Zahir Ebrahim's Letter to Professor Beshara Doumani on history of Palestine and Balfour Declaration

This is my curious letter to the notable Palestinian historian, professor Beshara B. Doumani, formerly at the University of California, Berkeley when he gave his presentation at Stanford University on Wednesday September 29, 2010, and now a Faculty Fellow, Director of Middle East Studies, Distinguished Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History, at Brown University, which says about him: “Doumani is also a public intellectual who writes on current events in the Middle East, on the ethics of knowledge production, and on the relationship between culture and politics. He led a team that produced a strategic plan for the establishment of a Palestinian museum, and recently received the Sawyer Seminar award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for his proposal, “Displacement and the Making of the Modern World: Histories, Ecologies, and Subjectivities.”


To: Professor Beshara Doumani
Dated Thu, Sep 30, 2010 at 6:57 PM
Dear Prof. Doumani,
“... And so, continuing to probe my youngling's observations of your talk, I asked him the question that I had been mulling over while driving to your talk: "As you already know, whenever I attend talks by learned peoples, interesting as it is what they often say, I try to focus more on what they aren't going to say - did you notice any profound omissions?"
Once again he did not disappoint me when he instantly responded, "I immediately noticed that when the speaker mentioned the 'Balfour Declaration' and betrayed his vast knowledge of the history of imperial fiat, he did not once mention the word Rothschild." ”
Caption The Balfour Declaration addressed to Lord Rothschild November 2nd 1917
Caption The Balfour Declaration: Dear Lord Rothschild *

Footnote *

Balfour Declaration image is not in the text of the letter. It is reproduced here to demonstrate that the omission from a historian in his hour long public lecture is not insignificant. No public intellectual dare mention that name --- including among the Palestinians! This pattern of self-policing among distinguished scholars repeats without any known exceptions (to my knowledge) in the American academe and the press. Consequently, the students, and the public, remain ignorant of the fact that the Balfour Declaration is in the name of Lord Rothschild. Therefore, the opportunity to ask why that should have been the case is not permitted to arise. This one key deception ensures that none will ever understand the uncanny immutable nature of the “iron wall” that continues to ensure the ongoing colonization and occupation of Palestine before which all the heads of Western states bow. This leads to specious resistance among the people who have empathy for the Palestinians, but which can never bear any significant fruit, such as BDS, weekend protest marches, sailing to Gaza, and what have you. None confront the owner / primemover of the Jewish state. For this cunning omission, scholarly elites who ought to know the truth are easily silenced with incentives of lucrative careers, awards, anointments, generous paychecks. Most become so invested in their own successes, and become so dependent on the system that feeds them, that it easily soothes their conscience to stay within the permitted thought spectrum so as to not jeopardize their paychecks, their rise to glory. Often this is done without much cognitive dissonance, almost instinctively, where the primordial instinct for survival automatically puts rational bounds on one's intellectual energies. The evidence is that none who are distinguished in the American Academe and the press, ever dare touch taboo topics. If some ever brave that far, they only do so gingerly, and shy away from uncovering and telling the whole truth of the matter with the same intellectual vigor as in their other endeavors that are more acceptable to the system, and in which they find significant rewards for their labors. Anyone who ventures past the book-ends of acceptable thought (and expresses those thoughts) fears seeing an end to their flying careers in the American academe and the press – despite all the freedom of speech you can eat. In Europe of course, one fears jail time. Truth-tellers must be a rare commodity in any modernity where its imperial coin is hammered in co-option. This first order intellectual cowardice of craftily lying by omission, and from which all the rest of the evils follow, is further dissected in Palestine: The Illusion of Power and the Calculus of Dispossession.

Full Text of Letter to Beshara Doumani

From: Project
Dated: Thu, Sep 30, 2010 at 6:57 PM
To: Professor Beshara Doumani
Subject: Thank you for your talk yesterday at Stanford

