Adam Shatz, 6 May 2021
Edward Said wrote of Palestinians as witnesses to a century defined by ethnic cleansing, wars of national liberation, and migration, in restless, nomadic pursuit of freedom: ‘a counterpoint (if not a cacophony) of multiple, almost desperate dramas’. Said’s Palestinianism exemplified the qualities he admired: open-ended and exploratory, resistant to the doctrinal and racial fixity – the dark historical fatalism and exclusionary fear of the other – that Zionism embodied. If Zionism was the song of a single people, Palestinianism held out the hope of a non-sectarian future for both peoples. Palestinian freedom, whether in the form of a sovereign state neighbouring Israel or – the position he defended after Oslo – a binational state, represented ‘a beginning’, a dynamic intervention in history, rather than a return to origin. And yet his vision also looked to the past, betraying a wistful attachment to his childhood memories of colonial Cairo, where Arabs and Jews, Muslims and Christians had lived beside one another.