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On Contact: Colonial war on Palestine with Rashid Khalidi

On the show this week, Chris Hedges discusses the long, disingenuous role the USA has played in the Israel-Palestine conflict with Professor Rashid Khalidi.

Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University. His new book is ‘The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonial Conquest and Resistance.’

YouTube channel: On Contact

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Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/rttv/sets/on-contact

CH: Welcome to "On Contact." Today, we discuss the long, disingenuous role the United States has played in the Israel-Palestine conflict with Professor Rashid Khalidi.

RK: This is not just a war by design, this movement on the Palestinians. It's a movement--it's a war, I should say, really declared by great powers.

CH: Yeah.

RK: The erasure of the Palestinians is really the work of the British in the first instance and later of the United States and other powers at a later state.

CH: Well, why? I mean, so what--the British of course occupy Palestine, which is part of the Ottoman Empire. In World War I, 1917, Allenby marches on Jerusalem.

RK: Mm-hmm.

CH: What is the British--because they certainly have colonies in India and everywhere else.

RK: Right.

CH: What is it that the British are attempting to do to kind of--with the Zionist movement? What is their goal?

RK: Right, right. Well, the basic goal is strategic.

CH: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the product of ancient ethnic hatreds, nor is it the tragic clash between two peoples with claims to the same land. It is rather a manufactured conflict, the outcome of a 100-year-old colonial occupation by Jewish Zionists in Israel backed by major imperial powers, starting with the British and a century later with the United States. This project from its inception has always been about the forced and often violent displacement of Palestinians from their land, the seizure of that land by the colonizers, and the rendering of the Palestinians as non-people as if they never existed. This century-long assault first by the Zionists and later by Israel has always been waged against an indigenous people to force them to relinquish their homeland to another people against their will, yet to state this incontrovertible fact of Jewish colonization supported by innumerable documents, official statements, exhaustive reports, and historical records and events sees Israel's defenders level charges of anti-Semitism and racism against those who speak this truth. Joining me in the studio to discuss this colonial project is Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and the author of "The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonization and Resistance, 1917-2017." So you pull from the historical record, from documents and make, I think, an absolutely compelling case that from the moment of Zionist settlement in Palestine they knew exactly what they were doing, they knew what the end goal was, which they've largely achieved, and that was surprising for me as, you know, from what you dug up in the historical record, how frank, you know, how clear-sighted they were from the beginning, Chaim Weizmann and others, so talk about that.

RK: Well, they were clear-sighted, and they were frank, but they were more frank in private than they were in public.

CH: Well, yeah, because in public, they were quite disingenuous really.

RK: Right, right. I mean, the British restricted them to a formulation called a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. That was not their avowed objective, which was a sovereign Jewish state with control over immigration, which would have a Jewish majority in all of Palestine.

CH: Right, which entailed ethnic cleansing because at the beginning, uh, I think you have a figure in the early 20th century Jews were 6%. 6%?

RK: 1917.

CH: Yeah, and 94%--I mean, what's always--I lived in Israel. What always has struck me is this historical amnesia, where from the seventh century when Palestine becomes part of--a Muslim entity all the way up to 1948 is utterly erased from the historical record.

RK: Right. Right. Right. Well, I mean, there's a manufactured forgetting if you want. There's a creation of an alternative narrative, part of it related to the Biblical narrative and part of it just manufactured.

CH: Well, the plan--Palestine was empty.

RK: Precisely.

CH: There was no one--

RK: Land without a people for a people without a land and so on and so forth.

CH: But you make, I think, a very important point that that is always part of colonization.

RK: Exactly.

CH: Right.

RK: I mean, if you read what the earliest Zionist leaders say, they were--

CH: But any colonial project.

RK: If you read what the earliest Zionist leaders say, they are talking the language of every settler colonial project.

CH: Which you point out. Yeah.

RK: Jabotinsky, Herzl, they sound like--I quote Lord Curzon here, I quote this or that French or British colonizer there, and it is exactly the same rhetoric, the same language, the same logic precisely.

