Present absences

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Near Tulkarem, 1948. (photo: Bettmann / Getty)
Book review of Rashid Khalidi’s latest book, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017.

By Kaleem Hawa | The Nation | July 27, 2020

For as long as I have been alive, the barriers in the West to advocating for Palestinian rights have deterred all but the most committed people.

Here’s the script: Criminalize the boycotts, deport the human rights advocates, rebrand anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, smear the leftist Jews, infiltrate the leftist organizations, defund the aid programs, torpedo the political campaigns, fire the high school teachers and speech pathologists and network commentators, and pinkwash the occupation. The tactics vary today, but the intent remains the same. For as long as I have been alive, the barriers in the West to advocating for Palestinian rights have deterred all but the most committed people.

Often, as a result, the responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of Palestinians. Rashid Khalidi, a professor at Columbia and a codirector of its Center for Palestine Studies, is one of the best known to have taken up this responsibility. An acclaimed historian and former adviser to the Palestine delegation during the Madrid talks in 1991, he has written about the origins of Arab nationalism, American Cold War policy in the Middle East, the construction of Palestinian identity, and the history of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He has also played an important role in representing Palestinians in Western media and in mentoring a growing generation of Palestinian writers and academics, including Noura Erakat and Lana Tatour.

While Khalidi’s research interests are wide-ranging, he has often examined the history of Palestine in the context of the larger Western imperial project, which has spanned many Middle Eastern nations and whose tool kit of military occupation has laid waste to millions of Arab lives. The cyclical nature of this history is important. For example, on the topic of a single democratic state for all Palestinians and Israelis—an idea that has increasing purchase among young Palestinians and anti-Zionist Jews—he observes that it is not a radical departure but instead a return to a popular idea that has gestated since at least 1968 yet was marginalized by a now geriatric PLO leadership.

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