The Gap Grows Wider
by Edward Said
On his visit to Birzeit University, Lionel Jospin had the gall to speak of the Hizbullah fighters as terrorists, also expressing his "understanding" of Israel's actions against Lebanon. As is now widely known, he was greeted after his speech by many hundreds of students, who stoned his car and that of his escort, Minister Nabil Shaath. Jospin's visit to the Palestinian territories (still under occupation by Israel, which is aided in its occupation by the Palestinian Authority) was under the supposed auspices of the Authority, which was exposed for its unpopularity and incompetence.

Embarrassed and angry, the Palestinian boss, Yasser Arafat, condemned the attack, paying no heed to the justice of what the students were saying, which was that there was one common front of resistance against Israeli occupation from Beirut to Birzeit, and using his security forces to beat the students and perhaps later imprison and torture some of them.

Threatened by the wave of discontent, the panicky Birzeit administration closed the university for three days, more or less acting under the Authority's injunctions. Like dictators everywhere, Arafat has no real support anymore and has lost sight of what it is he is supposed to be doing, namely liberating his people. Far from that, he is colluding with Israel to confine them still more, all the while fattening himself and his cronies on the ill-gotten gains provided by his monopolies, casinos, skimmed-off-the-top businesses, extortion and protection money. Without any law or real civil institutions Arafat is the perfect partner for Israel and the US, who now have a native sub-contractor in the oppression of Palestinians and in the furtherance of their interests: therefore, they could not be happier.

Even though "peace" isn't a step closer to realisation than under Netanyahu -- in fact, I had predicted that Barak would be a good deal worse, and he has confirmed that by allowing or encouraging more settlement building than his predecessor -- the various rulers and "peace" professionals seem not to have taken notice of a widening gap between the people ruled and the justly-maligned process. Typically though, it isn't the seasoned politicians or the intellectuals who have taken the lead in opposing the enslavement of the so-called peace, but rather the students.

In Beirut, at the American University, students have been demonstrating against US policy, which is nothing less than full support for Israel's bombing of civilian targets, a crime punishable according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. But whereas the US government and organisations like Human Rights Watch have been agitating to bring Saddam Hussein to trial for crimes against humanity (few deserve it more, by the way), nothing is said about Sharon, Barak, Peres, and all the other leaders whose routine assaults on civilian and human rights constitute the longest-standing and longest-unpunished set of war crimes in history. These go back to 1948, when Palestine was ethnically cleansed. The invidiousness of such a policy enraged the Beirut students, and they made life a little difficult for the US ambassador, who was attending some public function at the AUB.

One would wish there was a similar policy of peaceful resistance taken against those rulers in the Arab countries who either take no favorable notice of the demonstrations or who pander openly to the Israelis and the Americans. As for Lionel Jospin, he follows in the long tradition of bad faith and duplicity of the European Left, which has always actively supported Zionism with scarce regard for the tenets of socialism, much less of liberal humanism. It is a strange thing indeed, but the Western Left has basically been blind to what Zionism did to the Palestinians, so carefully did the publicists of that movement cultivate the totally fraudulent notion that Zionism was essentially a socialist and progressive movement. In fact, as several Israeli historians have shown, Zionism was profoundly anti-socialist, and was very much in favour of capitalism so long as it could be put to what was then characterised as "Jewish" purposes and aims in Palestine. This was as true of Ben Gurion as it was of Weizmann, as it was of all their followers in the Israeli Labour Party. It is a breathtaking prevarication, this pretence of socialism, but has been sustained successfully for almost a century: Israel's Labour Party is a member of the Socialist International; the kibbutz, which was a sort of window-dressing operation constituting less than one per cent of the population, became the symbol of socialist Zionism; and a whole generation of European politicians from Crossman to Jospin have followed along unquestioningly.

