Israel’s tragic past is key to Palestine’s future

What is it with Palestinians? Can’t they just get along with the Jews?” one of my students, asked. Curious, yet misinformed about the dismissal of the Palestinian pain, she assumed that the Israeli-Palestinian history of terror derives from a racial conflict.
It is neither racial nor anti-Semitic. Jews have always lived as minorities among Arabs and were never exiled from the Arab societies. The conflict started with the Israeli invasion of Palestine in 1948, similar to the United Kingdom’s colonization of India and France’s subjugation of Algeria.
However, the Palestinian-Israeli case is not seen in terms of a typical conquered-conqueror relationship because of the prevalence of the Zionist theory in the Western cultural discourse and the cancellation of the Palestinian memory in the West.
Professor Edward Said, the best known Palestinian intellectual in the United States, was recently invited to the University. Said’s work as a literary critic, both in his studies of colonial history and in his public intellectual life, is forged by his determination to unmask the disastrous past of colonized peoples — particularly his own, the Palestinians.
Said’s lecture about the “Palestinian Catastrophe” departed from his real life experience as an eyewitness of the Israeli invasion of Palestine. Forcibly compelled to leave everything behind, Palestinian families lost their land, their property and their dignity.
Dispossessed from their right to have a citizenship or a political identity, their attempts to resist the tyrant colonizer became a solid alibi to disfigure the Palestinian image by calling them “terrorists” and minimizing their struggle.
Not even tolerating their narrative, Palestinians who suffered the pain of genocide, colonial rule, humiliation and prejudice are considered less of a victim than other victims. If Palestinians are “second-class people” in Palestine, in the West, they are a second-class victims. Professor Said raised a disturbing question for Israel — the issue of the victims of the victims. Will Israel and the leaders of the West admit Palestinians’ suffering and their right for compensation like any other race that has been wrongfully persecuted as a basic condition in the peace process?
Equally disturbing were some of the misinterpretations of the historical facts that Said discussed. Some of the press coverage marginalized these facts either by a naive narrative that barely mentioned the major concerns of Said’s lecture or by amateur reporting that did not get beyond the hazy conventional opinion about the trauma of the Middle East.
The most amazing reaction I have read appeared in a letter entitled “Said article omits important information.” It says: “equal portion of the land … was offered to the Palestinians as their own state … the Palestinians refused.” One would wonder why should Palestinians give Israel half of their land. Now and then, geographically, Palestine could not be divided into two separate states. Israel made it that way and never intended to give any territory to Palestinians.
Israel’s search for peace now is the only option. Looking back at its own history, Israel knows that the same tragic past and suffering of the Jews that created Israel in the heart of Arabia can create the most fearless and defiant resistance among the Palestinians.
Imed Labidi is a doctoral student in theDepartment of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature.