Walid Khalidi: Dean of Palestinian Memory
Crucial to reversing the Nakba is understanding who the Palestinians were before the fall of Palestine, why the Nakba happened, and what the Nakba was and continues to be. Also crucial is the protection of Palestinians’ knowledge of themselves, their surroundings, and their narrative. In the face of a hegemonic Zionist narrative - one that portrays the Nakba as an unintentional by-product of an Arab-Israeli war and the result of Arab evacuation orders - the person who took on all these challenges combined was Professor Walid Khalidi.
Born in Jerusalem in 1925, Khalidi studied in London and Oxford, and from there launched an impressive academic career. The product of his 55 years of research now forms the cornerstone of the counter-hegemonic Palestinian narrative.
In 1963, Khalidi co-founded the Institute for Palestine Studies (IPS), a research institute dedicated to the study of Palestinian issues. His photographic history of pre-1948 Palestine, Before Their Diaspora (IPS, 1984), provides an unmatched portrayal of Palestinian life in the 70 years preceding the Nakba. In the late 1980s, he led the project that produced All That Remains (IPS, 1992) - arguably the most important piece of research on the scope and magnitude of the Nakba.
Khalidi has been criticised by Palestinians for his role in the negotiation process and the associated PLO compromise on the goal of the secular democratic state, implicitly sidelining Palestinian refugee rights. Despite this, his research forms a basis for understanding those rights and a means for future generations of Palestinian refugees to learn about and remember the Palestine to which they demand to return.