Phone A Friend: Rashid Khalidi, author of The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine.
Summary: Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University. Professor Khalidi received his BA from Yale in 1970, and Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford in 1974. He’s co-editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies and was president of the Middle East Studies Association, and an advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid and Washington Arab-Israeli Peace negotiations from October, 1991 until June of 1993. He’s the author of eight books, including most recently, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine. His research inspired a significant amount of the work in our series on Palestine, and it's a privilege to welcome him today.
Max: Professor Khalidi, thank you so much for your time today in what is certainly an emotional and strenuous time. Thank you for being part of the show.
Rashid: Thanks for having me.
Max: So our audience has heard us reference a great deal of your perspective from both lectures and The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine, which I found to be an invaluable resource in putting our series together. And one of the things that I appreciated most was your willingness to include personal family history, which I think helped really connect with the reader, most notably, the archival information that you uncovered and unearthed from your great-great-great uncle, Yusuf Dia. So if it’s okay, I’d like to begin actually on a personal note to ask you what it was like going through those archives to connect with history in such a personal way.
Rashid: It was like a series of revelations. Some of the material I knew was there because other researchers had seen it before. Some of this material that I uncovered in the course of writing this book, some of the family material I’d never known about. And it was moving, and as a historian, exciting to discover things that actually had some significance at the time and I think are revealing for us today.
Max: Yeah. Something that your narrative accomplished for me as a reader, was to kind of contextualize the relationship between Jews and Arabs of the Ottoman Empire in a way that I really never connected with before and didn’t understand. And what struck me was the fraternal nature of this bond. So, I’m wondering how authentic would you characterize that bond, I would say prior to the Great War, including the relationship between the settlers of the First Aliyot who were escaping anti-semitism in Eastern Europe—what was that bond really like on the ground through your research?
Rashid: Well, I mean, I’m not the one who’s done the really important research on this. A colleague of mine by the name of Salim Tamari, has written a wonderful book about society in Jerusalem in particular before World War One, focusing on a man called was Wasif Jawhariyyeh, and his work and the work of others—actually, several of my students have worked on this, several people did PhDs, and the books are out now; actually two of them are Israeli.
What is clear is that for the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community in Palestine, not including many of the settlers of the First Aliyah, there was a relatively comfortable relationship, and in some cases, close relationships, between especially Muslims and Jews. I think a lot of Palestinian Christians were influenced by European anti-semitism actually.
People went to Catholic and Protestant missionary schools, and in many cases picked up some—and Russian missionary schools. And, if you think of the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, Protestants, there was ingrained institutional anti-semitism in a lot of what the missionaries were teaching. But I think that generally speaking, the relationship was quite close. Now, the settlers did not come to integrate with local society. At the outset many of them were not overtly political. Many of them were not as separatist as the settlement process developed over time. And in many cases, there were good relationships in the countryside between the rural population and the new settlers. There were several dozen of these small settlements before 1914, but the overwhelming majority of the Jewish population in Palestine, then and now, was always urban.
People in the settlements were a minority, and to this day, the rural population of Israel is a small minority of the total population. And the relationship in the cities was generally good, though as the number of immigrants grew, and as political Zionism influenced them—and many of those were coming, were not just fleeing persecution, but were choosing to come to Palestine because they believed that this was the place to resolve anti-semitism via Zionism, via establishing a Jewish majority state—relations soured in the ‘20s and the ‘30s. But before the war, even after the rise of political Zionism at the end of the 19th Century, especially with the older established Jewish communities in Palestine, relations were generally good.
Max: Well I want to get to current events, but before we jump there, if we could stay in this period for a moment, because you’re talking about sort of the character and the nature of settlements and the difference between urban and rural landscapes. When you spoke about your grandfather’s generation and how they would’ve identified as Arabs, proud speaking Arabic and religious to a degree, but they would’ve seen themselves more as related to their villages and their family relationships. I think that’s true of a lot of cultures around this time in the dawn of the industrial age, sort of this tension between the feudalism and what was coming with the growth of capitalism. And it kind of occurred to me that, as I was reading your narrative, that Palestine could have been a remarkable proving ground for socialism and the socialist theories that were developing at the time.
And I did notice that a lot of prominent, current Marxists and socialists have lauded your work because you took great care to connect the concept of private property, beginning with the Ottoman Land Codes in 1858, and through the imperial exploits of the Western nation states, and how sort of capitalism disrupted a lot of what would’ve been the natural, maybe evolution of the economic conditions. Now, I know it’s an impossible game of what if, but can you speculate on the economic conditions of Palestine and how they would’ve fared, if not for the imperial exploits of the Allied powers?
