The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine by Rashid Khalidi

Growing up as a Jewish kid in the suburbs of Cleveland, I did all the things that “normal”, “regular Jewish kids did back in the 80’s — I attended Hebrew and Sunday School, got Bar Mitzvah’d, and spent many a Shabbat Friday night listening to my family rail and back and forth over dinner about Israel, the Middle East, American policy, and other seemingly important political topics of the day. Not surprisingly, my opinions about Israel and Jews in general were shaped by these and other conversations that were almost entirely based in a Jewish perspective and framed from a Jewish point of view, and although I have always prided myself in being open-minded and unobstructed when it came to differing vantage points, I realized very recently that I had never really heard or understood the story of Israel from a Palestinian perspective, which is why I bought this book after listening to the author on an NPR/Throughline podcast. Khalidi is certainly no partisan or political hack with an axe to grind — he is a Palestinian American historian of the Middle East, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, and director of the Middle East Institute of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs — so he clearly has the resume for this type of work. However, not only is he an accomplished historian who has authored several other books on this topic, but he also has first-hand knowledge of many of these events, whether through his family’s historic ties to the region or through his direct involvement in the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations/peace talks of the 80’s and 90’s. Quite frankly, this book was a very difficult read for me as a Jewish American: a searing indictment on the actions of the Zionist movement and complicit American (and British) politicians that span through the entire 20th century and left the Palestinian people in literal and figurative rubble. It is impossible to read Khalidi’s story and not feel outraged, sickened, and saddened at what has happened in the region, and, as a Jewish American, I’m left with a sense that, at 41-years-old, I’m finally starting to understand the horrors and complexities of a history that is almost impossible at times to comprehend. Perspective, balance, and truth is painful, but necessary, if any progress is to be made for the Palestinian people in the near future.

  • Yusuf Diya, early Palestinian leader in a letter to Herzyl — whatever the merits of Zionism, the brutal force of circumstances had to be taken into account
  • Herzl (1890's), ignored the letter’s thesis, that Palestine was already inhabited by a population tat would not agree to be supplanted
  • although Herzl had visited the country once, he had very little knowledge of the locals
  • Herzl believed that Jewish immigration would benefit the indigenous people of Palestine
  • transformation of the entire land into a Jewish state
  • perhaps meant to deceive Diya by concealing the true aims of the Zionist movement, or Herzl simply did not see Diya and the Arabs of Palestine as worthy of being taken seriously
  • condescending attitude towards the people — not to mention the rights — of the Palestinian people by Zionists, British, European, American leaders in the decades that followed
  • post WWI, British mandate built the autonomous structure of a Zionist para-state
  • exclusion of Arab labor from Jewish owned firms
  • Jewish population in Palestine from 18 percent in 1932 to over 31 percent in 1939 — lots from Germany
  • modern history of Palestine can be understood as a colonial war waged against the indigenous population, by a variety of parties, to force them to relinquish their homeland to another people against their will
  • both a colonial and national conflict
  • for over a century, Palestinians have been depicted in precisely the same language by their colonizers as have been other indigenous peoples
  • point being made is that Palestinians did not exist, or were of no amount, or did not deserve to inhabit the country the so sadly neglected
  • 1917 Balfour Declaration — never mentioned Palestinians
  • colonial origins of Zionism and Israel were whitewashed and conveniently forgotten in Israel and the west post WWII
  • Zionism could be and was both a national and colonial settler movement at one and the same time
  • first decade of 20th century, Jews that lived in Palestine were seen as part of the indigenous Muslim majority society
  • existed in Palestine under Ottoman rule a vibrant Arab society undergoing a series of rapid and accelerating transitions
  • Palestine’s population declined by 6 percent during WWI
