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As Israel Insists It Will Continue Assassinating Palestinians, a Conversation with Edward Said

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Palestinian President Yasser Arafat met with Pope John Paul in Rome yesterday. He called for a halt to all violence in the Middle East and the immediate introduction of international observers into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But as Arafat met with the pope, Israeli soldiers killed two Palestinians and wounded seven others, including a 12- and a 16-year-old boy.

Israel continues to defy calls for it to admit international observers and to defy international condemnation of its recent assassination of 14 Palestinians. Israeli officials insist they will continue with the extrajudicial execution of Palestinian activists. More than 500 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the Second Intifada last fall.

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AMY GOODMAN: In international news, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat met with Pope John Paul in Rome yesterday. He called for a halt to all violence in the Middle East and the immediate introduction of international observers into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But as Arafat met with the pope, Israeli soldiers killed two Palestinians and wounded seven others, including a 12- and a 16-year-old boy.

Israel continues to defy calls for it to admit international observers and to defy international condemnation of its recent assassination of 14 Palestinians. Israeli officials insist they’ll continue with the extrajudicial execution of Palestinian activists. More than 500 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the Second Intifada last fall.

We’re joined on the phone right now by Edward Said, professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, internationally renowned literary and cultural critic and one of the world’s leading spokespeople for Palestinian self-determination.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

EDWARD SAID: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, first your reaction to the situation on the ground?

EDWARD SAID: Well, it’s heartrending, because basically the Israelis are killing Palestinians at random, pretty much as they wish. I think, you know, the way the news is reported, you get the impression that there are really two sides, or at least two states. There aren’t. There’s one state, Israel, which is one of the most heavily armed, most modern militaries in the world, with a nuclear force, picking off, basically, an unarmed people, without a state, without an army, without artillery, without air defenses, without anything, Israel using every means at its disposal basically to massacre, as they did the other day, people in the name of preventing terrorism. I mean, for example, the killing of eight Palestinians in Nablus the other day, of which only really two could even vaguely qualify as resistance fighters. The rest — there were two children killed — just went as collateral damage. And the lives of our people are simply being used as cannon fodder for the Israelis, all in the interests of this mad security that they have, escalating all the time, obviously drawing to the point where they can take over what — the 18-or-so percent land of the West Bank that they gave up during the Oslo peace process. I mean, it’s a horrible situation, where the U.S. is the only country in the world backing Israel to the hilt, with a few demurrals here and there from Mr. Powell.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. was forced to condemn the latest —

EDWARD SAID: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — Israeli assassinations, but it’s never suggested that Israelis be punished for these killings and refuses to pressure Israel to accept international monitors.

EDWARD SAID: Right. Either that or to withhold arms, because, even as we speak, there’s a constant flow of arms. I mean, months ago, Israel was supplied with another 50 F-16s by the United States. And the supply of Apache and Cobra helicopters continues. And there’s an unending stream of missile and other artillery going to the Israeli army so that they can continue this. In the meantime, by the way, they’ve also — they’ve also indicated that they’re going to mobilize their reserves. And offices have been opened in major Western capitals, two of them, at least, in this country, so that reservists can sign up. I mean, they’re really planning, I think, an all-out war and invasion. And the area is full of rumors, at least, of war and impending invasion. I mean, this is very similar to the summer of ’82.

AMY GOODMAN: What kind of support do Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have right now, especially compared to groups like Hamas?

EDWARD SAID: I think very little. You know, that’s another tragedy of the whole thing. We are very misled and misguided, in the sense of having leaders and guides that have failed utterly. Arafat, I would say, is totally isolated with his tiny group of — his tiny coterie of experts and negotiators who make declarations and go to places like the Vatican and elsewhere, basically leaving their people to their own — I mean, basically leaving their own people to a terrible fate. There are no services to speak of. Hamas, whatever you think of it — and I’ve always been in total disagreement with their methods and their ideas — but at any rate, it supplies people with food, with help during crises of this sort, you know, medical help. They make a stab at education, something that the authority has no power to give and no willingness to do, because all — I mean, I think this is very important to understand, that whatever else Arafat has done in the past — and it’s been considerable — in support of his people and his cause, he is now trying to keep himself alive, and the best way he can do that is to appear at places like the Vatican and London and so on, and not by the side of his people. And the same goes for his lieutenants, who are doing the same thing. It’s a tragedy of — I mean, of awful proportion, with the Palestinians completely isolated, the Arab countries making declarations about how terrible it is and “we condemn, and we don’t want to norm”— and all that. But none of them has paid anything, and even in the way of emergency funds, to help the Palestinians. And we are really an orphaned and abandoned people. It’s our perhaps most awful hour.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Said, the U.S. says it’ll boycott the upcoming U.N. World Conference Against Racism, unless virtually all language critical of Israel is stricken from the agenda. Originally, U.S. officials said they just wanted references of Zionism as racism dropped, but now they’re saying that’s not enough. The rest of the language charges Israel with setting up a new form of apartheid with its settlement policy and discrimination against Palestinians. Your comment?

