A Proper Exile
"Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue is only for a moment. Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but counselors of peace have joy." Proverbs 12: 19-20
FOR A GENERATION of Palestinians, Edward Said has been their voice… their champion. No one -- not even the once silver-tongued Yasser Arafat -- has come close to his capacity to articulate their common sense of pain… and longing.
Said is a prolific author who holds an endowed chair in English and comparative literature at Columbia University. Widely admired in literary and diplomatic circles, he owes his efficacy and acceptance as a leading Palestinian spokesman not just to inborn genius, but also to his personal saga of banishment by the Zionists from Palestine circa late 1947. Whether in writing, on television or radio, in lectures, hearings or interviews alike, his own tale of exile has amplified the moral force behind Said's political engagement, elevating his status as a most powerful symbol of Palestinian dispossession.
Specifically, Said has asserted for years that his parents owned a house at 10 Brenner Street, in the Talbieh neighborhood of western Jerusalem, that he grew up there and attended classes at St. George's until age 12. At that time, his family was driven out "in panic" by threats from Jewish forces, and ended up in Cairo. Said has made it a point to hound the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem in particular with his claims, since the building in question served as our main headquarters from 1981 to 1997, and still houses several Embassy departments.
But in the September issue of Commentary magazine (available at www.commentarymagazine.com), Jerusalem legal scholar Justus R. Weiner accuses Prof. Said of fabricating the whole biographical sketch of his youth. To the contrary, writes Weiner in an essay entitled "'My Beautiful Old House' and Other Fabrications by Edward Said," he was the son of a wealthy Arab-American businessman, and lived in Cairo -- not Jerusalem - in a life of privilege from birth. According to Weiner's findings, "The young Edward Said resided in luxurious apartments, attended private English schools, and played tennis at Cairo's exclusive Gezira sporting club, as the child of one of its few Arab members… Whatever we finally make of all this, there can be no denying that the parable is a lie."
In an apparent attempt at damage control, Said is working on a new book -- Out of Place -- in which he revises his account of childhood, correctly placing himself in Cairo. Weiner adds, "I and my researchers interviewed 85 people over three years, including Edward Said's cousin Robert in Amman and a family friend in Cairo. I think people told him that the house of cards was looking perilous."
Weiner is to be commended for exposing Said as a deceptive highbrow. His story is suspiciously similar to the false refugee persona created by Arafat himself, whose family also fled Jerusalem for Cairo some 20 years before the War of Independence due to inter-Arab clan violence, not at the hands of the Zionists. As we approach final-status talks on the issue of Palestinian refugees and the "right of return," it is worthwhile for all truly concerned with peace in the Middle East to consider how many other narratives of Palestinian homelessness, exile and dispossession have been forged on the backs of the Jews.
AS FOR THE UNRAVELING of Edward Said, beyond the blatant falsification of his refugee status -- and the simple property issue of 10 Brenner -- lies an even deeper malady that merits examination. Said has used his formidable persuasive skills to equate "Palestinian sufferings" with the Jewish Holocaust in the minds of millions. Beyond his crude exploitation of this recent Jewish calamity, the Christian-born Said routinely digs even deeper into the past to draw a dark parallel between the plight of the Palestinians and the crucifixion of Jesus. Said's subtle agenda is to have Jews universally detested for inflicting wounds on both. It is Christian anti-Semitism, pure and simple, preached intentionally by an esteemed man of letters -- and now a proven spinner of yarns.
Said has a long, complex paper trail, but several recent examples of his Christian anti-Semitism will suffice. At his keynote address before an Israeli audience in Nazareth this past March, Said lectured Israel for its "almost sadistic severity" toward the Palestinians, a "Calvary of suffering" wrought principally by Jewish hands. When asked afterwards in an interview whether he would accept compensation for the (alleged) loss of his family home at 10 Brenner, Said jokingly whispered, "You mean like Judas."
In his 1998 documentary "In Search of Palestine" produced for the BBC, Said looms over a Beduin man (a non-Palestinian, by the way) and emotes for the camera: "It is very, very hard to stand here talking about it when I see my own people going through this endless Calvary without any relief, without any sympathy or support from the so-called civilized world, which backs Israel in these barbaric, inhuman practices which are scarcely known to the world around."
So pervasive has been Said's influence on the lexicon of Palestinian nationalism that, not only Orthodox Christians like Hanan Ashrawi, but also good Muslims like Yasser Arafat appeal to a Christian West by reason of their "long Via Dolorosa," seeing as "the Body of Christ is still being crucified" here. This despite the prevalent Islamic teaching that Judas, the Jewish betrayer, hung on the cross, not Jesus.
Indeed, it is Said that has betrayed the trust of the Palestinian people. He has staked his professional reputation on falsehoods. And he has spread the most virulent racial and religious malice. Shame on those who do not properly banish him now.
David R. Parsons