CH: But there's a striking difference as you point out in this project of colonization, which is really at its inception done on behalf of the British. The Zionists become a tool, they eventually break with the British.

RK: Right. Well, they use the British, and the British use them.

CH: Yes, although at the end, the British have had enough of them.

RK: Although in the end, they decide--first of all, they've had enough, they've gotten what hey needed from the British. Secondly, the British have decided, as you say, that they've had enough of them, that they need to fight World War II in the Arab world, and they can't have all the Arabs hating them, and finally, they have bigger and better patrons in the United States and the Soviet Union.

CH: What's interesting is that you say that this project of colonization has an important difference in terms of the indigenous population. What's the difference?

RK: Well, there are a couple differences. The first is, unlike some settler colonial projects, which are based on the utter elimination of the native population or its complete subjugation--North America, Australia, and so on--and unlike others where the idea was exploitation of the indigenous population, Zionism had no use for the Palestinians.

CH: Right.

RK: It also didn't entirely eliminate them. There was no genocide. There was ethnic cleansing, as you suggest, because to turn a majority Arab country into a majority Jewish country, you had to get rid of a large proportion as much as possible of the Arab inhabitants. The other difference is that unlike other settler colonial movements this was not an extension of a metropole. Zionism was a project for the Jewish people. It's also a national project at the same time it's a settler colonial project, and unlike, say, the French in Algeria, who are just an extension of France, or the first British settlers in North America, who are an extension of the British crown, these were people who had a connection to Britain. They used Britain, Britain used them, but Britain was not their metropole. In fact, they were able to move from metropole to metropole. Zionism has based itself in multiple places in carrying out this project of settling Palestine.

CH: So that relationship with the British, which the early Zionists understood. I forget who it was who you were quoting, whether it was Weizmann or other. They knew that they needed an imperial force behind them.

RK: They all knew that. Herzl knew that, and that's why he met the Kaiser, and that's why he went to the French, and that's why he went to Sultan Hamid, the Ottoman sultan. Weizmann understood that. That's why he went to the British war cabinet. I think the person you're thinking of is Jabotinsky, who said, "We can't do this"--

CH: Who was the only honest one among them. Ha ha ha!

RK: He was honest, yeah--

CH: In terms of being frank in public.

RK: He was frank in public and in private.

CH: Right, right.

RK: Ben-Gurion and Weizmann and Herzl are very frank in their private diaries...

CH: Right, right.

HK: Herzl says, "We're gonna spirit the population across the borders." He never says that in a letter to one of my ancestors, where he says, "Oh, we're not gonna do anything to the native population," but Jabotinsky was blunt in public and in private, and he said, "We need an iron wall behind which we can create this project of ours."

CH: "They all"--I'm quoting from your book. "They all new perfectly well that there was no way to reconcile Zionism's claim on Palestine and its explicit claim of Jewish statehood and sovereignty there with the rights and well-being of the country's indigenous habits." Even when I lived in Jerusalem, they paid lip service to those rights, but here, you're talking about from the mom--from its very inception they understood this point.

RK: Right, right. Well, I quote a letter that Herzl wrote to one of my ancestors, a great, great, great uncle, at the beginning of the book.

CH: Which you weave throughout the book, which makes it quite effective. Yeah.

RK: Right, right, and I mean, it's very clearly that they completely ignore the idea that there's a people there.

CH: Right.

RK: They assume that they can either fool them or get rid of them some way or other, and the letter is full of the same disingenuous propaganda that you hear from Israelis. "Oh, we're gonna make their lives better," or, "Their lives are better than anywhere else," or whatever at the same time as the population is being displaced, its identity is being denied, its resources are being taken. It's completely disingenuous, but unfortunately, I think, believed by many people.

CH: Well, one of the themes that runs throughout the history is the essential--the turning of the majoritarian population into non-people really.

