Edward Said: A lighthouse that navigated us

We, who supported the Palestinian cause, have been orphaned with the untimely death of Edward Said. For Israeli Jews, like myself, he was the lighthouse that navigated us out of the darkness and confusion of growing in a Zionist state onto a safer coast of reason, morality and consciousness.

I am sorry I only met Edward in 1988, but I feel fortunate for the time we did spend together. His insights of, and inputs on, the global reality in general and the Palestine one in particular will guide us all for many years to come. But above all, we shall miss Edward’s unique ability of articulating in the public sphere the evil inflicted upon the Palestinians in the past against the continued effort in the Western media of sidelining, if not altogether eliminating, the plight and tragedy of Palestine. There is no one who could easily feel his place on that stage — no one who could in few sentences associate so clearly the wrongs of the past with the tragedy of the present in the land of Palestine.

The academic and intellectual world would equally be disorientated without his original thoughts and conceptualization on the West’s relationship with the world. We should be grateful, nonetheless, that so many of our colleagues went in his footsteps as he so brilliantly deconstructed the power bases and more sinister interests behind the knowledge production in West on the Orient in general and the Middle East in particular.

For those of us who knew him more personally, we have all lost a dear and genuine friend, with whom one could talk about the most abstract philosophical issues and with the same ease move to more mundane problems in life — which usually paled in comparison with his endless and brave struggle against his fatal illness.

Something of this mixture and balance was also in his books. He will be remembered, and justly so, for “Orientalism” and the works that followed shaping and contributing to the post-Colonialist and Cultural Studies. But I will also cherish the “The Politics of Dispossession” — these short and lucid interventions, quite often immediate reactions to a recent crisis or juncture in the life of Palestine and the Palestinians, but always contextualizing the event and Said’s thoughts within the much more broader view on the march of history.

A few weeks ago we had our last meaningful conversation — on the phone — in which he beseeched me, as he did others I am sure, not to give up the struggle for relocating the Palestinians’ refugee issue at the heart of the public and global agenda. He stressed the need to continue the effort of changing the American public opinion on Palestine and he was very hopeful and encouraged by he what recognized as a significant change in European public opinion.

Edward probably left more than one spiritual and moral will to us. The one I am taking is the one above. In his memory and out of respect to his intellectual genius as well as to his moral courage, we should regroup our energies and reorganize our efforts to impress on the world that there will be no justice and no peace in Palestine, no stability in the Middle East and no tranquility in the US relationship with the Muslim world, without the return of Palestinian refugees to their home, the end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the building of a state in Palestine that would respect human and civil rights, as did Edward all his life.

May his soul rest in peace.

Ilan Pappe is a senior Israeli academic at the Department of Political Science and M.A, University of Haifa and the author of many books relating to the conflict.