Rashid: I mean, that’s an impossible exercise [laughing]. I think that capitalism was marching on all over the globe and the involvement of Palestine and other parts of the Middle East in the global capitalist world order was inexorable, certainly at that time. And so the Ottoman Land Code of 1858 that you mentioned was part of the development of capitalist relations in agriculture. And part of the alienation of farmers who had previously had rights, inalienable rights from their land, it became private property, and in many cases, it was no longer theirs. And I think that fundamentally changed a whole number of things. It made land purchase and land sale in ways that were not previously possible. Not just possible, but necessary. I mean, land becomes a commodity, which it really wasn’t before 1858, not at least in the rural areas, in the cities it always was. And then the areas immediately around the cities, it always was.
You could own a private orchard in Damascus or whatever on the outskirts of Damascus. But the vast agricultural lands, to the south of Damascus and Harran were not owned by individuals. They were collectively farmed or farmed by individuals who had inalienable rights as long as they paid taxes, and as long as they cultivated the land. All of that changes with the land code. It changes, of course, very slowly because the Ottomans don’t impose this everywhere at the same time. They can’t, they don’t have the governing mechanisms. And in fact, one of the problems in Palestine today, in the 21st Century is that much of the land was never finally, even under the British mandate, after World War One was not finally registered. And so one of the things that Israel does is exploit this failure to complete the registration and in effect "capitalization of land" which never, never was completed under the Ottomans, or even for that matter, under the British.
Max: Okay, so when we think about the evolution of the economies, and again I just have to say that I think one of the things that you clarified so well, coming from a novice western lens was that this was not entirely some backward, strictly bedouins intense type of rural. I mean, there were marketplaces developing, and as you mentioned it was participating in the capitalist experiment that was growing all over the globe. And so I’ve actually found it profound that there were mature marketplaces that the urban centers had been connecting at this time.
Max: And so when we get past the interruptions of the great wars, obviously, which changed the landscape in totality, everywhere on Earth, and it also changed the nature of power and the structures of power in that region. It seemed to me that the turning points after ‘47 and ‘48 kind of came fast and furious when we’re talking about Palestine proper.
So, whether it’s from beginning with the Arab revolts through the Nakba, through the Six-Day war, then through the October War, these pivots and turning points just kept happening. My sense was, in reading you and other work, that there was another pivot in the late ‘70s with the far right surge of the Likud Party in Israel but then also right through the invasion of Lebanon that changed the character of the region and the attitudes in a more significant way than before. And I’m wondering if you see any parallels, because for me it seems like past October 7th and what’s happening in Gaza right now, that we’ve sort of crossed a rubicon that I don’t know if we know what happens next. The only other time that I can sort of find in your analysis and other analyses would be that period up through the invasion of Lebanon. Are there correlations? And how would you contextualize what’s happening today in a historical context of the story of Palestine?
Rashid: Yeah, I mean, in the book, I talk about declarations of war, and those are political, really. There are other kinds of upheavals, sociopolitical. One of them, as you pointed out, is World War One. Another is the Arab Revolt of ‘36–’39 actually as important in some ways as the Nakba. Another is the Nakba. And each of these are not just political events, but I think more importantly, hugely important socially and economically. And I think you’re actually right in pointing to the ‘70s and the period up to the ‘82 Israeli invasion of Lebanon for two reasons. And they’re both political, but they also have a socioeconomic aspect. The first reason is that there is a change in Palestinian political thinking in the 1970s, as a result I would argue, of the 1973 war. The 1973 war, Egypt and Syria go to war to retrieve the territories occupied in 1967. Both accept Security Council Resolution 242, which means they accept the existence of the state of Israel.
They accept that the lines of June 1967 are the borders of Israel, with their acceptance of 242. And they say, ‘All we’re fighting for is to liberate the territories that Israel occupied during the June ‘67 war.’ That changes the landscape for the Palestinians. And if you watch the evolution of the [Palestine Liberation Organization] PLO from 1974 onwards, right up until 1988 with the Declaration of Independence, they accept partition, they accept 242, they accept a two-state solution. They renounce violence coded as terrorism. If you watch that evolution from the ‘70s up to the end of the ‘80s, this is a profound political transformation. The Palestinians are no longer talking about liberating Palestine. They’re talking about what the Arab states were talking about in 1973, the territories occupied in 1967. That’s the PLO position. It’s the PLO position to this day, by the way.
The other change and it has all kinds of social and economic implications, as well as political, is the shift in Israel. And it’s a change, as you pointed out, over to Likud from the previous governments that were dominated by the Labor Party. From 1977 onwards, Israeli politics has been completely dominated by Likud. There were a few labor governments in the meantime, in ‘72 to ‘76 or ‘77. And other periods.
Max: Which did not end well [laughing].
Rashid: I know that, my point is that overall Likud has dominated Israeli politics ever since 1977.
Rashid: And that has brought about all kinds of changes, not just in the Israeli position, whereby the core outlook of Israeli politics is establishing hegemony and sovereignty over the entirety of the land of Israel, meaning from the river to the sea. And in fact, that is the electoral program of Likud in 1973, between the sea and the river, there shall be Jewish Israeli sovereignty only. That’s actually the driving force of Likud then and now.
