By Rashid Khalidi
Metropolitan Books, New York, 2020, 336 pages, US$30.00
A simple letter written in 1899 was perhaps the opening shot fired in the war on Palestine. It was written by Theodor Herzl, Viennese journalist and leader of the world Zionist movement, in response to Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi, the great-great-great uncle of author Rashid Khalidi.
Yusuf Diya was part of a family of Islamic religious scholars and the mayor of Jerusalem for nearly a decade. He witnessed “the first years of proto-Zionist activity, starting with the arrival of the earliest European Jewish settlers in the late 1870s and early 1880s.”*1 He was a prescient and prominent man in Palestinian society, and he clearly saw the aggressive Zionist ambitions for his country. So Yusuf Diya wrote to Herzl, expressing respect for Judaism and Jews and outrage at the persecution of European Jewry but reminding him that Palestine is inhabited by others. He closed his letter with a plea for his home and people: “In the name of God, let Palestine be left alone.”*2
Professor Khalidi says that the letters between Yusuf Diya and Theodor Herzl were probably “the first meaningful exchange between a leading Palestinian figure and a founder of the Zionist movement.”*3 At the time, Palestinians constituted 95 percent of the population, but Herzl refused to see them as a people with an identity, a culture, nationalist aspirations, and ancient and sacred ties to the land. Herzl’s diary entries reveal his Zionist plan for ethnic cleansing in Palestine. But he lied in his 1899 letter of response to Yusuf Diya: “Who would think of sending them away?”*4 Herzl thus initiated the treacherous bad faith that has characterized Israeli diplomacy and negotiations to this day.*5
Khalidi cites Palestinian scholar Edward Said, who confirmed that Zionists “have no use for us. The best Palestinian for them is either dead or gone.”*6 But the criminal Zionist settler-colonial war of expulsion and occupation has failed to silence the Palestinian people or their righteous resistance. Their fundamental strengths are their presence on their own land combined with their refusal to surrender. The result is “Israel’s inability to either swallow the Palestinians whole or spit them out entirely.”*7
Palestinians are the moral victors in this Hundred Years’ War because Israel, like America, must forever bear the shame of building a nation on stolen land, on the tears of another people. Rashid Khalidi combines the personal with the political, eloquently telling the story of a deceitful letter written in 1899 and how it led to tragic consequences for his family and relentless war on the Palestinian people.
*1 Rashid Khalidi, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine, p. 4.
*2 Ibid., p. 5.
*3 Ibid, p. 8.
*4 Ibid., p. 7.
*5 John Quigley, “The International Diplomacy of Israel’s Founders: Deception at The United Nations,” chapter in The Quest For Palestine, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
*6 Rashid Khalidi, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine, p. 207.
*7 Azmi Bishara, Palestine: Matters of Truth and Justice, London: Hurst & Company, 2022, p. 287.