"[Edward Said] never lost the capacity to be wounded by the treachery and opportunism of supposed friends. A few weeks ago he called to ask whether I had read a particularly stupid attack on him by his very old friend Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic Monthly. He described with pained sarcasm a phone call in which Hitchens had presumably tried to square his own conscience by advertising to Edward the impending assault. I asked Edward why he was surprised, and indeed why he cared. But he was surprised and he did care. His skin was so, so thin, I think because he knew that as long as he lived, as long as he marched forward as a proud, unapologetic and vociferous Palestinian, there would be some enemy on the next housetop down the street eager to pour sewage on his head." (Edward Said, Dead at 66, Alex Cockburn, 25/9/03)
Christopher Hitchens once co-edited a book with Edward Said called Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship & the Palestinian Question (1988). Now, in a recent book review in The Atlantic Monthly (Idealism of an earlier age), recycled in Murdoch's Australian Financial Review (16/4/10), Hitchens is blaming the (Palestinian) victims and putting the spew into spurious scholarship:
"Almost no concession made by either side was ever sincere, or would not have been withdrawn or amended if the other party had accepted it."
There are no Palestinian victims here, no colonised, no occupied - just one of two presumably evenly-matched sides, slugging it out, and, most importantly, refusing to concede an inch to the other.
Yet, in 1996, in his introduction to Said's essays on the bankrupt Oslo 'peace process', Peace & Its Discontents: Essays on Palestine in the Middle East Peace Processs, Hitchens couldn't have been clearer on the subject of who was wielding the hammer:
"Consider merely the question of Gaza. If the Belgians or the Dutch or the British had ever dared run a conquered territory in this way, in the period after 1945, it can be hoped (and it may even be believed) that a torrent of international condemnation would have descended. Nobody has ever visited this part of the projected 'Greater Israel' and come away with anything but the most decided revulsion. Having shamed themselves beyond description in this little strip of former Palestine, the Israeli authorties smilingly decided to make a present of it to their former subjects. I should here like to quote from an interview I conducted, in the week of the White House handshake, with Ilan Halevi of the PLO delegation. (Mr Halevi is a Palestinian Jew and was at the time the ambassador of the PLO to the Socialist International, as well as a strong supporter of the Arafat-Rabin accord.) 'When they offered us Gaza as a beginning', he told me, 'I suggested that we say, 'Sure. But what will you give us in exchange?' It may or may not be significant that the only decent Jewish joke to come out of the whole affair was told by a member of the PLO. The offer was, in other words, always understood at some level as a sordid trap. On the day of the White House accords, I also dined with a senior American diplomat who had once had charge of Israel-Palestine negotiations. He told me of a previous occasion, when the late Gen. Moshe Dayan had suggested a 'Gaza first' ploy. Instructed to wait upon Dayan and tell him that such an offer was too transparent by half, my vis-a-vis had found him no whit abashed. 'Never mind', said the hero of 1967, 'We'll still double-cross that bridge when we come to it'." (p xvi-xvii)
But it gets worse. According to the Hitchens of 2010, not only does he entertain the notion that the victims of Zionist aggression should have been in the business of making concessions to their aggressors, but that they should also have been owning up to their hand in... the Nazi Holocaust no less:
"There was perhaps a moment when an unambivalent Israeli admission of responsibility for the original expulsion of the Palestinians could have had a healing and even cathartic effect. There may even have been a time when a sincere Arab denunciation of the role of the grand mufti of Jerusalem in the Holocaust* might have softened a heart or two. But that time is well in the past... The parties of God have the ordering of things now, and we must wait meekly upon their awful pleasure."
If only the Palestinian victims had damned one of their own for daring to sup with the devil of the day in defence of his people and homeland (conveniently overlooking, of course, the fact that Zionist ultras were actively seeking the same devil's blessing in their war with the British), a heart or two might have softened!?
Here's the spew in Hitchen's spurious scholarship: 1) The mufti's doings in Nazi Germany and the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 are on a par and a mutual apology is therefore in order; 2) Ben-Gurion and his successors had a heart.
At two points in Said's introduction to Blaming the Victims, it's almost as though, in relation to this particular bucket of Hitchens', he had his co-editor in mind:
"Almost from the moment that the state of Israel came into being in 1948 - and although the preparations were made well before that time - the West was deluged with a whole series of narratives and images that acquired the solidity and the legitimacy of 'truth'. In spite of the presence of a comfortable 67% majority of Palestinian Arabs who owned over 90% of the land in 1948 (this was after decades of Jewish immigration and settlement) the world heard of an 'empty' territory whose inhabitants brutishly opposed Jewish settlement in Zion even after the Holocaust had occurred. Thereafter the myths proliferated and formed a system which, in the West at least, it became inordinately difficult to deny. The 'Arabs' left Palestine because their leaders told them to; the Arabs were out to destroy the Jewish state, and since they were already in league with Hitler, their opposition to Israel was essentially racist and fascist..." (pp 3-4) And, further on: "Most of all the Palestinian has suffered because he or she has been unknown, an unacknowledged victim, and worse, a victim blamed not only for his or her disasters, but for those of others as well." (p 6)
Said had expanded on this idea in an earlier work, After the Last Sky (1986):
"There has been no misfortune worse for us than that we are ineluctably viewed as the enemies of the Jews. No moral and political fate worse, none at all, I think: no worse, there is none. With so much discussion recently of the Holocaust, I am centrally aware of the fact of the destruction of European Jews, an abomination which nevertheless I find hard to consider separately; there is always the connection made between Israel and the Holocaust, how one makes restitution for the other. I find myself saying that a generation later the Holocaust has victimized us too, but without the terrifying grandeur and sacriligeous horror of what it did to the Jews. Seen from the perspective provided by the Holocaust, we are as inconsequential as children on a playground; and yet - one more twist in the reductive spiral - even at play we cannot be enjoyed or looked at simply as that, as children playing games that signify little. Just by virtue of where we stand, every playground is seen as a 'breeding ground for terrorists', every pastime a 'secret plan for the destruction of Israel', as if our own destruction was not a great deal more probable. Something either pernicious or negligible can be attributed to us, no matter what we do, wherever we are, however we think or act." (p 134)
Hitchens' obscene suggestion that the victims of the Zionist project in Palestine should be apologising for their alleged part in the Hitlerian Holocaust would have Said turning in his grave.
[* See my 22/3/08 post The Israeli Occupation of Federal Parliament 6]