RK: Yeah, yeah, and this brings up another thing that I try and stress throughout this book. This is not just a war by the Zionist movement on the Palestinians. It's a movement--it's a war, I should say, really declared by great powers.

CH: Yeah.

RK: The erasure of the Palestinians is really the work of the British in the first instance and later of the United States and other powers at a later state.

CH: Well, why? I mean, so what--the British of course occupy Palestine, which is part of the Ottoman Empire. In World War I, 1917, Allenby marches on Jerusalem.

RK: Mm-hmm.

CH: What is the British--because they certainly have colonies in India and everywhere else.

RK: Right.

CH: What is it that the British are attempting to do to kind of--with the Zionist movement? What is their goal?

RK: Right, right. Well, the basic goal is strategic. The British want a buffer on the eastern border of Egypt. They want a connection between the Mediterranean and the Gulf. Strategic, and this is a decision that they reach before World War I. In fact, this was my doctoral dissertation. Back in the early seventies, I figured this out, but to achieve this, it was very difficult for them to simply say to other imperialist powers like the French and the Russians, "We're just gonna take it," so for them, Zionism was a useful tool. They figured this would be a colonial settler project which they could say, "We're supporting for, you know, charitable reasons," but which would in effect be that buffer on the eastern border of Egypt and which would be a sort of a stronghold for British power.

CH: And yet it's a little more complicated because the British do the British mandate. I mean, they do control Palestine directly in the same way the French controlled Lebanon up until '48.

RK: Right.

CH: So you do have British control.

RK: Right.

CH: And yet the Zionist movement becomes the tool to do what?

RK: Well, to establish a national home for the Jewish people which will in effect be sort of a garrison, which the British had the illusion that the Zionists would always be grateful to them. In 1939, they lose that illusion because when they change their policy and they stop favoring the Zionists, the Zionists turn against them and find another patron.

CH: And yet, as you point out in the book, during World War II, the British build Jewish military units...

RK: Right.

CH: Although many Palestinians actually fight in the British army...

RK: Right.

CH: They never coalesce in a unit of their own, which in the--

RK: In contrast to the Jewish Brigade that the British create.

CH: And so by 1948, the British, despite their distance from the Zionist movement, have given them the military...

RK: Precisely.

CH: knowledge and organization and weaponry...

RK: Precisely.

CH: to essentially take over.

RK: In fact, I mean, you put your finger on a key episode, which is the creation of this Jewish Brigade, but even before that in putting down the Great Revolt of 1936, they--

CH: Talk about that because I wasn't aware until I read your book of the ext--how bloody it was. I mean, what did you say, 10% of--

RK: 10% of the adult male population is killed, wounded, exiled, or otherwise imprisoned.

CH: Of Palestinians.

RK: Of Palestinian Arab male population.

CH: And so you had essentially a coalition between--what, it was 100,000 British troops?

RK: 100,000 British troops against about 300,000 adult males, so one soldier or policeman for every 3 Palestinian adult males.

CH: But armed Jewish with them.

RK: Well, that's the point I was getting to. Exactly. What they did in World War II is crucial, but even before that in putting down the revolt, they arm and train vast numbers of Zionist militiamen, some of them into commando units called Night Squads, headed by a man called Orde Wingate, who is a hero in Israel.

CH: Oh, yeah. He was in Burma.

RK: He is described--he later on--exactly, was in Burma. He is later on described as a psychopath.

CH: Yeah. He was completely.

RK: He is the one who carries out targeted assassinations.

CH: He also carried a Bible and was, like, a fanatic. Yeah.

RK: He was a nasty character, much beloved in Israel, and according to the web site of the Israel Defense Forces, his spirit animates the Israeli army.

CH: Well, that might be true actually.

RK: I think it is true actually. Targeted assassinations, murdering people at night, blowing up their houses over their heads. Orde Wingate taught them all of that.

CH: And you argue in the book that--so this was a popular uprising, not well-organized.

RK: Exactly.

