মুখ্য The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonial Conquest and Resistance, UK Edition

The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonial Conquest and Resistance, UK Edition

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'Riveting and original ... a work enriched by solid scholarship, vivid personal experience, and acute appreciation of the concerns and aspirations of the contending parties in this deeply unequal conflict ' Noam Chomsky

The twentieth century for Palestine and the Palestinians has been a century of denial: denial of statehood, denial of nationhood and denial of history. The Hundred Years War on Palestine is Rashid Khalidi's powerful response. Drawing on his family archives, he reclaims the fundamental right of any people: to narrate their history on their own terms.

Beginning in the final days of the Ottoman Empire, Khalidi reveals nascent Palestinian nationalism and the broad recognition by the early Zionists of the colonial nature of their project. These ideas and their echoes defend Nakba - the Palestinian term for the establishment of the state of Israel - the cession of the West Bank and Gaza to Jordan and Egypt, the Six Day War and the occupation. Moving through these critical moments, Khalidi interweaves the voices of journalists, poets and resistance leaders with his own accounts as a child of a UN official and a resident of Beirut during the 1982 seige. The result is a profoundly moving account of a hundred-year-long war of occupation, dispossession and colonialisation.

সাল:
2020
সংস্করণ:
Retail
প্রকাশক:
Profile Books
ভাষা:
english
পৃষ্ঠা:
336
ISBN 10:
178125933X
ISBN 13:
9781781259337
ISBN:
B07PJXLBTW
ফাইল:
EPUB, 3.96 MB
ডাউনলোড (epub, 3.96 MB)

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6 comments
 
Razan
Jerhuurjrjrhhrhrjrjrjjrjrrjrjrjjrjrjrj
21 June 2020 (12:40) 
THE TRUTH
This is a one sided , propaganda, lies written by a biased author. The land of Israel has always belonged to the Jews historically and they have continuously lived there under the rule of conquering empires, which includes arabs who came to that region as conquerors. The Jews have liberated their ancient homeland and its their natural right to do so!!
19 May 2021 (02:48) 
frank
Excellent book. It exposes Jewish terrorism and the stealing of historical Palestine.
22 May 2021 (18:04) 
THE ACTUAL TRUTH
Israel has no history, only a criminal record.
26 May 2021 (19:18) 
From the river to the sea
Free Palestine. Zionism is a settler colonial ideology, and genocide is their end goal.
28 May 2021 (23:59) 
STOICTAUREANDREAMS
Israel has been exposed. More power to authors who present truth and call a spade a spade.
01 June 2021 (07:53) 

আপনি একটি বুক রিভিউ লিখতে পারেন এবং আপনার অভিজ্ঞতা শেয়ার করতে পারেন. অন্যান্য পাঠকরা আপনার পড়া বইগুলির বিষয়ে আপনার মতামত সম্পর্কে সর্বদা আগ্রহী হবে. বইটি আপনার পছন্দ হোক বা না হোক, আপনি যদি নিজের সৎ ও বিস্তারিত চিন্তাভাবনা ব্যক্ত করেন তাহলে অন্যরা তাদের জন্য উপযুক্ত নতুন বইগুলি খুঁজে পাবে.
Praise for The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine

“Through a scholarly narrative rooted in his own family history, Rashid Khalidi offers a fresh interpretation that shows Palestine as a violent, grinding fault in the shifting tectonic plates of Great Power politics. This book is sure to become a classic account.”

—Elizabeth F. Thompson, author of Justice Interrupted: The Struggle for Constitutional Government in the Middle East

“This book is a remarkable interweaving of three distinctive strands: a deeply researched history of the struggle between Zionist aspirations and Palestinian resistance, an analytical framework that places the conflict within the context of settler colonialism, and a personal family history that brings the narrative alive. Newcomers and specialists alike will learn much from reading this sweeping account.”

—William B. Quandt, author of Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Since 1967

“Learned and clear-eyed, this compelling history of the long war to deny Palestinian rights exposes a century of blunders, misjudgments, and willful deceptions. Highly recommended.”

—Stephen M. Walt, coauthor of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

“Beautifully written and accessible, this book is an invaluable examination of the Palestinian-Zionist encounter as a struggle against settler-colonial domination, not as an issue of conflict resolution—a vital difference, necessary for a deeper understanding of the war and for its meaningful resolution. The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine illustrates, at its core, the refusal of Palestinians to accept their own defeat and their desire to live as equals with Israelis in a land they are destined to share.”

—Sara Roy, author of Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza: Engaging the Islamist Social Sector

“As in any book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is ample room for debate and controversy. And as in any book by Rashid Khalidi, there is history, erudition, politics and passion aplenty. There is also his tenacious convic; tion that ‘there are now two peoples in Palestine, irrespective of how they came into being, and the conflict between them cannot be resolved as long as the national existence of each is denied by the other.’”

—Rob Malley, International Crisis Group CEO and White House Coordinator for the Middle East under President Barack Obama

“Rashid Khalidi makes clear that the Zionists could not have created modern-day Israel without abundant help from Britain and the United States. A must read for the growing number of people who are interested in understanding the real roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

—John J. Mearsheimer, coauthor of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

“With moral passion and analytical rigor, Khalidi skillfully unearths the narrative of a long and bitter national conflict, providing a multitude of timely, acute, and original insights. This compelling book is a must read.”

—Zeev Sternhell, author of The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition

“In a painfully sober analysis of what made Zionism, an anachronistic colonialist enterprise, so successful, Rashid Khalidi also shows how Palestinians defy fatalism and refuse to vanish. His book is a tribute and contribution to his people’s perseverance.”

—Amira Hass, author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza

“This fascinating and instructive blend of autobiography and history should be read by anybody who wants to understand the tragedy of Palestine and the Palestinians.”

—Patrick Cockburn, author of The Rise of the Islamic State

“Rashid Khalidi has produced a sophisticated and insightful historical analysis of the Palestine-Israel conflict that is enriched by deep knowledge, clear and critical views, and his own experiences of key moments.”

—Ian Black, author of Enemies and Neighbors: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel, 1917–2017

“This searing account makes clearer than ever the often deliberately understated colonial nature of the Palestinian experience—and it reminds us of the Palestinians’ extraordinary capacity to remain steadfast despite the local and global forces arrayed against them.”

—Saree Makdisi, author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation





The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine





First published in Great Britain in 2020 by

Profile Books Ltd

29 Cloth Fair

London

EC1A 7JQ

www.profilebooks.com

First published in the United States of America in 2020 by Metropolitan Books, a trademark of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC

Copyright © Rashid Khalidi, 2020

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN 9781782833963

eISBN 9781781259344





CONTENTS


Rashid Khalidi

Dedication

The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine

Introduction

1. The First Declaration of War, 1917–1939

2. The Second Declaration of War, 1947–1948

3. The Third Declaration of War, 1967

4. The Fourth Declaration of War, 1982

5. The Fifth Declaration of War, 1987–1995

6. The Sixth Declaration of War, 2000–2014

Conclusion: A Century of War on the Palestinians

Notes

Acknowledgments

Profile Books





Professor Rashid Khalidi is a Palestinian American historian and the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University in New York. Co-editor of the Journal of Palestine, his previous books include Palestinian Identity,The Iron Cage and Brokers of Deceit.





ALSO BY RASHID KHALIDI

Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East

Sowing Crisis: American Dominance and the Cold War in the Middle East

The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood

Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East

Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness

Under Siege: PLO Decisionmaking During the 1982 War

British Policy Towards Syria and Palestine, 1906–1914





I dedicate this book to my grandchildren, Tariq, Idris, and Nur, all born in the twenty-first century, who will hopefully see the end of this hundred years’ war





The Hundred Years’ War on

PALESTINE


A HISTORY OF SETTLER COLONIAL CONQUEST AND RESISTANCE



Rashid Khalidi





We are a nation threatened by disappearance.

—‘Isa and Yusuf al-‘Isa, Filastin, May 7, 1914





The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine





Introduction


For a few years during the early 1990s, I lived in Jerusalem for several months at a time, doing research in the private libraries of some of the city’s oldest families, including my own. With my wife and children, I stayed in an apartment belonging to a Khalidi family waqf, or religious endowment, in the heart of the cramped, noisy Old City. From the roof of this building, there was a view of two of the greatest masterpieces of early Islamic architecture: The shining golden Dome of the Rock was just over three hundred feet away on the Haram al-Sharif. Beyond it lay the smaller silver-gray cupola of the al-Aqsa Mosque, with the Mount of Olives in the background.1 In other directions one could see the Old City’s churches and synagogues.

Just down Bab al-Silsila Street was the main building of the Khalidi Library, which was founded in 1899 by my grandfather, Hajj Raghib al-Khalidi, with a bequest from his mother, Khadija al-Khalidi.2 The library houses more than twelve hundred manuscripts, mainly in Arabic (some in Persian and Ottoman Turkish), the oldest dating back to the early eleventh century.3 Including some two thousand nineteenth-century Arabic books and miscellaneous family papers, the collection is one of the most extensive in all of Palestine that is still in the hands of its original owners.4

At the time of my stay, the main library structure, which dates from around the thirteenth century, was undergoing restoration, so the contents were being stored temporarily in large cardboard boxes in a Mameluke-era building connected to our apartment by a narrow stairway. I spent over a year among those boxes, going through dusty, worm-eaten books, documents, and letters belonging to generations of Khalidis, among them my great-great-great uncle, Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi.5* Through his papers, I discovered a worldly man with a broad education acquired in Jerusalem, Malta, Istanbul, and Vienna, a man who was deeply interested in comparative religion, especially in Judaism, and who owned a number of books in European languages on this and other subjects.

Yusuf Diya was heir to a long line of Jerusalemite Islamic scholars and legal functionaries; his father, al-Sayyid Muhammad ‘Ali al-Khalidi, had served for some fifty years as deputy qadi and chief of the Jerusalem Shari‘a court secretariat. But at a young age Yusuf Diya sought a different path for himself. After absorbing the fundamentals of a traditional Islamic education, he left Palestine at the age of eighteen—without his father’s approval, we are told—to spend two years at a British Church Mission Society school in Malta. From there he went to study at the Imperial Medical School in Istanbul, after which he attended the city’s Robert College, recently founded by American Protestant missionaries. For five years during the 1860s, Yusuf Diya attended some of the first institutions in the region that provided a modern Western-style education, learning English, French, German, and much else. It was an unusual trajectory for a young man from a family of Muslim religious scholars in the mid-nineteenth century.

