of powerlessness

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Topics: Conflicts And War, Israel, Palestine Views: 6468

Sixty years ago, the Jews of Europe were at the lowest point of their collective existence. Herded like cattle into trains, they were transported from the rest of Europe by Nazi soldiers into death camps where they were systematically exterminated in gas ovens. They had offered some resistance in Poland, but in most places they first lost their civil status, then they were removed from their jobs, then they were designated official enemies to be destroyed, and then they were. In every significant instance they were the most powerless of people, treated as insidious, potentially overpowering enemies by leaders and armies whose own power was far, far greater; indeed, even the idea of Jews representing a danger to the might of countries like Germany, France, and Italy was preposterous. But it was an accepted idea, since with few exceptions most of Europe turned its back on them during their slaughter. It is only one of the ironies of history that the word used most frequently to describe them in the hideous official jargon of fascism was the word "terrorists", just as Algerians and Vietnamese were later called "terrorists" by their enemies.

Every human calamity is different, so there is no point in trying to look for equivalence between one and the other. But it is certainly true that one universal truth about the Holocaust is not only that it should never again happen to Jews, but that as a cruel and tragic collective punishment, it should not happen to any people at all. But if there is no point in looking for equivalence, there is a value in seeing analogies and perhaps hidden similarities, even as we preserve a sense of proportion. Quite apart from his actual history of mistakes and misrule, Yasser Arafat is now being made to feel like a hunted Jew by the state of the Jews. There is no gainsaying the fact that the greatest irony of his siege by the Israeli army in his ruined Ramallah compound, is that his ordeal has been planned and carried out by a psychopathic leader who claims to represent the Jewish people. I do not want to press the analogy too far, but it is true to say that Palestinians under Israeli occupation today are as powerless as Jews were in the 1940s. Israel's army, air force and navy, heavily subsidized by the United States, have been wreaking havoc on the totally defenseless civilian population of the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip. For the past half century the Palestinians have been a dispossessed people, millions of them refugees, most of the rest under a 35 year old military occupation, at the mercy of armed settlers who systematically have been stealing their land and an army that has killed Palestinians by the thousands. Thousands more have been imprisoned, thousands have lost their livelihood, made refugees for the second or third time, all of them without civil or human rights.

And still Sharon makes the case that Israel is struggling to survive against Palestinian terrorism. Is there anything more grotesque than this claim, even as this deranged killer of Arabs sends his F-16s, his attack helicopters and hundreds of tanks against unarmed people without any defenses at all. They are terrorists, he says, and their leader, humiliatingly imprisoned in a crumbling building with Israeli destruction all round him, is characterized as the arch-terrorist of all time. Arafat has the courage and defiance to resist, and he has his people with him on that score. Every Palestinian feels the deliberate humiliation inflicted on him as a cruelty without political or military purpose except punishment, pure and simple. What right does Israel have to do this?

The symbolism is truly awful to register, and is made even more so by the knowledge that Sharon and his supporters, to say nothing of his criminal army, intend what the symbolism so starkly illustrates. Israeli Jews are the powerful ones. Palestinians their hunted and despised Others. Luckily for Sharon, he has Shimon Peres, perhaps the greatest coward and hypocrite in world politics today, going round everywhere saying that Israel understands the difficulties of the Palestinian people, and "we" are willing to make the closures slightly less onerous. After which not only does nothing improve, but the curfews, demolitions, and killings intensify. And of course, the Israeli position is to call for massive international humanitarian aid which, as Terje- Rod Larsen correctly says, is in effect to cajole international donors into actually underwriting the Israeli occupation. Sharon must surely feel that he can do anything and not only get away with it completely but somehow even to manage a campaign whose purpose is to give Israel the role of victim.

As popular protests grow worldwide, the organized Zionist counter- response has been to complain that anti-Semitism is on the rise. Only two days ago Harvard University President Lawrence Summers issued a statement to the effect that an anti-divestment campaign led by professors -- an attempt to pressure the university into divesting itself of shares in American firms selling military equipment to Israel -- was anti-Semitic. A Jewish president of the country's oldest and richest university complains of anti-Semitism! Criticism of Israeli policy is now routinely equated with anti-Semitism of the kind that brought about the Holocaust, even though in the United States there is no anti-Semitism to speak of. In the US, a group of Israeli and American academics are organizing a McCarthy-style campaign against professors who have spoken up about Israeli human rights abuses; the main purpose of the campaign is to ask students and faculty to inform against their pro-Palestinian colleagues, intimidating the right of free speech and seriously curtailing academic freedom.

