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“I Left Palestine, Not Israel”: On Edward Said and the Power of Words

November 2, 2023

When Israeli officials routinely asked prominent Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said when exactly he left Israel after birth, since his US passport showed that he was born in Jerusalem, he responded by correcting them: he left Palestine, not Israel, in 1947. The word “Palestine” was still a stranger on the tongue in Said’s time, but to him it was a lifeline — the only tangible tether to memories of his displaced and stateless kin, scattered across the globe since 1948. His legacy as an architect of the meaning behind words such as displacement and the “Other” rests on his understanding of the power that a single word can wield. Twenty years after his passing, Edward Said’s words echo louder than ever, reminding us of the weight of our words and language. In the midst of linguistic and physical displacement, he laid the intellectual foundation for the recognition of marginalized peoples on a global scale, cementing their historical right to representation and visibility. Said, born in Jerusalem, Palestine, was displaced by the Nakba (1948) — the Arabic word that refers to the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians. He received his PhD…

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