The Parable of the Stone and the Slap

Photo by Romerito Pontes | CC BY 2.0

In the summer of 2000, Edward Said visited the Lebanese border with Israel, which had recently ended its brutal 18-year-long occupation of southern Lebanon. He spent the morning touring the grim chambers of El-Khaim prison, where Palestinian detainees had been interrogated and tortured. In the afternoon, he stopped at the newly liberated town of Kafr Killa. In a celebratory act, Said picked up a small stone and hurled it across a concertina wire fence marking the border and toward an Israeli watchtower, a half-mile in the distance. The stone fell harmlessly into the desert, several hundred yards short of the military outpost.

A photo of Said’s stone toss was snapped by a photographer from Agence France-Presse. The next morning that image was picked up by UPI and appeared in newspapers around the world under headlines charging that the Columbia University professor had thrown rocks at Israeli soldiers.  It is a measure of Israel’s stranglehold on the western media that this trivial incident ignited a spasm of outrage. Said was denounced as the “professor of terror” and “Hezbollah’s philosopher.” There were calls for him to be fired from Columbia University and evicted from the prestigious Modern Language Association, where he’d once served as president.

The New York Times continued to pound Said about the incident for eight-months, gleefully reporting in March 2001 that the Freud Society of Vienna had cancelled a…

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