  • by the end of the fighting, people in Palestine and in much of the Arab world found themselves under occupation by European armies
  • sec of state for foreign affairs, Arthur James Balfour, Balfour Declaration, 1917
  • national home for the Jewish people
  • Arab majority of the population (94 percent at the time) went unmentioned by Balfour
  • British empire was never motivated by altruism — strategic, national interests
  • aims of Zionist movement — sovereignty and complete control of Palestine
  • after the declaration, disastrous implications for the future of Palestine were increasingly apparent
  • nationalism — national self determination, post WWI
  • massive, revolutionary colonial upheavals — India, Egypt, China, etc
  • people of Palestine faced a new reality: to be ruled by Britain, and their country had been praised to others as a national home
  • Palestinian identity emerged at almost exactly the same time as did modern political Zionism
  • just like Zionism, Palestinian and other Arab national identities were modern and contingent, not eternal and immutable
  • unlimited immigration would produce a Jewish majority that would permit a takeover of the country
  • Palestinian identity was constantly reinforced by Britain’s bias in favor of the burgeoning Zionist project
  • Turks, Iranians, and others all achieved a measure of independence
  • 1922, League of Nations issued a mandate for Palestine, formalized Britain’s governance of the country
  • Article 22 — “certain communities … their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized” — reference to the Balfour Declaration, Jewish people
  • contradistinction to every other Middle Eastern mandated territory
  • Jewish people and only the Jewish people are described as having historic connection to Palestine
  • no reference to Palestinians as a people
  • Mandate allowed for the creation of Zionist administration parallel to that of the British mandatory government
  • bad faith and deceit that characterized British and Allied policy in Palestine
  • British treated them with contemptuous condescension, censured newspapers, banned political activity
  • many German Jews had nowhere to go but Palestine
  • country wide explosion started in 1936–1939
  • Palestinians had been unable to develop and overarching framework for national movement
  • Britain, prior to 1939, provided armed suppression of Palestinian resistance in the form of the revolt
  • consequences of the revolt were almost entirely negative
  • crushed in the summer of 1939
  • Churchill — perhaps most ardent Zionist in British public life
  • author’s Uncle (all family born and raised there) believed that the primary problem faced by the Palestinians during the Mandate was the British
  • revolt and suppression were direct, inevitable results of the policies set out in the Balfour Declaration
  • Britain did not rule Palestine outright — bound not just by the Balfour Declaration but also by the international committee embodied in the 1922 Mandate for Palestine
  • very few good choices in the face of the powerful triad of Britain, Zionist movement, and League of Nations Mandate
  • by summer of 1949, 720K of 1.3M Palestinians made refugees
  • Israel now controlled 78 percent of the territory of former Mandatory Palestine, and now ruled over 160K Palestinian Arabs who had remained, barely 1/5 of the reward population of Arabs
  • Palestinians remained fragmented politically
  • starting in 1942, American ships, troops and bases arrived in North Africa, Iran, Saudi Arabia — have not left the middle east since
  • David Ben Gurion, Biltmore Program — openly called for turning all of Palestine into a Jewish state
  • “Palestine shall be established as a Jewish Commonwealth”
  • Zionism became part and parcel of the emerging American hegemony in the Middle East
  • Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, 1946
  • recommendation to admit 100K Jewish refugees to Palestine
  • US would become the predominant external actor there and eventually in the rest of the Middle East
  • Palestinians had not developed effective Arab allies or the apparatus of a modern state
  • many inter Palestinian differences, exacerbated by the rivalries between the newly independent Arab states
  • new states were frail and fraught with rancorous disunity and the Palestinians had to content with their dueling ambitions
  • Arab leaders demonstrated feebleness combined with a striking lack of experience and global awareness
  • Zionist movement applied a highly developed understanding of global politics
  • 1947, UN Resolution 181, called for dividing Palestine into a large Jewish state and a smaller Arab one
