Balfour Declaration, now 100, was ‘gun pointed at heads’ of Palestinians says Rashid Khalidi

Historians in the News
tags: Rashid Khalidi, Balfour Declaration



Thumbnail Image -  By Thomas Good - Next Left Notes (Photo Credit: Thomas Good / NLN), GFDL

Last night at NYU, Rashid Khalidi gave a lecture to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration– “from the standpoint of its victims,” the Palestinians.

For the Palestinians this statement was a gun pointed directly at their heads… The issuance of the Balfour Declaration thus marked the beginning of what I would describe as a century long colonial war in Palestine supported by an array of outside powers which continues to this day.


Let me break out two other bracing statements that Khalidi made in the talk, at the Hagopian Center at NYU, one about the state of the Arab world, one about the power of Zionism.

When a questioner from Morocco lamented the “erasure” of the Palestinian story from its central role in Arab memory, the Columbia University history professor said she was right, but he was not sure what claim for primacy Palestinians could make at this time, given the “destruction of four Arab countries”:

The situation that the Arab world is in is one of such absolute agony that I think it is worth questioning to what extent at this moment in time– is there an Arab world? Even in the 30’s you had a certain mass public that resonated to certain things. So when the Palestinians rose up in 1936, you go to the French foreign ministry archives and you have Algerian Muslims trying to contribute to support Palestinians. They weren’t allowed to do so, of course, by French colonial authorities. You have people coming from Lebanon and Syria to  fight with the Palestinians.


So you had a resonance throughout the Arab world of the Palestine case. It’s true in the 40’s and the 50’s and the 60’s; even though the regimes generally tended to do what the great powers wanted. If you look at what’s happening in 47, 48, every Arab government is paying much more attention to the British or the Americans or other external powers than they are to Palestinians– public opinion however is resonating to what is happening in Palestine.


Today the situation of fragmentation of the Arab world, that’s just so much harder. Not just today, but in the last decade or so. It’s not just the Arab uprisings–  And how can you tell a Syrian whose country has been destroyed, and a quarter of its population at least has been made refugees, and they’re trying to deal with this horrific regime, and with an armed opposition that’s made up of people who would probably cut the throats of a quarter to a fifth of the population if they had the power. So you have on the one hand the devil and on the other the deep blue sea.


How do you tell a Syrian agonizing over that situation, Palestine is more important? This is life and death, this is existential, and the same is true with the Iraqis, the same is true for Yemenis, the same is true for Libyans. The question of whether those countries will even exist is on the table.


The question of how many hundreds of thousands of Yemeni children will be permanently damaged by the starvation that’s been inflicted on them by the Saudi blockade and the war? You have to take account of those things if you’re a sentient human being. One could go on and on.


I can’t say as I blame people, frankly. ...




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