In an essay for Mondoweiss, Palestinian scholar-activist Nada Elia remembers the important life and work of the late Edward Said. She argues that, in order to honor his life and work, supporters of Palestinian liberation should support the Boycott, Divestment and Sactions (BDS) movement. While some cite Said’s legacy in calling for dialogue with Israelis, Elia insists that a boycott-oriented approach to Israel’s settler-colonialism is far more in line with Said’s activism:
Said’s entire oeuvre persuasively rejects Zionism and forced concessions from the dispossessed to the privileged, centering Palestinian concerns, Palestinian sovereignty, the Palestinian narrative. He firmly believed that it is impossible to change US policy about Palestine without changing the discourse on Palestine. Indeed, the fact that we now speak of “The Question of Palestine” rather than “The Middle East conflict,” or that we can immediately recognize the bias of those who insist on saying “the Middle East conflict” or “the Arab-Israeli conflict” when speaking of Palestine, must be credited to his persistence. The conversations he opened up in the 1970s, as he insisted on discussing “Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims,” a chapter in The Question of Palestine in which he argues that Palestinians have an inherent right to national self-determination, are the conversations that allowed so many more of us to denounce Israeli abuses today, they are the precursors of the conversations amplified by BDS, as they gave us the theoretical framework to speak of settler-colonialism and the politics of dispossession.
It is therefore quite interesting to see liberal Zionists now proposing Said as a model for “collaboration,” that elusive coming together of members of the oppressor and oppressed classes, as if politics didn’t matter, are rendered utterly inconsequential once individuals from different backgrounds break bread to dip into hummus together. As if hummus itself were not yet another indigenous item the settler-colonials seek to appropriate. And the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is most often cited as a model of “cross-cultural” association that defies the present call for cultural boycott, in a complete dismissal of the fact that the call for boycott did not come out until two years after Said’s death. On the other hand, that collaboration [with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra] is problematized as “normalizing” by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), even though, again, it was formed six years before the call for a cultural boycott was issued.
The effacing of Said’s utter rejection of concessions to the ruling power, a rejection that made him resign from his position in the PLO after the Oslo Accords, is not different from the revisionist rewriting of Martin Luther King Jr, whose defiant stance has been sanitized, and whose greatest insights on militarism and racism have been pushed under the rug when BlackLivesMatter activists are told today that Martin Luther King Jr would not “disrupt” traffic, would not “disrupt” business as usual, even when there is ample and easily available documentation of the fact that he did exactly that, over and over again, by leading marches, protests, and boycotts.
Today’s BDS activists may not look or sound like Said, just as today’s #BLM activists do not look or sound like Martin Luther King, Jr., but ultimately, Said, the “cosmopolitan” son of Palestinian Jerusalem, is our hero, our inspiration, our role model, as defiantly Palestinian as the black and white kuffiyeh he occasionally donned in his later years. When we speak truth to power, when we reject racism, when we shatter the Zionist narrative through our “disruptive” actions, when we ask artists not to perform in apartheid Israel, we, not the liberal Zionists, are the ones continuing his legacy. We are the ones who carry his torch forward, as we will not let his courage, his clarity, his integrity, become sanitized as it fades into past history.
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