Having obtained this broad training, Yusuf Diya filled various roles as an Ottoman government official—translator in the Foreign Ministry; consul in the Russian port of Poti on the Black Sea; governor of districts in Kurdistan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria; and mayor of Jerusalem for nearly a decade—with stints teaching at the Royal Imperial University in Vienna. He was also elected as the deputy from Jerusalem to the short-lived Ottoman parliament established in 1876 under the empire’s new constitution, earning Sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid’s enmity because he supported parliamentary prerogatives over executive power.6



Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi



In line with family tradition and his Islamic and Western education, al-Khalidi became an accomplished scholar as well. The Khalidi Library contains many books of his in French, German, and English, as well as correspondence with learned figures in Europe and the Middle East. Additionally, old Austrian, French, and British newspapers in the library show that Yusuf Diya regularly read the overseas press. There is evidence that he received these materials via the Austrian post office in Istanbul, which was not subject to the draconian Ottoman laws of censorship.7

As a result of his wide reading, as well as his time in Vienna and other European countries, and from his encounters with Christian missionaries, Yusuf Diya was fully conscious of the pervasiveness of Western anti-Semitism. He had also gained impressive knowledge of the intellectual origins of Zionism, specifically its nature as a response to Christian Europe’s virulent anti-Semitism. He was undoubtedly familiar with Der Judenstaat by the Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl, published in 1896, and was aware of the first two Zionist congresses in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897 and 1898.8 (Indeed, it seems clear that Yusuf Diya knew of Herzl from his own time in Vienna.) He knew of the debates and the views of the different Zionist leaders and tendencies, including Herzl’s explicit call for a state for the Jews, with the “sovereign right” to control immigration. Moreover, as mayor of Jerusalem he had witnessed the friction with the local population prompted by the first years of proto-Zionist activity, starting with the arrival of the earliest European Jewish settlers in the late 1870s and early 1880s.

Herzl, the acknowledged leader of the growing movement he had founded, had paid his sole visit to Palestine in 1898, timing it to coincide with that of the German kaiser Wilhelm II. He had already begun to give thought to some of the issues involved in the colonization of Palestine, writing in his diary in 1895:

We must expropriate gently the private property on the estates assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it employment in our own country. The property owners will come over to our side. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.9

Yusuf Diya would have been more aware than most of his compatriots in Palestine of the ambition of the nascent Zionist movement, as well as its strength, resources, and appeal. He knew perfectly well that there was no way to reconcile Zionism’s claims on Palestine and its explicit aim of Jewish statehood and sovereignty there with the rights and well-being of the country’s indigenous inhabitants. It is for these reasons, presumably, that on March 1, 1899, Yusuf Diya sent a prescient seven-page letter to the French chief rabbi, Zadoc Kahn, with the intention that it be passed on to the founder of modern Zionism.

The letter began with an expression of Yusuf Diya’s admiration for Herzl, whom he esteemed “as a man, as a writer of talent, and as a true Jewish patriot,” and of his respect for Judaism and for Jews, who he said were “our cousins,” referring to the Patriarch Abraham, revered as their common forefather by both Jews and Muslims.10 He understood the motivations for Zionism, just as he deplored the persecution to which Jews were subject in Europe. In light of this, he wrote, Zionism in principle was “natural, beautiful and just,” and, “who could contest the rights of the Jews in Palestine? My God, historically it is your country!”

This sentence is sometimes cited, in isolation from the rest of the letter, to represent Yusuf Diya’s enthusiastic acceptance of the entire Zionist program in Palestine. However, the former mayor and deputy of Jerusalem went on to warn of the dangers he foresaw as a consequence of the implementation of the Zionist project for a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine. The Zionist idea would sow dissension among Christians, Muslims, and Jews there. It would imperil the status and security that Jews had always enjoyed throughout the Ottoman domains. Coming to his main purpose, Yusuf Diya said soberly that whatever the merits of Zionism, the “brutal force of circumstances had to be taken into account.” The most important of them were that “Palestine is an integral part of the Ottoman Empire, and more gravely, it is inhabited by others.” Palestine already had an indigenous population that would never accept being superseded. Yusuf Diya spoke “with full knowledge of the facts,” asserting that it was “pure folly” for Zionism to plan to take over Palestine. “Nothing could be more just and equitable,” than for “the unhappy Jewish nation” to find a refuge elsewhere. But, he concluded with a heartfelt plea, “in the name of God, let Palestine be left alone.”

Herzl’s reply to Yusuf Diya came quickly, on March 19. His letter was probably the first response by a founder of the Zionist movement to a cogent Palestinian objection to its embryonic plans for Palestine. In it, Herzl established what was to become a pattern of dismissing as insignificant the interests, and sometimes the very existence, of the indigenous population. The Zionist leader simply ignored the letter’s basic thesis, that Palestine was already inhabited by a population that would not agree to be supplanted. Although Herzl had visited the country once, he, like most early European Zionists, had not much knowledge of or contact with its native inhabitants. He also failed to address al-Khalidi’s well-founded concerns about the danger the Zionist program would pose to the large, well-established Jewish communities all over the Middle East.

Glossing over the fact that Zionism was ultimately meant to lead to Jewish domination of Palestine, Herzl employed a justification that has been a touchstone for colonialists at all times and in all places and that would become a staple argument of the Zionist movement: Jewish immigration would benefit the indigenous people of Palestine. “It is their well-being, their individual wealth, which we will increase by bringing in our own.” Echoing the language he had used in Der Judenstaat, Herzl added: “In allowing immigration to a number of Jews bringing their intelligence, their financial acumen and their means of enterprise to the country, no one can doubt that the well-being of the entire country would be the happy result.”11



Yusuf Diya to Theodore Herzl: Palestine “is inhabited by others” who will not easily accept their own displacement.



Most revealingly, the letter addresses a consideration that Yusuf Diya had not even raised. “You see another difficulty, Excellency, in the existence of the non-Jewish population in Palestine. But who would think of sending them away?”12 With his assurance in response to al-Khalidi’s unasked question, Herzl alludes to the desire recorded in his diary to “spirit” the country’s poor population “discreetly” across the borders.13 It is clear from this chilling quotation that Herzl grasped the importance of “disappearing” the native population of Palestine in order for Zionism to succeed. Moreover, the 1901 charter that he co-drafted for the Jewish-Ottoman Land Company includes the same principle of the removal of inhabitants of Palestine to “other provinces and territories of the Ottoman Empire.”14 Although Herzl stressed in his writings that his project was based on “the highest tolerance” with full rights for all,15 what was meant was no more than toleration of any minorities that might remain after the rest had been moved elsewhere.

Herzl underestimated his correspondent. From al-Khalidi’s letter it is clear that he understood perfectly well that at issue was not the immigration of a limited “number of Jews” to Palestine, but rather the transformation of the entire land into a Jewish state. Given Herzl’s reply to him, Yusuf Diya could only have come to one of two conclusions. Either the Zionist leader meant to deceive him by concealing the true aims of the Zionist movement, or Herzl simply did not see Yusuf Diya and the Arabs of Palestine as worthy of being taken seriously.

Instead, with the smug self-assurance so common to nineteenth-century Europeans, Herzl offered the preposterous inducement that the colonization, and ultimately the usurpation, of their land by strangers would benefit the people of that country. Herzl’s thinking and his reply to Yusuf Diya appear to have been based on the assumption that the Arabs could ultimately be bribed or fooled into ignoring what the Zionist movement actually intended for Palestine. This condescending attitude toward the intelligence, not to speak of the rights, of the Arab population of Palestine was to be serially repeated by Zionist, British, European, and American leaders in the decades that followed, down to the present day. As for the Jewish state that was ultimately created by the movement Herzl founded, as Yusuf Diya foresaw, there was to be room there for only one people, the Jewish people: others would indeed be “spirited away,” or at best tolerated.


YUSUF DIYA’S LETTER and Herzl’s response to it are well known to historians of the period, but most of them do not seem to have reflected carefully on what was perhaps the first meaningful exchange between a leading Palestinian figure and a founder of the Zionist movement. They have not reckoned fully with Herzl’s rationalizations, which laid out, quite plainly, the essentially colonial nature of the century-long conflict in Palestine. Nor have they acknowledged al-Khalidi’s arguments, which have been borne out in full since 1899.

Starting after World War I, the dismantling of indigenous Palestinian society was set in motion by the large-scale immigration of European Jewish settlers supported by the newly established British Mandate authorities, who helped them build the autonomous structure of a Zionist para-state. Additionally, a separate Jewish-controlled sector of the economy was created through the exclusion of Arab labor from Jewish-owned firms under the slogan of “Avoda ivrit,” Hebrew labor, and the injection of truly massive amounts of capital from abroad.16 By the middle of the 1930s, although Jews were still a minority of the population, this largely autonomous sector was bigger than the Arab-owned part of the economy.

The indigenous population was further diminished by the crushing repression of the Great 1936–39 Arab Revolt against British rule, during which 10 percent of the adult male population was killed, wounded, imprisoned, or exiled,17 as the British employed a hundred thousand troops and air power to master Palestinian resistance. Meanwhile, a massive wave of Jewish immigration as a result of persecution by the Nazi regime in Germany raised the Jewish population in Palestine from just 18 percent of the total in 1932 to over 31 percent in 1939. This provided the demographic critical mass and military manpower that were necessary for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948. The expulsion then of over half the Arab population of the country, first by Zionist militias and then by the Israeli army, completed the military and political triumph of Zionism.

Such radical social engineering at the expense of the indigenous population is the way of all colonial settler movements. In Palestine, it was a necessary precondition for transforming most of an overwhelmingly Arab country into a predominantly Jewish state. As this book will argue, the modern history of Palestine can best be understood in these terms: 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.

