Edward Said and Martin Buber: the Real Story
A few days ago I published a story about the relationship between the Said family and Martin Buber based on an account offered by Uri Davis and a caption for an image of Buber’s home on a Flickr account, both of which repeated the false information that the home at 3 Hovevey Zion had belonged both to the Said family and to Martin Buber. Prof. Joseph Agassi, husband of Martin Buber’s granddaughter, Judith Buber Agassi, has set me straight.
Martin Buber did live in an apartment in the home of Boutrous Said at 10 Brenner Street in Jerusalem from 1938-1942. On its return from Egypt and at the end of apartment lease, the family sought to reclaim the apartment. There was a legal dispute and Buber was forced to leave. He moved to the Dajani home in Talbiyeh in 1942 and lived there until 1947. During mounting hostilities, the Jerusalem Anglican Bishop insisted on taking Buber and his wife away from the “flying bullets.” They moved to a pension on Ibn Ezra Street in Rehavia. After the war, they purchased the home at 3 Hovevey Zion after Buber determined that the previous owner had “returned to Turkey.” They lived there for the remainder of their lives.
My apology for the errors I’ve repeated. Others apparently have their own ideological, political axes to grind.
I’m glad to report that Buber appears to have acted righteously and that other sources seem to have ulterior motives in spreading stories that aren’t accurate. I should also note that Edward Said spoke quite favorably of the politics of Martin Buber and the Brit Shalom movement he helped found:
“During the inter-war period, a small but important group of Jewish thinkers (Judah Magnes, Buber, Arendt and others) argued and agitated for a binational state. The logic of Zionism naturally overwhelmed their efforts, but the idea is alive today here and there among Jewish and Arab individuals frustrated with the evident insufficiencies and depredations of the present. The essence of that vision is coexistence and sharing in ways that require an innovative, daring and theoretical willingness to get beyond the arid stalemate of assertion and rejection. Once the initial acknowledgment of the other as an equal is made, I believe the way forward becomes not only possible but attractive.”
I also have to report a depressing historical irony: Prof. Buber’s home at 3 Hovevey Zion is now owned by Michael Steinhardt, the chief funder of the Birthright program, a devout Jewish neocon and pro-Israel apologist. I could hardly think of a more depressing decline in the intellectual and moral value of the historical occupants of this property than this one.
I do have a historical question for any readers with further information: if anyone has any information on the owner who preceded the Bubers at Hovevey Zion, I’d be very interested to know who they were and something of their history before and after they lived in the home. If anyone has pictures of the Bubers and the Brenner Street house that they can share I’d be grateful.
Saree Makdisi, whose mother lived in the Said family home at 10 Brenner Street, informs me that Menachem Begin “gave” it to the International Christian Embassy in the 1980s. He understands (and I haven’t been able to confirm this) the original home was torn down, which would explain why this picture differs from the other one displayed here. It is indeed yet another cruel irony that the Said’s were dispossessed and the Israeli leader responsible for the other even more violent acts of dispossession like the Deir Yassin massacre, “gifted” its home to Christian Zionists who’ve become handmaidens of the Israeli nationalist enterprise.
Thanks to Ran Greenstein, readers of this blog, and Prof. Agassi for help in unraveling the particulars of the story.
29 thoughts on “Edward Said and Martin Buber: the Real Story – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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I’ll make sure to take a photo of 10 Brenner st. next time I walk by it. I’m just glad we can finally put this silly “urban myth” that Uri Davis helped propagate, to rest. It’s remarkable how many web sites quote Davis’ false or mistaken anecdote, which he attributed to Said himself! Equally remarkable is the number of web sites already indexed by Google that refer to, and copy the entire text of your original post. All that’s left I suppose is to let Google do its work…
It would be interesting putting the Knesset building owners in the same context. The grandson possess the family deeds and lives in Montreal. Canada.
Is there any way to contact the owners of the land that became the Knesset building?
I think I’ll post about this on Twitter as well. Good question.
