Vol. 18 No. 20 · 17 October 1996

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Arafat’s Palestine

American Zionists have showered Israel with unfold money and worshipful support (most of it after 1967), yet have had little to say about the enormous injustices committed by Israel against the Palestinian people for the past fifty years. In 1948 two-thirds of the Palestinians were driven out of their country by Zionist armies; those who remained (now 20 per cent of Israel’s population) have been designated ‘non-Jews’ in the state of the Jewish people. Since 1967 Israel has occupied the West Bank and Gaza, destroyed their economics, planted illegal settlements, tortured, killed, demolished houses, expropriated land, all with scarcely a peep from the majority of American Zionists. In addition Israel has bombed civilian refugee camps, hospitals, schools, orphanages in Lebanon, and has behaved like an international gangster, supported of course by the US. I don’t recall a word from Ira Katznelson (Letters, 3 October) about all of that.

In 1993 Israel concluded a cheap and manifestly unworkable peace with the exhausted and discredited leader of the Palestinians, and liberal Zionists cheered loudly. While Peres and Rabin dismantled the few positive aspects of the Accords – between 1993 and 1996 they built four times as much as the Likud did in the settlements – and produced the bantustans that I described in my LRB article, Katznelson seems to prefer the easy accents of media hype and White House ceremonies to any principled reading of the text of the Oslo Accords or to any scrupulous examination of the Israeli Government’s behaviour.

Now he grandly pronounces that Palestinian intellectuals have in the past muzzled their critical intelligence. Perhaps he had expected to see our critiques in the New York Times, whose partiality to Palestinians is quite well-known. Never mind the literally billions of words in Arabic written against Arafat’s mismanagement and corruption since the late Sixties, or the splits in the movement in 1983, one of them leading to an intra-Palestinian war, or the continuing attacks on him by me and many others throughout the Eighties and early Nineties. The situation for critics of Arafat has not been easy. When I published The Question of Palestine in 1979, it could not be translated into Arabic precisely because it was thought to be too critical of the Arabs and the PLO. No Arabic translation has ever appeared. And because of my more recent criticisms, my books and articles have been banned by the Authority which Israel and the US have supported.

Katznelson acknowledges that the experience of occupation has ‘skewed’ life on the West Bank and Gaza – I would have thought deliberately ‘destroyed any prospect of normal civil life for Palestinians’ a more appropriate way of putting it – but instead of indicting Israel for following this policy for 29 years he says that the Israeli peace camp is ‘confused’. Hardly. For years this stalwart bunch prodded, cajoled, coaxed Palestinians – myself among them – into believing that they were interested in peace, although all they did was wring concessions out of Arafat. Then when the ‘peace’ came in 1993, and their Government shamelessly abused Palestinians even more, dividing up bits of land as a way of preventing any territorial continuity, thus holding onto 90 per cent of the West Bank in addition to annexing East Jerusalem, the peace camp essentially said nothing, as David Grossman had the honesty to admit last year. Don’t let’s hear any more about Mashov liberals until they do, for once, what Katznelson expects Palestinians to do, namely be more effective in stopping the abuses of their government. He scarcely seems to allow that Israel is a nuclear power, receives five billion dollars a year from the US, and is the master and bully of the Palestinians.

In any case, why are Palestinians expected to live without protest in undemocratic misery? As if the aftermath of the bus bombings were the first and only time that Israel’s disproportionate cruelty had been meted out against a civilian population – a cruelty that contravenes all the Geneva conventions, the laws of war and dozens of UN Resolutions – and as if the deliberate collective punishment of the Occupied Territories had never occurred before. The sufferings of Palestinians under Israeli rule occur because Israel claims the land (it has never ceded its claims to sovereignty, either in or outside the Oslo Accords) and wishes to control and punish a subservient population. Is it any wonder that mad acts of suicide and atrocity emanate from the wretched ghettos created by the Israeli occupation? A few Israelis (whom I mention in my book Peace and Its Discontents, which Katznelson seems not to have read) have acknowledged these facts, but far too few. And certainly not Yossi Beilin or Peres, who are master manipulators of the first water. Had Katznelson read Time magazine just before the elections he could have read my views on Netanyahu v. Peres. I argued there that I preferred the coarse but openly expressed brutality of Netanyahu to the equally brutal, but hypocritically concealed, policies of Peres. Does Katznelson remember Peres’s invasion of Lebanon last April, which produced 300,000 Lebanese refugees, or the attacks on civilians that led to the Cana massacre?