A further irony is that protests against Israeli brutality -- most recently Arafat's humiliating isolation in Ramallah -- have taken place on a mass level. Palestinians by the thousands defied curfews in Gaza and several West Bank towns in order to go out on the streets in support of their embattled leader. For their part, the Arab rulers have been silent or powerless or both together. Every one of them, including Arafat, has for years openly stated a willingness for peace with Israel; two leading Arab countries actually have treaties with it. Yet all Sharon gives in return is a kick to their collective bottoms. Arabs, he says repeatedly, only understand force, and now that we have power we shall treat them as they deserve (and as we used to be treated).

Uri Avnery is right: Arafat is being murdered. And with him, according to Sharon, will die the aspirations of the Palestinians. This is an exercise short of complete genocide to see how far Israeli power can go in sadistic brutality without being stopped or apprehended. Today Sharon has said that in the event of a war with Iraq, which is definitely coming, he will retaliate against Iraq, thus no doubt causing Bush and Rumsfeld the nightmares they rightly deserve. Sharon's last attempt at regime change was in Lebanon during 1982. He put Bashir Jemayel in as president, then was summarily told by Jemayel that Lebanon would never be an Israeli vassal, then Jemayel was assassinated, then the Sabra and Shatila massacres took place, then after 20 bloody and ignominious years the Israelis sullenly withdrew from Lebanon.

What conclusion is one to draw from all this? That Israeli policy has been a disaster for the entire region. The more powerful it becomes, the more ruin it sows in the countries around it, to say nothing of the catastrophes it has executed against the Palestinian people, and the more hated it becomes. It is power used for evil purposes, not self-defense at all. The Zionist dream of a Jewish state being a normal state like all others has come to the vision of the leader of Palestine's indigenous people hanging on to his life by a thread, while Israeli tanks and bulldozers continue to wreck everything around him. Is this the Zionist goal for which hundreds of thousands have died? Isn't it clear what logic of resentment and violence is at work in all this, and what power will come from the powerlessness that can now only witness but will certainly develop later? Sharon is proud to have defied the entire world, not because the world is anti-Semitic but because what he does in the name of the Jewish people is so outrageous. Isn't it time for those who feel that his appalling actions do not represent them to call a halt to his behavior?


Source: www.ahram.org.eg/weekly

Professor Edward Said is one of the foremost Palestinian Christian thinkers of today. He was born in Jerusalem, in 1935 and attended schools there and in Cairo. He received his B.A. from Princeton and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. He is University Professor at Columbia and currently head of the Modern Language Association. He is the author of Orientalism, The Question of Palestine, Covering Islam, Culture and Imperialism, Representations of the Intellectual, The Politics of Dispossession, and Peace and Its Discontents.


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  19 Comments   Comment

  1. john norman from uk

    Omar: You want a balanced "racism"? There is no such thing and should never be. Racism is racism is racism and the reader who posted those remarks should be ashamed. All he does is give Islam a bad name and convinces many readers that all too many Muslims are themselves racists. Is that what you want people to believe.

    I repeat, also, it is too bad that "iviews" gave that reader a place on their boards. That was not freedom of speech but freedom to propagate hate.

  2. Omar from UK

    You are right in your indignation at the bad comments posted, but remember, racist/bigoted slurs are made by Bush, most of his senior staff, and most talk-radio 'presenter'.

    Bigotry and hate speach is bad, but until it stops from the mouths of those with power, it is understandable that others will speak the same garbage.

    Surely in a democracy there must be balance!!

  3. Ahmed from USA

    John Norman is correct. Racist slurs like "kikes" should not posted.

  4. john norman from uk

    Simomohammed's comments on EDward Said's letter is a low point in invective and racism. It's a pity that iviews did not feel responsible enough to decide against publishing it. Iviews ought to know that passing such comments on the web could lead to their being prosecuted, if not in the US but in Europe, under European Community Law.

  5. Simohammed Lhsaini from Canada

    I guess the Zionists did not learn any lessons from the so called Holocaust that should be called Holloghost. Ignorant Israeli should 've understood that they cant have the cake and eat all for ever. I mean they should 've split up the land with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestinians and West Jerusalem as their capitals. Unfortunately those Ashkenazi Jews that far from being semitics and no link to the middle east or the twelve tribes but are the converts of Kazaria are adamant on confiscating and literally stealing Palestinians land, the true semites. unfortunately, the kikes prefered to perform the same atrocities against the powerless and defensless Palestinians.

