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Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness

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Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Palestinians have spread out across the region - in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, as well as the occupied territories of Israel itself. Beginning with World War I, and across the geographical borders of their diaspora, this volume explores the evolution of a Palestinian national identity that developed in spite of, a Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Palestinians have spread out across the region - in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, as well as the occupied territories of Israel itself. Beginning with World War I, and across the geographical borders of their diaspora, this volume explores the evolution of a Palestinian national identity that developed in spite of, and in some cases because of, the obstacles it faced. It illuminates the sources of collective Palestinian identity from the late Ottoman Empire onward: religious beliefs; ethnic backgrounds; local loyalties; education; and external forces such as Zionism.


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Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Palestinians have spread out across the region - in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, as well as the occupied territories of Israel itself. Beginning with World War I, and across the geographical borders of their diaspora, this volume explores the evolution of a Palestinian national identity that developed in spite of, a Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Palestinians have spread out across the region - in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, as well as the occupied territories of Israel itself. Beginning with World War I, and across the geographical borders of their diaspora, this volume explores the evolution of a Palestinian national identity that developed in spite of, and in some cases because of, the obstacles it faced. It illuminates the sources of collective Palestinian identity from the late Ottoman Empire onward: religious beliefs; ethnic backgrounds; local loyalties; education; and external forces such as Zionism.

30 review for Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness

  1. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    This is certainly a precise and well-done history. Whenever any informative document comes to me from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I'm immediately suspicious of the author's motives. But Khalidi is very up front about his position. The history certainly provides a comprehensive account of Palestinian identity, and that's what it set out to do. It thoroughly debunks the bullshit notion that Palestinians don't exist, or that their identity is less authentic than the Jewish identity within the This is certainly a precise and well-done history. Whenever any informative document comes to me from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I'm immediately suspicious of the author's motives. But Khalidi is very up front about his position. The history certainly provides a comprehensive account of Palestinian identity, and that's what it set out to do. It thoroughly debunks the bullshit notion that Palestinians don't exist, or that their identity is less authentic than the Jewish identity within the spatial context of Israel/Palestine. Also, it provides a glimpse into the Middle East conflict in the era preceding Israeli independence-- something rarely discussed in media accounts. However, in its attempt to identify the development of Palestinian identity independent of Zionism, I really feel like Khalidi ignores the potent dialectical element. He's so adamant to defend Palestine as a positive rather than a negative identity that he glosses over a rather ugly implicit argument: that any Jewish settlement of any kind was fundamentally an act of colonization, and that Palestinians have an exclusively authentic and timeless claim to the state-space, an argument little more intellectually defensible than the right-wing argument that Mexicans are colonizing the U.S. If he sketched out the dialectic of Palestinian/Zionist interaction a bit more, I'd be a happier camper.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Justin Michael James Dell