The events of the past few days starkly underline the inadequacies of the Oslo process, though with thousands of Palestinians wounded and scores killed, the chorus of let’s end the violence’ makes it seem that Palestinians are the aggressors. What about the 29-year-old violence of the occupation itself? Or the total absence of magnanimity and vision in the Oslo Accords which directly caused the uprising of those bloody September days? How long can Palestinians be expected to remain imprisoned in tiny ghettos, Israeli military areas and ever-expanding settlements?

Katznelson speaks of Arafat’s ‘long-term wager on Oslo’ as if that master of survival were Pascal. But the question asked today by millions of Palestinians is why, after three decades of occupation, their lives should be markedly worse after Oslo than before it. Are we expected to wait until Israel and its supporters say that the time is finally right for self-determination (Beilin has never said anything unequivocal about the end of occupation or Palestinian self-determination)?

I wouldn’t counsel Arafat to do anything today except resign, and take ail his minions and hangers-on with him. As for Beilin, I regard him as unsuitable for real peace; there are several Israeli individuals who, if they could gather the courage to come forward, would be a lot better. The academic precincts of Morningside Heights seem to me better used to face the facts squarely and not to resort to the clichés and snide accusations of Labour Party propaganda. The Labour Party lost the last election because a majority of Israelis preferred the no-peace programme offered by Netanyahu and were unconvinced by the Peres/Beilin strategy of making all sorts of prize-winning declarations about peace while doing exactly the opposite on the ground.

Edward Said
Columbia University

Big Bang to Big Crunch

Reacting to my account of the Hawking-Penrose debate, L.C. Laming (Letters, 19 September) asks how on earth there could be ‘regions so distant that no light from them could yet have reached us’. Surely, he suggests, light must have been able to ‘traverse totally the much smaller universe of the remote past’. The solution to Laming’s puzzle is that the cosmic expansion constantly added to the distance the light had to cross. Even an early separation of, say, one centimetre might still not have been bridged. Laming is right, though, to ask why so many people suggest that the N billion years of an observed region’s age must make it exactly N billion light years distant. The cosmic expansion does destroy that equation. Stumbling down Pike’s Peak with Don Page, a leading cosmologist, I asked him what the actual equation should be. He calculated it in his head – but it took him 15 minutes.

John Leslie
University of Guelph, Ontario


By pulling rank, Basil Davidson (LRB, 22 August) may hope to pull the wool over the eyes of your readers about the controversy which still continues over the decision of Britain to focus all her wartime aid on the Communist partisans in Yugoslavia and Albania and to abandon the non-resistance there to its fate, but he does little credit to SOE by doing so. Let Mr Davidson abuse me – ‘this person of no known expertise in Balkan affairs’ – but under the guise of celebrating former comrades-in arms in SOE he should not be allowed to ignore those who do not share his pro-Tito views. It is simply unhistorical to claim that only ‘creepy-crawlies’ have alleged that SOE’s decision to side with Communist partisans as opposed to non-Communist resisters in the Balkans was influenced by officers and others with Marxist sympathies. My father served in SOE and held that somewhere along the chain of command Soviet sympathisers distorted reports about whether local Communists or others were resisting the Axis most effectively.