The owners of the land that became the Knesset building was the Greek Orthodox church in Jerusalem, that sold lands to cover debts during the British Mandate Period. Not all of what the goverment in Israel did was a crime, you know
@ Tamar Hayardeni: Much of the property “sold” by various Christian churches in Jerusalem were convey via fraud or other nefarious means. Primary means of which is and was bribing church officials. If you have evidence of the situation regarding the Greek Orthodox church offer it. I’d like to know what the nature of the “debts” were, how they were incurred, who bought the land, the price paid, etc.
There is loads of information about this in Hebrew, but since this blog is in English, I’ll just recommend to read about the debts of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem that led to bankruptcy in page 36 here: goo.gl/RpLkeJ. Even the very anti-Israeli journalist here: goo.gl/yE5MPb admits that the Knesset is built a on Greek Orthodox land by saying “Important Israeli institutions, such as the Israeli Knesset, are built on the church land”. Our friendly journalist forgot to mention that the church legally long-leased the land to the Jewish National Fund in 1951 for a term of 99 years, but don’t worry, this information is provided in this left-wing Haaretz website: https://www.haaretz.com/1.4872654 or here: goo.gl/D9PXAA and here: goo.gl/cU7QLy and even here: goo.gl/74c4TA.
I find it sad that your basic assumption is that this deal was made “via fraud or other nefarious means”. It is well known that all the “dirty deals” you’re talking about were made in the last maybe 20 years, as part of a deep corruption in the church leadership, definitely not back then, when the Greek Orthodox church went bankrupted and sold lands under British supervision, or in the 50s-70s.
As long as (I hope) nobody claims that the Greeks stole lands from somebody in the 19th century, and/or didn’t have the right to lease a land to the Jewish National Fund, then it will be somewhat hard to find that “grandson in Montreal Canada” to claim that the land that became the Knesset building is his.
Finally! It is just a pity you did not contact Prof. Agassi, or another member of the Buber family, BEFORE publishing.
Prof.. Agassi forgot to mention the period Buber lived in Abu-tur, but that is hardly important or interesting.
You, by the way did it again, and published a wrong photo… The big one is indeed Brenner 10, but the little photo at the top of your post is on Marcus street (Talbieh) and is (was) known as the”Haroon al-Rashid” house, formally – the official residence of Golda Meir when she was Foreign Minister.
I suggest, Mr Silverstein, that you develop some more trust in people who write to you. It would have saved you the embarrassment.
I didn’t know the Agassis therefore could not have written to them. The nature of blogging is that you publish what you know and what you think you know based on knowledge and previous experience. Sometimes you make errors. When you do you correct them. Then you wait for know-it-alls like you to wag their fingers at you instead of publishing their own blogs and making mistakes that others will correct & finger-wag about as you have here.
Nor will I ever trust anyone like you for any information you offer. The International Christian Embassy lists it’s mailing address as 10 Brenner Street, which is why I presumed the picture was of that building.
I guess you never heard about Google and phone books. Try them. You’ll see how easy it is to find useful facts about notable people, their relatives and the relatives’ phone numbers.
But why bother? It is much more convenient to publish juicy slender, without the tedious work of verifying facts.
What an insufferable twit you are. I’ve never banned anyone before for being an all around class A turd before. Congratulations on being the first.
Thank you for this research. I don’t know where this urban myth started. It looks like a typical case of plotting a line between two dots and failing to to notice the full story.
However, while this reduces the “celebrity” quotient of Buber’s actions, I think you are being hasty in the opposite direction, ignoring the structural story which is more important than Buber’s personal probity. After 1948, Buber either took possession of a certain house for free, after the original owner left (“back to Turkey”), or, if he paid, the person or organization to whom he paid took possession of the home for free. This was the situation of tens of thousands of properties in all the cities in Israel. That massive repossession (about which the state has taken great pains to make sure that there be no records and no data) was the foundation of the wealth of the new upper middle class in Israel (while the same process of “primitive accumulation” happened in the countryside through the Kibutz movement.)
I agree with you which is why I’d like to know more about why the former owner left and what the particulars of this were. It is very possible that the property owner who went back to Turkey was forced to leave as so many other Israeli Palestinians were before & during the 48 war. Which still might make that house tainted by Nakba expulsion.