    Kikes believe that they are superior to the rest of the world. Those disgusting creatures still believe that they are the chosen people.

    They still think as their Talmud claims that the gentiles are the donkies that God Allohim has created for them to ride. Talking about real racism. Big time discrimination against non Jews.

    Here I am attaking every war loving Jew and not peace loving Jews though.

    There is an arabic proverb that goes:"Yumhil Wa La Yuhmil" which is too beautiful to translate. It means God make criminals like Sharon think that they can get away with murder for ever but Allah never forgets and will surely punish the entire state of Israel. History has proven to us that Israel was destroyed twice before and it will be destroyed again if its leaders do not put an end to their abuse of Palestinians. It is just a question before another superpower changes the course of history and replaces the US as a superpower.

    Once that happens, Israel will be history.

    90 per cent of its people are not semitic besides it's not a legitimate state anyway.

    Wa Salamu Alaykum Wa Rahmatu Allah

    Regards,

    Simohammed

  6. wish to reamin unamed from America

    i like the beginning of the aricle of how you showed simpathy to the jewish. but in the end it showed a true and dramatic twist. what is happening is true but is palestine not fighting back. how can you make this article so narrow windidng as to exclude the jewish civilians in the battle. as you are pointing i think this article is very bias. you may have oveer looked the fact of both sides. you show simpathy to the palestinains but what about the jewish, and have the palestinians been dipressed a little of their rights also. have the palestinains not also made refugee camps. i am not saying this is a horrid and outrageous aricle but you have to admit that this is a little bias as you seem to refuse { by your article} as to see the other side.

  7. Yahya Bergum from USA

    ...and on how one's religion says they ought to feel about where (and the way) they are standing.

  8. Dr.Naiyer Habib from Canada

    As Sharon escalates his criminal war against defenceless Palestinian , selfish world watches. Wait till after Iraq war , there will be no Palestine! The strength of present muslim world is well measured and well dictated.

    Random affectionate superficial scolding from USA to Israelis nothing but a show as are the statements in Guardian by Blair to solve Palestinian issues before or simultaneuosly with Iraq issues. IWe have heard them both at Afghan war initiation. Have we not?

  9. zilzaal azzizi from Washington,DC/USA

    Professor Edward Said in 'Low point of powerlessness' described the most humiliating and degrading treatment of Palestinians at the hands of a 'chosen people,' under the direct command of alleged war criminal, General Ariel Sharon.

    As articulated in this piece, what is most distressing to all people of goodwill is that this systematic and dastardly infliction of pain, suffering, degradation and destruction to Palestinians is taking in the full daylight of history; that is, in living color, witnessed by one and all. Moreover, this evil of the Israeli military machine is coupled with an attitude of naked arrogance and contempt for world opinion, without any professed semblance of regret or remorse!

    The heartbreaking suffering of the Palestinian people has many fathers! The first and foremost are weak, quisling Arab governments, which have continually betrayed the Palestinians of the Diaspora--from inception to this very day! Next come Arafat and his band of opportunists. Leadership/statesmanship require leaders to take decisive action when the opportunity presents itself; Arafat has failed successfully in this department, and for his failure his people suffer. In this same connection, rejectionist movements of Hamas and Islamic Jihad have played critical roles in the subjugation of the Palestinians, by making it possible for the election of the likes of Natanyahu and Sharon.

    And last but not least, the biggest scoundrel of all is the so-called "honest broker", the USofA. Indeed, one can, without doubt, place Palestinian blood spilled by Sharon at the feet of the USA. For, successive US governments have betrayed Arafat and his people, including weak and vassal states of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.

    So today, the world looks on helplessly as America prepares for war with Iraq, while Palestine bleeds ... and their brethren (next door!) bend their heads in shame!

    Say, are we truly living in this 'enlightened age' of the 21st cent

  10. Faiyaz Muhammed from India

    I am struck not by the helplessness of the Palestinians but the incapability of the humankind, particularly the Muslim Nations to bestir themselves agaist this outrage. Have Muslims failed to fear the God-Alone, who will definitely question them. What would be their answers, how will they defend themselves? The question is how would I defend myself? The God-Alone, has His plans. But then the question arises. Why or how are we silent? Are we permitted to plead helplessness? Should this continue?

    America, with all its power and might,could have been a Trustee and could have enjoyed the benevolence of the Creator, perhaps for centuries to come? But it has chosen to be the arbiter of the lives of other people and has caused death and destruction all over the world, from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Americans are so good at analysis. Do they count or have they kept an account of the wretchedness they have wrought on other people. The cries and despair of all those millions of people killed and maimed, the silent screams of innocent children, aged parents, destitute women to which American power alone is responsible - would all be lost? Are there no humans in American Society? Would they be willing to bear the cross the Palestinians to day carry around their necks?