And of the parties even further to the right, which are in some cases, spinoffs of Likud, in some cases far more extreme than Likud, that is the same ideology. So that’s a big shift. And what does that mean? That means that between the ‘70s and today, the number of illegal Israeli settlers in the occupied territories goes from under 100k, or around a 100k to 750k. I mean, that’s a huge demographic economic change. They control over 60% of the West Bank and most of the territory of East Jerusalem. So there’s economic impact. There’s a demographic impact. They talk about increasing that number to a million.
Max: Can you pause to speak to the economic strangleholds, because I don’t think that that’s appreciated enough in the dialogue, because we get so focused on wars and skirmishes and events like that.
Max: But the economic stranglehold, that was the shift in attitudes towards free trade and mobility within the occupied territories changed dramatically. Can you speak to that a little bit and how that impacted the local economy?
Rashid: Well, the economy of the occupied territories is integrated into the Israeli economy, and the Oslo Accords of the mid 1990s don’t change that one bit. And so you have different forms of exploitation: quarries, water, other extraction of resources from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for that matter continue apace. Palestinian workers work freely in Israel from the beginning of the occupation right up to the implementation of the Oslo Accords in the mid-1990s. The situation then changes, and you begin to have what’s called separation, which basically means the Bantusization and the enclosure of the Gaza Strip, of different parts of the West Bank, and a cutting of many of the economic ties with a continued incorporation of the Palestinian economy in a limited way into the Israeli economy. There’s very good work that’s been done on this by UNCTAD, the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development, which shows how the subordination of the Palestinian economy to the Israeli economy worked.
Max: So when we think about these periods, and then we think about what is happening right now, it’s always impossible to speculate on what’s going to happen next obviously, especially in times of war and such mass destruction. But is there any historical precedent that you see for what’s occurring right now? Do you hear some echoes from the past that give you an idea of what might happen next? Or are you finding this moment unique in the severity of it? And are you gravely concerned for what comes next?
Rashid: I am gravely concerned for what comes next, and I do think that is a rupture of some sort and maybe a paradigm shift. On the other hand, it has to be said that the Palestinians have suffered various phases of ethnic cleansing and expulsion. So what is happening in the northern part of the Gaza Strip is Israel is trying to push as much of the population of that part of the Gaza Strip into the southern part of the Gaza Strip is not unprecedented. Palestinians have been pushed out by Israel since 1948. They did it again in 1967, 3.25 million people in 1948, maybe .25 million, 200k, or .25 million in ‘67 after the war. So this is not unprecedented, and this has been—this demographic push establishing a secure large Jewish majority in as much as possible of what is perceived, especially by Likud as the land of Israel, in which there’s one people with the right of national self-determination.
That’s part of the Israeli constitution, by the way. That’s not some crazy extremist lawmaker spouting. That’s Israel nation state of the Jewish people law passed by the Knesset in 2018. There’s one people with a right of self-determination in that land, and that is the Jewish people. So within that vision, pushing Palestinians out is a necessary component. It was in ‘48, it was in ‘67, and we’re seeing it in at least the northern part of Gaza. The fear was, and I think that fear hasn’t fully abated, that there would be an attempt to push people out of Gaza and therefore out of historic Palestine. The Israeli government intended to do that. There’s no question, because the United States would not have tried to broker such a deal unless it was trying to do so on behalf of the Israeli government.
And there have been various calls by Israeli officials for the depopulation of Gaza and their expulsion into the Sinai. It’s not been publicly adopted, but we know that Secretary Blinken ran around the Middle East as an errand boy for Israel trying to get Jordan and trying to get Egypt to accept people expelled from the Gaza Strip, a shameful disgraceful episode in American history. The President actually sent to Congress on the 20th of October a request for funding, mainly for Ukraine and Israel, but which included money for pushing people out of Gaza. I mean, that’s in the request. That’s before Congress today. You can read it under the title “Migration.” And there are various elements there, which make it clear that they were intending to help Israel to ethnically cleanse at least part of the population of the Gaza Strip. So I think that’s an ongoing fear, frankly, of Palestinians given their history.
Max: So if we talk about actors in the region then, I know that—like I said, we’re both in New York, so we get a lot of opinions from a lot of sides, and many Jewish family members and friends and colleagues of mine and Israeli friends will say, ‘Where are the Arab countries and how come they never show up?’ And so in understanding what’s happening, obviously, I think the economic catastrophe in Lebanon places them in a little bit of a different situation. The civil war and the strife inside Syria certainly takes them out of any sort of play right now. But there are other neighboring entities. You mentioned Egypt, and we talk about Jordan. Jordan, to me, is a bit of a mystery because of the sort of tenuous history between the Palestinian people and the Hashemite Dynasty, and the interplay between the two, sometimes great, sometimes not. I get the sense of self-determination, the desire for self-determination among the Palestinian people, which should be a fundamental right and seems to have been to afforded to everybody else in the world.
Rashid: Not everybody else.
Max: Not everybody else
Rashid: Not everybody else. Not the Kurds for example.