Although this war shares many of the typical characteristics of other colonial campaigns, it also possesses very specific characteristics, as it was fought by and on behalf of the Zionist movement, which itself was and is a very particular colonial project. Further complicating this understanding is the fact that this colonial conflict, conducted with massive support from external powers, became over time a national confrontation between two new national entities, two peoples. Underlying this feature, and amplifying it, was the profound resonance for Jews, and also for many Christians, of their biblical connection to the historic land of Israel. Expertly woven into modern political Zionism, this resonance has become integral to it. A late-nineteenth-century colonial-national movement thus adorned itself with a biblical coat that was powerfully attractive to Bible-reading Protestants in Great Britain and the United States, blinding them to the modernity of Zionism and to its colonial nature: for how could Jews be “colonizing” the land where their religion began?

Given this blindness, the conflict is portrayed as, at best, a straightforward, if tragic, national clash between two peoples with rights in the same land. At worst, it is described as the result of the fanatical, inveterate hatred of Arabs and Muslims for the Jewish people as they assert their inalienable right to their eternal, God-given homeland. In fact, there is no reason that what has happened in Palestine for over a century cannot be understood as both a colonial and a national conflict. But our concern here is its colonial nature, as this aspect has been as underappreciated as it is central, even though those qualities typical of other colonial campaigns are everywhere in evidence in the modern history of Palestine.

Characteristically, European colonizers seeking to supplant or dominate indigenous peoples, whether in the Americas, Africa, Asia, or Australasia (or in Ireland), have always described them in pejorative terms. They also always claim that they will leave the native population better off as a result of their rule; the “civilizing” and “progressive” nature of their colonial projects serves to justify whatever enormities are perpetrated against the indigenous people to fulfill their objectives. One need only refer to the rhetoric of French administrators in North Africa or of British viceroys in India. Of the British Raj, Lord Curzon said: “To feel that somewhere among these millions you have left a little justice or happiness or prosperity, a sense of manliness or moral dignity, a spring of patriotism, a dawn of intellectual enlightenment, or a stirring of duty, where it did not before exist—that is enough, that is the Englishman’s justification in India.”18 The words “where it did not before exist” bear repeating. For Curzon and others of his colonial class, the natives did not know what was best for them and could not achieve these things on their own: “You cannot do without us,” Curzon said in another speech.19

For over a century, the Palestinians have been depicted in precisely the same language by their colonizers as have been other indigenous peoples. The condescending rhetoric of Theodor Herzl and other Zionist leaders was no different from that of their European peers. The Jewish state, Herzl wrote, would “form a part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.”20 This was similar to the language used in the conquest of the North American frontier, which ended in the nineteenth century with the eradication or subjugation of the continent’s entire native population. As in North America, the colonization of Palestine—like that of South Africa, Australia, Algeria, and parts of East Africa—was meant to yield a white European settler colony. The same tone toward the Palestinians that characterizes both Curzon’s rhetoric and Herzl’s letter is replicated in much discourse on Palestine in the United States, Europe, and Israel even today.

In line with this colonial rationale, there is a vast body of literature dedicated to proving that before the advent of European Zionist colonization, Palestine was barren, empty, and backward. Historical Palestine has been the subject of innumerable disparaging tropes in Western popular culture, as well as academically worthless writing that purports to be scientific and scholarly, but that is riddled with historical errors, misrepresentations, and sometimes outright bigotry. At most, this literature asserts, the country was inhabited by a small population of rootless and nomadic Bedouin who had no fixed identity and no attachment to the land they were passing through, essentially as transients.

The corollary of this contention is that it was only the labor and drive of the new Jewish immigrants that turned the country into the blooming garden it supposedly is today, and that only they had an identification with and love for the land, as well as a (God-given) right to it. This attitude is summed up in the slogan “A land without a people for a people without a land,” used by Christian supporters of a Jewish Palestine, as well as by early Zionists like Israel Zangwill.21 Palestine was terra nullius to those who came to settle it, with those living there nameless and amorphous. Thus Herzl’s letter to Yusuf Diya referred to Palestinian Arabs, then roughly 95 percent of the country’s inhabitants, as its “non-Jewish population.”

Essentially, the point being made is that the Palestinians did not exist, or were of no account, or did not deserve to inhabit the country they so sadly neglected. If they did not exist, then even well-founded Palestinian objections to the Zionist movement’s plans could simply be ignored. Just as Herzl dismissed Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi’s letter, most later schemes for the disposition of Palestine were similarly cavalier. The 1917 Balfour Declaration, issued by a British cabinet and committing Britain to the creation of a national Jewish homeland, never mentioned the Palestinians, the great majority of the country’s population at the time, even as it set the course for Palestine for the subsequent century.

The idea that the Palestinians simply do not exist, or even worse, are the malicious invention of those who wish Israel ill, is supported by such fraudulent books as Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial, now universally considered by scholars to be completely without merit. (On publication in 1984, however, it received a rapturous reception and it is still in print and selling discouragingly well.)22 Such literature, both pseudo-scholarly and popular, is largely based on European travelers’ accounts, on those of new Zionist immigrants, or on British Mandatory sources. It is often produced by people who know nothing about the indigenous society and its history and have disdain for it, or who worse yet have an agenda that depends on its invisibility or disappearance. Rarely utilizing sources produced from within Palestinian society, these representations essentially repeat the perspective, the ignorance, and the biases, tinged by European arrogance, of outsiders.23

The message is also amply represented in popular culture in Israel and the United States, as well as in political and public life.24 It has been amplified via mass market books such as Leon Uris’s novel Exodus and the Academy Award–winning movie that it spawned, works that have had a vast impact on an entire generation and that serve to confirm and deepen preexisting prejudices.25 Political figures have explicitly denied the existence of Palestinians, for example, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: “I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs.” While returning from a trip to Palestine in March 2015, the governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, said “There’s really no such thing as the Palestinians.”26 To some degree, every US administration since Harry Truman’s has been staffed by people making policy on Palestine whose views indicate that they believe Palestinians, whether or not they exist, are lesser beings than Israelis.

Significantly, many early apostles of Zionism had been proud to embrace the colonial nature of their project. The eminent Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, godfather of the political trend that has dominated Israel since 1977, upheld by Prime Ministers Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Benjamin Netanyahu, was especially clear about this. Jabotinsky wrote in 1923: “Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised. That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of ‘Palestine’ into the ‘Land of Israel.’” Such honesty was rare among other leading Zionists, who like Herzl protested the innocent purity of their aims and deceived their Western listeners, and perhaps themselves, with fairy tales about their benign intentions toward the Arab inhabitants of Palestine.

Jabotinsky and his followers were among the few who were frank enough to admit publicly and bluntly the harsh realities inevitably attendant on the implantation of a colonial settler society within an existing population. Specifically, he acknowledged that the constant threat of the use of massive force against the Arab majority would be necessary to implement the Zionist program: what he called an “iron wall” of bayonets was an imperative for its success. As Jabotinsky put it: “Zionist colonisation . . . can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population—behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach.”27 This was still the high age of colonialism, when such things being done to native societies by Westerners were normalized and described as “progress.”

The social and economic institutions founded by the early Zionists, which were central to the success of the Zionist project, were also unquestioningly understood by all and described as colonial. The most important of these institutions was the Jewish Colonization Association (in 1924 renamed the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association). This body was originally established by the German Jewish philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch and later combined with a similar organization founded by the British peer and financier Lord Edmond de Rothschild. The JCA provided the massive financial support that made possible extensive land purchases and the subsidies that enabled most of the early Zionist colonies in Palestine to survive and thrive before and during the Mandate period.

Unremarkably, once colonialism took on a bad odor in the post–World War II era of decolonization, the colonial origins and practice of Zionism and Israel were whitewashed and conveniently forgotten in Israel and the West. In fact, Zionism—for two decades the coddled step-child of British colonialism—rebranded itself as an anticolonial movement. The occasion for this drastic makeover was a campaign of sabotage and terrorism launched against Great Britain after it drastically limited its support of Jewish immigration with the 1939 White Paper on the eve of World War II. This falling-out between erstwhile allies (to help them fight the Palestinians in the late 1930s, Britain had armed and trained the Jewish settlers it allowed to enter the country) encouraged the outlandish idea that the Zionist movement was itself anticolonial.

There was no escaping the fact that Zionism initially had clung tightly to the British Empire for support, and had only successfully implanted itself in Palestine thanks to the unceasing efforts of British imperialism. It could not be otherwise, for as Jabotinsky stressed, only the British had the means to wage the colonial war that was necessary to suppress Palestinian resistance to the takeover of their country. This war has continued since then, waged sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly, but invariably with the tacit or overt approval, and often the direct involvement, of the leading powers of the day and the sanction of the international bodies they dominated, the League of Nations and the United Nations.

Today, the conflict that was engendered by this classic nineteenth-century European colonial venture in a non-European land, supported from 1917 onward by the greatest Western imperial power of its age, is rarely described in such unvarnished terms. Indeed, those who analyze not only Israeli settlement efforts in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, but the entire Zionist enterprise from the perspective of its colonial settler origins and nature are often vilified. Many cannot accept the contradiction inherent in the idea that although Zionism undoubtedly succeeded in creating a thriving national entity in Israel, its roots are as a colonial settler project (as are those of other modern countries: the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). Nor can they accept that it would not have succeeded but for the support of the great imperial powers, Britain and later the United States. Zionism, therefore, could be and was both a national and a colonial settler movement at one and the same time.


RATHER THAN WRITE a comprehensive survey of Palestinian history, I have chosen to focus on six turning points in the struggle over Palestine. These six events, from the 1917 issuance of the Balfour Declaration, which decided the fate of Palestine, to Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip and its intermittent wars on Gaza’s population in the early 2000s, highlight the colonial nature of the hundred years’ war on Palestine, and also the indispensable role of external powers in waging it.28 I have told this story partly through the experiences of Palestinians who lived through the war, many of them members of my family who were present at some of the episodes described. I have included my own recollections of events that I witnessed, as well as materials belonging to my own and other families, and a variety of first-person narratives. My purpose throughout has been to show that this conflict must be seen quite differently from most of the prevailing views of it.