Other SOE veterans went into print. Peter Kemp noted in his memoirs, Thorns of Memory, that in Albania, for instance, even after Britain began to supply arms and money to Enver Hoxha’s Communist forces to fight their rivals, the Balli Kombetare, its members ‘refrained from collaboration with the Germans against us; indeed they gave us much covert help … They were naively convinced that the British and Americans would be glad to entrust the government to them, in preference to the Communist alternative.’ Kemp added that in winter 1943 he was ordered to break relations with Kosovar ‘irredentist’ (i.e. patriotic nationalist) resistance to the Germans. Cairo had radioed that ‘our relations with Yugoslav partisans are of overriding importance,’ Kemp commented: ‘Only a very special type of staff officer would suppose we could “tactfully" abandon men who had risked their lives and families to help and shelter us.’Davidson rightly lauds the ‘iron solidarity’ of the peasants of Srem with his SOE party but seems indifferent to other Balkan people who stood by Britain’s soldiers only to be abandoned.

Another SOE stalwart, Colonel David Smiley, recalled how callous left-wing officers were about the fate of non-Communists who had aided him and others in the field. He has described the sinister outcome of his appeal to Sir Anthony Eden himself, backed by his immediate superior Bill McLean, to permit Albanian resisters to leave for Bari with the SOE contingent whom they had helped:

Mr Eden never received this signal; on my return to Bari I discovered that it had been deliberately suppressed in the SOE office. While some of the officers in the Albanian section of the SOE office were well-intentioned, if led astray by insidious Communist propaganda, others were Communist agents. One was an officer in the Albanian Section, and I was told he stood as an unsuccessful Communist candidate in the 1945 election … On our return I overheard him refer to our mission as ‘Fascists’. I was told by one of the secretaries that it was he who had prevented further transmission of McLean’s signal to Mr Eden, and that he had deliberately disposed of the message.

Whatever we may think of the later sympathies of Michael Lees for the so-called Serbian Chetniks, he too served in SOE in Serbia and believed that Mihailovic’s forces had been betrayed because of ideology, not inadequate fighting capacity. It is striking that while Davidson makes much of instances of Chetnik collaboration, he ignores Tito’s contacts with the Germans as described by Milovan Djilas. The SOE’s overriding objective was military, not political. But circumstances threw them into the midst of bitter struggles between Communist and nationalist local forces, all of which naturally presented themselves to the Allies as effective resistance fighters, but most of which had political agendas of their own, sometimes more important to them than opposition to their Nazi occupiers. Young SOE officers had very little means of judging these political factors, but faithfully reported to their superiors whatever they saw on the ground. The tragedy is that a few of those senior officers had control of the communication chain – and a Soviet-sympathising agenda of their own.

Jessica Douglas-Home
London W8

The Buttocks Problem

Paul Foot’s reference to F.E. McEachran as a rare and civilised teacher is, I suspect, more ironic than he realises (LRB, 5 September). For when, in the Thirties, McEachran was teaching at Gresham’s School in Norfolk, he became involved in a farcical and rather tragic episode to do with beating that resulted in his resignation.

McEachran was one of those eccentrics who are only employable at independent schools. Ostensibly he taught modern languages, religious studies and economics (if promoting Douglas Credit theories could be called teaching economics). But whatever he was teaching, he was liable to pause, and then, gazing distractedly towards the ceiling, launch into a lengthy recitation of, as it might be, Richard II’s speech, ‘Come let us sit upon the ground/And tell sad stories of the death of kings’; Eliot’s ‘Let us go then, you and I’; or Phèdre’s ‘Tout m’afflige, et me nuit, et conspire à me nuire.’ He drew his spells, as he called them, from a multiplicity of languages, ancient and modern, one of them a very brief and melodious spell in Hungarian which he refused to translate for us but which I subsequently discovered meant ‘It is forbidden to spit in the tram.’ Thus we became entranced with a great deal of memorable literature, which only the most philistine or foolhardy boy would dare to interrupt.