Max: Yes, not everybody else, I don’t want to be glib. But Jordan, to me, is a curiosity, because I don’t have a lot of visibility into it, and I don’t feel like I’ve read a lot of great credible work on that. Can you explain the relationship as it is today between the Jordanian people, but then the Jordanian ruling class, and how they view this conflict and what role they might play in the days and years ahead?
Rashid: Yeah. Let me say something about the Arab countries. Most of them are ruled by anti-democratic unrepresentative governments, governments that do not represent their people. Governments that were merrily sailing along towards normalization before October 7th, in many cases, which is according to every opinion poll that has ever been taken, opposed by overwhelming majorities of Arabs in every country in which polling has taken place. So the people want something for the Palestinians before there can be normalization. The governments don’t care very much about the Palestinians, as is evidenced by their apparent willingness. And in some cases, their willingness, they’ve done it to normalize with Israel, without anything being done about the oppression of the Palestinians. So the governments and the peoples are in different places on the issue of Palestine. They would just rather forget about it. And they’re afraid of Palestinian militancy, and they know that it causes problems in their relationships with the United States.
And these are regimes that are dependent on the United States in different ways. They have a lack of legitimacy, they have internal security problems. The United States helps them to hold down their peoples. The United States is a great anti-democratic force in the Middle East, helping these regimes to stay in power across the Gulf, across North Africa, Egypt, and so forth. So that’s the general picture. What has happened since October 7th is that the overwhelming support of people in the Arab countries for the Palestinians has broken through that layer of government repression. And you’ve had demonstrations across the Arab world, some of the biggest in 12 years. In fact, some of the first in Egypt in 12 years, actually. Now, Jordan is a very special case. Jordan, first of all, annexed the West Bank in 1949, after the ‘48 war and extended citizenship to all Palestinians in Jordan.
So a very large majority, or at least a majority of the population of Jordan today, even after the loss of the West Bank, is made up of people who are descended from Palestinians or are Palestinians. And that means it has a very peculiar polity. It’s also not a real democracy. It’s a country ruled by a monarchy, a security service and an army. That’s what it always was. Yeah they have elections, but if you look at how the electoral districts are drawn up, you will see that the term gerrymandering barely begins to suffice to describe the outrageous way in which electoral districts are drawn and in which the Parliament is therefore elected. And it has no power almost, in any case. So Jordan is a special case in multiple ways. Everybody there is a citizen.
The largest single number of Palestinians expelled in 1948 became Jordanian citizens and are completely integrated into the Jordanian society and economy and culture. In fact, Palestinians dominate much of the Jordanian economy, much of Jordanian culture. So it is in multiple ways a special case. Now, Jordan has one overriding, or at least one overriding objective, which is to not be drowned with more Palestinian refugees. It suffered this in ‘48. It was a tiny country with a very small, weak economy. It suffered again in 1967. It was a small country with a weak economy. And this would be a disaster on a humanitarian and a social and an economic level for Jordan, not to speak of the politics. You add more Palestinians to Jordan, as you can imagine, from the point of view of not only the Hashemites and the security services, but from the point of view of the Palestinians themselves. Why would anybody want to allow Israel to ethnically cleanse Palestinians at the expense of Jordan or any other Arab country?
The idea that Blinken would run around the Middle East and try and pedal this outrageous idea is an indication of the absolute ignorance that the people running our foreign policy suffer from. I mean, anyone with any sense of the politics in history of this part of the world would know that this is just a non-starter no government would accept to do the dirty work for Israel. I mean, it’s inconceivable that they could have thought they could get away with this, but it shows the level of blindness and the degree to which they just are following an Israeli playbook in Washington, in the Biden administration and in our Congress, and unfortunately in our media and very many other places.
Max: So when we put Palestine in a political context—and I guess maybe before the separation‚ the true political separation of Gaza from the West Bank—when we go back to the time of Arafat, again, it strikes me that, I’m kind of impressed by his resiliency and his ability to shift over time.
Max: Arafat, in order to stay in power, but not really all that impressed by his statecraft, and it feels to me like he really never had a sense of what was happening on the ground, which is what allowed for the rise of Hamas and then other political interests, and political groups throughout the territories to gain the will and the trust of the people. There’s so much light on the creation and the birth of Hamas at this point right now.
Can you talk about the difference between the foundational elements of Hamas as an Islamist group, but one that was developed for social structures and political representations and then it’s turn over decades towards militant, the type of which I would say that we saw with Fatah and we saw with the [Israel Defense Forces] IDF and we saw with other organizations that preceded it. But this seems to be maybe of a different character. How do the people of Palestine—so what was that transition and how do the people of Palestine view Hamas as an organization since so many of them have only grown up with them?
Rashid: Okay. Those are multiple complex questions.
Max: Sorry [laughing].
