American Zionism The Real Problem (1) By Edward Said This is the first article in a series on the misunderstood and misjudged role of American Zionism in the question of Palestine. In my opinion, the role of organised Zionist groups and activities in the United States has not been sufficiently addressed during the period of the "peace process," a neglect that I find absolutely astonishing, given that Palestinian policy has been essentially to throw our fate as a people in the lap of the United States without any strategic awareness of how US policy is in effect dominated, if not completely controlled, by a small minority of people whose views about Middle East peace are in some way more extreme than even those of the Israeli Likud. Let me give a small example. A month ago, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz sent over a leading columnist of theirs, Ari Shavit, to spend several days talking with me; a good summary of this long conversation appeared as a question-and-answer interview in the August 18 issue of the newspaper's supplement, basically uncut and uncensored. I voiced my views very candidly, with a major emphasis on right of return, the events of 1948, and Israel's responsibility for all this. I was surprised that my views were presented just as I voiced them, without the slightest editorialising by Shavit, whose questions were always courteous and un-confrontational. A week after the interview there was a response to it by Meron Benvenisti, ex-deputy mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kollek. It was disgustingly personal, full of insults and slander against me and my family. But he never denied that there was a Palestinian people, or that we were driven out in 1948. In fact he said, we conquered them, and why should we feel guilty? I responded to Benvenisti a week later in Ha'aretz: What I wrote was also published uncut. I reminded Israeli readers that Benvenisti was responsible for the destruction (and probably knew about the killing of several Palestinians) of Haret Al-Magharibah in 1967, in which several hundred Palestinians lost their homes to Israeli bulldozers. But I did not have to remind Benvenisti or Ha'aretz readers that as a people we existed and could at least debate our right of return. That was taken for granted. Two points here. One is that the whole interview could not have appeared in any American paper, and certainly not in any Jewish-American journal. And if there had been an interview the questions to me would have been adversarial, hectoring, insulting, such as, why have you been involved in terrorism, why will you not recognise Israel, why was Hajj Amin a Nazi, and so on. Second, a right-wing Israeli Zionist like Benvenisti, no matter how much he may detest me or my views, would not deny that there is a Palestinian people which was forced to leave in 1948. An American Zionist for a long time would say that no conquest took place or, as Joan Peters alleged in a now-disappeared and all but forgotten 1984 book, From Time Immemorial (that won all the Jewish awards when it appeared here), there were no Palestinians with a life in Palestine before 1948. Every Israeli will readily admit and knows perfectly well that all of Israel was once Palestine, that (as Moshe Dayan said openly in 1976) every Israeli town or village once had an Arab name. And Benvenisti says openly that "we" conquered, and so what? Why should we feel guilty about winning? American Zionist discourse is never straight out honest that way: it must always go round and talk about making the desert bloom, and Israeli democracy, etc., completely avoiding the essential facts about 1948, which every Israeli has actually lived. For the American, these are mostly fantasies, or myths, not realities. So removed from the actualities are American supporters of Israel, so caught in the contradictions of diasporic guilt (after all what does it mean to be a Zionist and not emigrate to Israel?) and triumphalism as the most successful and most powerful minority in the US, that what emerges is very often a frightening mixture of vicarious violence against Arabs and a deep fear and hatred of them, which is the result, unlike Israeli Jews, of not having any sustained direct contact with them. For the American Zionist, therefore, Arabs are not real beings, but fantasies of nearly everything that can be demonised and despised, terrorism and anti-Semitism most specially. I recently received a letter from a former student of mine, who has had the benefit of the finest education available in the United States: he can still bring himself to ask me in all honesty and courtesy why as a Palestinian I let a Nazi like Hajj Amin still determine my political agenda. "Before Hajj Amin," he argued, "Jerusalem wasn't important to Arabs. Because he was so evil he made it an important issue for Arabs just in order to frustrate Zionist aspirations which always held Jerusalem to be important." This is not the logic of someone who has lived with and knows something concrete about Arabs. It is that of a person who speaks an organised discourse and is driven by an ideology that regards Arabs only as negative functions, as the embodiment of violent anti-Semitic violent passions. As such, therefore, they are to be fought against and if possible disposed of. Not for nothing was Dr Baruch Goldstein, the appalling murderer of 29 Palestinians who were quietly praying in the Hebron mosque, an American, as was Rabbi Meir Kahane. Far from being aberrations that have embarrassed their followers, both Kahane and Goldstein are revered today by others like them. Many of the most zealous far-right settlers sitting on Palestinian land, remorselessly speaking about "the land of Israel" as being theirs, hating and ignoring the Palestinian owners and residents all round them, are also American-born. To see them walking through the streets of Hebron as if the Arab city was entirely theirs is a frightening sight, aggravated by the defiance and contempt they display openly against the Arab majority.