Comment - In Defense of Edward Said

In the September issue of the magazine Commentary, Justus Reid Weiner of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs published an article entitled "My Beautiful Old House and Other Fabrications by Edward Said."

Weiner claims in this article (based he says on three years research) that the renowned Palestinian Edward Said fabricated his life story, in particular, that he did not live in a house owned by his family in Jerusalem and that he did not attend St George's School in Jerusalem. Rather, Weiner claimed that Said lived and was educated in Cairo. Weiner and others then concluded from this that Palestinian claims of dispossession and exile are without credibility.

Many people have responded to Weiner's fallacious attacks including Professor Said himself. Weiner's accusations have been clearly shown to be either inventions or a selective reading of truth. Relatives of Said, including his cousin Yusuf Said, have pointed out that their family house in Jerusalem was the house of the extended family and registered in the name of Professor Said's Aunt. Both Edward Said and his sister Jean were born in the house. Numerous schoolmates and former teachers recollect Edward Said attending St. George's School in Jerusalem. Said himself has written extensively (most recently in his autobiography entitled "Out Of Place") of his experience growing up as part of a wealthy family that traveled extensively in the Middle East throughout Egypt, Palestine, and Lebanon.

Birzeit News spoke to Albert Aghazarian, a long-time resident of Jerusalem and director of the Public Relations Office at Birzeit University, about the attack on Edward Said and an interesting piece of evidence of Said's family presence in Jerusalem which has hung on his wall for many years.

"One of the reasons for Justus Weiner's attacks on Professor Said is to try to demolish the credibility of effective, outstanding Palestinians as well as to undermine the moves towards a more truthful appraisal of Israel and the Zionist enterprise. However, I believe Weiner's project has been a great fiasco. It is the academic and media version of the attempt to liquidate Khaled Mash'al in Amman. When someone like Justus Weiner spends a full three years researching Edward Said without even talking to him questions arise.

"I recall that Barbara Amiel, the companion of Conrad Black, attempted something similar with Hanan Ashrawi in a feature article in the Sunday Times. She based her story on close contact with Hanan and I once asked Hanan how could she allow someone to come so close to her whose sole purpose was to discredit and attack her. Hanan replied that Amiel has claimed she was dying of cancer and had 6 months to live during which time she wanted to contribute to "solidarity of sisterhood". Of course, it was all a fabrication.

"In a similar vein, a few months ago Justus Weiner rang me at my home in Jerusalem claiming that he was researching education in Mandatory Palestine with a focus on school graduates in Jerusalem during the years 1946, 1947 and 1948. This claim turns out to be a hoax. He was merely looking for information on one man - Edward Said. I referred him to Professor Thomas Rick's of Villanova University since he's been researching education in Mandatory Palestine for many years.

"Incidentally, I had an uncle - Khashadour Khashadourian - who was a mathematics teacher at the Terra Santa school in Jerusalem during the 1940s. He established the Palestine Technical Institute for Continuing Education. Once I was looking through his old papers and I found stationary of the Palestine Educational Co. which was owned by Boulos and Wadi Said (Edward's father). The letterhead of this stationary indicates that the company was established in 1910 and had its head offices in Jerusalem at 98 &100 Jaffa Road, Tel: 3129, PO Box 84. It also had offices in Haifa, Egypt (where it was registered as The Standard Stationery Co.) in Cairo and Alexandria.

"The existence of this company is not only one further indication of the fundamental ties of the Said family with Jerusalem, but also shows how different the region looked prior to 1948. Palestinians traveled widely within the Middle East. Edward Said himself has spoken widely about this in his writings. Today Palestinian society faces great divisions. It is becoming more and more difficult for Palestinians to travel even between towns in the West Bank, or to Jerusalem, or to the Gaza Strip, let alone to Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. My own family used to travel from Jerusalem to Beirut on day trips.

"But in the end, I think Justus Weiner's attacks have backfired on himself. So many people have come to Said's defense and Weiner's claims shown so conclusively to be merely polemical attempts to discredit the Palestinian cause in general. Palestinians remain a people in exile and Weiner's falsification of history will not change that fact."