Edward Said on claims to the land and the occupation of Palestine

It always puzzled me why whenever I argued with Zionists, they would eventually take refuge in history as if history was on their side. However, anyone who has studied the history of Palestine would  easily realize that history is the Zionists’ weakest point and that Arabs could make an extremely convincing case that historically they have an indisputable right to this land.

It is still overwhelming to listen to Edward Said talking about the Zionist so called “god given” right to the land of Palestine. This 2003 short video has completely won me over since amongst the dozens of other clips I have seen of Said, I have never seen him as excited/exciting as he appears in this video.

Debating with the passion of who seemed to be a dispossessed— I’m not sure if this description suits him — Palestinian, equipped with an unprecedented critical mentality, and at moments furious at the seemingly ludicrousness of the politics of Palestine and the apathy with which the Palestinians are treated by the “international community”, as you’ll see in the video, Edward Said makes a few crucial points in regard to the historical narratives and claims to the land of Palestine that I would like to highlight.

  • Responding to the question whether the Zionists have a god-given claim to the land of Palestine, Said makes it clear that, yes, Jews have a “claim” to the land of Palestine and therefore they have the right to live on this land.
  • However, the Zionist claim isn’t the only claim to this land. “It’s a claim among many others,”
  • He adds that the Arabs have a claim to the land of Palestine as well. In fact, they have a “much greater claim because they have a longer history of inhabitance, of actual residence in Palestine than the Jews did. The overall Jewish actual inhabitance in Palestine throughout history, amounting to 200 to 260 years, is much less than the Arabs’ amounting to about 1192 years.
  • The land of Palestine was inhabited/conquered by many other peoples throughout history including the Canaanites, the Assyrians, the Philistines, the Babylonians, the Israelites, the Archaemenids, the Seleucids etc., etc.

To elaborate a bit more on this point, I will quote this brief summary of the peoples who conquered Palestine since 722 BCE up until it fell under the Muslims’ rule 638 from Juan Cole’s article of last year called Top Ten Reasons Why East Jerusalem doesn’t belong to Jewish-Israelis which though I disagree with on many points, I recommend reading on its entirety.

The Assyrians conquered Jerusalem in 722. The Babylonians took it in 597 and ruled it until they were themselves conquered in 539 BCE by the Achaemenids of ancient Iran, who ruled Jerusalem until Alexander the Great took the Levant in the 330s BCE. Alexander’s descendants, the Ptolemies ruled Jerusalem until 198 when Alexander’s other descendants, the Seleucids, took the city. With the Maccabean Revolt in 168 BCE, the Jewish Hasmonean kingdom did rule Jerusalem until 37 BCE, though Antigonus II Mattathias, the last Hasmonean, only took over Jerusalem with the help of the Parthian dynasty in 40 BCE. Herod ruled 37 BCE until the Romans conquered what they called Palestine in 6 CE (CE= ‘Common Era’ or what Christians call AD). The Romans and then the Eastern Roman Empire of Byzantium ruled Jerusalem from 6 CE until 614 CE when the Iranian Sasanian Empire Conquered it, ruling until 629 CE when the Byzantines took it back.

The Muslims conquered Jerusalem in 638 and ruled it until 1099 when the Crusaders conquered it. The Crusaders killed or expelled Jews and Muslims from the city. The Muslims under Saladin took it back in 1187 CE and allowed Jews to return, and Muslims ruled it until the end of World War I, or altogether for about 1192 years.

Therefore, Said concludes:

[…] to isolate one of [the claims] and say THAT’s the claim; that is the real owner of the land, that’s fundamentalism…But I don’t think that any claim whether it’s given by god or the emperor, nobody has the claim that overrides all the others’ and entitles that person with that so-called claim to drive people out.

In addition to history, the Palestinians have, in Said’s words, the world consensus on their side. In the second half of the video, Edward Said gives his view on how Americans (and the same applies to everyone who believes in the just cause of Palestine) can react to the U.S. biased policies in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian question and its unshakable support of Israel over the fulfillment of the rights of the Palestinians.

A few points to highlight:

  •  The U.S. went to invade Iraq saying that Saddam had violated UN resolutions. That is exactly what Israel did.
  •  It has been violating the international law and several UN resolutions occupying Palestinian territory. (Said addressess only the issue of occupying the 1967 land. He doesn’t speak of the right of return and of course Gaza hadn’t been besieged back then nor had the Apartheid wall been constructed etc.).

We need to mobilize our community, our representatives, in Washington to tell them this is what we want. We want the United States to follow its own precepts in Iraq in the Middle East. To say to Israel, “OUT”. The time has come. You don’t negotiate over illega[ly] occupied territory.

Edward Said demanded of the American people to call on their government to accept the world consensus and give the Palestinians all their rights by implementing UN resolutions and ending its support of Israel against the Palestinians. .

However, due to the international community’s continuous failed attempts to convince Israel to comply with the international law, In 2005, a similar call has been made by the Palestinian civil society to all people all over the world who believe in the moral responsibility to fight injustice and that the time has come that Israel comply with the international law and stop violating Palestinians’ human rights. Great many have already embraced the BDS call and many others are starting to wake up to it. Had the BDS been made at Said’s time, I personally have no doubts he would have called on his audience to embrace it as the most influential way of the mobilization he referred to earlier.  




Said wants the Zionists to withdraw from the 1967 occupied land
What about the 1948 occupied land??


It's ironic how they play religion's game. They recommend their dudes not to talk about religion on Media, for religious people are on their side. At the same time, they use religion to to persuade others of their "rooted histroy" on this land. It's not the only histroy and calim as you and Said said. Thanks Mohammed.


sure this is the right history for Palestine and the Eastern Jerusalem
The speech of Said and you Mohammed is the truth
thanks Mohammed


Thank God for the wonderful life and testimony of Dr. Edward Said and his brave and fearless message to the world, which he continued even while living with the ravages of leukemia.

Mohammed Suliman

Mohammed Suliman's picture

Mohammed Rabah Suliman, 22, is a Palestinian student and blogger from Gaza. Mohammed currently undertakes graduate studies at the London School of Economics. He blogs at Gaza Diaries of Peace and War, and can be followed on Twitter.