    Khalidi's purpose here is to argue that Palestinians indeed have a national identity. Ostensibly, this contention runs contrary to the commonplace saying that "Palestinian" is an essentially made-up designation, a merely negative Arab self-identification vis-a-vis Zionism, the "Other" without which no Palestinian identity would be possible. However, Khalidi concedes the point that this conventional wisdom is grounded in a kernel of truth. But that then proves too much, as he would turn the presu Khalidi's purpose here is to argue that Palestinians indeed have a national identity. Ostensibly, this contention runs contrary to the commonplace saying that "Palestinian" is an essentially made-up designation, a merely negative Arab self-identification vis-a-vis Zionism, the "Other" without which no Palestinian identity would be possible. However, Khalidi concedes the point that this conventional wisdom is grounded in a kernel of truth. But that then proves too much, as he would turn the presuppositions inherent in this assessment of national identity on their head by asking, in the spirit of Benedict Anderson, "aren't all nationalities, thus?". Indeed, the Palestinian claim to national consciousness is rather shaky, especially before the advent of the Zionist colonization scheme. Khalidi tries his best to locate its provenance in things like the long-held Arab regard for Jerusalem and its environs as 'holy' land. The Ottomans, who governed Palestine for four hundred years, slowly developed an administrative conception of Palestine as unique and separate from Syria or Lebanon. The bold proliferation of state education in the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century did not leave Palestine untouched, and the few literati that were produced by it in Palestine did tend to become politically or intellectually (or both) engaged in Palestine, especially in the realm of print media. A number of newspapers were started, some in Palestine, but others more importantly in places like Beirut and Cairo, which spilled a copious amount of ink on the issue of Zionism. However, all of this makes for a very 'glued-together', tendentious picture of the emergence of Palestinian national consciousness that seems to go beyond the reality on the ground. And, this is where Khalidi's thesis becomes tenuous. At the very most, the formation of Palestinian print media organs and the proliferation of rudimentary education was perhaps too little too late to give Palestinians enough 'runway space' to get a national identity off the ground before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and Jewish immigration to Palestine reached floodlike proportions. At the very least, it is somewhat dubious, to my mind, that Palestinians would ever even have done so without the entrance of Jewish settlement in Palestine onto the scene, something that gave the locals a common enemy against which to unify and identify. Although Khalidi is at great pains to demonstrate that the nascent Palestinian education system and incipient print media existed "antecedently" to the arrival of Jewish colonizers, this can only be true by maybe a couple of decades, and at a very rudimentary level of development. Khalidi notes at quite a few times, based on his research of the newspaper primary source base he relies on, that even as waves of Jewish settlers were moving into Arab land, Arab editors decried the seeming inertia, disunity and fecklessness of the Arabs whose land was being gobbled up. This brings us to the ineluctable conclusion that contradicts, and yet does not contradict, Khalidi's thesis: The emergence of Palestinian national consciousness appears to be precisely concomitant to the movement of Jews in force into Palestine. Khalidi pinpoints the true 'birth' of a coherent picture of "Palestinianness" at the period between the advent of the First World War and the beginnings of British occupation in Palestine in the early 1920s. Only then, after the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, the revelation of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the exponential growth of the Jewish colonial population did Arabs suddenly react in a coherent and meaningful way indicative of a national consciousness. Even then, whether it was as "Palestinians" that they were reacting it up for debate. Khalidi readily accepts that not all Arab opposition to the Jews stemmed from a regional Palestinian fealty or nationalist impulse. Much of the opposition was grounded in religion and Islam's own troubled history with Judaism. Some of it was also based on pan-Arab nationalism, a longing to be united with Syria and Iraq, or even Lebanon, not a specific Palestinian nationalism. Sometimes it was just the sagacious perception that Zionism was a front for continued European imperialism in the Levant. In short, of the amount of opposition to Zionism that emanated from the Arabs in Palestine, only a fraction can be attributed to a feeling of "Palestinianness". Khalidi closes on the sanguine and reasonable note that, even if the Palestinian national identity is somewhat contrived, it is no more synthetic than most other national identities and has enough cultural and political 'solvency', as it were, to merit investment in a national home. The world, for better or for worse, has decreed that the nation-state is the primary unit of human geopolitical organization and social structuring, and thus it is only reasonable that Palestinians should be granted the basic right to such an institution.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Szendi

    For someone from outside of the field, this offered me a good overview of not only the history and development of a Palestinian identity, but also of how contemporary (well... a decade ago) discussions on the topic relate to that history. In particular, I liked Khalidi's analysis of Pan-Arabism, and how it lingered (lingers!) in Western discourse beyond its actual force as a political agenda in the Middle East. There is a central tension in the book that I felt went unresolved, however. Khalidi o For someone from outside of the field, this offered me a good overview of not only the history and development of a Palestinian identity, but also of how contemporary (well... a decade ago) discussions on the topic relate to that history. In particular, I liked Khalidi's analysis of Pan-Arabism, and how it lingered (lingers!) in Western discourse beyond its actual force as a political agenda in the Middle East. There is a central tension in the book that I felt went unresolved, however. Khalidi opens his argument siding with historians such as Eric Hobsbawm and Benedict Anderson, for whom the very concept of nationality is invented tradition and imagined community. However, Khalidi also wants to emphasis the legitimacy of Palestinian identity by arguing for its relative longevity and that it is not merely defined by its relationship to Israel. I can sympathize with both of Khalidi's aims. But I craved a meditation on why nationality and national identity, while invented and imaginary, are also real and legitimate. I recall that Marilyn Ivy's book on the construction of tradition in modern Japan gave a this issue its due. Maybe this history could borrow a little from anthropology.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Meir Brooks

