Khalidi begins his story with a prescient and premonitory letter his great-great-great uncle, Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi, an Ottoman governor, mayor of Jerusalem and professor in Vienna, directed in 1899 to Theodor Herzl, the Viennese journalist and founder of the Zionist movement. Deploring European persecution of the Jews, acknowledging their emotional ties to the biblical land of Israel, he nevertheless said: “In the name of God, let Palestine be left alone,” warning that its Arab majority (then 94 per cent) would not consent to being supplanted and any attempt to do so would imperil well-rooted Jewish communities all over the Middle East.
Herzl did not reply, but four years earlier had written in his diary of emptying Palestine of its “penniless” Arab population. “Both the process of expropriation [of land and property] and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly,” he wrote.
By arguing that this quote is prescient, Gardner suggests that Zionism’s goal was to “supplant” (meaning, to replace) the Arab population. In fact, in accepting both the 1937 Peel Commission Report and the 1947 UN Partition Plan, Zionist leaders were accepting ideas for statehood that would have left very large Arab minorities.
Moreover, the quote by Herzl is but one sentence in a much larger idea.
Here’s the full Herzl diary entry:
When we occupy the land, we shall bring immediate benefits to the state that receives us. We must expropriate gently the private property on the estates assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our country.The property owners will come over to our side. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely and circumspectly … It goes without saying that we shall respectfully tolerate persons of other faiths and protect their property, their honor, and their freedom with the harshest means of coercion. This is another area in which we shall set the entire world a wonderful example … Should there be many such immovable owners in individual areas [who would not sell their property to us], we shall simply leave them there and develop our commerce in the direction of other areas which belong to us.
The second half of the quote makes clear that Herzl wasn’t even contemplating forced expulsion of the Arab population. Moreover, as historian Efraim Karsh has observed, there’s no evidence whatsoever that Herzl believed in the forced transfer of Arabs – not in The Jewish State (1896), in his 1902 Zionist novel, Altneuland, “in his public writings, his private correspondence, his speeches, or his political and diplomatic discussions”. The Financial Times journalist is imputing to the founder of modern Zionism (and, by extension, the Zionist movement more broadly) an appetite for ethnic cleansing based entirely on one meager and extremely unrepresentative sentence within a fuller quote, whilst completely ignoring the vast body of Herzl’s life’s work – which would of course contradict the desired conclusion.
But, there’s something even more misleading about the intended inference of that quote.
Most importantly, Herzl’s diary entry [from that day] makes no mention of either Arabs or Palestine, and for good reason. A careful reading of Herzl’s diary entries for June 1895 reveals that, at the time, he did not consider Palestine to be the future site of Jewish resettlement but rather South America. “I am assuming that we shall go to Argentina,” Herzl recorded in his diary on June 13…Indeed, Herzl’s diary entries during the same month illustrate that he conceived all political and diplomatic activities for the creation of the future Jewish state, including the question of the land and its settlement, in the Latin American context. “Should we go to South America,” Herzl wrote on June 9, “our first state treaties will have to be with South American republics. We shall grant them loans in return for territorial privileges and guarantees.” Four days later he wrote, “Through us and with us, an unprecedented commercial prosperity will come to South America.”
In other words, the ‘damning’ Herzl quote doesn’t even have anything to do with Palestine or Arabs.
Moreover, the suggestion in the FT review that the story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of Jews attempting to supplant or ethnically cleans Arabs from the land is a historical inversion.
Even if we leave Arab violence against and hatred of Jews (including the genocidal plans of the pro-Nazi Palestinian mufti) in pre-state Israel aside, Palestinians and Arab leaders have repeatedly tried to rid the land of Jews, whilst Zionist leaders have consistently sought compromise and accommodation. The war against the nascent Jewish state in 1948 was not motivated by a desire to adjust the borders, but to annihilate Israel. Likewise, in 1967, in the lead-up to the war, Arab leaders did not speak of their desire to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but, rather, waxed eloquently about how this would be a war of annihilation.
Though we’re not surprised that Khalidi, who described the Balfour declaration as “a declaration of war by the British Empire on the indigenous population”, refuses to commit to supporting Israel’s continued existence, and has evoked antisemitic tropes, would peddle such historical fiction, we do find it surprising, and quite troubling, that a journalist at a serious publication would promote such agitprop.