I have written several books and numerous articles on different aspects of Palestinian history in a purely academic vein.29 The underpinning of this book, too, is research-based and academic, but it also has a first-person dimension that is usually excluded from scholarly history. Although members of my family have been involved in events in Palestine for years, as have I, as a witness or a participant, our experiences are not unique, in spite of the advantages we enjoyed because of our class and status. One could draw on many such accounts, although much history from below and from other sectors of Palestinian society remains to be related. Nevertheless, in spite of the tensions inherent in this chosen approach, I believe it helps illuminate a perspective that is missing from the way in which the story of Palestine has been told in most of the literature.

I should add that this book does not correspond to a “lachrymose conception” of the past hundred years of Palestinian history, to reprise the great historian Salo Baron’s brilliant critique of a nineteenth-century trend in Jewish historical writing.30 Palestinians have been accused by those who sympathize with their oppressors of wallowing in their own victimization. It is a fact, however, that like all indigenous peoples confronting colonial wars, the Palestinians faced odds that were daunting and sometimes impossible. It is also true that they have suffered repeated defeats and have often been divided and badly led. None of this means that Palestinians could not sometimes defy those odds successfully, or that at other times they could not have made better choices.31 But we cannot overlook the formidable international and imperial forces arrayed against them, the scale of which has often been dismissed, and in spite of which they have displayed remarkable resilience. It is my hope that this book will reflect this resilience and help recover some of what has thus far been airbrushed out of the history by those who control all of historic Palestine and the narrative surrounding it.





*Note that Arabic names have been transcribed according to the simplified IJMES system (International Journal of Middle East Studies), except where other spelling was preferred by the individuals themselves.





1



The First Declaration of War, 1917–1939


There are plenty of cases of war being begun before it is declared.

—Arthur James Balfour1

At the turn of the twentieth century, before Zionist colonization had much appreciable effect on Palestine, new ideas were spreading, modern education and literacy had begun to expand, and the integration of the country’s economy into the global capitalist order was proceeding apace. Production for export of crops like wheat and citrus fruit, capital investment in agriculture, and the introduction of cash crops and wage labor, notable in the rapid spread of orange groves, were changing the face of large sections of the countryside. This evolution went hand in hand with the accumulation of private land ownership by fewer people. Large tracts were coming under the control of absentee landlords—many of whom lived in Beirut or Damascus—at the expense of peasant smallholders. Sanitation, health, and rates of live births were all slowly improving, death rates were in decline, and the population was in consequence increasing more quickly. The telegraph, the steamship, the railway, gaslight, electricity, and modern roads were gradually transforming cities, towns, and even some rural villages. At the same time, travel within the region and beyond was faster, cheaper, safer, and more convenient.2

In the 1860s, Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi had to go all the way to Malta and Istanbul to acquire an education along Western lines. By 1914, such an education could be had in a variety of state, private, and missionary schools and colleges in Palestine, Beirut, Cairo, and Damascus. Modern pedagogy was often introduced by foreign missionary schools, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox, as well as by the Jewish schools of the Alliance israélite universelle. Partly out of fear that foreign missionaries in league with their great-power patrons would come to dominate the instruction of the younger generation, the Ottoman authorities established a growing network of state schools, which eventually served more students in Palestine than did foreign schools. Although universal access to education and widespread literacy were still far in the future, the changes leading up to World War I offered new horizons and novel ideas to more and more people.3 The Arab population benefited from these developments.

Socially, Palestine was still heavily rural with a predominantly patriarchal, hierarchical nature, as it largely remained until 1948. It was dominated by narrow urban elites drawn from a few families like my own, who clung to their positions and privileges even as they adapted to new conditions, with younger family members acquiring modern educations and learning foreign languages to maintain their standing and their advantages. These elites controlled the politics of Palestine, although the growth of new professions, trades, and classes meant that in the 1900s there were more avenues of advancement and upward mobility. In the rapidly growing coastal cities of Jaffa and Haifa in particular, change was more visible than in the more conservative inland towns such as Jerusalem, Nablus, and Hebron, as the former witnessed the appearance of a nascent commercial bourgeoisie and an embryonic urban working class.4

At the same time, the sense of identity of large parts of the population was also evolving and shifting. My grandfather’s generation would have identified—and would have been identified—in terms of family, religious affiliation, and city or village of origin. They would have cherished their descent from revered ancestors; they would have been proud speakers of Arabic, the language of the Qur’an, and heirs to Arab culture. They might have felt loyalty to the Ottoman dynasty and state, an allegiance rooted in custom as well as a sense of the Ottoman state as a bulwark defending the lands of the earliest and greatest Muslim empires, lands coveted by Christendom since the Crusades, lands in which the holy cities of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem were located. That loyalty had begun to weaken in the nineteenth century, however, as the religious foundation of the state was diminished, as Ottoman military defeats and territorial losses mounted, and as the ideas of nationalism evolved and spread.

Greater mobility and access to education accelerated these shifts, and the burgeoning press and availability of printed books also played an important role: thirty-two new newspapers and periodicals were established in Palestine between 1908 and 1914, with even more in the 1920s and 1930s.5 Different forms of identification, such as nationhood, and novel ideas about social organization, including working-class solidarity and the role of women in society, were emerging to challenge previously fixed affiliations. These modes of belonging, whether to a national or class or professional group, were still in formation and involved overlapping ties of loyalty. Yusuf Diya’s 1899 letter to Herzl, for example, evokes religious affiliation, Ottoman loyalty, local pride in Jerusalem, and a clear sense of identification with Palestine.

In this first decade of the twentieth century, a large proportion of the Jews living in Palestine were still culturally quite similar to and lived reasonably comfortably alongside city-dwelling Muslims and Christians. They were mostly ultra-Orthodox and non-Zionist, mizrahi (eastern) or Sephardic (descendants of Jews expelled from Spain), urbanites of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean origin who often spoke Arabic or Turkish, even if only as a second or third language. In spite of marked religious distinctions between them and their neighbors, they were not foreigners, nor were they Europeans or settlers: they were, saw themselves, and were seen as Jews who were part of the indigenous Muslim-majority society.6 Moreover, some young European Ashkenazi Jews who settled in Palestine at this time, including such ardent Zionists as David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (one became prime minister and the other the president of Israel), initially sought a measure of integration into the local society. Ben-Gurion and Ben-Zvi even took Ottoman nationality, studied in Istanbul, and learned Arabic and Turkish.

The much more rapid pace of transformation in the advanced countries of Western Europe and North America compared to the rest of the world during the modern industrial era led many outside observers, including some eminent scholars, to mistakenly claim that Middle Eastern societies, including Palestine, were stagnant and unchanging, or even “in decline.”7 We now know from many indices that this was by no means the case: a growing body of solidly grounded historical work based on Ottoman, Palestinian, Israeli, and Western sources completely refutes these false notions.8 However, recent scholarship on Palestine in the years before 1948 goes much further than just dealing with the misconceptions and distortions at the heart of such thinking. Whatever it may have looked like to uninformed outsiders, it is clear that by the first part of the twentieth century there existed in Palestine under Ottoman rule a vibrant Arab society undergoing a series of rapid and accelerating transitions, much like several other Middle Eastern societies around it.9

MAJOR EXTERNAL SHOCKS have powerful effects on societies, especially on their sense of self. The Ottoman Empire grew increasingly fragile in the early twentieth century, with major territorial losses in the Balkans, Libya, and elsewhere. A long series of wrenching wars and upheavals stretching for nearly a decade started with the Libyan war in 1911–12, followed by the Balkan Wars of 1912–13, and then the extraordinary dislocations of World War I, which led to the empire’s disappearance. The four years of that war brought severe shortages, penury, starvation, disease, the requisitioning of draft animals, and the conscription of most working-age men, who were sent to the front. Greater Syria, which included Palestine and present-day Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, is estimated to have suffered half a million deaths between 1915 and 1918 due to famine alone (which was exacerbated by a plague of locusts).10

Hunger and general hardship were only one cause of the dire state of the population. Focused as most observers were on the appalling casualties on the Western Front, few realized that the Ottoman Empire overall was dealt the heaviest wartime losses of any major combatant power, with over three million dead, 15 percent of the total population. Most of these casualties were civilians (the largest single group being the victims of massacres at the behest of the Ottoman authorities in 1915 and 1916—Armenians, Assyrians, and other Christians).11 Additionally, of the 2.8 million Ottoman soldiers originally mobilized, as many as 750,000 may have died during the war.12 Arab casualties were correspondingly high, since the army units recruited in Iraq and Greater Syria were heavily represented on bloody battlegrounds such as the Ottoman eastern front against Russia, as well as in Gallipoli, Sinai, Palestine, and Iraq. The demographer Justin McCarthy estimated that after growing by about 1 percent annually until 1914, Palestine’s population declined by 6 percent during the war.13



Husayn and Hasan al-Khalidi, conscripts in the Ottoman army



The turmoil of the period did not spare even well-off families, such as my own. When my father, Ismail, was born in 1915, four of his adult brothers, Nu‘man, Hasan, Husayn, and Ahmad, had been conscripted for service in the Ottoman army. Two of them sustained wounds in the fighting, but all were fortunate to survive. My aunt ‘Anbara Salam al-Khalidi remembered harrowing images of starvation and deprivation in the streets of Beirut, where she lived as a young woman.14 Husayn al-Khalidi, my uncle, who served as a medical officer during the war, recalled similar heartbreaking scenes in Jerusalem, where he saw the bodies of dozens of people who had starved to death lying in the streets.15 The wartime exactions of the Ottoman authorities included the hanging, on charges of treason, of my aunt’s fiancé, ‘Abd al-Ghani al-‘Uraysi, alongside many other Arab nationalist patriots.16

In 1917 my grandfather Hajj Raghib al-Khalidi, and my grandmother Amina, known to all as Um Hassan, together with the other residents of the Jaffa area, received an evacuation order from the Ottoman authorities. To escape the encroaching dangers of war, they left their home at Tal al-Rish near Jaffa (my grandfather’s work as a judge had brought them there from Jerusalem many years earlier) with their four youngest children, my father among them. For several months the family sought refuge in the hill village of Dayr Ghassaneh, east of Jaffa, with members of the Barghouti clan, with whom they had long-standing connections.17 The village was far enough from the sea to be out of the range of Allied naval guns, and away from the heavy fighting along the coast as the British armies under General Sir Edmund Allenby advanced northward.