After having come across your blog while researching Buber and the Jewish bi-nationalists, I subsequently discovered a reference stating that 3 Hovevei Zion had previously been known as Villa Sununu, having been built in the 1930s by a Greek Orthodox businessman whose family abandoned it in 1948 to go to Lebanon (see “The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie” by David Kroyanker reproduced from Haaretz, 6 March 2006http://palpress.ps/english/print.php?ChannelID=4652). John H Sununu, the former Republican Governor of New Hampshire (1983-89) and White House chief of staff under President George Bush, Snr. (1989-91), and his son, former New Hampshire Senator John E Sununu, are related to this family.
Wonderful stuff. Thank you.
The Said family house in Talbiyyeh was in shared ownership, just as the Palestine Education Company, by Boutros Said and his cousin, Wadie Said, the father of Edward Said. Boutros was also married with Nabiha, the sister of Wadie.
Images filmed by Wadie Said of Edward and the family house in Talbiyyeh (except a view of the Protestant Church).
The young boy jumping in the street is Edward Said with his sister Rosemarie Said Zahlan (mother of Sari Makdisi), jumping out the car in front of the family house, and in the garden with his sister:
From min 9:35 to 10:38
I believe the house in Talbiyeh belonged to my father’s family before Martin Buber had it. It was my father’s mother Calliope Tadros Sinunu and her elder son (my uncle Badie Sinunu) and his wife and family who were living there when they were told in 1948 that they had to leave. They left and went to Beirut, thinking that they would come back when the Troubles were over. Of course, they never were allowed to come back. In 1987 my father took his son and daughter (me) and our families to Jerusalem to see the sites of his youth. One of the places we visited was the house in Talbiyeh. A lady lived there named Maud Spaer who very kindly invited us in to see the house as it was then. She was accustomed to people being interested because it had belonged to Martin Buber, something that we didn’t know until then. I know very little else about it, though I have a photo of my grandmother sitting in a chair in the garden.
I realize this is very old news, but I just recently found this post, and thought maybe it would still interest you. Time goes by, and there will be a time when no one will be able to make this connection any more.
I just read the comment above regarding John Sununu. The name is, of course, the same: Sinunu/Sununu. When they came to the US, some spelled it one way and some the other.
Why dont you ask the grand son of Rubin Mass, the ‘mouchtar’ of Talbieh, Oren Mass who lives in Jerusalem and worked with his grand father. He is the head of Rubin Mass publishing House in Jerusalem.
Dear Mr Silverstein,
it’s been 3 years since Victoria Sinunu Sheridan wrote here that the house in 3 Hovevey Zion in Talbiyah belonged to her family, and I would add – and had nothing to do with the Saïds nor with the Dajanis – but the required changes in your column are yet to be made.
Mr Reuven Mas, the local Jewish “mouchtar” of Talbiyah and its commander during the war, was also mentioned down here by Dominique Bourel 3 years ago but never merited to appear in your column too, although his contribution to our understanding of what happened in Talbiyah during the hard years is beyond compare.
Since there’s a ward limit here, I will send you all the information needed by email, including documents showing that this column is far from being accurate, nor תיקון עולם.
@ Tamar Yardeni: Surprise, surprise! There are 100,000 comment in this blog. And hard as it may be to beleive, I sometimes don’t catch some of them that are quite important. So while I’m glad you brought my attention to Ms. Sheridan’s comment, your hectoring tone is unwarranted. Had I known of the comment I would have done further research and updated the post. You have this annoying Israeli habit of thinking people have deliberated insulted you or someone and it’s your job to set things straight and undo an injustice. Relax and try being a bit nicer. It will take you quite a bit farther towards whatever you seek.
Name is Hayardeni, not Yardeni.
Well, I expect a blog writer to do read the comments on his columns in a period of 3 years, especially on a column that deals with information that should be dealt with extra care. I also find it hard to accept that you didn’t no anything about the house belonging to Sinunu and not to Saïd, when digging deeper here and finding a long comment about this from James Chiriyankandath some 6 years ago, with your reply to him: ” Wonderful stuff. Thank you”.
