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Home > Life & Culture > Literature
The Iron Cage, by Rashid Khalidi
Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, IMEU, Oct 16, 2006

The cover of Rashid Khalidi's "The Iron Cage."
In "The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood," Rashid Khalidi grapples with the reasons for the failure of Palestinian efforts to establish an independent state during the past sixty years. He describes his motivation for writing the book: "I hope to present new answers to rarely asked questions about why the Palestinians were as badly defeated as they were, and why they failed to create state structures."

The book's contribution is less about offering "new" answers; rather it accurately identifies the "rarely asked questions" about the Palestinian struggle for statehood. Khalidi's well-organized, carefully-researched conclusions are presented in a succinct and accessible text that should go a long way towards putting pervasive myths about Palestinian history to rest.

The book explores several aspects of the modern Palestinian experience. The first of these is Palestinian society's experience under British mandate. A unique contribution of Khalidi's book is the comparison he draws between Palestinian society and neighboring Arab societies under British mandate rule. Khalidi illuminates the detrimental effects of British rule on Palestinians' ability to progress towards the independent statehood promised to them.

He also provides an eye-opening comparison between the immigrant Jewish and native Palestinian communities in Palestine. It is amply clear that the European Jewish immigrants who came to Palestine with the stated goal of creating a homeland for the Jewish people had considerable educational, economic, political, and financial advantages over their Palestinian counterparts. At the same time, Khalidi demonstrates that Palestinian society was "manifestly as advanced as any other society in the region, and considerably more so than several" (30). He paints a rich and complete portrait of a thriving Palestinian society that runs contrary to popular misconceptions.

Khalidi's research also debunks the commonly-held myth that the British in Palestine acted as "dispassionate, even-handed arbiters between two relatively evenly matched local groups, whose interests they attempted to balance" (31). The myth of British even-handedness, like many other aspects of imperial ambition, calls to mind the role that numerous American administrations have played and continue to do play today, a role that actively disrupts Palestinian progress towards statehood.

Khalidi believes that few players in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are free of blame. He details the enormous disadvantages the Palestinians faced at the hands of the well-organized, well-funded, and ideologically-unified yishuv, but he also holds leaders throughout Palestinian history accountable for their mistakes. In the final chapters of the book, he details the multiple failures of Palestinian leadership. These include the internal conflicts of elite families of Palestine, as well as deficiencies within the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. Though he tells the story of various historical events and political forces, both external and internal, that plagued the leadership of Fatah and the PLO -- and later the Palestinian Authority -- the book provides limited insight into why the failures of leadership were so grave and so consistent.

"The Iron Cage" is an engaging and well-organized introductory text on the Palestinian struggle. The author's expertise on the region and his keen understanding of the American observer's thirst to comprehend a conflict so shrouded in misconceptions makes it an excellent choice for journalists or others who are relatively new to the subject.

The Iron Cage is available at

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