From the spring of 1917 through the late fall, the southern parts of the country were the scene of a grinding series of battles between British and Ottoman forces, the latter backed by German and Austrian troops. The fighting involved trench warfare, air raids, and intensive land and naval artillery bombardments. British and imperial units launched a number of major offensives, which slowly pushed back the Ottoman defenders. The fighting spread to the north of Palestine in the winter (Jerusalem, in the center, was captured by the British in December 1917), and continued into early 1918. In many regions, the direct impact of the war caused intense suffering. One of the worst-hit districts comprised Gaza City and the nearby towns and villages, where large areas were pulverized by heavy British shelling during prolonged trench warfare and then the slow Allied advance up the Mediterranean coastline.

Soon after Jaffa fell to the British in November 1917, my grandfather’s family returned to their Tal al-Rish home. Another aunt, Fatima al-Khalidi Salam, then an eight-year-old, recalled her father addressing the British troops. “Welcome, welcome,” he said in his undoubtedly imperfect English. Um Hassan, who heard this as “Ya waylkum”—“Woe to you!” in Arabic—feared that he had endangered the family by taunting the alien soldiers.18 Whether Hajj Raghib al-Khalidi welcomed or lamented the arrival of the British, two of his sons were still fighting on the other side, and two were being held as POWs, which placed the family in a perilous position. Two uncles remained with the Ottoman army, which resisted the British in northern Palestine and Syria, until late 1918.

They were among the thousands of men still absent from their homes at war’s end. Some had emigrated to the Americas to escape conscription while many, the writer ‘Aref Shehadeh (later known as ‘Arif al-‘Arif) among them, were being held in Allied prisoner of war camps.19 Others were in the hills, dodging the draft, like Najib Nassar, editor of the outspokenly anti-Zionist Haifa newspaper al-Karmil.20 Meanwhile, there were Arab soldiers who had deserted the Ottoman army and crossed the lines, or who were serving in the forces of the Arab Revolt led by Sharif Husayn and allied with Britain. Still others—such as ‘Isa al-‘Isa, the editor of Filastin, who had been exiled by the Ottoman authorities for his fierce independence with its strong echoes of Arab nationalism—were forced from the relatively cosmopolitan confines of Jaffa to various small towns in the heart of rural Anatolia.21

All of these profound material shocks heightened the impact of the wrenching postwar political changes, which obliged people to rethink long-standing senses of identity. By the end of the fighting, people in Palestine and in much of the Arab world found themselves under occupation by European armies. After four hundred years, they were confronted by the disconcerting prospect of alien rule and the swift disappearance of Ottoman control, which had been the only system of government known for over twenty generations. It was in the midst of this great trauma, as one era ended and another began, against a grim background of suffering, loss, and deprivation, that Palestinians learned, in a fragmentary fashion, of the Balfour Declaration.


THE MOMENTOUS STATEMENT made just over a century ago on behalf of Britain’s cabinet on November 2, 1917, by the secretary of state for foreign affairs, Arthur James Balfour—what has come to be known as the Balfour Declaration—comprised a single sentence:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

If before World War I many prescient Palestinians had begun to regard the Zionist movement as a threat, the Balfour Declaration introduced a new and fearsome element. In the soft, deceptive language of diplomacy, with its ambiguous phrase approving “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” the declaration effectively pledged Britain’s support for Theodor Herzl’s aims of Jewish statehood, sovereignty, and control of immigration in the whole of Palestine.

Significantly, the overwhelming Arab majority of the population (around 94 percent at that time) went unmentioned by Balfour, except in a backhanded way as the “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” They were described in terms of what they were not, and certainly not as a nation or a people—the words “Palestinian” and “Arab” do not appear in the sixty-seven words of the declaration. This overwhelming majority of the population was promised only “civil and religious rights,” not political or national rights. By way of contrast, Balfour ascribed national rights to what he called “the Jewish people,” who in 1917 were a tiny minority—6 percent—of the country’s inhabitants.

Before securing British backing, the Zionist movement had been a colonizing project in search of a great-power patron. Having failed to find a sponsor in the Ottoman Empire, in Wilhelmine Germany, and elsewhere, Theodor Herzl’s successor Chaim Weizmann and his colleagues finally met with success in their approach to the wartime British cabinet led by David Lloyd George, acquiring the support of the greatest power of the age. The Palestinians now faced a far more formidable adversary than ever before, with British troops at that very moment advancing northward and occupying their country, troops who served a government that had pledged to implant a “national home” wherein unlimited immigration was meant to produce a future Jewish majority.

The British government’s intentions and objectives at the time have been amply analyzed over the past century.22 Among its many motivations were both a romantic, religiously derived philo-Semitic desire to “return” the Hebrews to the land of the Bible, and an anti-Semitic wish to reduce Jewish immigration to Britain, linked to a conviction that “world Jewry” had the power to keep newly revolutionary Russia fighting in the war and bring the United States into it. Beyond those impulses, Britain primarily desired control over Palestine for geopolitical strategic reasons that antedated World War I and that had only been reinforced by wartime events.23 However important the other motivations may have been, this was the central one: the British Empire was never motivated by altruism. Britain’s strategic interests were perfectly served by its sponsorship of the Zionist project, just as they were served by a range of regional wartime undertakings. Among them were commitments made in 1915 and 1916 promising independence to the Arabs led by Sharif Husayn of Mecca (enshrined in the Husayn-McMahon correspondence) and a secret 1916 deal with France—the Sykes-Picot Agreement—in which the two powers agreed to a colonial partition of the eastern Arab countries.24

More important than British motivations for issuing the Balfour Declaration is what this undertaking meant in practice for the crystal-clear aims of the Zionist movement—sovereignty and complete control of Palestine. With Britain’s unstinting support, these aims suddenly became plausible. Some leading British politicians extended backing to Zionism that went well beyond the carefully phrased text of the declaration. At a dinner at Balfour’s home in 1922, three of the most prominent British statesmen of the era—Lloyd George, Balfour, and Secretary of State for the Colonies Winston Churchill—assured Weizmann that by the term “Jewish national home” they “always meant an eventual Jewish state.” Lloyd George convinced the Zionist leader that for this reason Britain would never allow representative government in Palestine. Nor did it.25

For Zionists, their enterprise was now backed by an indispensable “iron wall” of British military might, in the words of Ze’ev Jabotinksy. For the inhabitants of Palestine, whose future it ultimately decided, Balfour’s careful, calibrated prose was in effect a gun pointed directly at their heads, a declaration of war by the British Empire on the indigenous population. The majority now faced the prospect of being outnumbered by unlimited Jewish immigration to a country then almost completely Arab in its population and culture. Whether intended this way or not, the declaration launched a full-blown colonial conflict, a century-long assault on the Palestinian people, aimed at fostering an exclusivist “national home” at their expense.


THE PALESTINIAN REACTION to the Balfour Declaration was late in coming, and initially was relatively muted. Word of the British pronouncement had spread in most other parts of the world immediately following its promulgation. In Palestine, however, local newspapers had been shuttered since the beginning of the war by both government censorship and a lack of newsprint, the result of a tight Allied naval blockade of Ottoman ports. After British troops occupied Jerusalem in December 1917, the military regime banned publication of news of the declaration.26 Indeed, the British authorities did not allow newspapers to reappear in Palestine for nearly two years. When reports of the Balfour Declaration finally reached Palestine, they trickled in slowly via word of mouth and then through copies of Egyptian newspapers that travelers brought from Cairo.

The bombshell struck a society prostrate and exhausted at this late stage of the war, when survivors of the chaos and displacement were slowly returning to their homes. There is evidence that they reacted with shock to the news. In December 1918, thirty-three exiled Palestinians (including al-‘Isa) who had just made their way from Anatolia to Damascus (where their access to news was not restricted) sent an advance letter of protest to the peace conference being convened in Versailles and to the British Foreign Office. They stressed that “this country is our country” and expressed their horror at the Zionist claim that “Palestine would be turned into a national home for them.”27

Such prospects may have seemed remote to many Palestinians when the Balfour Declaration was issued, at a time when Jews constituted a tiny minority of the population. Nonetheless, some far-sighted individuals, Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi among them, had discerned the danger posed by Zionism early on. In 1914 ‘Isa al-‘Isa wrote, in an astute editorial in Filastin, of “a nation threatened with disappearance by the Zionist tide in this Palestinian land, . . . a nation which is threatened in its very being with expulsion from its homeland.”28 Those who felt trepidation about the encroachment of the Zionist movement were alarmed by its ability to purchase large tracts of fertile land from which the indigenous peasants were removed and by its success in increasing Jewish immigration.

Indeed, between 1909 and 1914 some forty thousand Jewish immigrants had arrived (although some left soon afterwards) and eighteen new colonies (of a 1914 total of fifty-two) had been created by the Zionist movement on land it had bought mainly from absentee landlords. The relatively recent concentration of private land ownership greatly facilitated these land purchases. The impact on Palestinians was especially pronounced in agricultural communities in areas of intensive Zionist colonization: the coastal plain and the fertile Marj Ibn ‘Amer and Huleh valleys in the north. Many peasants in villages neighboring the new colonies had been deprived of their land as a result of the land sales. Some had also suffered in armed encounters with the first paramilitary units formed by the European Jewish settlers.29 Their trepidation was shared by Arab city dwellers in Haifa, Jaffa, and Jerusalem—the main centers of Jewish population then and now—who observed with mounting concern the stream of Jewish immigrants in the years before the war. After the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, the disastrous implications for the future of Palestine were increasingly apparent to all.


BEYOND DEMOGRAPHIC AND other shifts, World War I and its aftermath accelerated the change in Palestinian national sentiment from a love of country and loyalties to family and locale to a thoroughly modern form of nationalism.30 In a world where nationalism had been gaining ground for many decades, the Great War provided a global boost to the idea. The tendency was compounded toward the end of the war by Woodrow Wilson in the United States and Vladimir Lenin in Soviet Russia, who both espoused the principle of national self-determination, albeit in different ways and with different aims.

