“I was trying to see how an event is made and unmade, as ultimately it only exists via what one says about it, since it is properly speaking, fabricated by those who spread its renown.” –Georges Duby.
Unlike Rashid Khalidi’s previous books, “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017,” is more personal in nature, interweaving Khalidi’s extraordinary scholarship with his direct experience not just of war and diplomacy, but of his family’s involvement in most facets of Palestinian life over the past several centuries.
The Khalidis’ contribution to Palestinian history is well documented in the collections of letters, diaries, books, and other valuable documents housed in the Khalidi library in Jerusalem. This library, which dates from the 13th century, is the most extensive collection in all of Palestine still in the hands of its original owners.
I was fortunate to take Rashid Khalidi’s classes three years ago at Columbia University. As a student, I often asked Professor Khalidi (a historian who holds the Edward Said Chair of Modern Arab Studies) why personal accounts are not considered scholarship. Why, for instance, doesn’t Mahmoud Darwish’s “Memory for Forgetfulness,” count as a historical document even though Darwish personally lived through the shelling of Beirut during the Israeli invasion of 1982 and wrote that book from direct experience? The answer was that there is an academic notion that one is supposed to remove oneself from the story.
And this idea prevented Rashid Khalidi from writing a personal book earlier. Yet, among his many books, which are all excellent, “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine” is in my opinion the best and most meaningful. It goes farther than rigorous scholarly analysis and illustrates with first-hand accounts what history does to real human lives, including the author’s and his family’s. And personal narratives are powerful in ways that academic theory, statistics, and dates alone can never be.
“The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine” is an eye-opening account of the events that preceded and comprised the colonization of Palestine and its aftermath, which resulted in the expulsion and extermination of the majority of Palestinians.
The central thesis of the book is that the war against Palestinians has always had the aim of displacing the indigenous inhabitants of the land.
The book is divided into six main “declarations of war.” The central thesis of the book is that the war against Palestinians, which is colonial in nature, has always had the aim of displacing the indigenous inhabitants of the land rather than, as the mainstream media would have us believe, being a tragic “clash of two peoples.” It has, from its origins, been a well-orchestrated settler colonial movement supported by the superpowers of the world. These were primarily the United Kingdom, the USSR, and the United States, who today is Israel’s most ardent sponsor. These countries supported the creation of the state of Israel financially, militarily, diplomatically, and in every other conceivable way.
The first declaration of war happens officially in 1917, with the British enactment of the Balfour Declaration, a document that establishes a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, then part of the Ottoman empire with a small minority indigenous Jewish population. Palestinians comprised 95 percent of the country’s inhabitants. Yet, they were not even mentioned in the document. In other words, no national or political rights were granted to the overwhelming majority of the land.
“The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine” is written for a general audience, particularly the American public who typically has a limited grasp of the realities in Palestine. This is mainly for two reasons: First, because the history of Palestine has been distorted beyond recognition by the media, the academy, and the powerful political systems that backed their people’s dispossession. This leads to the second reason: Palestinians have been silenced and rendered voiceless. As it happens in wars, the “permission to narrate” belongs exclusively to the victors, who write what we come to know as history.
History is always what we are told, never what actually took place. However, in this case, we are also contending with a third problem, the forceful censorship of all things Palestinian, which makes it incredibly difficult to share a Palestinian narrative. This book is an important contribution towards redressing the imbalance. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the book is not in a register of victimization, for it emphasizes the extraordinary resilience and resistance efforts of the Palestinians “in the face of the heaviest of odds.” It also mentions the various mistakes they have made along the way.
The book begins with a research trip Rashid Khalidi took to Jerusalem, where he discovered the writings, including the correspondence, of Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi, his great-great-great uncle. He also found several books translated by Yusuf Diya to and from many European and non-European languages.
Al-Khalidi was a worldly man, educated at the best academic institutions not only in Jerusalem, but in Vienna, Istanbul, and other important cities. He was deeply acquainted with the intellectual roots of Zionism and familiar with the debates and views of the Zionist leaders, including Theodor Herzl’s call for Jews to control immigration to Palestine.
Herzl, the founder and leader of Zionism, visited Palestine only once, in 1898, and even before that visit, had been considering colonizing the land. In 1895, he wrote in his diary: “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. . . . Both the process of expropriation and removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”
Before the Zionist movement secured British support, it was a colonizing project in search of a powerful backer. Failing to find a patron in the Ottoman Empire, Germany and elsewhere, Chaim Wiezmann, Herzl’s successor, approached the wartime British cabinet and obtained their support. The motive for British sponsorship of Zionism was two-fold: a romantic desire to “return” the Jews to the Biblical land, and, most crucially, an anti-Semitic aim of curbing Jewish immigration to Britain. Once British patronage was gained, between 1909-1914, approximately 40,000 Jewish immigrants began arriving in Palestine, primarily from Eastern European countries.
Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi was well aware of the ambitions of this early movement and understood it could not be reconciled with the rights and well-being of Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants. For this reason, he wrote a letter to the French Chief Rabbi, asking him to convey it to Herzl. In his letter, al-Khalidi expressed admiration for Herzl, describing him as a man of high intellectual stature and “a true Jewish patriot.”
Al-Khalidi also referred to the Jews and the Arabs as “cousins,” pointing to the Abrahamic origin of both Judaism and Islam. He further explained that he deplored the persecution of Jews in Europe and empathized with their desire to find a refuge. However, he made a heartfelt plea to “in the name of God, let Palestine be left alone.” Unfortunately, this was not to be.
