A Gun Pointed at the Palestinian’s Heads” – a Palestinian Historian Talks About Balfour


The ECOSOC Chamber of the United Nations Secretariat in New York pulled together a lecture on the Balfour Declaration and the impact it has had on the Palestinian people.

And frankly? It wasn’t that bad.

I know good news is not news, but bear with me.

Rashid Ismail Khalidi, the lecturer, is an American historian – or as he likes to call himself: a Palestinian American historian. His father worked for the UN, so Khalidi, as he says, grew up seeing how the UN fails to live up to its mandate. Not too bad from a ‘Palestinian,’ right?

But it got better.

Khalidi is known to believe that there is such a thing as a Palestinian identity. What’s more, according to him, it already existed way before the Balfour Declaration, and the only problem was that following the WWI the Palestinians were suffering from a collective PTSD, so they were too weak to act upon on any sort of national identification, let alone a nationalistic move.

“The Balfour Declaration was a gun pointed at the Palestinian’s heads,” says Khalidi. “It was a declaration of war, from the Brits towards the Arabs.” Let me highlight: he did not attack the Jews, he attacked the Brits. And he did so throughout his talk.

Of course, he did say that as opposed to others, he does believe that Zionism was both a colonial endeavor and a national movement in the making that thanks to Weizmann got backed up by the Brits. However, he also said that the Brits didn’t just cajole the Zionist agenda by purely sympathizing with the Jews. No, as he argued (and I do give him credit for this), the British Empire has never done anything without its own strategic outlook. And with the Zionist goals, they got both their colonial power game and they also attempted to “get rid of the Jews” and have them in one place. That’s it about the Brits really caring for the Jews.

When a question arose from the audience as to how can the UN give more agencies to augment the Palestinian’s rights, Khalidi answered rather bluntly: “They [Palestinians] have to deal with this themselves. While they don’t have a government as the Israelis do, Palestinians need to start dealing with the 21st century by themselves.”

Frankly, during his hour-long lecture, Khalidi not once bashed Israel. He did bash the great powers, as he called them, since they ignored everything until they got what served their own interests. So they didn’t care whether what they did was at the expense of the Palestinians. The punch line of his speech was that it is high time for the UN and everyone to take vigorous actions to break the logjam created by these great powers. Both the Jews and the Palestinians deserve peace, a home, and self-determination.

I know, it’s not too amazing, but it’s not too bad either, so why to even talk about this lecture?

The reason is two-fold:

One, we need to talk about positive things also. And the fact that in front of 200 people and several others watching online, Rashid Ismail Khalidi offered a fair enough presentation without cursing Israel or the Jews, that is something. Of course, he did not present the angle that we would want to hear, but having a different approach is his right.

Second, while today, one could read Einat Wilf’s latest on the Algemeiner, where she argues that Jewish action, not Balfour created Israel, there was also a loud and fancy mainstream Banksy who was throwing a party in Bethlehem in the name of the Queen to apologize for the Declaration.

So here is the issue: where were the Israeli and British representatives of this event – being the only event within the UN’s wall – to join the discussion?

Or, if not joining Khalidi, where was the event that educates, advocates from the other side?

Sometimes creating fancy or funny memes doesn’t do the trick. Khalidi was not talking to an audience that was already convinced about the Palestine case. He talked to a diverse group of people, and many had no idea about why some are happy, and others are angry about the Balfour Declaration.

So yes, it was a great event where we, on the other side, missed our chance to talk to an audience wider than our usual circles, an audience like I was five years ago, an audience whose perspective and views on Israel are not yet formed and are hungry for more information. Today, we might have lost 200 more people to the other side, because sometimes we forget to show up. And if now 200 more people will share the narrative about an existing Palestinian identity, well, that isn’t exactly good. Especially not on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

Virag is a digital communications strategist and personal branding consultant, who is helping individuals and brand owners building a successful online media presence that is authentic, sustainable, and recognizable. She is also a loud pro-Israel advocate, the founder of Almost Jewish, a pro-Israel movement that aims to change the stereotypes about Israel and the Jewish people one day at a time. Currently a Judaism graduate student at Touro College in Manhattan.

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