Dear Prof. Doumani,

As I was driving down the twenty minutes to Stanford to attend your talk yesterday along with my high school senior son, I was engrossed in thought. I wondered not so much about what you might say, but about what you would not say. After the two-hour long talk as we drove back, I asked my teenager son what he thought.
His answer I thought I'd share with you: "Baba, those paradoxes and Ironies can apply to any (dispossessed) peoples, including the red indians who were exterminated from their own land, the indo-pak refugees far exceeding the one million original numbers in the same time-frame as the Palestinians - I thought this academic formulation irrelevant to solving the Palestinian problems if it's formulated solely in the context of the Palestinians."
And I thought he had a point, for, such formulations do not capture the distemper of Palestinian dispossession by the hectoring hegemons primarily because it is the very nature of conquest by settlement, genocide, population transfer, et. al. George W. Bush had stated that distemper far more accurately on May 15, 2008 on his 60th B'day anniversary visit to the holylands. Responding to Shimon Peres greeting at the Ben Gurion Airport: “Welcome to the new Israel: Three thousand years old, and going on sixty”, President w. Bush had effusively replied: “Our two nations both faced great challenges when they were founded. And our two nations have both relied on the same principles to help us succeed. We built strong democracies to protect the freedoms given to us by an Almighty God”.
I have already deconstructed that "same principles to help us succeed" here:
And so, continuing to probe my youngling's observations of your talk, I asked him the question that I had been mulling over while driving to your talk: "As you already know, whenever I attend talks by learned peoples, interesting as it is what they often say, I try to focus more on what they aren't going to say - did you notice any profound omissions?"
Once again he did not disappoint me when he instantly responded, "I immediately noticed that when the speaker mentioned the 'Balfour Declaration' and betrayed his vast knowledge of the history of imperial fiat, he did not once mention the word Rothschild."
And I asked him: "do you wonder if he even knows to whom that Balfour Declaration was addressed?"
And we won't go reproducing any more of that twenty minute conversation. This youngling, among all my children, is an avid reader of my writings, and perhaps the only one in the world who pays any attention to them. And he has already read this pamphlet:
and so he was already familiar with the following reframing:
'I commence this exploration by framing the question forensically: today as a Muslim in the world, I am a reviled entity in the West. I bear the brunt of the same anti-Semitic fulminations from the pulpits, thrones, and pedestals of “our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both” – in the potent words of the mighty Zionist Svengali, the “leading Western scholar of Islam”, Bernard Lewis – as the Jews absorbed for two millennia in Christendom up to as late as 62 years ago, the day of Al Nakba. But look at my dire predicament: I can't get in to see anyone in power to plead to them to give me back my Palestine, and my Iraq, and to stop the military and covert assaults on my Pakistan, and on my Iran, and to stop inducing the “birth-pangs of a New Middle East”.
How could the Jews have done it: got the imperial powers to grant them the Balfour Declaration from a severely weakened imperial power upon whom the sun had never set at the end of World War I after it had simultaneously defeated two other rival powers in Europe, the German Weimar Republic which was the legatee of the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire which was the legatee of over 13 centuries of Muslim empires; followed by the bipartisan vote from the two most Cold Warring factions at the end of World War II, the United States and the USSR, in the United Nations; unless the Jews had already acquired the triple-barrel gun of Zionism? Who acquired it and wielded it on behalf of Zionism? After every major World War, Zionistan came a step closer to realization. Who participated in the peace talks at the end of each world war which gave Zionistan its piece meal recognition? Who created the entity of the United Nations to create legal sanction by an arbitrary supra-national global authority pushed by the victors of World War II, and whose very first acts were to sanction partitions, specifically of Palestine and Pakistan? After World War III, the Global Cold War of yesteryear, the Zionist state even emerged as the top three among the world's superpowers. How could that have possibly happened? And after World War IV, this Global War on Terror inferno that we, the generation Caught Between Two Ages, are being privileged to live through without any significant comprehension of the forces which drive it, will surely culminate in the “Zion that will light up all the world.” '
And I would like to ask you that same question.
I would have liked to ask you this question yesterday but I was rather enjoying your well-articulated and reasoned responses to the Zionist Hasbara Committee's handbook being implemented on either microphones. I learnt from the style of your reply, and I thank you for it. Just fyi, the same folks show up at most Palestinian talks (and vigils) and ask the same or similar questions in order to take-up the question-answer time and prevent others from speaking. But this was among the few times I have seen them really stumped. As I was leaving, I heard the old zionist bloke speaking to his flock outside. They come in collusion. But the best laid plans of mice and men...
Thank you for your time. And for your talk. I am glad Stanford's new department hosted you - but I don't hold my breadth for any fresh air emanating from there. It is an establishment institution playing by the establishment's rule, both consent and dissent. Because of this unfavorable impression, created largely by their AF-Pak conference blurb in their newsletter, I am cc'ing them to be fair. They share in the common axioms of empire, and therefore, will contribute their fair share to indoctrinate the new generations of scholars who will grow up there.

All the best,

Zahir Ebrahim

P.S. I have just started reading your book "Rediscovering Palestine" on Google books while I wait for my own copy, and I can also greatly relate to your "Children Looking". The sentiments captured in your eloquent passage are also mine: "Forty-odd years have passed since Myrtle Winter took these photographs and millions of Palestinians are still refugees. Other than being in black and white, these pictures could have been taken today. As the oldest and one of the largest refugee populations in modern times, Palestinians have become a symbol of the dark side of the modern condition, and their deteriorating situation, like that of Iraq, foretells an unjust world on the brink of chaos and self-destruction."

Letter dated Thu, Sep 30, 2010, published from author's archives with added footnote on November 15, 2016
Full text from PDF Jan 30, 2018, 2126

Zahir Ebrahim's Letter to UCB Palestinian Professor Beshara Doumani on history of Palestine