Whatever the intentions of these two leaders, the apparent endorsement of the national aspirations of peoples the world over by ostensibly anticolonial powers had an enormous impact. Clearly, Wilson had no intention of applying the principle to most of those who took them as inspiration for their hopes of national liberation. Indeed, he confessed that he was bewildered by the plethora of peoples, most of whom he had never heard, who responded to his call for self-determination.31 Nevertheless, the hopes aroused and then disappointed—by Wilson’s pronouncements in support of national self-determination, by the Bolshevik Revolution, and by the indifference of the Allies at the Versailles Peace Conference to the demands of colonized peoples for independence—sparked massive revolutionary anticolonial upheavals in India, Egypt, China, Korea, Ireland, and elsewhere.32 The dissolution of the Romanov, Hapsburg, and Ottoman Empires—transnational dynastic states—was also in large measure a function of the spread of nationalism and its intensification during and after the war.

Political identities in Palestine had certainly evolved prior to the war, in keeping with global shifts and the evolution of the Ottoman state. However, this had happened relatively slowly, within the constraints of the dynastic, transnational, and religiously legitimated empire. The mental map of most of its subjects before 1914 was limited by their having been governed by this political system for so long that it was hard for them to conceive of not living under Ottoman rule. Going into the post-war world, suffering from collective trauma, the people of Palestine faced a radically new reality: they were to be ruled by Britain, and their country had been promised to others as a “national home.” Against this could be set their expectations about the possibility of Arab independence and self-determination, promised to Sharif Husayn by the British in 1916—a promise repeated in multiple public pledges thereafter, including in an Anglo-French declaration of 1918, before being enshrined in the Covenant of the new League of Nations in 1919.

One crucial window into Palestinians’ perceptions of themselves and their understanding of events between the wars is the Palestinian press. Two newspapers, ‘Isa al-‘Isa’s Jaffa publication, Filastin, and al-Karmil, published in Haifa by Najib Nassar, were bastions of local patriotism, and critics of the Zionist-British entente and the danger that it posed to the Arab majority in Palestine. They were among the most influential beacons of the idea of Palestinian identity. Other newspapers echoed and amplified the same themes, focusing on the burgeoning, largely closed Jewish economy and the other institutions created by the Zionist state-building project and supported by the British authorities.

After attending the ceremonial opening of a new rail line in 1929 that connected Tel Aviv to the Jewish settlements and Arab villages to the south, ‘Isa al-‘Isa wrote an ominous editorial in Filastin. All along the route, he wrote, Jewish settlers took advantage of the presence of British officials to make new demands of them, while Palestinians were nowhere to be seen. “There was only one tarbush,” he said, “among so many hats.” The message was clear: the wataniyin, “the people of the country,” were poorly organized, while al-qawm, “this nation,” exploited every opportunity offered them. The title of the editorial summed up the gravity of al-‘Isa’s warning: “Strangers in Our Own Land: Our Drowsiness and Their Alertness.”33 Another such window is provided by the growing number of published memoirs by Palestinians. Most of them are in Arabic and reflect the concerns of their upper-class and middle-class authors.34 To find the views of the less well-to-do segments of Palestinian society is more difficult. There is little oral history available from the early decades of British rule.35

While sources such as these provide a sense of the evolution of identity among Palestinians, with the increasing use of the terms “Palestine” and “Palestinians,” the turning points in this process are hard to pinpoint. A few things can be gleaned from my grandfather’s personal trajectory. Hajj Raghib, who had a traditional religious education and who served as a religious official and as a qadi, was a close friend of ‘Isa al-‘Isa (who incidentally was my wife Mona’s grandfather), and contributed articles on topics like education, libraries, and culture to Filastin.36 Through Khalidi and al-‘Isa family lore we get a sense of the frequent social interactions between the two—one Muslim, the other Greek Orthodox—primarily in the garden of my grandfather’s house in Tal al-Rish on the outskirts of Jaffa. In one story, the two men put up with the interminable visit of a boring, conservative local shaykh before returning, after he leaves, to the more convivial pleasure of private drinking.37 The point is that Hajj Raghib, a religious figure, was part of a circle of leading secular advocates of Palestine as a source of identity.



The al-Khalidi family, Tal al-Rish, circa 1930: Top row from left: Ismail (the author’s father), Ya‘coub, Hasan (holding Samira), Husayn (holding Leila), Ghalib. Middle row: ‘Anbara, Walid, Um Hasan (the author’s grandmother), Sulafa, Hajj Raghib (his grandfather), Nash’at, Ikram. Bottom row: ‘Adel, Hatim, Raghib, Amira, Khalid, and Mu‘awiya.



The history revealed by even a cursory examination of the press, memoirs, and similar sources generated by Palestinians flies in the face of the popular mythology of the conflict, which is premised on their nonexistence or lack of a collective consciousness. In fact, Palestinian identity and nationalism are all too often seen to be no more than recent expressions of an unreasoning (if not fanatical) opposition to Jewish national self-determination. But Palestinian identity, much like Zionism, emerged in response to many stimuli, and at almost exactly the same time as did modern political Zionism. The threat of Zionism was only one of these stimuli, just as anti-Semitism was only one of the factors fueling Zionism. As newspapers like Filastin and al-Karmil reveal, this identity included love of country, a desire to improve society, religious attachment to Palestine, and opposition to European control. After the war, the focus on Palestine as a central locus of identity drew strength from widespread frustration at the blocking of Arab aspirations in Syria and elsewhere as the Middle East became suffocatingly dominated by the European colonial powers. This identity is thus comparable to the other Arab nation-state identities that emerged around the same time in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.

Indeed, all the neighboring Arab peoples developed modern national identities very similar to that of the Palestinians, and did so without the impact of the emergence of Zionist colonialism in their midst. Just like Zionism, Palestinian and other Arab national identities were modern and contingent, a product of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century circumstances, not eternal and immutable. The denial of an authentic, independent Palestinian identity is of a piece with Herzl’s colonialist views on the alleged benefits of Zionism to the indigenous population, and constitutes a crucial element in the erasure of their national rights and peoplehood by the Balfour Declaration and its sequels.


AS SOON AS they were able to do so in the wake of World War I, Palestinians began to organize politically in opposition both to British rule, and to the imposition of the Zionist movement as a privileged interlocutor of the British. Palestinians’ efforts included petitions to the British, to the Paris Peace Conference, and to the newly formed League of Nations. Their most notable effort was a series of seven Palestine Arab congresses planned by a country-wide network of Muslim-Christian societies and held from 1919 until 1928. These congresses put forward a consistent series of demands focused on independence for Arab Palestine, rejection of the Balfour Declaration, support for majority rule, and ending unlimited Jewish immigration and land purchases. The congresses established an Arab executive that met repeatedly with British officials in Jerusalem and in London, albeit to little avail. It was a dialogue of the deaf. The British refused to recognize the representative authority of the congresses or its leaders, and insisted on Arab acceptance of the Balfour Declaration and the terms of the Mandate that had succeeded it—the antithesis of every substantive Arab demand—as a precondition for discussion. The Palestinian leadership pursued this fruitless legalistic approach for over a decade and a half.

In contrast to these elite-led initiatives, popular dissatisfaction with British support for Zionist aspirations exploded into demonstrations, strikes, and riots, with violence flaring notably in 1920, 1921, and 1929, each episode more intense than the previous one. In every case, these were spontaneous eruptions, often provoked by Zionist groups flexing their muscle. The British repressed peaceful protests and outbreaks of violence with equally harsh severity, but Arab popular discontent continued. By the early 1930s, younger, educated lower-middle- and middle-class elements, impatient with the conciliatory approach of the elite, began to launch more radical initiatives and organize more militant groups. These included an activist network set up throughout the northern parts of the country by a Haifa-based itinerant preacher of Syrian origin named Shaykh ‘Iz al-Din al-Qassam, which was clandestinely preparing for an armed uprising, as well as the Istiqlal (“independence”) Party, whose name summarized its aims.

All of these efforts took place initially in the shadow of a strict British military regime that lasted until 1920 (one of the congresses was held in Damascus because the British had banned Palestinian political activity), and thereafter under a series of British Mandatory high commissioners. The first of them was Sir Herbert Samuel, a committed Zionist and former cabinet minister who laid the governmental foundations for much of what followed, and who ably advanced Zionist aims while foiling those of the Palestinians.

Well-informed Palestinians were aware of what the Zionists were preaching both abroad and in Hebrew in Palestine to their followers—that unlimited immigration would produce a Jewish majority that would permit a takeover of the country. They had been following the doings and sayings of Zionist leaders via the extensive reportage on the subject in the Arabic press since well before the war.38 While Chaim Weizmann had, for example, told several prominent Arabs at a dinner party in Jerusalem in March 1918 “to beware treacherous insinuations that Zionists were seeking political power,”39 most knew that such assertions were strategic and meant to cloak the Zionists’ real objectives. Indeed, the Zionist movement’s leaders understood that “under no circumstances should they talk as though the Zionist program required the expulsion of the Arabs, because that would cause the Jews to lose the world’s sympathy,” but knowledgeable Palestinians were not deceived.40

While readers of the press, members of the elite, and villagers and city-dwellers who were in direct contact with the Jewish settlers were conscious of the threat, such awareness was far from universal. Similarly, the evolution of the Palestinians’ sense of self was uneven. While most people desired Palestinian independence, some entertained the hope that such independence could be secured as part of a larger Arab state. A newspaper briefly published in Jerusalem in 1919 by ‘Arif al-‘Arif and another political figure, Muhammad Hasan al-Budayri, proclaimed this aspiration in its name: Suriyya al-Janubiyya, or Southern Syria. (The publication was quickly suppressed by the British.) A government under Amir Faysal, son of Sharif Husayn, had been established in Damascus in 1918, and many Palestinians hoped their country would become the southern part of this nascent state. However France claimed Syria for itself on the basis of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and in July 1920, French troops occupied the country, eliminating the newborn Arab state.41 As Arab countries under mandates or other forms of direct or indirect European control became preoccupied with their own narrow problems, more and more Palestinians realized that they would have to depend on themselves. Arabism and a sense of belonging to the larger Arab world always remained strong, but Palestinian identity was constantly reinforced by Britain’s bias in favor of the burgeoning Zionist project.

