Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University. He is also a well-known Pro-Palestinian activist. He recently wrote a book called, “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917-2017.” The central premise of the book is that Jewish people are foreigners to the land of Israel and have been waging a colonist war against the resisting indigenous Palestinian population. The only problem is that Khalidi describes the borders of Palestine as being artificially created by Europeans, while simultaneously describing them as the ancient indigenous borders of Palestine.
According to Khalidi, this war against the Palestinians began in 1917 with the Balfour Declaration, which declared the British approval to help facilitate, “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Khalidi called this, “a quintessentially colonial proclamation by the greatest power… to replace an indigenous people with another group of people, whom it proposed to bring into existence on that indigenous’ people’s territory.” And, “this war has been waged with the objective of supplanting the original indigenous population.” In order to enable the creation, “of an entirely new entity… the State of Israel.”
The origin of the concept of the shape of the borders of Historic Palestine:
In 135 CE, the Romans renamed the region of Judea to “Syria Palaestina.” From then on, Southern Syria would also sometimes be called “Palestine.” That being said, the name “Palestine” referred to a general geographic region. Similar to the term “Midwest,” it had no legal borders. Ironically, Khalidi himself cites a letter written in 1899 from the Mayor of Jerusalem to Theodore Herzl, in which the mayor explains, “Palestine is an integral part of the Ottoman Empire.” This means Palestine was never a nation. In reality, the idea of a nation called “Palestine” did not emerge until after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
The Ottoman Empire was massive. Their territory stretched across the modern borders of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. In 1918, The Ottoman Empire surrendered to the Allies. Before the empire surrendered, the British and the French made a deal called the Sykes-Picot Agreement to divide the territory of the empire into sections. In 1920, The League of Nations was formed and they started drawing new borders and dividing the territory into mandates. The new borders were supposed to turn into new countries. Britain and France were appointed to govern the districts until the newly created nations were able to function as states.
The League of Nations designated the area under the British Mandate of Palestine for settlement by the Jewish people. Since Palestine was just a term for a general geographic region, the map of the Mandate for Palestine extended to both sides of the Jordan River. The mandate originally included all of the territory of the modern day country of Jordan. However, in 1921, the British decided to give away the land on the east side of the Jordan River to a powerful family in the Hejaz. So, the east side of the Jordan River was chopped off from the mandate area and used to create The Emirate of Transjordan. The British Colonial Office issued a statement calling for a, “Distinction to be drawn between Palestine and Trans-Jordan under the Mandate.” The decision was ratified by the League of Nations in 1922. The remaining territory of the mandate included what is today modern Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
The leftover shape of the mandate is what the Palestinians declare ownership over by chanting, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free.” The chant means that Palestine extends from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. This shape is what every representative of the Palestinian people claim as their borders. This shape appears on every map shared by the Palestinian Authority, Students for Justice in Palestine, and American Muslims for Palestine. This shape is anachronistically called, “Historic Palestine.” This shape also appears on the hardcover edition of Khalidi’s book. But this means that the exact borders the Palestinians claim as their “indigenous” homeland are the same borders as those created by European powers in 1921.
Khalidi describes the borders of Palestine as being artificially created by Europeans.
In a 2014 lecture, Khalidi described the time period after the fall of The Ottoman Empire, and the European influence on the creation of the borders of the modern Arab states in the following manner:
“The impact of WWI in the Middle East goes far deeper than the capricious imposition of borders by foreigners and the creation of artificial states… Syria and Iraq are only two of the many states created by The WWI partitions known as the Sykes-Picot Accords, whereby Britain and France established zones of influence with little or no reference to local conditions, or to the wishes of those affected, but rather solely to suit these two countries imperial interests. These entities were arbitrarily carved out in 1915 and 1916 by two negotiators… often by drawing long straight lines across the desert that are still visible on modern maps, they became the nuclei of at least five of the existing states of the Middle East.”
Yet, this same process gradually led to the creation of the same shape which Khalidi defines as the borders of the indigenous homeland of the Palestinian people. Thus, the exact shape which Khalidi defines as the indigenous homeland of the Palestinians was created in 1921 by Europeans. In the same lecture, Khalidi pointed out that one of the goals of ISIS was to remove the borders created by the Europeans in the early 1900s. Another name for ISIS is ISIL, which is an acronym for, “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” ISIL specifies the borders of UN member-states, which it then works to destroy. Khalidi explained that the goal of ISIS actually made sense, because they wanted to, “transcend and erase these hated borders.” Even more, “this was not the first instance in modern Arab history of the rejection of these artificial European drawn borders.” In other words, Khalidi declares that these borders were created by Europeans, so it makes sense for ISIS to want to, “erase these hated borders,” while simultaneously declaring that these are the ancient indigenous borders of Palestine.
No tribe of Native Americans has ever made the same claim as the Palestinians.
The borders of Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan were all drawn in the early 1920s. If the Palestinians have an ancient indigenous concept of the shape of their land ownership, then why does it stop perfectly at the modern borders of Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, which were all borders created in the 1920s?
Compare the Palestinian claim to the Native American claim. In contrast, no group of Native Americans have ever claimed that the borders of their indigenous homeland match the same borders created by European settlers in the 1900s. For example, the Cherokee nation had a territory that extended through Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The borders of Tennessee were created in 1796. The Cherokees do not claim that the borders of their ancient indigenous homeland match perfectly to the borders of the State of Tennessee.
For perspective, I live in Missouri, whose borders were created in 1821. The borders of Missouri are a hundred years older than the borders of “Historic Palestine.” In conclusion, the truth is that the borders of “Historic Palestine” were made by Europeans, while the claim that they are the ancient indigenous borders of Palestine is a form of revisionist history designed to steal all of the land that belongs to the Jewish people.