Hussein Fakhri al Khalidi’s Memoirs of defeat (ca 1920-1950)
I have been battling for the last days in writing after almost three weeks of reading one of the heaviest books that passed my hands in what represents personal microscopic feedback of my history as a Palestinian.
It took me years to read about the Nakba and that hidden history of the Palestinian fate that remained silenced in the mouths of our parents and grandparents. I could always relate to the sense of shame the defeat overthrew on the people who witnessed what happened and somehow, in many ways, overshadowed the Palestinians in future generations.
It was the Nakba, the catastrophe of the feeling that I realized when I started to learn more about what took place. It was through Israeli historians of Palestinian empathy and mostly anti-Zionist. The history of victimhood gave me the sense of heaviness in going back to that history. But yet, that didn’t fulfill the emptiness I still endured when it came to that period.
WIth every invasion on Gaza, a reliving Nakba occurs; the brutality and viciousness of the Israeli occupation, the international leaderships who covered the occupation and supported it, the Arab leadership that watched as strangers and those close to the borders who were practically part of the invasion indirectly and directly as well, and of course the Palestinian leadership between a fractioned body in Gaza and the West Bank.
That glimpse of a memory of a past that somehow took place in the same land, with the same people, in what was about seven decades earlier. A reliving of the massacres, the expulsion, the injustice, and the resistance, all in a sealed area called Gaza, to people who themselves were a consequence of the previous displacement and injustice.
After Gaza, the fact that Palestinian friction became a fully fractioned corpse remained a shock to a naïve person like me. A person who grew up believing firmly in the Palestinian cause and its justice. It took me a lot of self-awareness and education to realize that Israel is not the only opponent in my Palestinian loss of land and all. I had always traveled in my mind inside Ahmad Amin’s statement in his biography “My Life” when he described Palestinians problem as a problem of leadership. Back then, despite its pain, I used that sentence to confirm that Palestinian leadership existed, which means some Palestinian autonomy existed. We, as people, had the full hand of this land.
The events in Palestine are only falling into a narrow loop that keeps narrowing into one single bold problem called leadership. The Egyptian historian and thinker’s words at the beginning of the 20th century only persisted in the knocking on my head.
In the last three weeks, I have been handling Hussein Fakhri Khalidi’s three-volume biography that he wrote in 1949 in Beirut, under the title of “ the era of compliments has passed.” I stopped myself from reading many times and forced myself to read as many times. I came to an end with the day the British mandate officially left and Israel as a state was formally declared. A whole volume is still there with many to reveal. However, like watching a movie that at some point, you realize with no doubt that you know the end. The episodes of the last month before what remained to be the Nakba was so apparent in its consequence of events, so heartbreaking, a result of victory that surprised not just the Zionist movement and the Brits and all, reading throughout the history of the previous two decades of Palestinian leadership was not of a surprise in its results. The Zionists didn’t expect what took place even in their wildest imaginations.
As I was reading, I thought of many conflicting ideas, some of which were even harsh to drill in my head. I was thinking of Benni Morris and how he changed his perspective and views on his historical research on Palestine and Israel, and I was thinking, for goodness sake, I will become like Benni Morris for the Arabs, I will end up becoming a pro-Zionist Arab. I was driven with such a sense of anger with each passing note I dwelled in. But each time, I would think that Israel within the Zionist context has never been a moral case to start with. If history didn’t confirm it enough, the present is a living witness to the brutality of their existence on ours. Then I would go into historians like Ilan Pappe (and others) who demonized Zionism. A perfect and proper explanation of historical feedback that Pappe still feeds the world with. I never felt for an instant that Pappe was lying or trying to prove something that didn’t take place for an account over the other; after all, I am a Palestinian. I always and will remain inspired by his (their) courage and strength in coming forward what took place and continue to take place. But somewhere, I realized that Pappe and people like him, in their attempt to clean Jews from the crime of Zionism (which is legitimate, it’s like being a defying Muslim Da’esh). We as a nation indeed remain the victim. There is no other way to do it. But we were responsible as well.
The role the British government had played. The whole Mandate period seemed to be a preparation for creating what became the state of Israel. Often, the Zionists disappointed them with their greed and demands, but in the end, it was all planned towards that date. What is not a surprise is that the Arabs and the Palestinian leadership knew about it all.
I have realized a series of embarrassing and shameful moments in my history of being a Palestinian who is still thriving to make a clear Palestinian identity within this complicated context.