  • international birth certificate for a Jewish state in most of what was still and Arab majority land, a blatant violation of the principle of self-determination enshrined in the UN charter
  • Plan Dalet, spring 1948 — conquest and depopulation in April and the first half of May in the two largest Arab urban centers, Jaffa and Haifa
  • Nakba — catastrophe, an ongoing process
  • majority Arab country was now transformed into a new state that had a substantial Jewish majority
  • ethnic cleansing of the Arab inhabited areas of the country seized during the war, theft of Palestinian land and property left behind by the refugees as well as much of that owned by those Arabs who remained in Israel
  • victims also further destabilized neighboring, weak countries such as Syria
  • beneficiary was Jordan King Abdulah, who got control of West Bank and East Jersusalem
  • Britians colluded directly with Transjordanians and indirectly with Jews to abort the birth of a Palestinian Arab state — British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin
  • US and USSR also offered military support to the Jews
  • Modern political Zionism developed deep roots in the US
  • Truman was one of the first to be pro-Zionist
  • possible utility of US interests in the region after the Jewish victory
  • until 1967, US policymakers gave relatively little consideration to Israel per se, and even less to Palestinians
  • 1M Palestinians faced profound social disruption
  • condition of dispersal, shitat in Arabic, has afflicted the Palestinian people ever since
  • until 1966, most Palestinians lived under strict martial law and much of their land was seized
  • only about 6 percent of Palestinian land had been Jewish owned prior to 1948
  • King of Jordan expressed fealty to hated British colonial masters, opposed Palestinian independence and rumored contacts with Zionists worked against him — assassinated in 1951
  • populations of the Arab states felt great and continuing concern about the question of Palestine, sympathy for the people after the humiliating defeat in 1948
  • also now fearful of Israel
  • Arab governments hindered Palestinians, sometimes were complicit with enemies
  • France, Brits invaded Egypt in 1956, Suez war fought against only one Arab country
  • intense pressure from the superpowers forced Israel, France and Britain to end the occupation of territory and Gaza
  • Gaza was the crucible of the resistance of Palestinians to their dispossession after 1948
  • Johnson/McNamara judged in 1967 that an attack was “not imminent” on Israel
  • forces were much stronger than Arab armies, country was never in danger of losing a war, even if the Arabs had struck first — myth prevails, however
  • key cause of the war was the rise of militant Palestinian commando groups
  • Egypt’s moves in Sinai constituted overt incitement of Israel
  • by the fifth day of the war, Israel now occupied Gaza, Sinai, West Bank, East Jerusalem, Golan
  • Ambassador Goldberg, US rep at the UN, delayed implementation of a cease fire for a few extra hours — Israel had more time to advance into Syria
  • June 1967 — wen the Israeli government sought and received a green light from US to launch a preemptive attack on the air forces of Egypt, Syria, Jordan
  • SC 242: inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war, linked any Israeli withdrawal to peace treaties with the Arab states and the establishment of secure frontiers
  • in practice, this meant that any withdrawals would be both conditional and delayed
  • allowed for the possibility of enlarged Israeli borders to meet the criterion of security, as determined by Israel
  • loophole — withdraw from territories occupied in the 1967 war rather than “from THE territories occupied”
  • US now more squarely on the side of Israel, abandonment of any semblance of balance shown in prior administrations
  • no mention of Palestine or Palestinians
  • 242 legitimated the 1949 armistice lines (1967 borders or Green Line) as Israel’s de facto borders
  • new layer of forgetting erasure and myth making was added to the amnesia that obscured the colonial origins of the conflict between Palestinians and the Zionist settlers
  • none of the underlying issues resulting from the 1948 war had been resolved
  • 1967 marked an extraordinary resurgence of Palestinian national consciousness
  • by the defeating the Arabs, Israel resurrected the Palestinians
  • Fatah emerged with a call for direct and immediate action by Palestinians, as well as its broad tent nonideological stance, was one of he factors that rapidly enabled it to become the largest political faction
