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The South Atlantic Quarterly 102.4 (2003) 895-913

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"The Night Can Sweat with Terror As Before":

Kenneth Surin

Before we went in [to Jenin] I asked some guys to teach me [how to operate a Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer]. They taught me how to drive forward and make a flat surface. . . . For three days I just erased and erased. . . . I kept drinking whisky to fight off fatigue. I made them a stadium in the middle of the camp! I didn't see dead bodies under the blade of the D-9. . . . But if there were any I don't care.

Moshe Nissim, IDF Bulldozer Operator in Jenin, quoted in Stephen Graham, "Lessons in Urbicide"

Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before.

W. B. Yeats, "Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen"

The essays in this special issue display in several and varied ways the complexities of Palestinian (and Arab) life that have come to be overlooked, systemically, by the long history of simplification and misinformation that has marked depictions of this life in both academic and nonacademic circles in the United States. The writers also engage in the important task of identifying the mainsprings, in American culture [End Page 895] and its appurtenances, of the primary causal mechanisms underlying this travestying of Palestinian history and daily life. In this cause, the theoretical armatures of literary theory, postcolonial and subaltern studies, gender and feminist theory, ideology criticism, and cultural and social history are mobilized, providing in the process a rich and satisfying conspectus of the Palestinian and Arab cultural and literary worlds. Criticism, in the form of ideology critique, is plentiful, but there is also a wealth of evocative detail buttressed in large part by the subtle analysis of novels and poems, and one just wishes that opinion formers in the American media would be acquainted with some of the realities treated in these essays, instead of relying on government-sponsored visits and official Israeli briefings for their information on Palestine (and the Middle East more generally). There must be many who reach out instinctively for the "mute" button on their remote-control units the moment a CNN anchor announces a segment from CNN's Jerusalem desk, where nearly every assertion, even the most palpably mendacious ("Former Prime Minister Barak gave the Palestinians everything at Camp David, but they walked away," "We are innocent victims of terror the way you were on 9/11," and so forth), of such official Israeli spokespersons as Ra'anan Gissin or Dore Gold is received with rapt credulity by reporters at CNN's Jerusalem bureau. 1 In the meantime, of course, little or nothing is said of the anguish and bitterness of the Palestinian people as they continue to be pitilessly and implacably subjugated by Israel. Our essay writers, whether explicitly or tacitly, follow the towering example of Edward Said in never letting the sources of this pain and terror go unnoticed, and in not allowing an Israeli perspective to shroud any description and analysis of the situation of the Palestinian people. Rather than comment in a systematic and detailed way on these essays, an "afterword" dealing with the subject of Palestine and its people is perhaps better used to address questions that cannot be broached in a more overtly thematic way. Whether one calls this undertaking "contextualization" or "amplification" is not important, since the outcome will in any case have to be concerned simultaneously with concrete practicalities and philosophical abstractions.

Twenty-five years ago, in an opinion column in Le Monde, the late Gilles Deleuze posed the following questions:

Why would the Palestinians be "valid negotiators" since they do not have a country? Why would they have a country, since theirs has been taken? They have never been given any choice than to surrender unconditionally. [End Page 896] They have been offered only death. In the war that opposes them to Israel...


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pp. 895-913
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Archived 2004
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