Rashid: I’ll try and answer one or two of them. I’m not an expert on the rise of Hamas. Tareq Baconi, Sara Roy, Jean-Pierre Filiu have written wonderful books on the subject. So anybody who’s really interested shouldn’t read me, they should read these people and others. Secondly, Hamas arises in 1987 at just a moment that I was earlier talking about, when the PLO shifted from armed struggle to negotiations, shifted from the liberation of all of Palestine to acceptance of a two-state solution and a Palestinian state in the territories that were occupied in 1967, and came to be accepted as an interlocutor by the United States, and eventually by Israel. By the time Prime Minister Rabin comes in ‘92, Israel agrees to negotiate directly with the PLO. This shift, which incidentally is extremely popular among Palestinians, and is a shift by the universally recognized representative of the Palestinians, of course, is not recognized at the time by Israel nor for a while by the United States, but is something that accompanies, or how should I put it—at the same time as this shift is taking place, Hamas arises in 1987 arguing, ‘No, we have to liberate all of Palestine and armed struggle is the only way.’
And it’s put in an extraordinary Islamic rhetoric. I mean, you have to read the original charter to realize where these people were coming from. It’s well worth reading. It’s quite a shocking document, actually. They’ve changed, they’ve revised this entirely in recent years, in the last couple of decades. But you go back to ‘87, and what they were basically saying, besides the Islamist rhetoric was, ‘You failed, You’ve abandoned liberation of all of Palestine, and you’ve abandoned armed struggle. We’re taking up that flag.’
They do not gain enormous support until the PLO fails to achieve the goals that Arafat and the PLO thought they were going to achieve through the Oslo process. You have to look at what happened in the 1990s. PLO sends a delegation; I was an advisor to it, to Madrid and Washington. We negotiate for two years. We get nowhere. It is clear that this is not going to lead to a Palestinian state. It is not going to roll back settlement. It will not end the occupation.
We get that from the Israelis and the Americans. ‘This is your ceiling, live with it.’ That’s what we’re told, ‘And then maybe later we’ll discuss these things.’ And we know that those things were never on the table in fact, it turns out. Arafat accepts that. By the end of the 1990s, Palestinian GDP per capita goes down. Palestinian movement is severely restricted. In 1992–95—I was living in Jerusalem a lot of that time—You could go anywhere with West Bank license plates. You could go to the Golan Heights, you could go to Eliad, you could go to Gaza, you could go to Tel Aviv, you could go to Haifa. Nobody was restricted in their movement, except a very limited number of people, and there were very few checkpoints. Tens of thousands of Palestinians worked inside Israel. People went to the beach for heaven’s sake in Jaffa. All of this changes with Oslo. Walls, checkpoints restrictions into area A, area B, and so forth. So GDP per capita goes down. Movement is restricted. The occupation is further extended and entrenched and settlements continue to expand.
Why does Hamas gain currency? Because they say, ‘Yo, you abandoned liberation, you abandoned armed struggle and look what it’s gotten us?’ And that’s one of the drivers of the Second Intifada of the early 2000s with the suicide bombings and everything that followed. And I think that the abject failure of the international community of Israel and the United States to make any movement towards the things that the Palestinians expected and hoped for in the early 1990s, is the reason for such popularity as Hamas has. In other words, ‘You told us to go diplomacy, this is what it got us.’ A much worse situation than we were in before.
Max: So it’s interesting because you mentioned that point as you were in the room during these negotiations in Oslo.
Rashid: I wasn’t in Oslo. These are the Washington talks, up to June of ‘93, Oslo was taking place behind our backs and without our knowledge, simultaneously in Oslo.
Max: Got it. So one of the narratives that emerges is that the terrorist activity, I guess, derailed all of the talks, and it looked like it was going to be intractable, and that maybe gains would’ve been made. And there was closer to at least a path towards statehood and recognition for the Palestinian people. But then you had the event where Baruch Goldstein walks in and murders worshipers in the mosque. And then you have reprisals and attacks, and the world sort of once again, throws up its hands and says, ‘Oh, these people simply can’t get along.’ But you’re suggesting that during those talks, these things were never going to be accomplished anyway. and that was window dressing on the side that could be used to basically disclaim the entire process.
Rashid: I mean, what is described as a peace process, which is supposed to lead to a so-called two-state solution, has to be examined in terms of the Israeli position, to which the United States slavishly adheres always and invariably. So we look at the Israeli position, and the Americans just arrange the furniture around whatever the Israelis want. The Israeli position is perfectly clear. The most forthcoming of Israeli leaders were Rabin, Barak, and later Ehud Olmert briefly in the early 2000s. Rabin’s last speech to the Knesset is well worth reading before he is assassinated, because he was considered to have gone too far by the people who are now in power, i.e, the right wing political forces killed him because they thought he’d gone much too far. He says, ‘We are offering less than a state.’ You have to take this man seriously. He’s the man who pushed the Israeli position far beyond what anybody before him had done.
