Tuesday marked the 10th anniversary of the passing of Edward Said, American-Palestinian professor, intellectual, and writer. Said is best known for his book Orientalism, which critiques how Arab and non-European/American world is depicted, studied, and understood in Western culture, politics, and academia. Much to Said's surprise, the book, published in 1978, became a bible for postcolonial theorists. It is not only studied in major universities in the Western world, but it is also studied in India, China, Malaysia, Iran, the Arab world, and beyond.
Said was a complex man. He was born into a Palestinian-Christian family in Jerusalem during the British Mandate of Palestine, but was educated at British school in Egypt and then in America. He rose the ranks of academia and became a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University. He was a proud, Westernized American on the political left. He was anti-nationalist and pro-human rights. And yet, for many in the West he became a Palestinian national spokesman, a role he disliked because while he was a proud champion of Palestinian rights, he wasn't a national spokesman. He was a vocal critic of former Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat's dictatorial style, and was passionately opposed the Oslo Accords. His reported last words were, "Don't forget Palestine."
But in the West Bank, Gaza, and amongst Palestinian refugees in Arab countries, Said is rarely read. His work is praised and contested in Israel more than in Palestine. For many in Israel, Said was dangerous. An articulate professor in America advocating for Palestinian rights when public opinion perceived Israel as victim of Palestinian and Arab "aggression." Said was reviled by many in Tel-Aviv. But a small group of Israeli intellectuals, leftists, and dissidents adopted him. Ilan Pappe, who now lives in self-imposed exile in Britain, described Said as "a lighthouse navigating us out of the murkiness and confusion of growing up in a Zionist state onto a safer coast of reason, morality and consciousness."
"His ultimate death left us in the darkness without his assured guidance and sense of direction," Pappe wrote. Said envisioned that the Oslo Accords would divide Palestinians, referring to them as "Palestinian surrender, a Palestinian Versailles." He also argued that the agreement would not generate Palestinian self-determination because that meant sovereignty, independence and equality, all of which the signed documents did not mention. This year saw the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords, and professor Avi Shlaim, who initially opposed Said's interpretation of them, now believes that Said was right.
Said envisioned Israel and Palestine as one state with Palestinians and Israelis living as equal citizens. Most international pro-Palestinian campaigns now call for one state, and there is a consensus that two-state solution idea is now dead. The real question is by the time we reach the 20th anniversary of Said's death, will we have created this one state?