The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine | Rashid Khalidi

Summary of: The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A Family, A People, and the Loss of a Country, 1917-2017
By: Rashid Khalidi


In ‘The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A Family, A People, and the Loss of a Country, 1917-2017′, Rashid Khalidi takes us through a century-long narrative of the Palestinian struggle. Beginning with a letter from Jerusalem Mayor Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi to Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, the book traces the consequences of British rule, the Balfour Declaration, the rise of Zionism, and the events that led to the Nakba, which violently forced a majority of Palestinians from their homes. The summary also explores the Six-Day War, the Lebanon War, the role of the PLO and the militant Hamas organization, as well as the prospects for peace and justice in the region.

Palestine, British Rule, and the Zionist Movement

In 1917, the British issued the Balfour Declaration, promising the formation of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine. The Zionist movement received the backing of the world’s largest colonial empire while Palestine came under British rule. Colonization of Palestine was accelerated, and Palestinians’ appeals for independence fell on deaf ears. By the late 1920s, tensions arose as European Jews continued to settle the area with almost exclusive access to foreign investment.

In March of 1899, Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi mailed a letter to Theodor Herzl, the Viennese journalist, and leader of the burgeoning Zionist movement, expressing his deep admiration for Herzl, his dismay at Europe’s rampant anti-Semitism, and the notion of Jews and Muslims as cousins. However, Diya pointed out that Herzl’s vision for a Jewish state in the Middle East would subjugate the region’s indigenous population. He ended the letter with a plea, “In the name of God, let Palestine be left alone.”

But, within a month, Herzl dismisses Diya’s concerns and argues that, with the influx of Europeans, the lives of everyone in the region would improve. Four centuries before the Balfour Declaration’s issuance, Palestine was occupied by the Ottoman Empire. It had a population of about 94 percent Arab Muslims and a small minority of Jews and Christians. The region was slowly modernizing with railways, electricity, and improved access to education.

However, British rule over Palestine began in 1917 when World War I ended Ottoman rule, and the British took control of the region. The British issued the Balfour Declaration in November of that year, declaring the formation of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine. The document promised to protect non-Jewish population’s civil and religious rights but made no mention of political rights or the right to national self-determination. The Zionist movement gained the backing of the world’s largest colonial empire, and the colonization of Palestine accelerated.

Palestinians wished to buck off the colonial grip of the European powers and convened multiple congresses from 1919–1928 to petition the British for independence. All these appeals fell on deaf ears. Meanwhile, the Zionist project continued, and the League of Nations issued the Mandate for Palestine in 1922, laying the groundwork for Jewish self-governance but failing to mention the Arab majority.

European Jews continued to settle in the area, and by the late 1920s, their population had risen to nearly 20 percent. But, tensions arose as their communities enjoyed almost exclusive access to foreign investment while Palestinians’ appeals for independence went unheard.

The Nakba: A Catastrophe that Changed the Face of Palestine

In the early 20th century, Palestine remained under British control with a majority of Arab population being increasingly dominated by Jewish settlers. The British attempted to quell the tension by partitioning the region in 1937, which pushed the Palestinians into open revolt. Britain responded with violent suppression and the Arab uprising resulted in the death, injury, or imprisonment of 10 percent of adult males in the county. This was only a foreshadowing of a greater struggle yet to come.

After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were sympathetic to the Zionist cause. In 1947, the United Nations passed a declaration to partition Palestine into two states: one Jewish and one Arab. The Jewish state was granted 56 percent of the land but the partition did not hold. In 1948, Zionist militias launched Plan Dalet, displacing tens of thousands of Arab families. This assault was known as the Nakba, or “catastrophe.” The neighboring Arab nations’ resistance was ineffective due to divided loyalties. When the dust settled in 1949, Israel declared itself a state and more than 700,000 Palestinians were forced off their land and became refugees. The Nakba shifted the political order of the Middle East and transformed the region.

The Six-Day War: A Pivotal Moment in Palestine’s History

In 1967, Israel launched a preemptive strike against its Arab neighbors, capturing the West Bank, Gaza, and Sinai in just six days. This brief conflict established Israeli dominance and led to a closer alignment with the United States. The UN’s resolution 242 ignored Palestine, but the war reinvigorated the movement for Palestinian liberation. The aftermath of the Six-Day War is felt to this day, as Israel continues to occupy Palestinian territories and the struggle for recognition and resistance persists.

The 1982 Lebanon War: Disrupting PLO and Galvanizing Palestinian Movement

In 1982, the Lebanon War began with Israeli air raids on Beirut and continued with a full-scale ground invasion of southern Lebanon. The hostilities aimed to crush the PLO and ultimately squash the spirit of Palestinian nationalism in the occupied territories. Despite Israel’s fierce response, the PLO refused to back down, leading to indiscriminate bombing that left the city in ruins and more than 19,000 Palestinians and Lebanese dead. Even after the PLO negotiated for peace, the violence continued, culminating in the Israeli-backed Lebanese militants’ massacre of civilians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. While the offensive partially disrupted the PLO’s main base of operations, its aggressive tactics heightened tensions within the region and tarnished Israel’s reputation on the world stage. Crucially, the concept of Palestinian resistance did not die, but instead shifted to the occupied territories, where Palestinians pushed harder for freedom.

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