In the summer of 2000, Edward Said visited the Lebanese border with Israel, which had recently ended its brutal 18-year-long occupation of southern Lebanon. He spent the morning touring the grim chambers of El-Khaim prison, where Palestinian detainees had been interrogated and tortured. In the afternoon, he stopped at the newly liberated town of Kafr Killa. In a celebratory act, Said picked up a small stone and hurled it across a concertina wire fence marking the border and toward an Israeli watchtower, a half-mile in the distance. The stone fell harmlessly into the desert, several hundred yards short of the military outpost.
A photo of Said’s stone toss was snapped by a photographer from Agence France-Presse. The next morning that image was picked up by UPI and appeared in newspapers around the world under headlines charging that the Columbia University professor had thrown rocks at Israeli soldiers. It is a measure of Israel’s stranglehold on the western media that this trivial incident ignited a spasm of outrage. Said was denounced as the “professor of terror” and “Hezbollah’s philosopher.” There were calls for him to be fired from Columbia University and evicted from the prestigious Modern Language Association, where he’d once served as president.
The New York Times continued to pound Said about the incident for eight-months, gleefully reporting in March 2001 that the Freud Society of Vienna had cancelled a planned lecture by Said over concerns about his “anti-Semitism.” Said responded sharply, “Freud was hounded out of Vienna because he was a Jew. Now I am being hounded out because I am a Palestinian.” In the end, even former friends like Christopher Hitchens would betray Said.
Through the madness Said was unflinching. When Alexander Cockburn and I met him in New York a few months after he returned from Lebanon, Edward bragged about his pitching form as being in the “Doc Gooden mode.” He maintained that the stone toss was a symbolic act. “a gesture of joy that the occupation had ended.”
The stones of the Occupied Territories were freighted with powerful symbolic meaning. The image of the stone-thrower flipped Israel’s founding myth on its head. The roles of David and Goliath had been reversed. But it goes deeper than that. The stones of Palestine also represented the shattered remains of a culture that was being destroyed in the post-Oslo Accords era that Said had warned about for years. Oslo, Said had predicted, would leave Palestinians defenseless and alone, as the Israelis demolished house after house, village after village, ripped up olive groves and pastures, effaced the names Palestinian of towns from maps and left only rubble behind.
Since the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlements in the West Bank have more than tripled. Meanwhile, Gaza has become a geographical cage, a sealed enclosure of bombed out buildings, generational despair and hopelessness, where youth suicides now exceed 80 per month. When has the impotent Palestinian Authority ever intervened to save a house or village from Israeli bulldozers? The stones of destroyed homes had become the last weapon of Palestinian self-defense.
Nearly two decades later, the Palestinian situation is more desperate than ever and the Trump administration is seeking to exploit this dire condition for its political advantage. Trump’s Middle East policy is largely dictated to him by the Vegas gargoyle Sheldon Adelson. Adelson spreads his money across the Trumpscape like an oil spill, contaminating every Trump foreign policy position—from Palestinian statehood to the Iran nuclear deal—with his own zany brand of extreme Zionism.
The centerpiece of the new Trump Israel policy is, of course, his zealous push to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy to the city. There’s nothing particularly new here. Like many odious schemes, this has been the official position of the US government since Clinton-time, though both the sagacious George W. Bush and his successor Barack Obama, who followed the Bush precedent in so many matters, pretended otherwise.
Trump, ever the drama queen, intended to weaponize his Jerusalem gambit, hoping that the brash announcement would provoke a militant uprising that would give Netanyahu the excuse to crackdown with his customary savagery. Abdel El-Sisi played along, lending the plan his cruel endorsement, proving that Egypt hasn’t been this subservient since Octavian sacked Alexandria. In Fire and Fury, Steve Bannon gave Trump’s cynical game plan away, saying the ultimate solution to the Palestinian problem was to “let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying.” Call it the Three State Solution.
Trump and Netanyahu engineered the outraged reaction they wanted, but not, perhaps, in a way they expected. A week after Trump announced his Jerusalem decision, a Palestinian protest erupted in the village of Nabi Salih. Claiming the Palestinians were throwing stones, Israeli soldiers moved in to quash the demonstration and began firing indiscriminately into the crowd, hitting a 14-year-old boy named Mohammed al-Tamimi in the face, inflicting a ghastly wound. His cousin, Ahed Tamimi, witnessed the shooting and rushed toward the Israeli soldiers, slapping one across the face. The 16-year-old Tamimi was arrested, charged with incitement and assault, and carted off to join more than 400 other Palestinian children currently held in Israeli prisons without bail. Tamini’s pleas for a public trial were denied. In a closed-door hearing, she was finally strong-armed into a plea bargain that will send her to prison for an additional eight months, 30 days less than an Israeli court sentenced Elor Azaria, the IDF soldier who killed an injured Palestinian by shooting him in the head while he was laying on the ground.
Like Said’s stone toss, Ahed Tamimi’s brave slap of a helmeted Israeli soldier was also caught on camera and quickly spread across the globe. This time, however, intimately human response of a teenage girl served to expose the inhumane violence of a regime gone mad.
Took All My Money, Wrecks My Car
What I’m listening to this week…
Still recreating my vinyl collection. The latest acquisitions…
31. Headhunters by Herbie Hancock
32. Learning to Crawl by The Pretenders
33. We’re Only in It For the Money by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
34. Entertainment! by Gang of Four
35. Afrodisiac by Fela Kuti & the Africa 70
What I’m reading this week…
The First Domestication: How Wolves and Humans Coevolved by Raymond Pierotti and Brandy R. Fogg
Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir by John Banville
A Walk Through Paris by Eric Hazan
Shit or Fly?
Robert Coover: “The superhero, his underwear bagging at the seat and knees, is just a country boy at heart, tutored to perceive all human action as good or bad, orderly or dynamic, and so doesn’t know whether to shit or fly.”