Changes elsewhere in the Middle East swept a region racked by continued instability. Following a bitter clash with Allied occupying forces, the nucleus of a Turkish republic arose in Anatolia in place of the Ottoman Empire. Meanwhile, Britain failed to impose a one-sided treaty on Iran and withdrew its occupation forces in 1921. France established itself in Syria and Lebanon, after crushing Amir Faysal’s state. Egyptians revolting against their British overlords in 1919 were suppressed with great difficulty by the colonial power, which was finally obliged to grant Egypt a simulacrum of independence in 1922. Something analogous occurred in Iraq, where a widespread armed uprising in 1920 obliged the British to grant self-rule under an Arab monarchy headed by the same Amir Faysal, now with the title of king. Within a little more than a decade after World War I, Turks, Iranians, Syrians, Egyptians, and Iraqis all achieved a measure of independence, albeit often highly constrained and severely limited. In Palestine, the British operated with a different set of rules.



IN 1922, THE new League of Nations issued its Mandate for Palestine, which formalized Britain’s governance of the country. In an extraordinary gift to the Zionist movement, the Mandate not only incorporated the text of the Balfour Declaration verbatim, it substantially amplified the declaration’s commitments. The document begins with a reference to Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which states that for “certain communities . . . their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized.” It continues by giving an international pledge to uphold the provisions of the Balfour Declaration. The clear implication of this sequence is that only one people in Palestine is to be recognized with national rights: the Jewish people. This was in contradistinction to every other Middle Eastern mandated territory, where Article 22 of the covenant applied to the entire population and was ultimately meant to allow for some form of independence of these countries.

In the third paragraph of the Mandate’s preamble, the Jewish people, and only the Jewish people, are described as having a historic connection to Palestine. In the eyes of the drafters, the entire two-thousand-year-old built environment of the country with its villages, shrines, castles, mosques, churches, and monuments dating to the Ottoman, Mameluke, Ayyubid, Crusader, Abbasid, Umayyad, Byzantine, and earlier periods belonged to no people at all, or only to amorphous religious groups. There were people there, certainly, but they had no history or collective existence, and could therefore be ignored. The roots of what the Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling called the “politicide” of the Palestinian people are on full display in the Mandate’s preamble. The surest way to eradicate a people’s right to their land is to deny their historical connection to it.

Nowhere in the subsequent twenty-eight articles of the Mandate is there any reference to the Palestinians as a people with national or political rights. Indeed, as in the Balfour Declaration, the words “Arab” and “Palestinian” do not appear. The only protections envisaged for the great majority of Palestine’s population involved personal and religious rights and preservation of the status quo at sacred sites. On the other hand, the Mandate laid out the key means for establishing and expanding the national home for the Jewish people, which, according to its drafters, the Zionist movement was not creating, but “reconstituting.”

Seven of the Mandate’s twenty-eight articles are devoted to the privileges and facilities to be extended to the Zionist movement to implement the national home policy (the others deal with administrative and diplomatic matters, and the longest article treats the question of antiquities). The Zionist movement, in its embodiment in Palestine as the Jewish Agency, was explicitly designated as the official representative of the country’s Jewish population, although before the mass immigration of committed European Zionists the Jewish community comprised mainly either religious or mizrahi Jews who in the main were not Zionist or who even opposed Zionism. Of course, no such official representative was designated for the unnamed Arab majority.

Article 2 of the Mandate provided for self-governing institutions; however, the context makes clear that this applied only to the yishuv, as the Jewish population of Palestine was called, while the Palestinian majority was consistently denied access to such institutions. (Any later concessions offered on matters of representation, such as a British proposal for an Arab Agency, were conditional on equal representation for the tiny minority and the large majority, and on Palestinian acceptance of the terms of the Mandate, which explicitly nullified their existence—only the first Catch-22 in which the Palestinians would find themselves trapped.) Representative institutions for the entire country on a democratic basis and with real power were never on offer (in keeping with Lloyd George’s private assurance to Weizmann), for the Palestinian majority would naturally have voted to end the privileged position of the Zionist movement in their country.

One of the key provisions of the Mandate was Article 4, which gave the Jewish Agency quasi-governmental status as a “public body” with wide-ranging powers in economic and social spheres and the ability “to assist and take part in the development of the country” as a whole.

Beyond making the Jewish Agency a partner to the mandatory government, this provision allowed it to acquire international diplomatic status and thereby formally represent Zionist interests before the League of Nations and elsewhere. Such representation was normally an attribute of sovereignty, and the Zionist movement took great advantage of it to bolster its international standing and act as a para-state. Again, no such powers were allowed to the Palestinian majority over the entire thirty years of the Mandate, in spite of repeated demands.

Article 6 enjoined the mandatory power to facilitate Jewish immigration and encourage “close settlement by Jews on the land”—a most crucial provision, given the importance of demography and control of land throughout the subsequent century of struggle between Zionism and the Palestinians. This provision was the foundation for significant growth in the Jewish population and the acquisition of strategically located lands that allowed for control of the country’s territorial backbone along the coast, in eastern Galilee, and in the great fertile Marj Ibn ‘Amer valley connecting them.

Article 7 provided for a nationality law to facilitate the acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews. This same law was used to deny nationality to Palestinians who had emigrated to the Americas during the Ottoman era and now desired to return to their homeland.42 Thus Jewish immigrants, irrespective of their origins, could acquire Palestinian nationality, while native Palestinian Arabs who happened to be abroad when the British took over were denied it. Finally, other articles allowed the Jewish Agency to take over or establish public works, allowed each community to maintain schools in its own language—which meant Jewish Agency control over much of the yishuv’s school system—and made Hebrew an official language of the country.

In sum, the Mandate essentially allowed for the creation of a Zionist administration parallel to that of the British mandatory government, which was tasked with fostering and supporting it. This parallel body was meant to exercise for one part of the population many of the functions of a sovereign state, including democratic representation and control of education, health, public works, and international diplomacy. To enjoy all the attributes of sovereignty, this entity lacked only military force. That would come, in time.

To fully appreciate the particularly destructive force of the Mandate for Palestinians, it is worth returning to Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations and looking at a confidential memo written by Lord Balfour in September 1919. For areas formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Article 22 (“provisionally”) recognized their “existence as independent nations.” The background to this article in relation to the Middle East involved repeated British promises of independence to all the Arabs of the Ottoman domains during World War I in return for their support against the Ottomans, as well as the self-determination proclaimed by Woodrow Wilson. Indeed, all the other mandated territories in the Middle East ultimately won independence (although both mandatory powers, Britain and France, twisted the rules to maintain the maximum degree of control for the longest possible time).

Only the Palestinians were denied these advantages, while representative institutions and progress toward self-rule were obtained by the Jewish population in Palestine, which benefited uniquely from Article 22 of the covenant. For decades, British officials disingenuously but steadfastly maintained that Palestine had been excluded from wartime promises of Arab independence. However when relevant extracts from the Husayn-McMahon correspondence were revealed for the first time in 1938, the British government was forced to admit that the language used was at the very least ambiguous.43

As we have seen, one of the officials most deeply involved in depriving Palestinians of their rights was Britain’s foreign secretary, Lord Arthur Balfour. A diffident, worldly patrician and former prime minister and nephew of long-time Tory Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, he had served for five years as Britain’s chief secretary in Ireland, the empire’s oldest colony, where he was much hated, earning the nickname “Bloody Balfour.”44 Ironically, it was his government that authored the 1905 Aliens Act, meant primarily to keep destitute Jews fleeing tsarist pogroms out of Britain. A confirmed cynic, he nevertheless held a few beliefs, one of which was the utility to the British Empire, and the moral rightness, of Zionism, a cause to which he was enlisted by Chaim Weizmann. In spite of this belief, Balfour was clear-eyed regarding the implications of his government’s actions that others preferred to pretend did not exist.

In a confidential September 1919 memo (not publicly known until its publication over three decades later in a collection of documents on the interwar period45), Balfour set out for the cabinet his analysis of the complications Britain had created for itself in the Middle East as a result of its conflicting pledges. On the multiple contradictory commitments of the Allies—including those embodied in the Husayn-McMahon correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and the Covenant of the League of Nations—Balfour was scathing. After summarizing the incoherence of British policy in Syria and Mesopotamia, he bluntly assessed the situation in Palestine:

The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the “independent nation” of Palestine than in that of the “independent nation” of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. . . . The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.

In my opinion that is right. What I have never been able to understand is how it can be harmonised with the declaration, the Covenant, or the instructions to the Commission of Enquiry.

I do not think that Zionism will hurt the Arabs; but they will never say they want it. Whatever be the future of Palestine it is not now an “independent nation,” nor is it yet on the way to become one. Whatever deference should be paid to the views of those who live there, the Powers in their selection of a mandatory do not propose, as I understand the matter, to consult them. In short, so far as Palestine is concerned, the Powers have made no statement of fact which is not admittedly wrong, and no declaration of policy which, at least in the letter, they have not always intended to violate.

In this brutally frank summary, Balfour set the high-minded “age-long traditions,” “present needs,” and “future hopes” embodied in Zionism against the mere “desires and prejudices” of the Arabs in Palestine, “who now inhabit that ancient land,” implying that its population was no more than transient. Echoing Herzl, Balfour airily claimed that Zionism would not hurt the Arabs, yet he had no qualms about recognizing the bad faith and deceit that characterized British and Allied policy in Palestine. But this is of no matter. The remainder of the memo is a bland set of proposals for how to surmount the obstacles created by this tangle of hypocrisy and contradictory commitments. The only two fixed points in Balfour’s summary are a concern for British imperial interests and a commitment to provide opportunities for the Zionist movement. His motivations were of a piece with those of most other senior British officials involved in crafting Palestine policy; none of them were as honest about the implications of their actions.


