‘The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonial Conquest and Resistance’ review: Image and reality of a conflict

On June 9, 1967, the fifth day of Israel’s war on Arab countries, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 235, demanding an ‘immediate’ ceasefire. The Council asked the Secretary-General to report back on the resolution’s enforcement within two hours. A young Rashid Khalidi, whose father worked at the UN, was at the organisation’s office in New York when the deliberations were under way. After the two-hour deadline, as there was still no compliance from Israel, the Security Council adjourned for two hours. When he met his father, Khalidi asked him why there was a delay. The American Ambassador at the UN, Arthur Goldberg, wanted to consult with his government. “How much consultation was needed to impose a ceasefire resolution?” was Khalidi’s doubt. “With a strange bitter smile, my father responded dispassionately in Arabic. ‘Don’t you understand? The Americans are giving the Israelis a little more time’,” writes Khalidi in his latest book, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonial Conquest and Resistance.

The war came to an end the next day. And the UNSC could do nothing for the immediate enforcement of its resolution. This support the U.S. offered to Israel continues, argues Khalidi in the book. Before the U.S., there was the British empire that favoured Zionism. With the support of imperial powers — first Great Britain and then the U.S. — Zionists established their settler colonial state in Palestine. For Khalidi, this is at the heart of the Israel-Palestine problem.

Khalidi, a scion of a leading Palestinian family and one of the world’s foremost scholars of Palestinian history, has launched a no-holds-barred attack on political Zionism in the book. Often provocative, sharp and insightful, Khalidi’s account, rich with interesting historical anecdotes and personal history, stretches from the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

There were six declarations of war on Palestinians during this time. The first is the Balfour Declaration, issued by British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, which supported the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

The second is the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent Arab-Israeli war and the attacks on the Arab population in the newly created Israel, which resulted in Nakba (catastrophe), the displacement of about 7,00,000 people.

The third is the Security Council Resolution 242, which was passed after the 1967 war. The resolution did not only recognise, indirectly though, Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories before the war but also linked any withdrawal from the territories Israel took during the war to peace treaties. No wonder, Israel continues to occupy most of the territories it captured in 1967, except the Sinai Peninsula and the blockaded Gaza Strip.

The fourth declaration of war was Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 1982 to oust the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) from the country.

The fifth declaration was the Oslo Accords, which co-opted the Palestinian military and political leadership into the settler colonial scheme, while leaving the Palestinians in tiny enclaves that were eventually controlled by Israel. The sixth was Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Haram esh-Sharif (Temple Mount) in 2000, which triggered the Second Intifada.

Settler colonialism

The survival of settler colonialism is dependent on its ability to oust or oppress colonised people. Nakba was not an accident. If the goal of political Zionism was to create a Jewish state, it was imperative that a large section of the local population should be driven out. Throughout the history of Israel’s colonialism, Zionists tried to wipe away Palestinian resistance, argues Khalidi, but with little success. In the initial two decades after the state of Israel was formed, the Palestinian resistance was muted.

But after the 1967 war, in which Israel defeated its Arab neighbours in six days, the focus would shift from Arab opposition to Palestinian national resistance. As Ahmad Samih Khalidi noted in an essay in the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, “A central paradox of 1967 is that by defeating the Arabs, Israel resurrected the Palestinians.”

What went wrong

Khalidi doesn’t mince words in criticising the Palestinian leadership, which he thinks failed to channelise the impassioned resistance of the Palestinian people. But he says the resistance movement in general didn’t succumb to the myriad challenges it faced. A comment, which was, perhaps mistakenly, attributed to Ben Gurion — “The old will die and the young will forget” — captures Israel’s approach towards the Palestinians, Khalidi notes. But Palestinians defied it — the young continued to remember. “The Palestinians’ resistance, their persistence, and their challenge to Israel’s ambitions are among the most striking phenomena of the current era,” writes Khalidi.

The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonial Conquest and Resistance; Rashid Khalidi, Hachette, ₹599.

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