But when any such boy did misbehave, McEachran would solemnly summon him to the front of the class and go through an absurd ritual of ‘fouetting’ him with an ancient umbrella. This chastisement was, as can be imagined, totally painless, but was performed most seriously as a symbolic gesture. Alas, one unusually beastly little boy wrote to his mother complaining that he had been ‘flogged’, and this in a school which prided itself on having no punishments but, instead, an honour system of owning up to one’s housemaster about any misdemeanours one had committed. The boy’s mother duly wrote a severe letter to that most honourable of headmasters, J.R. Eccles, who, to his great embarrassment, felt obliged to mention the complaint to McEachran, but adding that he hoped he would promptly forget all about it. To the dismay of Eccles and everyone else, McEachran resigned on the spot. A few days later virtually the whole school, staff and boys, gathered to bid him farewell as he walked off with his umbrella to his digs in Holt, and thence to Mount Olympus, which he had never been able to visit. Once in Greece he walked from village to village, reciting Homer in his English public school accent. Apparently word went ahead of him and the peasants turned out to greet him and listen to the spell of Homer’s all but forgotten verse.

Boris Ford


David Harsent’s fine flaucht of drucken visions, ‘The Makers’, was a wee-thing marred by his misspelling of ae word, ‘aye’, in the repeated phrase ‘this aye night’ (LRB, 19 September). I think he means ‘one’, whose Scots equivalent is ‘ae’ (pronounced like ‘eh’), as in ‘Ae fond kiss’, or in the Northern English ‘Lyke Wake Dirge’, ‘This ae night’. ‘Aye’ (pronounced like ‘I’) means ‘yes’. Of course this may be a creative variant on Harsent’s part, to suggest an affirmative – this is a night on which the poet, like Molly Bloom, can only think: ‘Yes!’

David Craig
Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria

The Great Melanie Phillips Disaster

John Sutherland thinks the only people who should be allowed to report on what is happening in education or express a view about it are university professors like himself (LRB, 3 October). This appears to explain his despotic redefinition of evidence. Journalists cannot produce evidence about education, it seems, because we are not teachers. Presumably then, since we aren’t MPs, doctors or police officers either, we can’t produce evidence about politics, the Health Service, crime or indeed about anything at all except journalism.

Because I am a journalist, he assumes (with no evidence) that my book took only ‘a few months to dash off’. In his limited world, no doubt he thinks ‘dashing off’ is what all journalists do. For the record, my book took 18 months to put together and drew upon nine years of writing about the subject for the Observer and before that the Guardian. During that time, I spoke to or corresponded with teachers, education psychologists, government inspectors, university professors, GCSE and A-level examiners, politicians, civil servants, parents and pupils, and read many educational texts and research reports. I drew upon all this wealth of material for my book. Yet to Sutherland, none of this is evidence. He says it is all ‘secondhand tittle-tattle’. What is secondhand about talking to these people or reading that material? What would be firsthand?

As any fair-minded person can see, my book is crammed with evidence. Yet Sutherland dismisses it all out of hand as ‘flimsy’. ‘She might have got off her backside,’ he writes with all the elegance of the truly erudite, and ‘bought a day return to Oxford or Norwich’. Well, actually, I did buy day returns to both those places; just as I also visited primary and comprehensive and further education classrooms (how many of these has Sutherland’s backside ever graced, I wonder?) and both there and beyond talked to all those people at all levels of the education system who gave me the evidence of reality that Sutherland trashes with such arrogant disdain. Evidence, for example, of the kind of simple sentences which students reading German at good universities can no longer translate but which would once have been taught to 12-year-olds; evidence from mathematics professors about the collapse of knowledge among undergraduates of basic mathematical principles; evidence from a former chief examiner of the corruption of public examination grades; evidence from a French teacher in a rural comprehensive about the way the National Curriculum and the GCSE prevent teachers like herself from teaching a foreign language properly; evidence from A-level pupils about the failure of their schools to teach them any history or get them to read a book from start to finish.

Then there was the evidence from the mouths of teachers themselves about how they wouldn’t tell a child an answer was wrong because wrong answers were evidence of creativity; or wouldn’t teach systematic grammar because even bright children couldn’t grasp abstract concepts; or wouldn’t teach scientific facts to primary school-children who had failed to find them out for themselves through ‘discovery’ methods. And then there was the evidence I amassed from all those dire ideological tracts masquerading as educational texts, published by university departments of education or respected education journals, which redefined reading as guesswork or memorisation, which urged the transfer of ‘power’ from teacher to learner, which told language teachers not to teach correct forms of language but only enough for children to ‘get the gist’. Yet Sutherland is simply not interested in addressing this evidence. He merely chooses to sneer.