WHAT DID THESE contradictory British and Allied pledges, and a mandate system tailored to suit the needs of the Zionist project, produce for the Arabs of Palestine in the interwar years? The British treated the Palestinians with the same contemptuous condescension they lavished on other subject peoples from Hong Kong to Jamaica. Their officials monopolized the top offices in the Mandate government and excluded qualified Arabs;46 they censored the newspapers, banned political activity when it discomfited them, and generally ran as parsimonious an administration as was possible in light of their commitments. As in Egypt and India, they did little to advance education, since colonial conventional wisdom held that too much of it produced “natives” who did not know their proper place. Firsthand accounts of the period are replete with instances of the racist attitudes of colonial officials to those they considered their inferiors, even if they were dealing with knowledgeable professionals who spoke perfect English.

The experience in Palestine was dissimilar to that of most other colonized peoples in this era in that the Mandate brought an influx of foreign settlers whose mission it was to take over the country. During the crucial years from 1917 until 1939, Jewish immigration and the “close settlement by Jews on the land” enjoined by the Mandate proceeded apace. The colonies established by the Zionist movement up and down the coast of Palestine and in other fertile and strategic regions served to ensure control of a territorial springboard for the domination (and ultimately the conquest) of the country, once the demographic, economic, and military balance had shifted sufficiently in favor of the yishuv.47 In short order, the Jewish population tripled as a proportion of the total population, growing from a low of about 6 percent of the whole at the end of World War I to about 18 percent by 1926.

However, in spite of the extraordinary capacity of the Zionist movement to mobilize and invest capital in Palestine (financial inflows to an increasingly self-segregated Jewish economy during the 1920s were 41.5 percent larger than its net domestic product,48 an astonishing level), between 1926 and 1932 the Jewish population ceased to grow as a proportion of the country’s population, stagnating at between 17 and 18.5 percent.49 Some of these years coincided with the global depression, when Jews leaving Palestine outpaced those arriving and capital inflows decreased markedly. At that point, the Zionist project looked as if it might never attain the critical demographic mass that would make Palestine “as Jewish as England is English,” in Weizmann’s words.50

Everything changed in 1933 with the rise to power in Germany of the Nazis, who immediately began to persecute and drive out the well-established Jewish community. With discriminatory immigration laws in place in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries, many German Jews had nowhere to go but Palestine. Hitler’s ascendancy proved to be one of the most important events in the modern histories of both Palestine and Zionism. In 1935 alone, more than sixty thousand Jewish immigrants came to Palestine, a number greater than the entire Jewish population of the country in 1917. Most of these refugees, mainly from Germany but also from neighboring countries where anti-Semitic persecution was intensifying, were skilled and educated. German Jews were allowed to bring assets worth a total of $100 million, thanks to the Transfer Agreement reached between the Nazi government and the Zionist movement, concluded in exchange for lifting a Jewish boycott of Germany.51

During the 1930s the Jewish economy in Palestine overtook the Arab sector for the first time, and the Jewish population grew to more than 30 percent of the total by 1939. In light of fast economic growth and this rapid population shift over only seven years, combined with considerable expansion of the Zionist movement’s military capacities, it became clear to its leaders that the demographic, economic, territorial, and military nucleus necessary for achieving domination over the entire country, or most of it, would soon be in place. As Ben-Gurion put it at the time, “immigration at the rate of 60,000 a year means a Jewish state in all Palestine.”52 Many Palestinians came to similar conclusions.

Palestinians now saw themselves inexorably turning into strangers in their own land, as ‘Isa al-‘Isa had warned in dire tones in 1929. Over the first twenty years of British occupation, the Palestinians’ increasing resistance to the Zionist movement’s growing dominance had found expression in periodic outbreaks of violence, which occurred in spite of commitments by the Palestinian leadership to the British to keep their followers in line. In the countryside, sporadic attacks, often described by the British and the Zionists as “banditry,” bespoke the popular anger at Zionist land purchases, which often resulted in the expulsion of peasants from lands they considered to be theirs that were their source of livelihood. In the cities, demonstrations against British rule and the expansion of the Zionist para-state grew larger and more militant in the early 1930s.

Trying to maintain control of events, the elite notables organized a pan-Islamic conference while sending several delegations to London and coordinating various forms of protest. These leaders, however, unwilling to confront the British too openly, withstood Palestinian calls for a full boycott of the British authorities and a tax strike. They remained unable to see that their timid diplomatic approach could not possibly convince any British government to renounce its commitment to Zionism or to acquiesce in the Palestinians’ demands.

In consequence, these elite efforts failed to halt the march of the Zionist project or to advance the Palestinian cause in any way. Nevertheless, in response to growing Palestinian agitation, and especially following the outbreaks of violent unrest, different British governments were obliged to reexamine their policies in Palestine. The result was a variety of commissions of inquiry and white papers. These included the Hayward Commission in 1920, the Churchill White Paper in 1922, the Shaw Commission in 1929, the Hope-Simpson Report in 1930, the Passfield White Paper in 1930, the Peel Commission in 1937, and the Woodhead Commission in 1938. However, these policy papers recommended only limited measures to placate the Palestinians (most of which were countermanded by the government in London under pressure from the Zionists) or proposed a course of action that only compounded their deep sense of injustice. The eventual result was an unprecedented, country-wide violent explosion in Palestine starting in 1936.


THE FRUSTRATION OF the Palestinian population at their leadership’s ineffective response over fifteen years of congresses, demonstrations, and futile meetings with obdurate British officials finally led to a massive grassroots uprising. This started with a six-month general strike, one of the longest in colonial history, launched spontaneously by groups of young, urban middle-class militants (many of them members of the Istiqlal Party) all over the country. The strike eventually developed into the great 1936–39 revolt, which was the crucial event of the interwar period in Palestine.

In the two decades after 1917, the Palestinians had been unable to develop an overarching framework for their national movement such as the Wafd in Egypt or the Congress Party in India or Sinn Fein in Ireland. Nor did they maintain an apparently solid national front as some other peoples fighting colonialism had managed to do. Their efforts were undermined by the hierarchical, conservative, and divided nature of Palestinian society and politics, characteristic of many in the region, and further sapped by a sophisticated policy of divide and rule adopted by the mandatory authorities, aided and abetted by the Jewish Agency. This colonial strategy may have reached its peak of perfection in Palestine after hundreds of years of maturation in Ireland, India, and Egypt.

The British policies meant to divide the Palestinians included coopting factions of their elite, setting members of the same family, such as the Husaynis, against one another, and inventing out of whole cloth “traditional institutions” to serve their purposes. Examples of these British creations were the position of grand mufti of all Palestine (traditionally, there had been four muftis of Jerusalem, not all of Palestine: one each for the Hanafi, Shafi‘i, Maliki, and Hanbali rites) and the Supreme Muslim Council to administer Muslim community affairs. The British had nominated Hajj Amin al-Husayni as grand mufti and head of the council after he pledged to Sir Herbert Samuel during a sort of job interview that he would maintain order (which he did for the better part of fifteen years).53 His appointment served two purposes. One was to create an alternative leadership structure to the nationalist Arab Executive of the Palestinian congresses, which was headed by the mufti’s cousin, Musa Kazim Pasha al-Husayni, and thus also to instigate friction between the two men. The other was to enforce the idea that, besides the Jewish people, with its national characteristics, the Arab population of Palestine had no national nature and consisted only of religious communities. These measures were meant to distract the Palestinians from demanding democratic, nationwide representative institutions, to divide the national movement, and to prevent the creation of a single national alternative to the Mandate and its Zionist charge.54

Although the tactics of divide and rule were fairly successful until the mid-1930s, the six-month general strike of 1936 constituted a popular and spontaneous explosion from the bottom up that took the British, the Zionists, and the elite Palestinian leadership by surprise, and that obliged the latter to put aside its divisions, at least nominally. The result was the creation of the Arab Higher Committee, which was set up to lead and represent the entire Arab majority, although the British never recognized the AHC as representative. The committee was made up entirely of men, all people of substance, and all members of the Palestinian elite in its service, landowning, and merchant wings. The AHC tried to take charge of the general strike, but unfortunately their most important achievement was to broker an end to it in the fall of 1936 at the request of several Arab rulers, who were essentially acting at the behest of their patrons, the British. They promised the Palestinian leadership that the British would provide redress for their grievances.

The disappointing outcome of this intervention came in July 1937, when a Royal Commission under Lord Peel charged with investigating the unrest in Palestine proposed to partition the country, creating a small Jewish state in about 17 percent of the territory, from which over two hundred thousand Arabs would be expelled (expulsion was euphemized as “transfer”). Under this scheme, the rest of the country was to remain under British control or be handed over to Britain’s client, Amir ‘Abdullah of Transjordan, which from a Palestinian perspective amounted to much the same thing. Once again, the Palestinians had been treated as if they had no national existence and no collective rights.

The Peel Commission’s satisfaction of the basic Zionist aims of statehood and removal of the Palestinians, albeit not in the whole of Palestine, combined with its denial of their fervently desired goal of self-determination, goaded the Palestinians into a much more militant stage of their uprising. The armed revolt that broke out in October 1937 swept the country. It was only brought under control two years later through a massive use of force, just in time for crack British military units (by then there were a hundred thousand troops in Palestine, one for every four adult Palestinian men) to be redeployed to fight World War II. The revolt achieved remarkable temporary successes but ultimately produced debilitating results for the Palestinians.

Of all the services Britain provided to the Zionist movement before 1939, perhaps the most valuable was the armed suppression of Palestinian resistance in the form of the revolt. The bloody war waged against the country’s majority, which left 10 percent of the adult male Arab population killed, wounded, imprisoned, or exiled,55 was the best illustration of the unvarnished truths uttered by Jabotinsky about the necessity of the use of force for the Zionist project to succeed. To quash the uprising, the British Empire brought in two additional divisions of troops, squadrons of bombers, and all the paraphernalia of repression that it had perfected over many decades of colonial wars.56

The refinements of callousness and cruelty employed went well beyond summary executions. For possession of a single bullet, Shaykh Farhan al-Sa‘di, an eighty-one-year-old rebel leader, was put to d