Speaking for Palestine


The Politics of Dispossession: The Struggle for Palestinian Self-Determination 1969-1994
By Edward W. Said
Chatto & Windus, 1994. 420 pp., $39.95 (hb)
Reviewed by Sean Moysey

Coincidentally while pondering the sharp and intriguing introduction to this book, I happened to switch on the TV news. Heading the bulletin was "Palestinian versus Palestinian in Gaza", accompanied by images of Palestinian police confronting a Hamas demonstration and a gunfire soundtrack.

The events in Gaza helped clarify my views of this book. The Politics of Dispossession has a number of layers to it. First, it is a compilation of articles, essays and interviews, selected by Said to inform the reader about the Palestinian struggle; secondly, it is a book partly constructed to delineate Said's views of the Palestinian struggle, past and present, from the Fateh position; thirdly, it interweaves Said's personal life with his political development and the development of the Palestinian struggle for liberation.

Said's introduction and epilogue sharply criticise the PLO leadership and Yasser Arafat in particular. However, if the material sandwiched between these two pieces is an attempt to fill out Said's point of view on the past and present Palestinian struggle, it isn't a very convincing attempt.

The perspective Said presents, in the introduction and epilogue, is extremely important to the escalating debate over the pros and cons of the Oslo Accords, and the subsequent experiences in the West Bank and Gaza. "Perhaps the greatest failure of the PLO was not that it signed an ill-considered and stupid Declaration of Principles but that it has failed, both before and after Oslo, to mobilize the vast potential of its own people", writes Said furiously.

Given the importance of the debate, it would have been worth Said's time to elaborate more on his opinions of the current situation or alternative paths of action. Instead the introduction and epilogue seem to be "tacked on" rather than key contributions.

Apart from this incongruity, the substance of the book is clear and logical. Driven by a deep adherence to principles, Said demystifies the Palestinian struggle. He is able to weave his personal life into expositions with ease. It's interesting to note that up until the 1967 war, resulting in Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, Said would tell some people he was from Lebanon, rather than raise the "provocative" issue of Palestine.

To his credit, since that time, Said has become a notable spokesperson for the Palestinian struggle, and an eloquent one indeed. His limitations as an academic, however, are present. While he is able to argue a course of action for the struggle, he doesn't have to face "the gun barrel", so to speak (although the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad, doesn't hold any scruples!).

Taking into account Said's academic background, his current criticisms are still valid. Considering the relative dearth of English language material examining Palestinian and Middle East politics from an Arab perspective, The Politics of Dispossession is worth reading for the critical comments and recent essays alone.