Rashid Khalidi on the past and future of Palestine

The conditions “century” and “a hundred years”, often interchangeable, shared a strange coincidence on 28 January, when the eminent Palestinian-American academic Professor Rashid Khalidi published his latest book, The 100 Years’ War on Palestine: A BRIEF HISTORY of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017. Since it was hitting the bookshelves, US President Donald Trump unveiled his Middle East peace plan dubbed the “package of the century”. Although each is aimed at the same Palestine-Israel issue, light years, alternatively than a hundred years, distinct them.

Khalidi told me over the telephone that he find the title to allude to the medieval Hundreds Years’ War between England and France (1337-1453) because he believed that it would resonate with Western audiences. “I’d read a lot about the 100 Years’ War and was struck by the actual fact that in Palestine we’ve been at it for over a century now,” he explained. “The war between your crowns of England and France continued for 117 years, so we haven’t quite come to that, but nearly. I thought it would attack a chord with people.”

By using the word “on Palestine”, Khalidi seeks to shift the framing of the predominant narrative from one of any tragic and intractable conflict between two peoples fighting over “contested” land to “a much truer” framing. “I needed to shock the reader. I knew it would turn some individuals off but I don’t believe you can sugar coat many of these things. It is not just just how Palestinians view it, I believe that’s actually how it is: from the war on an indigenous population by an overwhelmingly powerful coalition, led by the best power of this in support of the Zionist motion and, later, the point out of Israel. It really is like the war resistant to the indigenous populations of THE UNITED STATES or the war on the Algerians by French colonists and so on.”

Prof. Khalidi sees his eighth book on modern Middle East record as the latest in an array of growing voices – of academic, ethnical, legal and political characters – who are collectively, albeit incrementally, shaping an emerging Palestinian narrative that is increasing traction. One reason it has been slow to emerge, he said, is the fact that, “The Zionist narrative was released by people who have been natives of the countries that they originated.” They were Austrian and German Zionists communicating in German, French Zionists in French, American and British Zionists in English, and so on. “The narrative was put to people in their own language, in their own idiom and within the context of their own countrywide culture by people who were their countrymen or women.”

He added that Zionism’s narrative was also helped by its Biblical narrative, that was intimately familiar to these Western audiences, plus Zionism succeeded in allying itself to “the great colonial powers” of this. “You’d an innate advantage with the establishment in a variety of countries for the reason that these were sympathetic to Zionist aims and/or to aiding those aims, especially regarding Britain and later the united states.”

Palestinians never had that advantage until very recently therefore started with an enormous disadvantage, Khalidi added. But there were critical changes compared to that landscape which give him optimism.

“I’ve seen an alteration in that within the last two or three years in academic writing, especially on the center East and Palestine. There has been a massive change on university campuses in terms of an willingness to listen to an alternative interpretation of things and be slightly critical of the received versions. In some other areas of American and European societies I believe that, regardless of the enormous pushback, there is a receptivity today that really wasn’t there ten years roughly ago in those large sectors of the populace.”

Khalidi’s book concludes with reflections on today’s and the opportunities and challenges ahead to keep to reframe the narrative. He is scathing of the rival Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, which he describes as two “ideologically bankrupt political actions” whose initiatives “attended to nothing”. Reconciliation will help, he believes, but they absence “the dynamic new strategy had a need to dislodge the Palestinian cause from its present state of stagnation and retreat.”

His concluding chapter doesn’t mention what role Palestinian people of Israel might play in future attempts. Does he feel that they have something to contribute?

“They have a massive amount to teach other Palestinians about how precisely to cope with Zionism, Israel, the Israel security talk about and their methods. They have got the most sophisticated understanding of many of these things because they may have the longest connection with it, they speak Hebrew and they’re Israelis at the same time that they are Palestinians. In the future a few of the isolation that has arisen between Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on the one side and Palestinians inside Israel on the other will diminish, and we’ve too much to study from the latter.”

He also finds inspiration and leadership from components of civil modern culture initiatives. The rise of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) plan against Israel that was initiated by Palestinian civil population and is currently supported by international grassroots individual rights organizations, church communities and trade unions, among others, did more to further the Palestinian cause than both main political parties in the West Bank and Gaza, he explained.

Acutely aware of the impact that BDS might well have and its own role in reframing the Palestinian narrative, the Israeli government has poured tens of huge amount of money into combatting it globally, generally via the lately created Ministry of Strategic Affairs. Charges of anti-Semitism are an extremely common tactic levelled at BDS and its own supporters.

Khalidi believes that these accusations are experiencing an impact – just look at the relentless accusations and witch hunt that Britain’s Labour Get together has been enduring for quite some time now, or Bernie Sanders’ current Democrat leadership campaign in the US – but, he insisted, it is destined to fail.

“They’re designed to have a chilling result. Are they heading to be successful? Another thing we have in america which you don’t possess in Europe is the First Amendment. Ultimately any legislations that is handed down in direction of suppressing boycotts or the BDS activity is going to be ruled as an infringement of the First Amendment, residents’ rights to free speech. They’ll fail. Boycotts are a reputed form of resistance to oppression since Captain Boycott in Ireland was boycotted by the Irish peasants; then the Indians chosen it up, the South Africans picked it up, the American Civil Rights movement picked it up, and now the Palestinians have chosen it up. It’s as American as apple pie. You can not make it illegal.”

Although they can argue that BDS is “anti-Semitic” we should turn the argument around. “Is exactly what the Irish peasants were to Captain Boycott for some reason racial discrimination? Obviously it wasn’t; it was resistance against oppression. It shows that the hysterical brandishing of the word anti-Semitism to spell it out any critique of Israel or Zionism, or any defence of Palestinian rights, is so self-evidently ludicrous that I believe people will be laughed out of court eventually.”

Khalidi touches on the thought of a one- or two-state solution in the final pages of his publication but said that he’s agnostic in what form it finally takes. That reality is a long way off, he insisted, and is also a distraction to the greater pressing meaning required right now.

“We ought to be thinking: just how do we transit from where we have been, this kind of one-state position quo to an equitable one status situation, or to an equitable two- or multiple-state or whatever? It will not happen soon and worrying about the facts distracts us from the key points: it has to be [established on] absolute equality. You pound that home in a country that is dependant on the idea that men are manufactured identical, or a country that says that liberty, equality and fraternity are the basis of the republic, and you have an argument that is incontrovertible. [What exists] is unequal and discriminatory – you don’t need to use a term like “apartheid” although it’s worse in my own view than apartheid – which is an excellent which involves equality. That needs to be the thing to stress.”