CH: But a popular uprising, '36, '37 by--

RK: Up to '39 actually.

CH: Up to '39 by Palestinians who kind of figured out what was happening.

RK: A little belatedly. The only revolts against the British Empire that succeed are the ones right after World War I. The Irish get their independence, the Iraqis and the Egyptians and the Iranians manage to limit British power. In fact, the Iranians push the British out of Iran. The Egyptians and the Iraqis similarly limit British power. Britain's forced to grant a simulacrum of independence. The Palestinians, for reasons that I go into in the book, don't really get to that point until much too late. By the eve of World War II, Britain is not gonna allow a revolt to succeed, which is why they bring in divisions of troops and the RAF to put down this revolt very, very bloodily.

CH: When we come back, we will continue our conversation about the colonial roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Professor Rashid Khalidi.

CH: Welcome back to "On Contact." We continue our conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Professor Rashid Khalidi. So we were talking before the break about that post-war period right after the end of World War II, and there's a huge, well, I would say, you know, animosity then between the Zionist movement and what had been their British sponsors.

RK: Right. Well, this is because of the White Paper of 1939.

CH: Explain what that...

RK: I will. The British have until this point unceasingly favored the Zionists. The terms of the mandate essentially empower them to create a parastate, a state. Elected assembly, a foreign ministry, a government, control of education, and so forth.

CH: Well, it's a whole alternative government structures that the Palestinians are denied.

RK: The Palestinians are denied. Precisely. So one side is given political and national rights, the other side is given civil and religious rights, i.e. nothing in the way of self-government. At the same time, the British, as we've just mentioned, have armed--especially in the '36-'39 period--armed the Zionists. So comes World War II, and the British suddenly realize "Hmm. We're gonna have to fight this war in the Arab world just like we fought a large part of World War I."

CH: Right.

RK: "Hmm. We have people who really hate us because they have been following in their press," encouraged of course by the Italians and the Germans," the atrocities that our soldiers have been committing in Palestine against the Palestinian Arabs. Hmm. The Arabs might actually be helpful if we win them over to our side." So the British in an act of typical hypocrisy switch from unlimited support for the Zionists to vague promises to the Palestinians. There'll be independence in 10 years, there'll be limits on immigration, and so forth. That's the White Paper. The Zionists of course are infuriated and understandably. They were given to understand that a national home for the Jewish people meant as soon as you're a majority you get self-determination and statehood, and all you have to do--"We'll hold the doors of immigration open. You become a majority, and then you will drown them with numbers. You'll be stronger and richer and so on and so forth, and the country is yours." Suddenly, the British are telling them "No, not quite. We have to fight World War II. We need to stop alienating the Arabs," and so the Zionist movement in its ingenuity goes in search of new allies. What do they find? They find the United Stats and the Soviet Union, and that's the genesis of the Partition Plan of 1947.

CH: Well, you write about the Palestinians had failed to read the shift in global power.

RK: Precisely as they did in subsequent periods.

CH: '48, huge campaign of ethnic cleansing, acts of egregious genocide.

RK: I wouldn't call it genocide. I would call it ethnic cleansing with massacres--

CH: Let's call it massacres.

RK: Massacres. Repeated massacres.

CH: Repeated massacres is a better--that's better.

RK: And just one point about this. The key depopulation and the key ethnic cleansing takes place before the British leave.

CH: Yeah. That's right.

RK: Takes place before the state of Israel is declared.

CH: That's right.

RK: Before an Arab solider sets foot in Palestine, 300,000 people, the entire population of Haifa, 60,000...

CH: Where you have family.

RK: Jaffa. The entire population of Jaffa, where my grandfather used to live...

CH: Right, right.

RK: another 60,000 people. The entire population of Arab West Jerusalem--large part of West Jerusalem is Jewish, large part was Arab--30,000 people. All these people are expelled before May 15, before the British leave, before the state is created, before the Arab armies enter, and so the exodus of Palestinians under bombardment and after a few key massacres like Deir Yassin in April takes place--

CH: This is where they went in and wiped out a whole village. What was--I forget the number.

