We gave him cufflinks fashioned out of typewriter keys for his sixtieth birthday. That was almost eight years ago. I had been his editor on political pieces since 1987, but Edward had a way of blurring professional and personal lines, and with my co-conspirator in this gift, Alexander Cockburn, we were comrades, confidants, friends together and apart. I had selected the keys, an exclamation mark and a semicolon, and Alexander made the little speech that night explaining the choice. I can’t remember what Alexander said exactly, except that it was brisk and keen-witted, and Edward was charmed as he always was by praise. I don’t remember Edward’s comments that night either, only his face, the look of expectancy and surprise like that of a boy on his big day being honored for the first time. I do know why those two, out of forty-five possible letters, numbers and symbol combinations, had called out to me, though. The exclamation mark–of course, the exclamation mark! Who knew Edward, who saw Edward for an hour, perhaps an instant, without recognizing the vivid force of the man? Alexander called him “The Lion” because sometimes when he spoke it was as if he were pawing the air, lashing a tail. Of course the exclamation mark. The semicolon is another story altogether. Curiosity of the punctuation world, neither showy nor strictly utilitarian, it is the symbol of unapparent linkages, the iconic gesture casting back at one thought while drawing it forward, finished yet unfinished, into the next. Most people confuse this mark with one of its steady-Eddy relatives; they are not used to thinking contrapuntally.
* * *
Edward didn’t use a typewriter or a computer. He wrote in longhand, with a fountain pen. A stack of pages, the words cascading straight across unlined sheets and contained within their writer’s self-imposed margins, would be handed off to a loving-exasperated-loving assistant, Zaineb and later Sandra, and returned as typescript. I remember sitting beside him one day, going over galleys of a piece he’d written on the second anniversary of the Oslo Accords. Everything had gone to hell, as he’d predicted on the day of the famous handshake. I never got the feeling Edward took pleasure in the accuracy of his predictions. We’d talk about the situation, what he had and hadn’t already committed to paper. His voice was musical in a way, full of questions repeated, of facts and images laid out like urgent evidence, his tone rising and falling as the words followed swiftly, smartly, one upon the other. “So let’s add that in,” I’d say. And his lovely hand would unscrew the cap of his fountain pen and glide along the page:
I do not pretend to have any quick solutions for the situation now referred to as “the peace process,” but I do know that for the vast majority of Palestinian refugees, day laborers, peasants and town and camp dwellers, those who cannot make a quick deal and those whose voices are never heard, for them the process has made matters far worse….
I have been particularly disheartened by the role played in all this by liberal Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Silence is not a response, and neither is some fairly tepid endorsement of a Palestinian state, with Israeli settlements and the army more or less still there, still in charge.
For all his erudition, all the easy references to Adorno or Vico or ones more obscure, Edward did not write in the clogged, remote style of the academic. And for all his acquaintance with elites, he had an allergy to power. His objection to the war on Iraq sprang from the same source as his opposition to Zionism and his contempt for Arab despots, including Arafat. He despised Saddam Hussein as he did Ariel Sharon, but could no more countenance the invasion of Iraq than he could support a suicide bombing in Israel. At the same time, he couldn’t abide facile equations between criminal desperadoes and the legalized murder machinery of a state. His advice for the engaged individual was remarkably simple. One must concern oneself with human suffering, he insisted. And he drew sustenance from human effort, human resistance, whether in the form of protests against US warmaking or the development of independent politics from the ground up in the new Palestinian National Initiative. As the most prominent advocate for the Palestinian cause, as a Palestinian exile, he was in psychic proximity to one of the most excruciating instances of collective suffering in the postwar period. That this suffering could so often be demeaned or ignored–worse, justified–seemed inconceivable, and yet there it was. Here it is. How could someone not have a restless spirit, a passionate fury? But Edward had more restlessness and passion than most.