The Hundred Years War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917--2017
Written By James King
6 min read
The Hundred Years War on Palestine tells the story of the Arab-Israeli conflict from the perspective of the Palestinian-American historian Rashid Khalidi. Starting at the end of the 1900s with Zionism growing in momentum, Khalidi guides the reader through this complicated and controversial subject to provide a balanced overview.
Summary of main ideas
Khalidi focuses on six key events, or ‘declarations of war’, to lay out his argument that the history of Palestine and Israel since the start of the 20th century amounts to a “colonial war waged against the indigenous population, by a variety of parties, to force them to relinquish their homeland to another people against their will.”
This “variety of parties” includes the Israelis, the Palestinians, the British and the Americans. Throughout, Khalidi shows how the mistakes and failings of these stakeholders both created and perpetuated the conflict.
The First Declaration Of War: 1917-1939
In The First Declaration Of War, Khalidi describes how conditions were set for the eventual establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. In the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Britain had committed to supporting the establishment of a "national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, even though the Arab population made up 94% of the total population of Palestine at the time.
The consequences were disastrous. The 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine against increased Jewish immigration was disorganised, unsavoury (with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem pursuing an alliance with Nazi Germany) and ultimately unsuccessful.
The Second Declaration Of War: 1947-1948
This section focuses on the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine which was adopted as Resolution 181 and recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States.
This led to civil war followed by the declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel leading to the surrounding Arab states launching an unsuccessful invasion. By the end of the war, 700,000 Palestinian Arabs had either fled from their homes or were expelled from the area that became Israel, starting a refugee crisis that has never been resolved.
The Third Declaration Of War: 1967
In The Third Declaration Of War, Khalidi explores the Six-Day War of 1967 and especially the UN Security Council (SC) Resolution 242 which, partly due to some linguistic ambiguity between the French and English versions, did not force Israel to withdraw from newly occupied territories. As with Resolution 181, Resolution 242 made no reference to Palistinians (referring only to the ‘refugee problem’).
This is a theme to which Khalidi frequenntly returns: he argues that the Palestinian people have been repeatedly ignored as stakeholders in the Arab-Israeli conflict putting the rights and welfare of the Palestinian people at a continual disadvantage.
The Fourth Declaration Of War: 1982
This section centers on the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 which, Khalidi argues, represented a joint Israeli-American operation. The invasion sought to wipe out Palestinian nationalism in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
15,000 - 20,000 people were killed, of which a high proportion were civilians. The emergence of the United States as Israel’s partner in “helping to repress the Palestinians by force in service of Zionist ends,” is another key theme that Khalidi addresses in detail in this section.
The Fifth Declaration Of War: 1987-1995
The First Palestinian Intifada, which began in 1987, saw an outbreak of Palestinian protests and riots against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The Israeli response was widely seen as disproportionate in its brutality, which led to a rise in sympathy for the Palestinian cause around the world.
Khalidi explores the subsequent self-inflicted damage caused by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) leadership in squandering this public support and then accepting a flawed outcome at the Oslo Accords of 1993 (which was at least partly a result of naive and inexperienced PLO negotiation).
The Sixth Declaration Of War: 2000-2014
The final declaration identified by Khalidi spans fourteen years and encompasses the Second Palestinian Intifada and Israel’s aggressive response to it as well as the three Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) assaults on the Gaza Strip in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
Khalidi examines the nature of this response, in particular its impact on Palestinian civilians. He argues that these extreme measures can be considered “crimes against humanity” and, once more, highlights the influence of the United States in providing weapons and machinery.
How this book can help you
I think The Hundred Years' War on Palestine essential reading for anyone hoping to developing a foundational understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Here’s why...
I studied the conflict at school and was immediately entranced, although I realised even then that I had only scratched the surface of the subject. Since then, I’ve learnt more about the Middle East and come to understand that so many global events can be traced back to the establishment of Israel and the fight for Palestine.
The more I learnt, the more conscious I became of a gap in my knowledge concerning the origins of the conflict. The Hundred Years' War on Palestine provided an ideal step towards building a greater understanding because Khalidi thoroughly describes the key events while also providing commentary based on a well of knowledge and personal experience.
I expect some people will consider Khalidi’s work biased in favour of the Palestinian version of events. I don’t feel qualified to judge at this point but his writing has certainly inspired me to learn more on the subject.
Khalidi has said that he intended this book to serve as a counterpoint to the popular mythology made famous by Leon Uris’ epic Exodus (which I enjoyed reading but clearly represents a very biased point of view). I would argue the major takeaway for an audience that isn’t steeped in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the understanding that there isn’t a clear history of good vs evil here, but rather a desperately sad story of innocent human suffering stemming at least partly from decisions taken more than a century ago.
Some good further reading/watching/listening
Watch Rashid Khalidi giving a keynote talk about The Hundred Years' War on Palestine.
Where to get it
About the author
Rashid Khalidi is a Palestinian American historian of the Middle East. He is currently the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and Co-editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies. He has published over ten books about the history of the Middle East, of which his most well-known is Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness.
January 28, 2020
Want to Build an
Effective Reading Habit?
Subscribe to our sporadic newsletter
and we will send you a pdf guide:
How to Build an Effective
Reading Habit in 2021.