Sutherland boasts that the applicants for degree courses called for interview by his department are virtually all competent in their use of English, and spelling mistakes are rare. If anything, he adds, the standard of written English has gone up over the last twenty years. But the admissions tutor of his own department, Dr John Mullan, subsequently told the Daily Telegraph that standards have declined among applicants, with some of them unable to spell or punctuate properly or get a grip on a sentence. Presumably, though, Sutherland would dismiss this evidence as secondhand tittle-tattle.

Melanie Phillips
London W12


One of the miracles of our age is that Wendy Lesser can type ‘1952’ into her computer and come up with an entertaining article by surfing the OED on CD-ROM (LRB, 3 October). The chip, however, cannot do away with toilers in the field. There was some excitement a few years ago when a Supplement to the OED awarded a formal place in the language to Virginia Woolf’s invention of ‘scrolloping’. She first used it in a diary entry for 1923, to mean something more than florid, and it recurs in her fiction. Nobody has noticed, however, its use by the translator of Omar Kháyyám, Edward FitzGerald. In 1893, towards the end of his life, he remarked in a letter that ‘I somehow detest my own scrolloping surname.’ Virginia Woolf cannot have read this, but it is easy enough to trace a path or two by which the word reached her on the lips of friends and acquaintances.

Christopher Hawtree
New York

Wendy Lesser does the OED less than justice in suggesting that it regards its date for the first recorded use of a word as that of the word’s entry into the language. Lexicographers know better than most people that words are in verbal use long before they can be found in print.

Ms Lesser affects to believe that off-limits was a new phrase in 1952, and that it ‘marked an era of regimentation’. I do not know when the phrase entered American usage, but it must surely have been shortly after the first American military base was established in or near a town. The British Army, in my brief but intensive experience, did not label areas or establishments ‘out of bounds’, but imposed curfews and used local orders enforced by military police patrols to produce much the same effect. When I was in Cairo in 1944 there was a story that MPs raiding a brothel found a stark naked squaddie in a room whence all but he had fled. Asked the typically stupid question ‘What are you doing here?’ he was said to have replied: ‘Waiting for my dhobi, corporal.’ (Dhobi: the Hindi word for ‘laundry’, current army slang, given in OED.) He deserved to get away with it for wit and presence of mind, even if the establishment had been declared ‘off-limits’ in published orders. The American phrase was in current use among all those in contact with the US Army in the Second World War, as I can certify from my experience as a liaison officer with that army in 1944-5.

As for rubberiness and gabbiness, they are hardly coinages, since adding ‘-ness’ can turn any adjective into a noun, even nouns that have never been heard, nor seen in print, and probably never will be, as crossword-puzzle addicts know to their cost.

Plung only avoids being a hapax because Betjeman used it twice, and the OED definition of hapax legomenon is: ‘A word or form of which only one instance is recorded in literature or an author.’ Using it twice gets in under the wire, since there appears to be (subject to correction) no word to describe a usage that is confined to one author. I would have thought that plung could have been classed a nonce-word, since one of the definitions of that term in an OED quotation is: ‘nonce-words, i.e. spontaneous creations by a speaker or writer, coined for the occasion’.

Gerald Long

Lazar Power

Lazar Kaganovich, Stalin’s close henchman, slave overseer, builder of the Moscow Metro, destroyer of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and ‘the last Jew in the Soviet Union to wield any real power’ according to the New York Times, did not die ‘at a great age in Khrushchev’s time’, as John Lloyd claims in his entertaining account of Moscow’s municipal history (LRB, 3 October). Amazingly, he survived into the Gorbachev era. In 1987 his American nephew Stuart Kahan published a biography, The Wolf of the Kremlin, based partly on a long interview with his uncle. At the time, Kaganovich was 93 years old and still alive in Moscow. He died, I seem to remember, in 1989, having survived and outlived the entire Soviet period.

