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Khalidi takes on ‘hegemonic narrative’ of Jewish nationalism in personal new book

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There was an urgency about Rashid Khalidi when the dean of Palestinian-American historians addressed a jam-packed crowd at the prestigious Politics & Prose bookstore in DC, Feb. 10. He told us he was taking off the academic gloves in his new book, “The Hundred-Years’ War on Palestine.” “This book is more personal,” he said. It draws on his illustrious family’s more than hundred years’ experience witnessing and directly confronting the “colonial invasion” of his country, continuing to this day in his own work as an academic truth-teller.

A questioner challenged Khalidi as to whether he was faithful to the historian’s duty of “objectivity.” He replied, “The fact is there is a hegemonic narrative about Israel and Palestine, which takes the Western, pro-Zionist perspective. Eighty percent of what is said about the issue in the U.S. sticks to the hegemonic narrative. It’s not my job to repeat that narrative. Besides, historians, in fact, usually advance an argument or thesis. They don’t just say, ‘On the one hand or on the other hand.’ ”

Cover of The Hundred Years War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017

Cover of “The Hundred Years War on Palestine:
A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017″

Khalidi said the book deliberately aims at “general American readers,” who often know next to nothing about Palestine-Israel and, at best, see the conflict as a tragedy of two peoples struggling for their rightful national destiny. But, he argues, the real story is of a “colonial conquest” by the West of the small land of Palestine – and a subsequent endless crushing of Palestinian resistance. “The Palestinians are David; Israel is Goliath, with its external supporters.” Since 1917, supporters have always included the world’s hegemons: Great Britain, the U.S., the U.S.S.R. (in the run up to statehood), and France (in the 1950s). Just as essential has been the material and political support of vast ethnic and religious networks of Zionists (think Christian Zionist).

People need to understand that Israel is a settler-colonial state, Khalidi said, but a unique one. The European Jewish colonists — who literally called themselves colonial before colonialism fell into disrepute after World War II — did not come from a “mother country” and were not part of one other nation, such as Great Britain. Rather, they came from many countries and were members of a “totally modern national movement.” The history of the Jews began in Palestine in Biblical times, but “establishing a national state was not what Jews ever wanted” before the late 1800s invention of Zionism.

In 1899, Khalidi’s great-great-great uncle, Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi, understood the motives and aims of the early Zionist settlers. A former mayor of Jerusalem, fluent in Turkish, German, French and English, he knew about European anti-semitism and the writings of Zionism’s founder, Theodor Herzl, calling for a Jewish State. He sent a long letter in French to the French chief rabbi to be passed on to Herzl, who had long lived in Paris. He expressed sympathy and understanding for Zionist aspirations. But he warned it would be “folly” to try to impose a Jewish State on the Palestinians, who fully inhabited Palestine. He beseeched Herzl to abandon any such intentions. He pointed out that such a move would undermine the extensive Jewish communities that long had existed throughout the Middle East. Herzl’s reply was polite, Khalidi told his audience, but it “simply ignored” Yusuf Diya’s basic point that Palestine was already inhabited by people unwilling to be supplanted.

And so began the continuing pattern of Zionists and their state sponsors dismissing Palestinians as insignificant, if not nonexistent. On that point, Khalidi cited as landmarks the 1917 Balfour Declaration; the League of Nations Mandate for the U.K. to rule Palestine; the 1947 UN Partition Resolution, which was “bulldozed through the General Assembly by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R”; the U.S. greenlight given to Israel in 1967 to conquer the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights from neighboring Arab states; the UN response to that aggression in Resolution 242; all the way to President Trump’s just-released “peace plan.”

In closing, Khalidi asserted that “all nationalisms fabricate a history to justify themselves.” But the “particular and peculiar” thing in the case of Israel is that the “trauma and ideas that generated Jewish settler-colonialism all happened in Europe, but were moved to Palestine.” In other words, for more than 100 years the Palestinian people have had a Jewish nationalist dream working itself out in their land, taking their property and destroying their rights and dignity and their very lives.