For instance, boycott. In the thirties, Palestinians started their “revolution (1936-1939), wherein between the decision for the division was declared, and Palestinians as a consequence, years later and with the decision of the newly formed Arab League, by 1946, when the Jewish project became so obvious and no place to hide, they decided to boycott Jewish products as usual Palestinians started a wave of advertising and campaigns and even punishments to those who broke the rules. Arab governments and people obeyed and worked in line until a few months later, the Palestinians themselves were breaking that boycott, and what were exceptions became the norm. How suddenly, and even though Israel wasn’t even formed yet, the Palestinian trade and economy relied on Jewish factories and trade connections. Trying to quote what al Khalidi wrote seems ridiculous. Just a brief reflection on reality today explains it all. How traders used this as an opportunity to raise prices or to hide products from the markets, some of them bought all Jewish materials in a famous weaving factory, building materials, and others. There was no true sense of boycott among traders and business people, and the boycott ended up maybe the way my family and I live today. I am still arguing with my daughter about how effective it is to be one of the rare Palestinians who refuse to use the soft train and insist on buying non-Israeli products. While on the same line, jews, after the clashes they had with Arabs at the beginning of the 20s that resulted in the killings of Jewish people in Hebron, stopped buying Hebron’s grape that was at least ten times cheaper in price than Jewish grapes in other areas raising the notion of: “ Hebron vines are watered with Jewish blood.” In a summarizing sentence on the subject, al Khalidi says: “ 30 years passed on the British occupation to the holy land and the declaration of the national home for the jews. Those responsible for the nation could put a base to the boycott realizing the dangers of the Zionist colonization, which would have enabled a fully planned and applicable base for such an action. Such an economic boycott was enough to create an obstacle and end the movement of a Jewish nation-state. But they refrained, and the Arab interests intertwined with that of the Jews in all aspects of life until it became impossible to know where the Arab interests started and where the Jewish interests ended. And when real danger engulfed us, and we knew the effect of boycott, we forgot the thirty years that passed, and we decided to make a great effort within a few months where we can open factories that will make us independent in our needs… and we missed another station, as in the previous occasions. The jews took over all our properties… and many of us still blame what happened to the government of this country or that.”
Suppose the boycott was a disappointment that persists until this very day. One can imagine the final episodes of the declaration of the state of Israel in May 1948.
The Zionists’ victory was not even aspired in their wildest dreams how cities were evacuated with reasons the invasive terror army of gangsters didn’t understand. The Arab military is waiting months before the “date,” whereas Palestine was occupied by that time. Tiberias, Haifa, Yafa, the defeats in one settlement and town after the other. The fight that didn’t occur most of the time, the shortage of utilities, the laziness in approaching the war.
Among the testimonies of Khalidi is the killing of Abdel Qader al Husseini in the famous Coastal battle. Abdel Qader remains an icon of the Palestinian resistance, who the lack of support and his small group of fighters couldn’t even reach the frontline of the battle in Coastal when a bomb took their lives. The funeral of the Martyr coincided or not with the massacre of Deir Yasin when Khalidi briefs the following: “ …and some deformed the funeral with shooting tens of thousands of bullets from the martyrs’ house until flowers gate instead of saving it to fight the enemy, and forgot that his deed was suicidal in the aim of getting weaponry that the leadership in Damascus refused to supply him with…and the disaster of firing was ongoing in the Aqsa until some wise people interfered, and thousands of men and young and elderly with their war guns and their soft and heavy armory and abandoned their positions in the frontline. ..And the responsible authorities were forced to broadcast through microphones the call after the other asking the fighters to go back to their positions around Jerusalem and the different neighborhoods, but nobody listened. And the funeral closes, and the armed people go back. Not to their centers and tunnels but their homes and villages. Even though what happened in Deir Yasin was leaked, and those fighters could have avenged immediately.”
What was painfully shameful was that the country was left to the Zionist gangs while most of the leaders were giving orders from Damascus and Egypt. I cannot but imagine what the population would have thought when its leadership was in its safe havens, leaving a population behind, giving orders and restrictions on how things could be run or not. It is no coincidence that we continued our path with Zionism with one failure to another paved with shame and humiliation. While Zionism was growing and the seeds of their cause and course were flourishing, the Palestinian leadership was scattered and fragmented in a way, exactly like the way we witness it today how similar yesterday is with today, when even then, the personal issues, pride, and personal gains became the cause.
As much as there were actual attempts and actual tryouts and natural resistance. As much as there were people and still are who continued to serve their own lives for the cause of this cause. The Qassam, as much as Abdel Qader Husseini, was two among many other real sacrifices for this cause. How much is it a coincidence that the martyrdom of Abdel Qader al Husseini marked the failure of Palestine and Jerusalem, and the death of Faisal al Husseini, his son, marked the end of the Jerusalem portfolio of a Palestinian Jerusalem?
How much of a coincidence are the sacrifice of Qassam and his vicious fight for his cause is as if inherited in the veins of the Qassam in the aggression we witnessed last summer against Gaza?
And amid all those, like Khalidi, and so many, these days, we commemorate or remember the death of Hider Abdel Shari, another Palestinian who genuinely cared and lived for the cause of Palestine.
While we, as leadership, continue to live what we lived in a century ago … fractions and hatred that is much more rooted than that of the enemy. Prices the nation has paid and still is paying due to the hatred deep inside brothers’ rivalry. It was majlis and mu’ared (council and opposition, referring to Husseini and Nashashibi rivalry on Jerusalem leading positions), a rivalry and fraction that continued to the war and its preparation among the Arab nations, where the salvation army was also instructed through such divisions of Palestinians. Every single top-level rivalry of fractions was more substantial than that of the enemy that was using every opportunity to take as much as possible.
What makes me wonder is a phrase a friend mentioned a few years ago, and I never understood, naively as well. “ That we should sign a statement of surrender where we admit our defeat, the way Japan and Germany did after the second world war.” I never realized that we gained every instant of that defeat.
A nation cannot be without proper leadership… we might have been an exception as people who still insist on being… even though we continue to be part of a leadership that demand to fight its fights for power, money, status, where the cause of Palestine is nothing but a notion. A notion developed in its empty speeches of big words and non-effective means since the Zionists set feet on this land.
What happened was nothing but a natural consequence of disunity, enmity, fractioning, arrogance, and zero discipline that continue to be the status of what describes the situation almost a century later.
We need to be held accountable for our deeds as a nation and as a leader by surrendering to the fact of our defeat. The defeat that we paved from the very first instant until this moment.