  • deliberately tried to show up the Arab states for their lack of true commitment to Palestine
  • Arab League founded the PLO in 1964
  • militant Palestinian resistance groups took over the PLO, Arafat became chairman of the PLO Executive Committee
  • PLO’s greatest success during the late 1960’s and 1970’s came in the realm of diplomacy, despite the US refusal to engage with the Palestinians
  • Palestinians were seen as another people struggling against colonial settler project backed by European powers — as seen by newly independent countries of Asia and Africa
  • PLO’s failure to devote sufficient energy, talent, and resources to diplomacy and information was problematic
  • did not understand Israel or the US
  • failed to overcome a more effective competing narrative — equating “Palestinian” with “terrorist”
  • US stuck to the lines from SC 242, excluded Palestinians from any share in negotiations for settlement
  • in order to be recognized, Palestinians were required to accept an international formula designed to negate their existence
  • national charter of PLO did not recognize Israeli’s as a people with national rights, nor did it accept the legitimacy of the state of Israel or Zionism
  • starting in 1970, PLO tried to start a more pragmatic aim of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, via negotiations based on the basis of SC 242
  • Israel repeatedly tried to assassinate Arafat — leader of the national movement, branded a terrorist by Israel
  • Israel’s demonization of the PLO as “terrorist” served as justification for its eradication
  • Egypt’s alliance with the US would let American leaders claim that they had won the Cold War in the Middle East while establishing a Pax Americana
  • For at least a few years, US clandestinely negotiated with the PLO, it’s pledge to Israel notwithstanding
  • Camp David, 1979 — design by Begin to freeze out the PLO, allow unimpeded colonization of the Occupied Territories occupied in 1967, and put the Palestine issue on hold
  • removed Egypt from the conflict
  • for the US, treaty completed Egypt’s shift from the Soviet to the American camp
  • the foundation Begin laid down would form the basis of everything that would follow
  • 1982 invasion of Lebanon was a watershed in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians
  • primary focus on the Palestinians and its larger goal of changing the situation inside Palestine
  • destroying the PLO militarily and eliminating its power in Lebanon would also put an end to the strength of Palestinian nationalism in the occupied West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem
  • easier to control and annex
  • invasion involved Israel’s third highest military casualty toll among the six major wars in its 70 plus year history
  • Thomas Friedman at one point described the Israeli bombardment as “indiscriminate”
  • not one of the PLO’s several functioning underground command and control posts or its multiple communication centers was ever hit
  • nor was a single PLO leader killed in the attacks
  • US remained committed to achieving Israel’s core war aim — defeat the PLO and its expulsion from Beirut
  • capitulation of the leading Arab regimes to American pressure
  • PLO’s heavy handed and often arrogant behavior in the preceding decade and a half had seriously eroded popular support for the Palestine cause in general and especially for the Palestinian presence in Lebanon
  • important sectors of he Lebanese population against PLO
  • inability to see the intensity of the hostility prompted by its own misbehavior and flawed strategy was among the gravest shortcomings of the PLO during this period
  • without the support of Beirut’s largely Sunni population, together with its many Shi’a, residents, prolonged resistance by the PLO to the Israeli offensive was ultimately futile
  • Reagan administration played a big role as well
  • deliberated decisions by Sharon and others to send the practiced Philangist killers into the Palestinian refugee camps, with the aim of massacring and driving away their populations — exposed by documents
  • American diplomats did not challenge Israeli leaders or their spurious figures
  • LF militias that Sharon’s forces had sent into the refugee camps were carrying out the killing of which he spoke — unarmed old people, women, and children, not exposed terrorists
  • direct responsibility of the US government as well — Sharon told Haig exactly what he was going to do, Haig gave endorsement, amounting to another US declaration of war on the Palestinians
  • US supplied lethal weapon systems, joint endeavor, first war aimed against Palestinians
  • political impact was rise of Hezbollah, Israel’s first and only attempt at forcible regime change in the Arab world