RK: They killed about 100 people.

CH: 100 people.

RK: Yeah.

CH: And mostly women and children.

RK: Exactly, exactly, so what happens in '48 is ethnic cleansing over a long period of time, starting in the spring, as I say, before the British leave, and continuing during the war between Israel and the Arab armies that enter Palestine and become involved.

CH: Although just a caveat because you talk about it in the book. That's kind of a misnomer because the Arab armies--Israel likes to mythologize that they fought off--how many was it--

RK: 7 Arab armies or whatever.

CH: But you argue that most of them didn't enter Palestine, right?

RK: Saudi Arabia and Yemen didn't have real modern armies. Lebanese army never crosses the frontier. The Jordanian and Iraqi armies are under Jordanian control, and Jordan has come to an agreement with the Zionist movement before the war...

CH: King Abdullah.

RK: King Abdullah has met with Moshe Sharett and with Golda Meir and has been told by his British--the people who pay and officer his army "You cannot go beyond the boundaries of the Arab state under Partition," so the Jordanian and Iraqi armies never "invade" Israel. They enter the area allocated to the Arab state under Partition...

CH: The West Bank.

RK: and defend it. What is now the West Bank. So you have actually--

CH: With Zionist complicity.

RK: Precisely. Well, at the beginning, exactly. They end up fighting over the road to Jerusalem and some other areas, but essentially.

CH: I just want to throw it in there that the Israelis got shellacked, by the way.

RK: Well, the Jordanian army happened to be a very well-trained--

CH: Well, it was British-run, British officers, Glubb Pasha.

RK: They had combat experience in World War II, and the officers had all fought in World War II, so it was like a modern army, a modern European army, up against the Israeli army, which was a very competent force but not of the same level.

CH: So let's go on. '48. You know, you've laid the foundation. I think, you know, it's incontrovertible, the documents and the historical records that you cite. They know what they're headed for. How does it play out once the State of Israel is created? Well, first of all, according to the Partition, the Zionists were only supposed to have, what is it, 17% of--

RK: Supposed to have 55%.

CH: 55%.

RK: Of the total. The Arab state was supposed to be 40-something, and there was supposed to be a corpus separatum around Jerusalem.

CH: But that's not the way it worked out.

RK: No. They end up with 78% by the end of the war, having soundly defeated the two major Arab armies that are really fighting them, the Jordanian and the Egyptian.

CH: I mean, you cite in the book, which we don't have time to go through, you know, what you call kind of seminal moments on the road, '67, et cetera, but just lay us out what happened since. So they know what they have to do, which is displace or marginalize the Palestinian--how does that all roll forward from '48 when Israel is created?

RK: Well, two things. Firstly, the superpowers that were responsible for the Partition resolution, the United States, the Soviet Union, are mainly interested in the creation of a Jewish state. That Partition Plan calls for an Arab state.

CH: Can I just throw in there--which I didn't know from your book--that Stalin thought that the Jewish Bund socialists were all gonna align with Moscow, and then when he woke up and realized they weren't--

RK: A few years later. A little too late. Exactly. Yeah.

CH: Anyway, go ahead.

RK: Well, Stalin was obsessed with the British...

CH: Right, right.

RK: he saw the Arab states as aligned with Britain. He was obsessed with the British since the Russian Civil War.

CH: Right, right. Well, with good reason.

RK: That's another story. That's another story.

CH: Since they sent troops into Russia.

RK: Sent troops, they sent money, they financed the White Army, and so on and so forth.

CH: Right.

