1,800 Fill Royce Hall for Edward Said Talk on Palestinian Rights

1,800 Fill Royce Hall for Edward Said Talk on Palestinian Rights

Columbia University scholar and Palestinian activist Edward Said says Israeli occupation is brutal. Charges widespread violations of Palestinian human rights.

An overflow crowd of some 1,800 people gave a standing ovation to leading U.S.- Palestinian scholar Edward Said February 20 following his harsh critique of Israel for its policies toward the Palestinians over the whole span from the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. The meeting was sponsored by the Ronald W. Burkle Forum of the UCLA International Institute, and was chaired by Institute vice provost Geoffrey Garrett.

Said, author of the pathbreaking work Orientalism, argued that the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza strip after the 1967 war, in which these territories came under Israeli control, made unrealistic the construction of a Palestinian state on the many small isolated pieces of land remaining to the Palestinians. He held that this was  the cause of the failure of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993 and underlay the current Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation.

He cited as human rights violations the frequent Israeli military strikes in Palestinian territories aimed at militants of Hamas and other armed organization, but which have also killed nearby civilians. He urged Americans to join efforts to divest from Israeli companies and stocks, and to call on the Bush administration to halt aid to Israel. He said that Islamic religion does not play a large role in the Palestinian resistance movement, and that the limited role it does play is exaggerated by the Western press. The Palestinians, he said, are motivated by secular opposition to the repression of human rights by the Israeli occupation.

He said that he did not have a proposal to end the current conflict except to call for Israel's complete withdrawal from the occupied territories. He did have some hope for peaceful relations between Palestinians and Jews on a personal level. He concluded by describing his personal friendship with famed Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim. In the early 1990s, Barenboim and Said met by chance in a London hotel lobby. They decided to continue their dialogue and to collaborate on musical events to further their shared vision of peaceful co-existence in the Middle East. This led to Barenboim?s first concert on the West Bank, a piano recital at the Palestinian Birzeit University in February 1999, and to a workshop for young musicians from the Middle East, Jewish and Palestinian,  that took place in Weimar, Germany, in August 1999 co-organized by Barenboim and Said, who is himself an accomplished amateur pianist.

The brief question period following the talk was highly acrimonious. UCLA Hillel's Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller tried to refute some of Said's claims, particularly that the Jews in Palestine in 1948 drove out 800,000 Palestinians in an unprovoked attack. He was shouted down by many in the audience. Seidler-Feller persisted for a few minutes in trying to make his points, further angering members of the audience, who shouted "You're not asking a question!" but the uproar had begun as soon as he introduced himself. The rabbi concluded by asking if Edward Said would join with him in signing an appeal on four points: for the creation of 2 states in the region (one Israeli and one Palestinian); for a return to the 1967 boundaries; for sharing Jerusalem; and for an agreement to resolve the Palestinian refugee problem.* Said replied that he would not sign anything with Seidler-Feller. An Israeli woman said that she opposed the Jewish settlements, but asked Said to comment on the suicide bombings, which she said terrified her. She also received hostile shouts from members of the audience. Edward Said replied that he opposed terrorism, but that he had nothing to discuss with the woman until Israel withdraws from the West Bank and Gaza, as there could be no dialogue between sides that are unequal. "The best thing you can do," he said, "is to convince your own people to end the occupation."

We plan to publish here in the near future the full text of Edward Said's remarks at the February 20 Burkle Forum.


* In the first version of this report we summarized Rabbi Seidler-Feller's proposal as for ending the occupation. We have checked with him and more accurately reported his proposed four points above.

Professor Said gave the same lecture, Memory, Inequality and Power: Palestine and the Universality of Human Rights, at UC Berkeley which is archived as a webcast.

Al-Ahram Weekly Reports Edward Said's UCLA Lecture

Published: Tuesday, February 25, 2003