Herzl’s reply to al-Khalidi’s letter is telling. He ignored the letter’s main thesis that Palestine was already inhabited and used the typical justification that has been used by colonialists in all times and all places, that Jewish immigration would be good for the indigenous people of Palestine. Herzl also responded to a question al-Khalidi did not ask or allude to, stating that nobody would ever “think of sending [the Palestinians] away.” However, as we saw in his diary’s entry, he was planning to do precisely that. And his plan was gradually but mercilessly executed throughout the course of the following century.
The second, and perhaps most lethal declaration of war happened between 1947-1948, with the partition of Palestine and the expulsion of the majority of its native inhabitants. This event is referred to as the Nakba, an Arabic word meaning disaster. During this time, the United Nations gave 57 percent of the country to a minority, the Jews, while the Palestinians were prevented from attaining self-determination by the British. In late 1947, the UN voted for partition, but by then, Zionist militias were already overrunning Arab towns and cities. Three hundred thousand people were driven from their homes while the UN did absolutely nothing. By the time the state of Israel was established, 40 percent of the Palestinians had already been driven out.
By the summer of 1949, about 80 percent of the Arab population of what became the state of Israel had been forced out of their homes and had lost their lands and property. At least 720,000 of the 1.3 million Palestinians were made refugees. Due to this brutal event, Israel now controlled 78 percent of the territory of the former Mandate of Palestine.
The third declaration of war happened in 1967, with the Arab-Israeli War and UN Security Council Resolution 242, which, much like the Balfour Declaration, demanded that “in order to be recognized, the Palestinians were required to accept an international formula designated to negate their existence.”
The fourth declaration is the devastating 1982 Israeli invasion and shelling of Beirut where 19,000 people, most of them civilians, were massacred. The New York Times wrote of the event that it was “afraid to tell [its] readers . . . that the Israelis are capable of indiscriminately shelling an entire city.” Not only did Israel get away with these war crimes, but its orchestrators, including Ariel Sharon, the war’s main architect, Yitzhak Shamir, and Benjamin Netanyahu, went on to serve as Prime Ministers of Israel.
Lebanon’s invasion in 1982 was massive not only in scale, duration, aims, and the tragic losses involved, but in its long-term impact. The war on Lebanon had multiple objectives, but its main motive was changing the situation inside Palestine. Although Sharon wanted to expel the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Syrian forces from Lebanon, to “create a pliable allied government in Beirut to transform the circumstances in that country, his chief objective was Palestine itself.”
Rachid Khalidi was living in Beirut at the time. In the book, he narrates how his wife Mona, who was four-months pregnant, went home despite the heavy aerial bombardment in one of the deadliest days of the invasion. On June 5-6, 1982, Israeli warplanes bombed and flattened dozens of buildings, including a sports stadium, on the pretext that they housed PLO offices and facilities. Mona Khalidi, who had experience with war, feared that if she sheltered in the basement of her office at WAFA, the PLO’s Palestine News Agency, she could be separated from her two daughters for a long time. So, she decided to go home in the midst of the shelling.
The fifth declaration of war is the first intifada (Palestinian uprising) of 1987 and the 1993 Oslo peace accords. The invasion of Lebanon had been done with the purpose of destroying the PLO and through this, to end Palestinian nationalist opposition in the occupied West Bank and Gaza in order to annex these territories into Israel. This step would complete the Zionist goal of taking the entire land of Palestine and turning it into a Jewish state.
During the Oslo peace accords, the Americans referred to their role as “Israel’s lawyer.”
During the Oslo peace accords, where negotiations between the PLO – represented by Yasser Arafat – and Israel happened, the Americans referred to their role as “Israel’s lawyer.” Palestinians did not have the linguistic or legal expertise to understand what Israelis were doing and found themselves up against a “formidable and expert Israeli negotiating team . . . with vast international legal experience.” Khalidi thinks the accords should have been rejected because “occupation would have continued, as it has anyway,” but without the pretense of “Palestinian self-government.”
The sixth and final (but ongoing) declaration of war was the devastation of Gaza in 2008, 2012, 2014 and, although not included in the book, May of 2021. It also comprises the ever-expanding occupation into the West Bank supported by the United States government, including – to the disappointment of many, such as Edward Said – the former commander-in-chief who evoked great hope during his presidency, Barack Obama, as he did nothing to stop Israel from indiscriminately bombing Gaza.
Obama also failed to halt the delivery of American weapons that were used to kill over 3,000 Palestinian civilians and maim many more. Instead, “deliveries were accelerated when Israel deemed it necessary. At no point did Obama . . . confront Israel over its siege of the Gaza strip.” Nor did he stop the false narrative of a “war.” The Palestinians had (and have) rocks and a few rockets. The Israelis have one of the most powerful militaries in the world, supported by the US$3.8 billion given yearly by the United States to fund the ongoing ethnic cleansing against Palestinians.
I strongly recommend reading this important book in order to learn the facts about this continuing war against a people with no resources to fight back, for they have been dispossessed of all that was rightfully theirs and rendered voiceless. The injustice and staggering cruelty that Palestinians have endured throughout this century at the hands of Israel (with the backing of the United States and other world superpowers) is a massive ethnic cleansing the entire world is accountable for. I urge the reader to become informed and vocal, and Rashid Khalidi’s “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine,” is an excellent place to start.
 Rashid Khalidi, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017, (Metropolitan Books; Illustrated edition, January 28, 2020) p. 96
 Ibid., p. 4
 Ibid., p. 5
 Ibid., p. 123
 Ibid., p. 139
 Ibid., p. 142
 Ibid., p. 201
 Ibid., p. 235