He had agreed to negotiate with the PLO, he recognized the PLO represented, the Palestinian people. He recognized there was a Palestinian people. Nobody had done that before. No Israeli leader ever did that before. And a lot of the present lot don’t accept any of that today. But he said ‘It will be less than a state,’ and said, ‘We will maintain control over the Jordan River Valley.’ And what does that mean? That means you’re talking about no sovereignty. That means you’re talking about something less than statehood. That means you’re essentially talking about autonomy under Israeli rule, permanent Israeli rule. Barak changes the terms a little bit at the Camp David negotiations, and then he flounces out and says there’s no partner. Olmert changes the terms as well, but in every case, what Israel is talking about is less than a state.
Now, could that have been changed were it not for suicide bombing and so on and so forth? I don’t know. Those are counterfactuals and alternative histories. What I will say is that it is clear from these positions at least, that what was being talked about was not a two-state solution. It was a one-state and a one Bantustan solution, or a one-state and an autonomy solution. Something of that sort. And that didn’t meet Palestinian minimal aspirations. I mean, Israel has always controlled the population registry. You can’t register unless they accept that you exist. Israel has always controlled entry and exit from the occupied territories. You can’t get in, you can’t get out without their permission. It’s always controlled, import and export. You can’t have an independent economy. It’s also always controlled the currency. I could go on and on and on.
Those are the results of Oslo. That’s what Israel has allowed, much less even than what Rabin was promising for a variety of reasons that have to do with Israeli internal politics and also the success of Hamas in undermining any progress at different stages. Not just with the suicide bombings that you mentioned, that followed the Baruch Goldstein massacre in Hebron, but also the suicide bombings that took take place in the early 2000s. During the Second Intifada, the objective was to undermine Fateh, undermine the PLO, and to assert that only armed struggle can lead to the liberation of Palestine. So it was both pumping themselves up politically and undermining the alternative course that the PLO was trying to follow. There’s a little bit of that in what they did, starting on October 7th, by the way.
Max: Alright. So let’s talk about October 7th. I saw a Hamas spokesperson who said, ‘If the option is to die slowly or die quickly, I’m not sure I understand the difference between the two.’ And so from a revolutionary insurgents standpoint, you understand that type of response and reaction. And then immediately after the event, I saw a lot of the rhetoric—and again this is just in the western media and western culture, so I can’t speak to what the rhetoric is like in the media culture in the Middle East—but here you started to hear a lot of 9/11 chatter. ‘This is reminiscent of 9/11. This is Israel’s 9/11.’ And I remember living in Manhattan during 9/11. I remember my own personal blood lust that I felt at that moment, not knowing who I was angry at, just knowing I was angry and wanting revenge, and knowing people that were killed that day.
And so you understand, you begin to understand the dynamics of it a little differently as the time passes. And I imagine that that blood lust remains among Israelis who might have been more sympathetic to a Palestinian cause. Even though you see that there are some conscientious objectors that are standing up for the Palestinian cause and saying, ‘Please at least a ceasefire, at a minimum a ceasefire, stop the massacre in Gaza.’
This seems to have given the Israeli government the same type of cover that we had during 9/11 to basically just go have at it and test the limits of what is possible. And as we saw after 9/11, the limits of what was possible appeared limitless. I mean, our response was extraordinary, and it was devastating and we killed hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people that were not involved in any of the planning of that event. And similar, we have that again here.
Max: Where did the Western forces play into this and do they have any legitimate ability to control the events that are happening right now?
Rashid: Let me say two things, first about the Israeli reaction. I’m not going to talk about what Hamas intended. That’s another question. The Israeli reaction on a popular level I think has to be understood, in terms of the fact that this is probably the largest civilian casualty toll in Israel’s entire history. The killing of 800 people on one day is really important in terms of Israeli history. I mean it’s being portrayed mainly in terms of Jewish history. And I don’t think that Kishinev is what you should be looking at. I think we should be looking at the fact that in every single war Israel fought, it did not lose this number of civilians. Not on a single day, not in the entire course of the ‘48 war or any other of Israel’s, many, many wars. They lost about 800 or 700 civilians—719 I think—civilians during the Second Intifada from a variety of attacks, suicide bombs, and otherwise over four years.
So they lost less in the Second Intifada—civilians, I’m not talking about military casualties—less civilians than were killed in one day in October last month. So the traumatic impact of this is incalculable, even though Israel’s a much bigger country than it was, the Israeli polity is much bigger than ‘48. It’s a huge casualty toll, and the largest in Israel’s history, civilian casualty toll. The second thing is, there’s the shock of the collapse of the Israeli army. Now, this is what I think the Israeli government and Israeli military is most affected by. Of course, they’re traumatized. Everybody in Israel, everybody I know in Israel knows somebody was affected, either killed or wounded or captured as a hostage. So that’s perfectly understandable on a social level. Obviously, the leaderships of the military and the government feel that, but they also feel the enormous humiliation of the collapse of the security doctrine, of the fact that the Gaza division was defeated militarily, an entire division of the Israeli army, 16,000 soldiers were overrun by Hamas.