I will highly appreciate it if you could avoid marking Israelis with an “annoying habit” and not lecture me to be “nicer”. We are all different you know. I for example did not feel “insulted” at all, but was simply academically disappointed for you relying on one person’s ward (Prof. Agassi) to make a story. If my reply sounded “aggressive” to you, so I apologize. I hope that you would find the documents and photos that I sent you convincing and satisfying to reconsider changing your column.
@ Tamar Hayardeni:
That’s why you’re a tour guide and amateur historian and I’m a journalist and blogger. If you knew how foolish that statement is you would not have made it. I try to read every one of the comments posted here unlike most bloggers who have a large comment section. I respond directly and personally to many of them as regular readers here (you are not) can attest.
As for whether extra care should have been taken in this case, I give extra care to stories in which lives are in danger. This is a piece of history. As such it deserves diligence. But no lives are at stake here and I think the error of missing a single comment out of 100,000 might be forgiven by most people (except you, of course).
I know Israel and Israelis quite well. And my generalization about your common trait of being imperious and unreasonably demanding and self-righteous comes from direct and long term experience. You fit that generalization to a T. And even in this comment you posted you continue this approach.
As for my relying on Prof. Agassi. He is the son-in-law of Martin Buber. As such he has an even more direct connection to this story than you. Of course, he may be wrong in his recollections or recounting. But I am not a historian. No one pays me to do this. So either you will have to forgive the alleged lapses which irk you so, or not. I really could care less.
You may have loads of time on your hands to continue this badinage. I don’t. So if you have actual information, sources, documents to offer, I welcome them. If you come here to hector or lecture about errors, etc. don’t bother.
As I wrote to you in an e mail, I challenge you to publish your own historical account of this online so others like me may find it and learn from it. Then others can lecture you about any mistakes you might make. Though of course there won’t be any!
I couldn’t but smile reading your aggressive reply, that include ad hominem claims, like me being an “amateur historian” and having “Israeli attitude” etc., after you urged me up here to be “nicer”. Well, I didn’t come here to piss you off, but just light up some errors you made in this column and offer you some information that can help fixing those errors. No need to lose your temper or ask me whether I have actual information, sources or documents, since I already sent you many of them yesterday.
Relax and try being a bit nicer. It will take you quite a bit farther towards whatever you seek.
@Tamar Hayardeni: You’re misusing the term “ad hominem.” You meant I’m disparaging you, which I am. Disparagement or sarcasm is not the same as ad hominem. But often people attempt to use the term (incorrectly) to show their sophistication.
I react to people the way they treat me. You came here with an attitude and i mirrored your own disrespectful approach.
You are done in this thread. Do not publish any further comments in it.
Dear Tamar, thank you very much for your excellent historical contributions to this ongoing debate. I’m a Professor at Tufts University in Boston and would love to see the documents that you sent Mr. Silverstein.
You can view some info on the house today here’
Coming to this very late but for everyone unsure of the origin of this “urban myth” it was indeed propagated by Edward Said, who mentions it explicitly in After the Last Sky and refers to it obliquely in his memoir Out of Place (and maybe in other books I haven’t read), but Said himself might have been unaware of the house’s actual ownership history.
Report of child born abroad of an American Palestinian father.
American Consular Service, Jerusalem, Palestine, Dec. 12, 1935
Name of child in full: Edward William Said. DOB: Nov 1, 1935
Place of birth: Nikufrieh, Jerusalem, Palestine.
Father: William A. Said. Mother: Hilda Said.
Race: Semitic (Arab) Race: Gentile.
Present residence: P.O.B. 84, Jerusalem Nationality: Palestinian
Birthplace: Jerusalem. Birthplace: Nazareth, Palestine.
Present residence:Nikufrieh, Jerusalem
Remarks: Certificate of birth issued by the Department of Health, Government of Palestine, December 10, 1935, is attached to the triplicate copy of the report in the ConsulateGeneral’s files.
Signed: Andrew G. Lynch, Consul of the United States of America.
I hope this information is of some help.