    I came into this book as a potential "choir"-- I have always had a lot of respect for Khalidi, and have never really understood and much less sympathized with the idea that Palestinians are "not really a people" or that they need to justify their existence in some way. Which is why it's odd that I come away from this book somewhat less convinced of Khalidi's point than at the outset. The point of the books is very specific: elements of "Palestinian [national] Identity" can be traced back to the I came into this book as a potential "choir"-- I have always had a lot of respect for Khalidi, and have never really understood and much less sympathized with the idea that Palestinians are "not really a people" or that they need to justify their existence in some way. Which is why it's odd that I come away from this book somewhat less convinced of Khalidi's point than at the outset. The point of the books is very specific: elements of "Palestinian [national] Identity" can be traced back to the early 20th century, especially to the periods immediately before and immediately after WWI. He provides evidence primarily from newspapers and two prominent figures to support this. Yet on two major points the book seems sorely lacking. First, he argues at various points in the book against the idea that Palestinian Identity is solely an outgrowth of opposition to Zionism (a frequent claim in anti-Palestinian circles, as if this identity is wholly invented to "poke Israel in the eye"), yet just about the only indicator of Palestinian national identity he brings involves opposition to Zionism in various forms. This seems a great disservice, though I am too ignorant to suggest what other elements he could have brought up (this is why I was reading the book in the first place). Second, the historical emphasis of the book seems completely off. In a book of 209 pages, the first time he discusses Palestinian identity as distinct from other Arab and Muslim identities (first Ottoman, then Pan-Arab, and finally "South Syrian") is on page 165, and he ends this discussion on page 175, to be followed by a discussion of how this identity disappeared and reappeared in later decades. By his own account, up until the post-WWI period, Palestinian identity as a distinct one from the others mentioned did not coalesce into any kind of coherent movement. He does provide some examples of such a movement in those 10 pages, but it feels woefully inadequate. Now, I have to be clear, because it is a central (perhaps the central) argument of the book: I am not saying that the presence of other identities in any way invalidates the Palestinian one. They can be complementary and overlapping. But there also has to be some sense of an independent identity for the term "Palestinian Identity" to even make sense, even as it draws on or interacts with these other identities. And in detailing that distinct identity, the book feels short, especially as it pays very little attention to such momentous occasions as the 1936-1939 revolt (its significance is mentioned but not much justified) or how leading figures before Arafat expressed this identity. Lastly, while one can never and should never expect an author to be some kind of detached "objective observer", there were some biases in the text that were particularly distracting. Khalidi posits rural resistance to Zionism as an early indicator of Palestinian identity, and throughout the text consistently portrays resisters in a heroic light and (more importantly) any sympathetic views toward Zionism as a kind of betrayal. Typically this does not stray far from acceptable academic discourse, but one passage stood out (p.141): "Clearly, in spite of the alarm Zionism aroused among a large section of the Arab intelligentsia, such radical solutions were not yer seen to be necessary, nor perhaps was the time yet ripe for their propagation. We have nevertheless noted in the preceding chapter that in the countryside, the peasants themselves had begun to react violently to the seizure of what they understood to be their land by its new Zionist owners. [...] the literate upper classes were occasionally to show themselves to be ahead of the rest of Arab society in terms of perceptions, but lagging behind when it came to action and, with several notable exceptions, can thus be judged guilty of a certain degree of failure of leadership-- and, at the same time, unwillingness to follow the lead of the fellahin." This comes immediately after a discussion of the major newspapers' unwillingness to support a variety of radical measures, both violent (armed resistance) and nonviolent (measures against the Ottomans or critiquing the land sale system). It doesn't seem that "can thus be judged guilty" is a statement that he is placing in the mouths of others, but rather something he is saying himself. Now, I know that Khalidi is morally opposed to violence against civilians for political purposes. There shouldn't be any question of that. But it is hard not to read in this passage a criticism of the elite for not encouraging or participating in the violence against Jewish immigrants-- who, by his own account, for the most part bought and settled the land legally if problematically. This joins the overwhelmingly positive tone of his documenting the "resistance" of the fellahin, which often involved murder and persecution of the Jewish immigrants, to create a very problematic framing of that period of history, especially considering he ties it so strongly with Palestinian identity itself, which rather plays into the hands of anti-Palestinian critics. There are many great observations and comments in the book that will be valuable to any reader, though particularly people already knowledgable about the conflict and the history of the area. Khalidi's scholarship is, as always, impressive and professional. But it seems to do a rather poor job of making his primary argument, seems to partially vindicate some of the views he set out to refute, and adds in a very problematic attitude toward violence to boot. As someone who came in very much looking forward to bolstering an already existing belief in the Palestinian national identity, I came away feeling that critics of that identity would gain more "ammo" from reading this book than if they didn't.