    In the past there have been countless powerful empires, groups & individuals, who blatantly abrogated all powers to themselves, forgetting that they are under watch. What has become of them?

    Again and again, invariably, such abrogators have been humbled and there would be no exception this time? Like the alternating night & day, the screams will be answered. The weapons which they to-day manufacture and utilize against others will become their own nemesis.

    But then, what are we doing? We were enjoined to do great deeds of goodness and become benefactors. It was promised, in return, our enemies would become our greatest friends. Let us begin

  11. loay from canada

    It is uplefting to read such a passionate and clearly a fare piece of evidence presnted by Edward .. he helps confirm the truth about the strategic brutality of the zionist thinking machine .. It also confirms the level of brutality that is clearly witnessed but unattacked .. the final reality is clear and brings calmness to those who have a vision .. The more the israeli government does, the more they push all the buttons, the more they indulge in crossing all lines of human dignity, and human respect . The closer they reach the ultimate historical grave and the erection of a multi level wall of enemies. That always leads and have lead many nations before to total dispaire and collapse. The only note I would send to all is simple, have faith, and understand clearly that every road has an end, and the end of this road is one that will bring a smile to all those that suffer this brutal regime.

  12. TrueBeliever from U.S.

    This article was well written and I have truely enjoyed reading it.I pray to Allah that He watch over us hold those accountable to their horror and terrors against muslim all over the world. I will never support a Anti-Islam public official in the U.S. and I will vote with this in mind.

    Thanks for writting such article. Breaks my heart to see Muslim mistreated, but Allah is on our side. Although they plan, Allah also plans and Allah is the Best of Planners. The finally victory will be with the Muslims.

  13. Nadim Umar from USA

    The (Zionist) Jews are a good example of what happens when the victim mentality gets out of hand. They are like a black hole that thrives on negative energy. The more they are criticized, the more persecuted they feel, and the more evil things they do.

    It is an example that Muslims with a persecution complex should ponder...

  14. Mohammad Syed from USA

    Thank you Dr. Said for this wonderful article. To-day we are so helpless that we don't count. Thank you for your scholarship and courage for writing, informing the ignorant, and taking stand on issues that are important.

    Your writings are a great source of encouragement to all of us who feel so helpless when our religion, our prophet, and ordinary Muslims are attacked.

    Thank you.

    Sincerely,

    Mohammad Syed

  15. john norman from uk

    Even as he denies that he is trying to establish equivalence between the situation of the Jewish People in Europe between 1934 and 1945 and the situation of the Palestinians today, Prof. Edward Said sets about establishing one.

    "It is true to say that Palestinians under Israeli occupation today are as powerless as Jews were in the 1940's." Really? Is there any evidence at all that the Jewish militias were being armed by their enemies as the Palestinian police forces have been armed by the Israeli Government? None. Is their any evidence that not a single Jew has been shot to death by various Palestinian factions? None. Any evidence that not a single bomb has been detonated on Israeli buses, in Israeli cafes and market places, in streets and squares? None.

    What of his argument that the Palestinians are a dispossessed people? In 1947, the Arab communities of the British Mandate were offered a State by the United Nations, an offer that was rejected out of hand. For close to 50 years, the Palestinians and their Arab allies have blatantly flouted the UN's will and have engaged in war after war in an attempt to kill of the single Jewish State in the area, the only Jewish State in the world.

    "Professor" Said continues to show with his mendacious arguments that he is truly unfit for academia and that he remians a disastorus spokesman for the Palestinian People.

  16. Saif from England

    Arafat is just one of the key players in the game plan to take over Jerusalem and make it the Jewish capital. I have heard it said. The scenes recently of him holed up in his headquarters just add to the comic Hollywood style of most news stories featuring puppet 'muslim' dictators. And unfortunate to say Mr Said you've been making great gains out of the plight of the Palestinian cause over the decades. And all I see emerging is more and more Nationaslism and your endless promotion of it. Well go and read the hadeeth of what the prophet Muhammad (saw) had to say about National pride. The solution to problems in Palestine is the same as that for all occupied muslim lands. The Islamic Laws only permit there to be a Khilafah and thats what sincere muslims are working for, Alhamdoolilah. Yes and there is a working method from the Prophet Muhammad (saw) for this struggle.