on 20 December 2013
In popular discussion there is still, amazingly, an argument as to whether the Palestinians exist as a people. It's a sad reflection of this fact that Rashid Khalidi has to still tackle the fraudulent arguments made by Joan Peters in `From Time Immemorial'. Needless to say, they are soon disposed with.
Of far more interest is the way Khalidi approaches what he sees as the formation of a distinct Palestinian identity that stretches back to the middle of the Eighteenth century, developed during the Nineteenth century, emerged as something that could be identified as a distinct nationalism in the early years of the Twentieth century and came into full form in the years 1918-23, launched it's bid for national freedom in 1936-39, was defeated in 1947-49 and re-emerged from that defeat in the 1960's to put the Palestinian issue back on the international agenda. Cultural, religious, political and economic factors combine and act upon one another to form this identity. The location of the origins of Palestinian identity to the era prior to the start of the Zionist colonisation of Palestine thus deals with the notion that Palestinian identity is merely a knee-jerk reaction to Zionist colonisation as some have suggested. What Khalidi does do is relate how reaction to Zionism did develop the urgency of the case for Palestinian nationhood.
Khalidi also locates the emergence of Palestinian nationalism in relation to the other emergent `isms' of Middle Eastern identities in the imperialist era; pan-Syrianism, pan-Arabism, pan-Islamism and concludes that many Palestinian nationalists could quite easily accommodate multiple identities as Palestinians, Syrians or Arabs without any contradiction. He thus deals effectively with any possible criticism from these ideological quarters that may challenge the existence of the Palestinians as a distinct people.
Especially interesting is Khalidi's focus on the press as a source for how educated Palestinians were feeling and how they were articulating their concerns.
All in all, an excellent book for anyone genuinely interested in the Palestine question and who wants to get beyond the commonly held myths.