A day in the life of coexistence

Said's masquerading as a Palestinian almost as comical as Barenboim's attempt to masquerade as Israeli.

September 24, 2008 22:02
4 minute read.
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derfner jew arab feat 88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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In its book review section on August 23, the Economist included two books by the late Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim. Although the review was ostensibly about music, which the books are also ostensibly about (Everything Is Connected: The Power of Music by Barenboim and Music at the Limits by Said) the article was titled "Friends across the divide" and included the cliché "working together from opposite ends of the Israeli-Palestinian divide." The article thus claims that Barenboim and Said are practicing "coexistence" and "learning about the other" when they discuss music and discuss politics. Thus Barenboim's West-East Divan Orchestra which he founded with Said in 1999 is part of this coexistence. The article once again reminds us of the how most coexistence is really just about two people who already agree masquerading as coexisting. It was the same story with a BBC article on August 28, entitled "Summer camp sows seeds of peace," which is ostensibly about the Seeds of Peace organization which sends young Palestinian and Israeli teenagers to the Maine woods for summer camp where they learn about "the other" and practice coexistence. The BBC showcases two girls who are practicing this coexistence, Nadia Tibi, the Israeli, and Majdoline Shahed, the Palestinian. But Tibi and Shahed are both Arabs - and presumbably both Muslim - the only difference being that one is from Israel and the other from the Palestinian territories. Then there is the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker non-profit, whose "Profiles of Peace: celebrating 40 years of Israeli and Palestinian peace builders" ostensibly provides profiles of Jews and Arabs who are practicing peace. But the only Jews selected seem to be the most extreme anti-Israel voices and most of them are only Israeli in citizenship, they were almost all born in the United States or elsewhere. They include Jeff Halper, who recently went to Gaza illegally to campaign on behalf of Palestinians, and Amira Hass, who lived in Gaza for the better part of a decade reporting only on Palestinians. The Palestinians, such as Jad Issac, practice peace by doing the same thing the Israelis do, working with Palestinians and encouraging Palestinian nationalism. This coexistence project doesn't involve people who are coexisting at all, they all agree on their condemnation of Israel and they all focus exclusively on the rights of Muslim Arab Palestinians. RETURNING TO Barenboim and Said, it is worthwhile examining just how much of a charade it is to claim they are different in any way. Both were born to wealthy families. Both enjoy the music of Richard Wagner, the famous anti-Semite who inspired Hitler, and they both condemned Israel at every opportunity to the extent that Barenboim even holds Palestinian citizenship, just like Jeff Halper. But Said's masquerading as a Palestinian Arab is almost as comical as Barenboim's attempt to masquerade as an Israeli Jew. Said spent less than a few years of his life in Jerusalem and this was not because he was barred from going there. He spent his childhood at one of his parents' multiple homes in Egypt and Lebanon, living with servants, and later immigrated to the US. His father had American citizenship because he had volunteered to fight in World War I, and Said spent a few of his youthful summers in the Maine woods at camp, perhaps the same camp where Seeds of Peace is now located. Said was an Anglican Christian, and his English was better than his Arabic. His parents were disdainful towards the culture of the Middle East and made fun of the idea of an "Arab general" leading the Arabs against Israel in 1948. Said's early experience at coexistence with others was with his family's Jewish female servants and his Greek and Armenian drivers. His house was located in a posh area alongside the houses of Europeans who resided in Egypt, and he rarely even met the Arabs he would spend his life defending. He was so ensconced in European culture that on one summer holiday in Jerusalem he was taken to a photo studio in the Old City where he dressed up in fake Beduin clothes alongside his sister and had his photo taken by an Armenian photographer, much as many Europeans used to do at that time (dressing up like Lawrence of Arabia) and much as Americans do in Tombstone, Arizona when they dress up as cowboys and play the part of Billy the Kid. Said captions this photo in his autobiography Out of Place, "traditional Palestinian dress" but his wealthy Arab family never dressed this way and no wealthy Jerusalemite Arab family did either. Later Said would term this portrayal of the romantic Arab world of Lawrence of Arabia, "Orientalism," a term that applied, ironically, as much to himself as those he critiqued. But just as the Argentinian-born Barenboim plays the Israeli, a country he has rarely resided in, to claim that he is somehow critiquing his country, Said played the Palestinian. Neither had anything to do with Israel or the Palestinians in their daily lives and neither was ensconced in the everyday culture of a place such as Jerusalem. They aped the culture and recalled a few youthful moments spent in the country to weave a tale of coexistence and Arab-Israeli conflict into their writings and professional lives as an academic and a musician. Together they symbolize the extent to which coexistence more often than not means two people who have everything in common pretending that they are from different backgrounds to make themselves more interesting to the outside world. The writer is a doctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. sfrantzman@gmail.com

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