I mean, that has happened. It happened along the Suez Canal with the entire Egyptian army in 1973. It has really, I mean, this is—to the Israeli security managers who have an arrogance and a belief in their infallibility and in the brilliance of their concept, the conceptia they call it—this is a humiliation. This is not just a desire for revenge. This is a level of humiliation that they’re going to take out on the Palestinians for a very, very long time. So that’s the reaction. The popular reaction should be easy to understand. Now you’re asking about the impact on the West. Israel, in a certain sense, is us, as far as many Americans are concerned—they have family there—they believe that Israelis are like Americans—whether they have family or not, whether they’re Jewish or Christian or Buddhist or Pagan or Muslim or whatever. People have connections there. So it is felt in a way thar the greater number of deaths in Sudan, for example, as a result of the ongoing savage civil war, and the appalling humanitarian crisis is not felt in the United States. Also, Israel is an American ally. Israel is armed by the United States. Israel benefits from UN Security Council vetoes by the United States, and so on and so forth. So it’s in a different category. And those things are felt here.
Finally, think for a moment about the commanding heights of our society. These are dominated by people who grew up in the ‘50 and ‘60s when the only narrative was an Israeli narrative. So whether they’re Jewish or they’re Christian, or they’re again Buddhist or Hindu, or Pagan, it doesn’t really matter. They were marinated in a belief, in a variety of myths, whereby Israel is some kind of golden example to the world. And Biden perfectly exemplifies that, I think. And the people around him, if Israel didn’t exist, it would have to be invented. ‘I’m a Zionist.’ These are things that come from another generation. Young people don’t feel this way. Even people who feel connected to Israel and are supportive of Israel, they don’t feel the same way as the people who own the big corporations, who give the big campaign donations to our politicians, who sit on the boards of trustees of private universities.
Those people in their 70s and 60s, and God help us 80s, in the case of Biden, live in a different world than the vast majority of Americans who are younger. And so, not surprisingly, the political class is against a ceasefire in Gaza, 68% of Americans favorite it, including an overwhelming majority of Democrats. So the commanding heights of our society, the people who own the media without exception, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, they’re part of that generation with that worldview. And so the United States is firmly aligned with Israel because that gerontocracy and that plutocracy determine outcomes in politics, in corporations, on our university campuses. We have university campuses completely unresponsive to large swaths of students and large swaths of faculty because they’re listening to the donors and they’re listening to the trustees.
They’re not listening to us. They don’t give a damn about us. They care about some students, and some of us, because the trustees and the donors are screaming at them that these people are in danger, or these people feel hurt, or these people are not being properly treated. The fact that other people feel hurt or other people are not being properly treated is a matter of little or no concern. Why? Because they like the media, like the politicians, like the corporations represent an earlier mindset, a mindset of the ‘60s and the ‘70s and the ‘80s when these people’s ideas were formed.
Max: When I hear Jewish expressions of outrage and sympathies and all along a spectrum, I recognize it as a spectrum, as one should. There is no monolithic approach on any side of this equation. One of the sentiments that’s been expressed to me over the years is that without questioning the genesis of it, to say, Well, there is no safe harbor on that side of the planet for Jews. There are only 3,500 who remain in predominantly Muslim countries, without them going back and looking at, well, how did it get to be that way, because there was an exodus of Jews from predominantly Muslim countries into Israel and to the United States and back into Europe and other parts of the world. But they can no longer find safe harbor in, I guess, in Middle Eastern countries or predominantly Muslim countries throughout Africa.
So there is a sense—again when we deal with present reality, there is a sense where Jews, once again, feel that sense, ‘All eyes on us and we’re cornered, but now at least we have a homeland, and now we really can’t let it go because there’s no place else for us to go. It’s been proven that we are not safe anywhere in the world.’
Max: So what I tried to do was balance the dialect here in the first series that we did to do the historical approach from the Zionist perspective, and then to mirror it with the Palestinian perspective. And the more you do that, the more tragic it gets, because you realize that the conservative far-right wings of every movement have pushed us into this place where now nobody can move. Now we’re all dug in.
And so I wonder if—it’s almost like I can’t see if there’s a good path forward for the people of Israel. Like I do believe now that they might be more compromised than they’ve ever been before, and the security state was exposed for what it is. They’re a bully tactic state, and they may not have a lot more beneath them.
Max: So the uprisings will continue. The Palestinian people have connected with the rest of the young world in a way that they have never done before, and that this is all going to continue. As a professor, you’re a historian, you’re a professor but you also connect with young people in New York City in this melting pot. What are the young people telling you? Because I know progressives are going to be under fire and younger Democrats are going to be under fire certainly in the next election cycle. But you see that expression directly. What are you feeling?
Rashid: Oh, I mean, you’ve opened up three or four things, and this is going to be the last question, so let me answer all three, try and answer a couple of them. The first thing is this sense of being beleaguered, there’s reason behind it. Israel is beleaguered. I don’t just mean militarily or on the ground in Palestine, Israel is beleaguered because of its own actions, primarily, but it is beleaguered. World public opinion has been aroused in a way that it hasn’t been for a very long time. And it’s aroused because it sees a broader picture than just Jewish suffering. In fact, there was great sympathy worldwide in the first days after the October 7th attack for Jewish suffering, for Israeli suffering. India, every part of the world, including many people in the Arab world were horrified and shocked. Some people celebrated, no question.