EDWARD SAID: Well, look, Israel is in fact practicing apartheid. I mean, there’s no other way to describe it, you know, when you have a state that is made up of a majority of Jews — for the time being, I should add — and non-Jews are not allowed to buy land, are not allowed to own land, are not allowed to sell or lease land, if only Jews are allowed to return, whereas, you know, four-and-a-half million Palestinians who were driven out of their — their forefathers were driven out in 1948, can’t return, only Jews can. I mean, I could go on and on and on. But, you know, what in fact is, you have apartheid. You have a settlement policy on the West Bank and Gaza, practiced by Israel, that is completely discriminatory. It only allows Jews to settle and be protected and dominate the majority, as is the case, for example, in the city of Hebron, where roughly 300 settlers in the middle of the city have paralyzed and brought a curfew of — now lasting almost three months, to 120,000 people. I mean, this is apartheid.

And if the United States is going to boycott the conference as a way of protecting Israel, you know, it shows that this country’s foreign policy, at least in the Middle East, is totally dominated by a tiny lobby, the Zionist lobby, which can make it do its own will, you know, thumbing its nose at the rest of the world, which is, of course, in keeping with Bush foreign policy in general. But this is particularly scandalous since it’s going to be held, this conference, in Durban at a time when South Africa is celebrating roughly seven years or eight years of post-apartheid liberation. And here’s the United States, in effect, taking the world back to the apartheid days of the '70s and the ’80s. My feeling is that, in the end, the U.S. will not boycott. I mean, they will exert maximum pressure to try to, as you say, get rid of some of the criticism of Israel, but I don't think it’s going to be possible to move an entire world. And I think they feel, you know, there is an African American vote in this country, which is deeply interested in being in Durban, many other groups, as well, liberal and nonliberal, human rights groups and so on and so forth. So I think, in the end, they will go. But they’re making as much noise now as possible to prevent criticism of Israel, all of which increases, I think, the likelihood that there will be criticism of Israel. But my hunch is that the U.S. will turn up nonetheless.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute.

EDWARD SAID: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: But, Professor Said, what do you feel now the Palestinians should do?

EDWARD SAID: Well, you know, it’s very easy for me to speak sitting in New York many miles away, but my feeling is that we really have no recourse whatever but to do basically two things. One is to increase the level of mass participation in resistance. I think isolated acts of — you know, of — I don’t know what to call it — of crazy sacrifice, which is what Hamas has been encouraging, really bring more damage on Palestinians than they do profit. And I think that if more organizations went out en masse to confront Israeli tanks and try to prevent — and ally themselves with — this is the second point — to ally themselves with a small group but increasing number of Israelis and Israeli associations trying to prevent house demolitions, the destruction of property and orchards and uprooting olive trees and all that.

That is our only hope, because — and I suppose a part of that is to mount an international campaign on behalf of the Palestinian human rights, not on behalf of returning to this, you know, terrible, horribly destructive peace process, which has brought us to this present path, because the Palestinians — the leadership has given up on the basic principles, which are land and exchange of land for peace — very clear — and a whole set of internationally recognized human rights. In Oslo, they threw themselves at the Americans and the Israelis, and look what they — look what’s happened. I mean, it’s a leadership without a basis in the population. It’s a population that’s been isolated and is being picked off by the Israelis, you know, like so many hamsters. And we’re isolated in the Arab world.

AMY GOODMAN: Edward Said, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Professor Said teaches comparative literature at Columbia University, internationally renowned literary and cultural critic, one of the world’s leading spokespeople for Palestinian self-determination. His recent memoirs is called Out of Place. You’re listening to Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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