Israeli schoolchildren returned to their desks this year to find a new history curriculum. In place of the self-pitying and self-justifying standard story about the War of Independence, with its David and Goliath mythology and its deceitful propaganda about how the Arabs of Palestine were not expelled but were told by their leaders to flee, the updated texts acknowledge that Zionist forces were actually quite well prepared for combat by 1947, and that those same forces often dispossessed and drove out the Palestinians. These admissions, which come perhaps a little too late to be termed magnanimous, at least reflect a new confidence and a new candor, born in part from the recognition of Palestinian existence that results from the Oslo accords. (Many similar recognitions were on show in Israeli TV’s fiftieth-anniversary documentary series last year, a series it would be nice to see on an American network.)
This wholesome and overdue revision does not sit well with the sympathizers of that other Revisionism–the militantly chauvinist variety advocated by Vladimir Jabotinsky. Resentment against Israeli “concessions” and Palestinian claims is still very intense, and has just found expression in an essay of extraordinary spite and mendacity. Sarcastically titled “‘My Beautiful Old House’ and Other Fabrications by Edward Said,” it appears in the September issue of Commentary under the byline of one Justus Reid Weiner, of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. After a claimed three years of research into Edward Said’s own account of his and his family’s history, Weiner alleges:
1. That Said did not live in a house owned by his family in Mandate Palestine, and was not expelled.
2. That he did not “really” attend St. George’s school there.
3. That he grew up and was educated in luxurious conditions in Cairo.
4. That he has never tried to bring any claim for compensation for the “loss” that he did not really suffer.
The implication is that Said the mythomaniac discredits the entire Palestinian “narrative” of diaspora and dispossession. But it takes only about three minutes to demonstrate that Weiner’s three years were a malicious waste of time. In order, then:
1. Said’s cousin Yusuf (the nephew of his father) confirms that the house on Brenner Street in Jerusalem was the home of an extended family, and that the name of the family member on the title deed–the legal owner was Edward’s aunt–is irrelevant. Not only Edward but also his sister Jean were born in the house, occurrences unlikely to have taken place on random visits. Yusuf Said lives in Toronto but was never contacted by Weiner, who anyway has a difficulty with kinship ties and describes Boulos Said as a brother to Edward’s father, instead of a cousin. As to the expulsion, Edward has never claimed to have suffered in person, but only to have been withdrawn from school and sent to Egypt, to be followed by every single adult member of his extended family, which was indeed ethnically cleansed and deprived of large holdings in land and business.
2. I know myself, from speaking to former teachers and pupils, that Said was–as was his father before him–a pupil at St. George’s school in Jerusalem. An Armenian classmate named Haig Boyagian and a former instructor, Michel Marmoura, are both in North America and easily located. Weiner makes the cretinous error of citing another schoolmate, David Ezra, who, while mentioned in Said’s recollections, does not recall things as Edward recalls them. Maybe so, but misremembering a boy from the school is not quite the same, dummy, as the impossible task of inventing him.