  • also first significant and sustained negative American and European perceptions of Israel since 1948
  • none of the American officials involved were ever held accountable — in Israel they were, but Sharon went on to become PM
  • war succeeded in weakening PLO, but the paradoxical effect was to strengthen national movement in Palestine itself
  • First Intifada ignited when an Israeli army vehicle struck and truck in the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza, killing four Palestinians
  • length and extensive support was proof of the broad popular backing it enjoyed
  • aimed at not only mobilizing Palestinians and Arabs, but also at shaping Israeli and world perceptions
  • short sightedness and limited strategic vision of the PLO’s leaders in Tunis
  • Hamas founded in 1987, initially and discreetly supported by Israel to weaken the PLO
  • PLO’s leaders never grasped the full measure of the US
  • 1988, Arafat accepted US conditions to talk, accepted 242 and 338, recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, and denounced terrorism
  • leaders still failed to grasp US’s lack of concern for them
  • policies of the US and Israel were linked
  • Intifada caused Israel political harm and damage to image then anything the PLO had succeeded in doing throughout its existence — Director of Mossad at the time
  • PLO allowed itself to be drawn into a process explicitly designed by Israel
  • by accepting 242, Arafat and his colleagues had set themselves an impossible task
  • failed to understand the need to continue to put pressure on
  • profound miscalculations in Gulf War, Arafat tried to steer a neutral course
  • PLO had become increasingly dependent on Iraqi political, military and financial patronage — also wildly overestimated Iraqi military capacities
  • Gulf states halted all financial support to the PLO
  • Madrid, 1991, author was at the negotiating table
  • had to operate under imposed rules restricting discussion to the terms of their ongoing colonization and occupation
  • decisions were made by PLO leaders in Tunis
  • Americans loath to push the Israelis on any issue of substance
  • continuous building of settlements and barring residents of the rest of the Occupied Territories from entering Jerusalem
  • both were grave violations of US commitments emodied in James Baker’s letter of assurance
  • also overt bias of Dennis Ross and some of his colleagues were obvious in interactions (author was directly involved)
  • Israeli right’s view was that Palestinians were, at best, interlopers
  • Rabin changed little in Israel’s core approach to the Palestinians at the negotiating table
  • 1995, Rabin told Knesset that any Palestinian entity to be created would be “less than a state”
  • tensions running between PLO in Tunis and the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories
  • Washington talks proved fruitless
  • however, 1993 Rabin recognized the PLO as reps of the Palestinian people and the PLO recognized the state of Israel
  • Israel had not, however, recognized a Palestinian state or even made a commitment to allow the creation of one
  • resounding, historic mistake, grave consequences for the Palestinian people
  • envoys at Oslo were out of their league for negotiations
  • highly restricted form of self rule in a fragment of Occupied Territories and without control of the land, water, borders, or much else
  • author is convinced that rejecting Israel’s bare boned offer in Washington and Oslo would have been the right course
  • Rabin was obsessed with security, domination and control of adversary, disdain for Palestinian nationalism and the PLO
  • Oslo II completed the ruinous work of Oslo I, carved both regions into an infamous patchwork of areas, A, B, C
  • constriction of Palestinian life
  • Arafat and his colleagues had effectively put themselves into a cage
  • PA has no sovereignty, no jurisdiction, no authority except that allowed by Israel
  • mandated by the US and Israel dictates to provide security for Israel’s settlers and other occupation forces against the resistance, violent and otherwise, of Palestinians
  • PLO was a subcontractor for the occupation
  • offloading the cost and liability and subjugating Palestinian population
  • US was Israel’s partner
  • Gaza severed from West Bank, severed from Jerusalem
  • economic life underwent a slow strangulation
  • contribution of Arab East Jerusalem to the Palestinian GDP shrunk from 15 percent in 1993 to 7 percent today
  • PLO had a new rival, Hamas
  • militant Islamist alternative to the PLO
  • outgrowth of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood
  • widespread popular disappointment that followed the implementation of the Oslo Accords left Hams poised to reap the benefits
  • Camp David ended in disaster
  • strengthened Hamas, lead to second intifada in 2000
  • Israeli forces massive use of live ammunition against unarmed demonstrators from the outset
  • PLO renounced violence, but Hamas used suicide attacks anyway from the beginning — PLO pushed to stop attacks to keep Oslo mocking
  • PLO — Hamas split starting in the mid 2000's
  • Second Intifada was a major setback to the Palestinian national movement, stark contrast to the first
  • with suicide bombings, Israeli’s ceased to be seen as oppressors
  • longer attacks continued, more unified the Israeli public became behind Sharon’s hard lines
  • bombings served to unite and strengthen the adversary, while weakening and dividing the Palestinians
  • most Palestinians opposed this tactic — counterproductive
  • Arafat died, Abbas took over, neither charismatic nor eloquent
  • 2006 — Hamas controlled Legislative Assembly, conflict escalated between Fatah and Hamas
  • Hamas’s record paled in comparison next to the massive toll of Palestinian civilian casualties inflicted by Israel and its elaborate structures of legal discrimination and military rule
  • Hamas now controlled Gaza, Israel imposed a full blown siege
  • open air prison; unemployment at 52 percent
  • 2014 — one of the most powerful armies on earth used it’s full might against a besieged are of one hundred and forty square miles, which is among the world’s most heavily populated enclaves and whose people had no way to escape the rain of fire and steel
  • people have nowhere to flee even if they are given prior notice that their homes are about to be destroyed
  • Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, head of Northern Command: “disproportionate force and cause great damage and destruction there”
  • public criticism of Israel increased among younger, more progressive individuals
  • Democrats torn between the inclinations of their older leaders and many big donors to support any act of the Israeli government and the party’s rank and file, which began pushing hard for change
  • US presidents have allowed Israel to dictate the pace of events and even to determine US positions on issues relating to Palestine and the Palestinians
  • Israel lobby — no effective countervailing force in US politics
  • George Mitchell undermined by Dennis Ross in negotiations under Obama
  • Mitchell vs. Israel lobby, congress and Bibi
  • Obama left the White House conditions were worse than when he took office for Palestinians
  • to Americans and many Europeans, Israel appears to them to be a normal, natural nation state like any other, faced by the irrational hostility of intransigent and often anti-semitic Muslims
  • propagation of this image is one of the greatest achievements of Zionism
  • Zionist movement and then the state of Israel always had the big battalions on their side
  • issue of inequality that is most promising for expanding the understanding of the reality in Palestine
  • inequality is the central moral question imposed by Zionism
  • modern Zionism is increasingly in contradiction with the ideals, particularly that of equality, on which Western democracies are based
  • Palestinians too need weaning from delusion, that Jewish Israeli’s are not a “real” people and that they do have national rights
  • most Israeli Jews came from Europe and the Arab countries relatively recently
  • nationalism is a reality
  • conflict between them cannot be resolved as long as the national existence of each is denied by the other
  • Trump ensemble not only revered decades of Israeli policy, but also spurned international law and consensus, UN security council decisions, world opinion, and of course Palestinian rights
  • Trump’s people abandoned even the shabby old pretense of impartiality
  • as the weaker party in the conflict, the Palestinian side cannot afford to remain divided — searing indictment of Fatah and Hamas
  • US is not and cannot be a mediator, a broker, or a neutral party
  • Palestinians need to resurrect the PLO’s former strategy of appealing over the heads of unresponsive regimes to sympathetic Arab public opinion
  • also need to work inside Israel, convincing Israeli’s the there is an alternative to the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians
  • real democracy in the Arab world not be a grave threat to Israel’s regional dominance and freedom of action

I love books, I have a ton of them, and I take notes on all of them. I wanted to share all that I have learned and will continue to learn. I hope you enjoy.