Paul Kriwaczek
London NW11

No Vacancies

It is no surprise that James Wood dropped God (LRB, 3 October). There would hardly have been room for both of them in a universe where Wood uses contributors’ notes to proclaim himself a ‘senior editor’ at the New Republic and ‘chief literary critic’ at the Guardian. In my day, this was known modestly as a spot of reviewing.

Frederick Barker
Newbold Heath, Leicestershire

What a nerve!

Joe Hurst (Letters, 19 September) can pronounce favour, foetus, realise etc, any way he wants. While we’re on the subject, though, why don’t we forget this spelling nonsense and invent a beautiful but complex system of hieroglyphics that would make it hard – very hard – for dumb people to think they know how to read?

Axel Harvey

Donald’s Duck

In response to Alan Brownjohn’s enquiry about Don Bradman’s last innings at the Oval (Letters, 19 September), I can only reply: ‘I was there, but I cannot testify.’ I was only eight at the time and my grandfather, having detected early signs of cricket mania in his grandson, felt it appropriate that I should witness the last innings of this batting phenomenon – so off we tubed to the Oval, a mammoth journey in those days from suburban Wimbledon.

When it came to the Don’s turn to bat, the euphoria that greeted the all-too-infrequent fall of an Australian wicket was replaced by an apprehensive whispering around the ground. Had the Don dropped himself a place in the order? However, the Pavilion door opened and down the steps came this diffident and diminutive figure, hardly taller than the gate opening onto the field of play. By this time the thousands of spectators were on their feet, yelling their appreciation. I could not understand why a batsman should get an ovation before he had scored a run. My memory is of a man who looked as if he had never held a bat in his hand before. I was all the more mystified therefore when the poor man was cheered once again all the way back to the pavilion. After all, he had got a duck!

George Nakely
Yateley, Hampshire

Call me Tim

Julian Murphet’s opinion (Letters, 3 October) that Iain Sinclair is sexist and reactionary is, I am sure, a sincerely held one. Unfortunately, set against Sinclair’s excellent satire, a response such as Murphet’s can appear to be pompous moralism couched in PC Plod rhetoric. I take notice of Sinclair as a reminder that complacent jargon immures feminism and disables its potential to effect social change. In this light, Murphet’s more ingratiating, if not Ste Beuve-like phrases, ‘esteemed Review’ and ‘noble art’ are revealing. Calling, in the name of lofty standards, for the exclusion of what is evidently perceived to be a disturbing element implicates itself, rather deeply, in the very re-actionary conservatism Sinclair’s contributions to the LRB counter.

Karlien van den Beukel
Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

Letter to Yasser Arafat

It has been widely reported that security services responsible to you have seized books written by Edward W. Said and carried them off from all bookstores in the Palestinian Autonomous Zones in Gaza and the West Bank. Furthermore, that the sale of his books has been forbidden in these same areas and in Palestinian bookstores in East Jerusalem.

This news is especially alarming at a time when those around the world who support the aspirations of the Palestinian people are looking to your Administration for evidence that any emerging Palestinian entity will try to found itself on basic democratic principles and most specifically on the principle of freedom of expression and dissent. This freedom necessarily includes Edward Said’s expressions of difference with some of your current policies.

Edward Said is one of the most prominent, influential and admired of cultural critics. In particular, his writings about the Palestinian experience have been an essential instrument in shaping opinions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and the Middle East that are favourably informed about the Palestinian cause. We therefore urge you in your own interests as well as in the interests of people everywhere to reaffirm his right to be heard in the areas where an effort has been made to silence him.

Ronald Harwood, President of International PEN
Anne Hollander, President of PEN American Center
Karen Kennerly, Exectutive Director of PEN American Center

K. Anthony Appiah
Paul Auster
Niels Barfoed
Mahmoud Darwish
Jacques Derrida
Gamal al-Ghitani
Allen Ginsberg
Gunter Grass
David Grossman
Naguib Mahfouz
Kenzaburo Oe
Orhan Pamuk
Richard Poirier
Anton Shammas
Susan Sontag
Jean Stein
William Styron
Gore Vidal
Torsten Wiesel
Saadi Youssef

Ronald Harwood and 23 others

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