In Jospin's case, he is a member of the Protestant minority and likely to feel pangs of identification with Israeli Jews (forgetting totally the Palestinian minority, for racist reasons), as well as some sense of collective guilt for the Holocaust. As to why it should be allowable for Israel to bomb Lebanon as an aspect of its illegal occupation of the South, that is left unexplained. Perhaps it is also worth mentioning that Jospin's sudden expression of enthusiasm was kindled by the fact that ElAl, the Israeli airline, is in the process of refurbishing its fleet of aircraft, and Aerospatiale, the French producers of the AirBus, are Boeing's chief competitor for the enormous, multi-billion dollar deal. Jospin must have accordingly felt that a little cost-free French support (I think he and Mrs Albright call it "understanding") for Israeli bombing would be an extra incentive for ElAl to buy French products. Besides, he supposed, where more convincingly could he make his point sincerely than under Palestinian noses, so to speak. They would never object, poor little brown people that they are. French racism and condescension, hand in hand.

Thank heavens for the students, who were more courageous than their professors and their so-called leaders, who probably (I have no information) just sat on their hands politely and let the villainous Jospin blather on. But that has been the Arab elite habit for some time now: taking it imperturbably on the chin when a white man insults and humiliates them, all of this abjection as a way of demonstrating to the world that we are not the terrorists and fanatics that we have sometimes seemed to be.

Boss Arafat and Nabil Shaath, who was at Birzeit and was pummeled by the students as a symbol of collaboration, went out of their way to express anger at the students, instead of refusing to speak to Jospin at all. Any other leadership worth its salt would have done exactly that. But ours is too far gone to notice that "peace" to most people is a cynical game and the shameless pandering to Israel's bankrupt and ruthlessly arrogant leadership will get them no further than exactly as far as they have come to date, which isn't much of a distance at all. Thus the gap between the interests of the preponderant majority of the people and the ruling juntas (Arab as well as Israeli) increases.

In whose interest exactly is Israel's quasi-insane military spending? Certainly not that of the urban masses or the Mizrahim, who are forced to swallow insult upon insult, to say nothing of grinding poverty and discrimination, while the Ashkenazi elites go on their merry way regardless, acquiring bigger cars and apartments while the majority suffers. This is not to mention the present suicidal course of Israel's foreign policy, whose result is to lay up more and more hatred among Arabs who are conceived of as only "understanding the language of force."

What blindness and what moral obtuseness this is, as if more and more gratuitous punishment and humiliation of the Arabs will make Israel more acceptable and more popular instead of more hated and more likely to be the target of indiscriminate Arab violence. The Israelis seem to have learned nothing from the history of cruelty, which simply breeds counter-responses that prolong the dialectic of force, instead of the other way round. They are no less unwise than their Arab counterparts, who somehow doggedly believe that the Americans will protect them in the long run from the wrath of their long-suffering people. There will be no escape from that so long as the gap widens between the rhetoric and institutions of the false peace, on the one hand, and the appalling distortions of reality on the other.

Peace in the Palestinian world has meant more land taken, houses demolished, corruption, continued political prisoners and torture, despotism, and no land really liberated to speak of. At this point it doesn't matter who does the oppressing, Israeli or Palestinian security men. Torture can't be justified if it is done by a Palestinian policeman, any more than it could be justified when an Israeli did it. Torture is torture, occupation is occupation. And above all, injustice is injustice and will be perceived as such, whether it is uttered by a French politician or an Arab one. As Fanon said, it cannot be the aim of liberation simply to replace a white policeman by a non-white policeman. Liberation must go a great deal further.

The important thing for now is to keep hammering away at the phony rhetoric and promises of the peace process, showing relentlessly not only that it hasn't worked and has created a gap between rulers and ruled, but also, and more importantly, that in its present form it cannot work. Human, political and civil rights are indivisible: they cannot be partially achieved by one people and fully enjoyed by another living in the same territory. This is the deep flaw of Oslo. The only way to overcome it is to raise the cry "equality or nothing, for Arabs and Jews". If one people enjoys a right of return, the other one must also. Otherwise the conflict continues -- in the real interests of no one at all. No one, not even those who seem to be profiting in the short run.


 
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