Last night at NYU, Rashid Khalidi gave a lecture to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration– “from the standpoint of its victims,” the Palestinians.
For the Palestinians this statement was a gun pointed directly at their heads… The issuance of the Balfour Declaration thus marked the beginning of what I would describe as a century long colonial war in Palestine supported by an array of outside powers which continues to this day.
Let me break out two other bracing statements that Khalidi made in the talk, at the Hagop Kevorkian Center at NYU, one about the state of the Arab world, one about the power of Zionism.
When a questioner from Morocco lamented the “erasure” of the Palestinian story from its central role in Arab memory, the Columbia University history professor said she was right, but he was not sure what claim for primacy Palestinians could make at this time, given the “destruction of four Arab countries”:
The situation that the Arab world is in is one of such absolute agony that I think it is worth questioning to what extent at this moment in time– is there an Arab world? Even in the 30’s you had a certain mass public that resonated to certain things. So when the Palestinians rose up in 1936, you go to the French foreign ministry archives and you have Algerian Muslims trying to contribute to support Palestinians. They weren’t allowed to do so, of course, by French colonial authorities. You have people coming from Lebanon and Syria to fight with the Palestinians.
So you had a resonance throughout the Arab world of the Palestine case. It’s true in the 40’s and the 50’s and the 60’s; even though the regimes generally tended to do what the great powers wanted. If you look at what’s happening in 47, 48, every Arab government is paying much more attention to the British or the Americans or other external powers than they are to Palestinians– public opinion however is resonating to what is happening in Palestine.
Today the situation of fragmentation of the Arab world, that’s just so much harder. Not just today, but in the last decade or so. It’s not just the Arab uprisings– And how can you tell a Syrian whose country has been destroyed, and a quarter of its population at least has been made refugees, and they’re trying to deal with this horrific regime, and with an armed opposition that’s made up of people who would probably cut the throats of a quarter to a fifth of the population if they had the power. So you have on the one hand the devil and on the other the deep blue sea.
How do you tell a Syrian agonizing over that situation, Palestine is more important? This is life and death, this is existential, and the same is true with the Iraqis, the same is true for Yemenis, the same is true for Libyans. The question of whether those countries will even exist is on the table.
The question of how many hundreds of thousands of Yemeni children will be permanently damaged by the starvation that’s been inflicted on them by the Saudi blockade and the war? You have to take account of those things if you’re a sentient human being. One could go on and on.
I can’t say as I blame people, frankly.
This is honest and realistic. Even if Israeli-apologists make the same argument.
The other statement Khalidi made that I found compelling was when he said that Palestinians during the Mandate period of the 20s-40s were “in a triple bind, which may have been unique in the history of resistance of indigenous peoples to European colonial settler movements.” The three forces were: the international legitimacy granted Zionism even at a time when colonialism had widely been discredited; the support for Zionists from the British to honor the Balfour Declaration; and the power of the Zionist movement itself.
Khalidi’s description of the Zionist movement was pointed.
“Palestinians… faced an international colonizing movement with a national mission and its own independent sources of finance and support besides those offered by Britain.”
Then quoting Zeev Sternhell’s book, The Founding Myths of Israel, Khalidi said that the Israeli historian deduced that in the 1920s, the “annual inflow of Jewish capital” to Palestine was on average 41.5 percent larger than the Jewish net domestic product in Palestine! And it never went below 30 percent between the wars.
“Think about that, that’s like a river of money into any economy, and it was being invested and intelligently used. You’re talking about extraordinary international support independent of the military diplomatic and other support of the British empire, certainly till 1939.”
I cite this analysis because it supports my own view that the Israel lobby was a real factor in western affairs before the Balfour Declaration. Louis Brandeis converted to Zionism surely because the political power of the nascent Zionist lobby was his means of getting on to the Supreme Court (the case I made here). The Balfour Declaration– which he helped craft and get his friend President Wilson to endorse– is seen by many as an attempt by the western powers to win the support of US Jews to the allied cause in World War I. And the emergence of an international Zionist network was a factor in the global publicizing of the Russian pogroms at the turn of the century.
Khalidi does not generally emphasize the Zionist role in producing the Balfour Declaration and western compliance. It’s not his area of study; he’s more interested in the imperial interests of the Brits, then the Americans. But as he said last night, the Zionists “hopped” from one global sponsor to another “like an orphan searching for a foster parent.” And if there was such a British imperial interest in Palestine, as Khalidi maintained, well, it vanished rather quickly from the White Paper in 1939 to the time a few years later when Britain washed its hands of the mess. The United States is today that global sponsor, but to address the role of the Israel lobby in foreign policy-making in our country is to experience a type of career death.