Pro-Palestinian activist and Columbia University historian Rashid Khalidi declined to say Thursday that Israel had a legal or moral right to respond militarily to the Hamas terror attack of October 7, describing the attack as a natural result of occupation.
Khalidi, who was closely associated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) during its days as a terror organization, was also a friend and confidant of a young Barack Obama, and the topic of speculation in the infamously suppressed “Khalidi tape.”
Greenwald, a staunch advocate for free speech and an opponent of censorship, who also backs the Palestinian cause, interviewed Khalidi on his independent show on Rumble, System Update.
Though generally supportive of Kkhalidi, Greenwald asked him at one point whether he believed Israel had the “legal and moral right” to respond militarily to the October 7 terror attack by Hamas, in which — as both host and guest acknowledged — 1,200 people were murdered in Israel.
The following exchange took place:
Greenwald: I do, though, want to ask you about a couple of perspective that are, I think, the most potent ones that Israelis and pro-Israel supporters in the United States and the West offer. And I want to begin by asking you this: In almost every war there are two questions, broadly speaking, I think, that need to be asked. One is, is there a moral or legal justification for the war, for the force being used? And then, is it a wise use of force, even if it’s morally justifiable, will it produce benefits on the whole as opposed to detriment. After the October 7 massacre that did kill hundreds of civilians, whatever that number is, 500, 800, 900, whatever that amount is, do you think Israel had a legal and moral right to use force in Gaza against the group and the people who perpetrated that attack?
Khalidi: You know, the problem with that question is its framing. Gaza has been under siege for 16 years. Israel had assumed that it could live a peaceful, quiet life whilst putting its boot heel on the Palestinians in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. And sooner or later, that had to explode. Now, it exploded in a particularly ugly fashion, with these massacres; it resulted in the highest death toll among Israeli civilians in the entire history of Israel’s wars, since 1948. So there was going to be a reaction, necessarily and inevitably. But if you step back one minute, I think it’s very clear that if you occupy and if you imprison and blockade and besiege a population, sooner or later that population is going to react, violently and negatively. Israelis talk about this as if it’s irrational. It’s not irrational at all, the nature of the violence is of course horrific, that was carried out on that day. But when you do this to people, and you pretend that out of sight is out of mind, and you can live a normal life in suburban communities with other people in a cage within a couple of miles of you, you are storing up problems that, sooner or later, are going to erupt. So did Israel had a right to occupy in the first instance? Did Israel had a right to kick those people out in 1948 in the second instance? I mean, you can go on and on and on. The people in Gaza are 80% refugees from the areas that Hamas invaded on the 7th of October. So it really depends on where you start and where your perspective is on this. If you assume that everything was peaceful, and this is France and Germany, or this is Country A and Country B, where country A simply decided to launch a murderous assault on the Civilians of Country B, then of course Country B has the right to counterattack. But this is not Country A and Country B. This is an occupier and an occupied population. And this is a settler-colonial project, where the people living in settlements around the Gaza Strip are living on lands that used to be, used to belong to people who are now, have now been living, or their ancestors there, their parents and grandparents, as refugees in the Gaza Strip since 1948. And you have to factor that in. Does an occupying power have the right to attack an occupied population? You should be asking, I think, those kinds of questions, as well as the question, what should Israel have done. Well, Israel shouldn’t have been in an occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the first place. There should have been a Palestinian state. There should have been any number of things should have been, the absence of which have led to this horrific situation that we’re in, where at least 800 Israeli civilians have been killed, at least 450 or more Israeli soldiers and security personnel have been killed, and apparently over 15,000 Palestinians, both civilians and militants have been killed. And we’re not at the end of it. I mean, assuming that this ceasefire breaks down over the several days, we’re going to see much higher casualties. And I think at the end of this, you have to ask that question: what was achieved? What was the point of this? Have they stored up more enmity for Israel? Have they improved Israel’s position? Are Israelis more secure as a result of killing 15,000 Palestinians, including a huge number of children and women and other non-combatants? I don’t think the answer is yes.
In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the British Mandate of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. The Jewish state declared independence in 1948; it was immediately attacked by surrounding Arab states, who encouraged local Arabs to flee.
Israel, fighting for its survival, won the war and its boundaries were established by armistice in 1949. There were roughy 700,000 Palestinian refugees, whom the Arab world refused to resettle; Israel absorbed 850,000 Jewish refugees from the Arab world.
Gaza was then occupied by Egypt from 1948 to 1967, during which time Egypt did nothing to build a Palestinian state, but instead used the territory to help Palestinian terrorists, or fedayeen, to launch attacks inside Israel. In the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel took Gaza, along with the Sinai peninsula; Egypt did not want Gaza back when the two countries signed the Camp David Accords in 1978, trading the Sinai for peace.
In 2005, Israel pulled all soldiers and settlers out; Gaza has not been “occupied” since then.
In 2007, Hamas carried out a violent coup against the Palestinian Authority leadership in Gaza. That led to Israel — and Egypt — closing off the territory, because Hamas was determined to import weapons, as it has done through tunnels and smuggling. (It has also exploited civilian materials and humanitarian aid, such as building concrete and medicine, for its terrorist purposes.) The blockade is not an attempt to punish Palestinian civilians, but to protect Israeli civilians from an even greater terrorist threat.
Khalidi claims that the October 7 terror attack is the inevitable result — that the situation “had to explode.” Curiously, he also seems to suggest that the Palestinian population itself, and not just Hamas, was responsible for the horrific violence of that day.
But terror was not the only possible response.
Palestinian leaders — including Hamas — did not have to launch a war. They could have spent billions of dollars in aid on economic development instead of weapons and propaganda. They could have used tons of concrete for housing construction instead of for underground terror tunnels (and note that Hamas did not build not one bomb shelter to protect Palestinian civilians in case of war). They could have declared a willingness to negotiate peace with Israel.
They did none of the above.
Khalidi appears to believe that the Palestinians had no agency whatsoever.
In denying Israel’s right to respond, Khalidi also denies Palestinians’ ability to make moral, constructive choices for themselves.
He also smears the residents of the communities attacked by Hamas, most of which were not “suburban” communities, but were in fact rural kibbutz or moshav communities, focused on agriculture, and populated by left-wing residents, many of whom were also peace activists.
He regards these communities — within Israel’s internationally-recognized boundaries — as illegitimate “settlements.”
Ironically, the Israelis most inclined to be sympathetic to Khalidi’s viewpoint were the primary victims of Hamas terrorists on October 7.
Israel’s goal in the war is not to kill Palestinians — many of whom are being abused as human shields by Hamas — but rather to destroy Hamas’s terror infrastructure. It is clear that allowing Hamas to continue to control Gaza and to pose a threat to Israeli communities would amount to a victory for terrorism, as well as for Hamas’s Iranian sponsors.
Notably, not one Arab country that signed the Abraham Accords with Israel has broken off relations; further peace depends on defeating terror, not appeasing it.
Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies, a chair named after the 20th century’s most prominent and influential Palestinian intellectual, whose writings on post-colonial theory have become the orthodoxy of the academic left.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.