RK: So he was obsessed with the British as Churchill was obsessed with Bolshevism. I mean, the two of them were a pair in that respect. What happens is that the two superpowers that had basically rammed the Partition resolution through the General Assembly, cared only for the creation of a Jewish state. When that Jewish--when the Arab state that's mandated by the Partition Plan is strangled in its cradle by the British, the Jordanians, and especially the Israelis, they don't lift a finger. There's no provision for forcing these powers to back off. There's no implementation provision in the General Assembly resolution. An Arab state isn't created because these 3 countries don't want it, and the two superpowers don't care. They want a Jewish state. I mean, Truman--I quote Truman in the book as talking to Arab American diplomat--talking to American diplomats and saying, "I have a lot of people, a lot of my constituents care about this," and Stalin, as you say, had his own concerns. So the Palestinians are, again, disappeared, as they were disappeared by the Balfour Declaration in 1917. They are disappeared in the wake of the '48 war and during the war when 2/3 of them are physically driven out of their homes.

CH: They're largely disappeared from the historical record.

RK: Exactly.

CH: People turning to Joan Peters' mythical "From Time Immemorial," which was a foundational text, we forget, for many quote-unquote scholars of Israel and Palestine.

RK: Huge bestseller.

CH: Which claimed that the land was empty.

RK: It's still in print!

CH: Is it?

RK: Yeah. It's one of the great fabrications of the 20th century still in print.

CH: Yeah, right.

RK: "Protocols of the Elders of Palestine" you could call it. It's an enormous--

CH: So what we see--when I lived in Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek was the mayor. He was building sewers in East Jerusalem. There did seem to be--I mean, maybe I'm wrong. I knew Abba Eban, all these old Zionist figures. There was a kind of "keep them happy down at the farm" kind of attitude. Certainly, they didn't have full rights or anything.

RK: Right.

CH: Which appears--not appears--which has shifted dramatically with a racist like Netanyahu. Would you say that's a fair characterization?

RK: It is fair, but I think that most Labor Zionists--Eban of course was a Labor Zionist, as was Teddy Kollek--most Labor Zionists didn't really believe in two states for two people in one land.

CH: No. Without question.

RK: So as you say, I think they had a more benevolent idea of how to rule over the Arabs. That certainly was true of Kollek. I mean, there were instances in which Kollek and people who worked for him like Meron Benvenisti actually helped Arab families. In the case of a property of ours that someone was trying to take over, actually Rav Goren, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, was trying to take some of our property to attach to a yeshiva he was building, which he did build, Kollek's people helped us. So there was a much more benevolent attitude, but the idea of equality?

CH: Yeah.

RK: The idea of two national entities with equal rights? Never occurred to any of them, whether Labor Zionists and certainly not to the Revisionists who become Likud.

CH: In of course '67, they take Gaza, the Israelis, and the West Bank, and what happens since is a kind of administrative ethnic cleansing. They make life--especially if you have the financial wherewithal to get out, you're out.

RK: Right.

CH: And then they create the--and let's call them what they are, ghettos...

RK: Right.

CH: in the West Bank, Gaza is often called an open-air prison. It is a ghetto, probably the largest ghetto in the world.

RK: Mm-hmm. One of the most heavily populated areas in the world.

CH: And one of the most heavily populated, but the Israeli state begins to--the mask begins to fall off.

RK: Right. Well, several things happen. First of all, the colonization of the West Bank is a reprise of the whole policy of taking land and pushing the people out as best possible. That's happening in the West Bank as we speak, and it's been happening really since 1967 without interruption under different regimes with different objectives, but the same process has been underway. The second thing that happens is that over time--in the war in 1982 when Israel invades Lebanon, during the first intifada starting in 1987--it becomes clear that the myth that Israel is David and the Arabs are Goliath...

CH: Yeah, right.

RK: is, in fact, a reversal of roles. The Palestinians are David, and Israel is Goliath.

CH: Well, we still--

RK: And so that mask falls.

CH: We got to stop there, but it's still this idea that Israel's existential existence under threat from Palestinians in Gaza or anywhere else. Anyway, thanks.

RK: Thank you.

CH: That was Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi about his new book "The Hundred Years' War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonization and Resistance, 1917-2017."

RK: Thanks.