In the beginning, there was Palestine. Transforming it into the “The Land of Israel” has meant looking past the Palestinians who live there, “disappearing” them physically when possible, and all the while delegitimizing their story. Khalidi, the scion of an ancient and honored family, breaks the spell of the nationalist dream by exposing us to the existence of the Palestinian people, then and now, and telling their bittersweet story.

Steve France

Steve France is a retired journalist and lawyer in the DC area. An activist for Palestinian rights, he is affiliated with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship Palestine-Israel Network and other Christian Palestinian-solidarity groups.

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5 Responses

  1. pabelmont on February 17, 2020, 12:20 pm

    Good history. Nastiness from before day-one. If ever there were a people that lived and breathed “entitlement” and “exceptionalism” as “birthrights”, it is the Zionist Jews.

    And of course there is also the sickness-making “religious” persuasion of the Zionist-Christians who seek to use the Jews of Israel to foment the war of Armageddon (to bring about the merely notional, or imagined, end times, end of the world, rapture; — the actual end-times without rapture now being brought to us in reality by global warming, a phenomenon that seems to have nothing to with any nationality or any “religion” other than “irresponsible capitalism”) and are in turn used by the Jews of Israel to coerce USA’s continued subservience to AIPAC-Israel.

  2. Misterioso on February 17, 2020, 7:47 pm


    “Good history. Nastiness from before day-one. If ever there were a people that lived and breathed ‘entitlement’ and ‘exceptionalism’ as ‘birthrights”’, it is the Zionist Jews.”

    Well said!!

    BTW, for the record, according to the late Dr. Albert Glock, former head of the archaeology department at Birzeit University in the West Bank, who was murdered in 1992 by unknown assailants (believed to be Jewish settlers), even his discipline has been corrupted:
    “[A]rchaeology in Palestine/Israel has been conducted from [a]…perspective of affirming a Judeo-Christian heritage that satisfies Western Christians and Jews….There is little room for Palestinians in an agenda motivated to connect the Israeli present to the Jewish past in Palestine.” (Dr. Albert Glock, “Cultural Bias in the Archaeology of Palestine”, Journal of Palestine Studies, No. 94, Vol. XXIV, p. 53)

    To quote archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, “More sins have probably been committed in the name of archaeology [in Palestine/Israel] than on any commensurate portion of the earth’s surface….”(Mortimer Wheeler, Archaeology from the Earth, Hammondsworth: Penguin, 1956, p.228 quoted by Glock, op cit, p.49) (See Invention of Ancient Israel, Whitelaw)

    As Uri Avnery, the late renowned journalist and former member of the Knesset, observed: “These suspicions are nurtured by the fact that most Israeli archaeologists have always been the loyal foot-soldiers of the official propaganda. Since the emergence of modern Zionism, they have been engaged in a desperate endeavor to ‘find’ archaeological evidence for the historical truth of the stories of the Old Testament. Until now, they have gone empty-handed: there exists no archaeological proof for the exodus from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan and the kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon. But in their eagerness to prove the improvable (because in the opinion of the vast majority of archaeologists and historians outside Israel – and also some in Israel – the Old Testament stories are but sacred myths), the archaeologists have destroyed many strata of other periods.” (Uri Avnery, “Three Provocations: The Method in the Madness,” CounterPunch,Febrary13/2007

  3. Ronald Johnson on February 22, 2020, 8:35 am

    Archaeologists have to go where the grant money directs, Biblical Archaeology. Here is a time line to show the problem with Archaeology’s corruption in the Middle East:

    The archaeologists may have mislocated the site of the Temple:

    Meanwhile, the Temple Mount Faithful are preparing the implements for large animal sacrifice:

    • Mooser on February 22, 2020, 12:18 pm

      “Meanwhile, the Temple Mount Faithful are preparing the implements for large animal sacrifice”

      Do you know where your pets and domestic animals are?

  4. Ronald Johnson on February 22, 2020, 4:15 pm

    Especially prized for the first sacrifice would be a perfect red heifer:

    The Temple Mount Faithful are working with the red angus breed – which originated in Scotland in the 1600’s.

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