Documenting a century of resistance in Palestine

The Palestinians are subject to human rights abuses by Israel, dispossession and war, yet they continue to resist.

The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A history of settler colonial conquest and resistance
By Rashid Khalidi
London, Profile Books, 2020
319pp.

“His Majesty’s government views 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.”

Known as the Balfour Declaration, after Britain’s then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, James Balfour, this 1917 statement failed to acknowledge the existence and rights of Palestinian Arabs who made up 94% of the population of historic Palestine.

The declaration gave the green light to the Zionist movement to carry out its colonisation project while also bolstering British imperialist interests in the region. This led to the creation of the Israeli state in 1948 and the continued dispossession of the Palestinian people ever since.

In The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine, Palestinian-American historian and author Rashid Khalidi draws from his own lived experience, along with the experiences of other Palestinians to document the war waged for more than 100 years by the Zionist movement and the Israeli state, with the assistance of Imperialist powers such as Britain and the US.

Khalidi also interpolates the experiences and archives of his family into the historical account. The Khalidi family was a prominent, politically active, Palestinian family, who established a library and archive in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1900. They were directly involved in the Palestinian resistance throughout the period discussed in the book.

Khalidi shows how the Palestine-Israel war was never one between two equal national movements, but instead a settler-colonialist project pushed by the European-based Zionist movement.

Khalidi’s great-great-great uncle Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi wrote to the Zionist movement’s founder, Theodor Herzl in 1899, criticising the intention to create a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine, warning that it would be unacceptable to Palestinians.

Herzl disregarded Yusuf Diya al-Din’s protestations, stating that Palestine’s sovereignty was unimportant, and the supposedly backward Palestinian people would benefit from the modernising effects of Jewish settlers.

Following the Mandate for Palestine in 1922, which formalised British rule over territory, the Zionist movement benefited greatly from the British authorities and the conservatism of the Palestinian leadership of the period — effectively controlled and divided by the British — to build the infrastructure of the future Israeli state. This is especially so after the British crushed the 1936–39 Palestinian revolt.

While various Zionist underground groups rebelled against the British mandate during World War II, by the time of the 1947 United Nations partition to establish a Jewish state, the Zionist movement exploited the horrors of the Holocaust, and gained support from Western powers and the former Soviet Union to defeat a divided Arab leadership and bring the Israeli state into being.

The Palestinian people continued to suffer after 1948, as the Israeli state occupied all but the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which were occupied by Jordan and Egypt until the Six-Day War of 1967. Neighbouring Arab regimes used the Palestinian cause for their own territorial interests, while doing nothing to materially help the Palestinians.

While then-US President Harry Truman’s administration played a crucial part in the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, other US presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower and John F Kennedy were willing to criticise Israel when its actions clashed with the interests of the US. For example, Eisenhower denounced the joint British/French/Israeli invasion of the Suez Canal in 1956. However after the Six-Day War, US support for Israel was cemented, continuing to this day.

The defeat of the Arab regimes in the Six-Day War, along with heavy-handed Israeli actions, enabled the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which was established in 1964, to build momentum.

Palestinian resistance continued throughout the late 1960s and 70s. Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, with the intention of expelling the PLO. This led directly to the first Intifada (Uprising) among the Palestinian population, from 1987 into the early 90’s.

Khalidi sees the 1987 Intifada, which was an initiative led by grassroots organisations in Palestine as the most effective chapter of Palestinian resistance. He is critical of the PLO and Fatah leaders such as Yasser Arafat, who allowed themselves to outmanoeuvred by the US and Israel into accepting a Palestinian territory that was divided into Apartheid-style bantustans during the 1993 Oslo Accords.

After 1993, the newly created Palestinian Authority (PA) acted as arbiters of the Israeli state, while its Greater Israel settlement project on the West Bank has continued unabated.

Moreover, Israel, with the support of successive US administrations — which have never acted in good faith towards the Palestinian people — uses the endless negotiations to ensure the PA makes more concessions, while Israel continues to violate numerous UN resolutions.

Meanwhile, Palestinian resistance has continued, starting with the second Intifada in the early 2000s through to current-day calls for an international boycott, divestments and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Khalidi argues that the Palestinian cause needs to better engage international public opinion to counter Israeli and US propaganda.

Often we hear how the Palestinian people and the rest of the world is expected to respect the right of the Israeli state to exist, while the Palestinian people are never accorded the same right.

In The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine, Khalidi has documented the continued resistance of the Palestinians, who claim their right to exist and tell their own story.

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