But I think the overwhelming global reaction, not just in the United States and the Western countries, globally, was one of intense sympathy and horror and shock. And it’s well worth paying attention to why that diminished very rapidly, diminished because of what Israel does because people were reminded, they kill so many people each time one of their people is killed. That is not a coincidence. That is a policy. It has been a policy for 75 years. It was taught to the Israeli generals who started commanding the Israeli army back in the ‘40s by British counterinsurgency experts. That’s how colonial powers operate. You have to kill enough of them to impress on the natives that we have overwhelming force. Well, I hate to say this, but that’s been a failed strategy. It hasn’t worked. It didn’t work in the ‘40s. It didn’t work in the ‘50s. It’s not going to work this time.
And it doesn’t sell well in the formerly colonized world because they all tasted that lash of colonialism. The Chinese, the Indians, the Indonesians, the Bangladeshis, the Nigerians, the Brazilians, the people of the world, the billions of people in the world all come from a colonial background. And their sympathy diminished very rapidly when they saw thousands and thousands and thousands of Palestinians dying after, tragically, 800 Israeli civilians died. And unfortunately, for Israel, one life in most people’s eyes is equivalent to another life. And there’s no privileging of one life as having a kind of sanctity that other lives don’t have. So they are beleaguered globally, not just in the Arab World. And they are, I think to a certain extent, sensing that that even extends to the West, because young people, I think have the same—not all of them—but many of them have the same measure. They say what happened on the seventh was horrific, but what is happening is horrific too. And that the Israeli government and many of its supporters don’t seem to see that is a problem for them.
Now you’ve correctly said that progressive Democrats are going to be under pressure in the year to come and in years to come, perhaps, and I think you’re right. Progressive Democrats have an overwhelming majority of Democratic voters on their side. So if the big money and the machines crush them, the Democratic Party will lose in the end. And that may well happen. APAC will spend unlimited amounts to defeat Jamaal Bowman or to defeat AOC or to defeat Ilhan Omar or to defeat Rashida Tlaib. And I’m sure that in some cases they will succeed.
But they represent an overwhelming majority of the Democratic party base: minorities, young people, and in many cases, Arab and Muslim communities, in say swing states like Michigan. So if President Biden loses in November next, it won’t just be because he’s incoherent, or he is doddering, or because his policies are rejected by many Americans, it will partly perhaps be because he’s alienated that base of the Democratic Party. I mean pastors of Black churches put a full page ad in the New York Times calling for ceasefire, maybe somebody in the White House ought to ring a bell and wake the president up and tell him, ‘Yo, whatever you think about Israel or Palestine,’ and he clearly doesn’t think about Palestine, ‘Whatever you think about Israel, maybe you might want to consider the impact of this,’ and of the Democratic Party machine’s, steamroller effort to crush the progressives.
So that’s what I have to say about that. As far as what young people think, well, young people are obviously extremely diverse, and I only come in contact with a very tiny cross section of them. I mean, I teach at Columbia. I don’t think Columbia’s a very good example necessarily, if I were doing statistics, I wouldn’t take the Columbia campuses. We had an overwhelming vote in favor of divestment on the part of our student body, both at Barnard and at Columbia four years ago, or three, four, whatever years ago. That was the sentiment of the students then, sentiment hasn’t changed. There are many people who are supportive of Israel. There are many people who are not sure, but there are very large numbers of people among the student body who really see this war in a specific light that’s not very favorable to Israel.
Even people who have family in Israel, a large proportion of these are Jewish students who are marching and who feel oppressed by the administration and so forth. Now I think that, however, is representative of certainly elite universities. I think it’s representative to a lesser extent of college campuses generally. And I think that if you go into other places and universities, go into minority communities, you find a great deal of sympathy for the Palestinians. That’s true in various other niches of American society. I can’t speak to those niches. I mean, I meet people from different ethnicities and different backgrounds, and I get that sense. But I can tell you that as far as students are concerned there is an openness, a critical faculty and an ability to see, two sides of a question that simply didn’t exist 20 or 30 years ago. It’s not just the support for Palestinians that has increased. The young people are critical and open-minded about all of these narratives.
Max: Professor, I know we’re up on time. So I hope you’ll come back again. I’d love to extend the discussion and again, I also want to thank you for your work. I think it’s been a tremendous service. And I know that you have family in Palestine. So my thoughts are with you, and I’m sure our audience’s thoughts are with you. And I hope that we can connect again soon. But thank you for coming on the show.
Rashid: Thank you so much. I hope we will have that chance.
Max is a basic, middle-aged white guy who developed his cultural tastes in the 80s (Miami Vice, NY Mets), became politically aware in the 90s (as a Republican), started actually thinking and writing in the 2000s (shifting left), became completely jaded in the 2010s (moving further left) and eventually decided to launch UNFTR in the 2020s (completely left).