  5. 5 out of 5

    William

    A very good examination of the development of Palestinian identity, focusing first on the Ottoman period of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and then the early years of the British Mandate. I especially appreciate Khalidi's research in the Palestinian and wider Syrian press of the period. As I started the book I was a little wary. Some reviews suggested that Khalidi focused too much on Palestinian identity as "independent" or as a "positive" and overlooked its dialectical nature as it rela A very good examination of the development of Palestinian identity, focusing first on the Ottoman period of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and then the early years of the British Mandate. I especially appreciate Khalidi's research in the Palestinian and wider Syrian press of the period. As I started the book I was a little wary. Some reviews suggested that Khalidi focused too much on Palestinian identity as "independent" or as a "positive" and overlooked its dialectical nature as it relates to Zionism. I'm not seeing any such shortcoming. Khalidi goes into a good bit of detail in terms of Ottoman and Mandate politics and shows the editorial banter in the Arab press as well as its focus on opposition to Zionism. He shows that Palestinian identity is a mixture of complex factors, but its relation to Zionism is certainly a part of that mix.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Carl Finch

    I found some parts of this book to be extremely interesting, but then some parts to be extremely repetitive and boring. I’d say 6 or 7 out of 10.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jean Kelly

    A very informative book about how the Palestinian national identity was formed thorough time. He has a depth of knowledge about the history of the period from pre WWI on. I also found him giving a balanced picture of all sides of the issues of the time - US, Russia, British, French, Israel,Saudi, Jordanian, Lebanon and other Middle East countries - though he clearly feels strongly about the outcome to date of the struggle.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bradley Farless

    This guy repeats himself too much. I could have read just the last two chapters. They include everything else in the previous chapters. The first three chapters read like an introduction, an introduction to an introduction, and another introduction. The chapter on the newspapers was way too drawn out and repetitive and the important points were summarized in the later chapters as well.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rabya

    technically, um, still haven't read it yet!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jo`` Khalaf

    Proves how Palestinians have always existed even though some Israelis would have you believe otherwise.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Saad Khatib

  12. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  13. 4 out of 5

    CHOWstout

  14. 5 out of 5

    Radi Radi

  15. 4 out of 5

    Julian McClellan

  16. 4 out of 5

    Max Christopher Perry

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nadia

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jay Z

  19. 4 out of 5

    Farida El-gueretly

  20. 4 out of 5

    Marwan

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ina Cawl

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jess C

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Warino

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Morehouse

  26. 4 out of 5

    Oscar J

  27. 4 out of 5

    Hassan Al-Qasim

  28. 4 out of 5

    Toby Breaden

  29. 4 out of 5

    Leena

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michael Benesch

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