“In the name of God, let Palestine be left alone.”

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by Neil Godfrey

Yusuf Diya’ al-Khalidi was an outspoken liberal member of the first Ottoman Parliament, three times Mayor of Jerusalem, an Ottoman diplomat, an instructor and then a professor at the Imperial-Royal Oriental Academy in Vienna, and author of several scholarly works, including the first Kurdish-Arabic dictionary (and one of the first examinations of the Kurdish language on modern linguistic principles). — Khalidi 2009, 68

March 1, 1899, Yusuf Diya, scholar, mayor and diplomat, wrote a letter to Theodor Herzl, leader of the Zionist movement.

Background to that letter:

As a result of his wide reading, as well as his time in Vienna and other European countries, and from his encounters with Christian missionaries, Yusuf Diya was fully conscious of the pervasiveness of Western anti-Semitism. He had also gained impressive knowledge of the intellectual origins of Zionism, specifically its nature as a response to Christian Europe’s virulent anti-Semitism. He was undoubtedly familiar with Der Judenstaat by the Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl, published in 1896, and was aware of the first two Zionist congresses in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897 and 1898. (Indeed, it seems clear that Yusuf Diya knew of Herzl from his own time in Vienna.) He knew of the debates and the views of the different Zionist leaders and tendencies, including Herzl’s explicit call for a state for the Jews, with the “sovereign right” to control immigration. Moreover, as mayor of Jerusalem he had witnessed the friction with the local population prompted by the first years of proto-Zionist activity, starting with the arrival of the earliest European Jewish settlers in the late 1870s and early 1880s.

Herzl, the acknowledged leader of the growing movement he had founded, had paid his sole visit to Palestine in 1898, timing it to coincide with that of the German kaiser Wilhelm II. He had already begun to give thought to some of the issues involved in the colonization of Palestine, writing in his diary in 1895:

We must expropriate gently the private property on the estates assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it employment in our own country. The property owners will come over to our side. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.

Yusuf Diya would have been more aware than most of his compatriots in Palestine of the ambition of the nascent Zionist movement, as well as its strength, resources, and appeal. He knew perfectly well that there was no way to reconcile Zionism’s claims on Palestine and its explicit aim of Jewish statehood and sovereignty there with the rights and well-being of the country’s indigenous inhabitants. It is for these reasons, presumably, that on March 1, 1899, Yusuf Diya sent a prescient seven-page letter to the French chief rabbi, Zadoc Kahn, with the intention that it be passed on to the founder of modern Zionism.

The letter:

The letter began with an expression of Yusuf Diya’s admiration for Herzl, whom he esteemed “as a man, as a writer of talent, and as a true Jewish patriot,” and of his respect for Judaism and for Jews, who he said were “our cousins,” referring to the Patriarch Abraham, revered as their common forefather by both Jews and Muslims. He understood the motivations for Zionism, just as he deplored the persecution to which Jews were subject in Europe. In light of this, he wrote, Zionism in principle was “natural, beautiful and just,” and, “who could contest the rights of the Jews in Palestine? My God, historically it is your country!”

This sentence is sometimes cited, in isolation from the rest of the letter, to represent Yusuf Diya’s enthusiastic acceptance of the entire Zionist program in Palestine. However, the former mayor and deputy of Jerusalem went on to warn of the dangers he foresaw as a consequence of the implementation of the Zionist project for a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine. The Zionist idea would sow dissension among Christians, Muslims, and Jews there. It would imperil the status and security that Jews had always enjoyed throughout the Ottoman domains. Coming to his main purpose, Yusuf Diya said soberly that whatever the merits of Zionism, the “brutal force of circumstances had to be taken into account.” The most important of them were that “Palestine is an integral part of the Ottoman Empire, and more gravely, it is inhabited by others.” Palestine already had an indigenous population that would never accept being superseded. Yusuf Diya spoke “with full knowledge of the facts,” asserting that it was “pure folly” for Zionism to plan to take over Palestine. “Nothing could be more just and equitable,” than for “the unhappy Jewish nation” to find a refuge elsewhere. But, he concluded with a heartfelt plea, “in the name of God, let Palestine be left alone.”

Herzl’s reply:

Theodor Herzl

Herzl’s reply to Yusuf Diya came quickly, on March 19. His letter was probably the first response by a founder of the Zionist movement to a cogent Palestinian objection to its embryonic plans for Palestine. In it, Herzl established what was to become a pattern of dismissing as insignificant the interests, and sometimes the very existence, of the indigenous population. The Zionist leader simply ignored the letter’s basic thesis, that Palestine was already inhabited by a population that would not agree to be supplanted. Although Herzl had visited the country once, he, like most early European Zionists, had not much knowledge of or contact with its native inhabitants. He also failed to address al-Khalidi’s well-founded concerns about the danger the Zionist program would pose to the large, well-established Jewish communities all over the Middle East.

Glossing over the fact that Zionism was ultimately meant to lead to Jewish domination of Palestine, Herzl employed a justification that has been a touchstone for colonialists at all times and in all places and that would become a staple argument of the Zionist movement: Jewish immigration would benefit the indigenous people of Palestine. “It is their well-being, their individual wealth, which we will increase by bringing in our own.” Echoing the language he had used in Der Judenstaat, Herzl added: “In allowing immigration to a number of Jews bringing their intelligence, their financial acumen and their means of enterprise to the country, no one can doubt that the well-being of the entire country would be the happy result.”

Most revealingly, the letter addresses a consideration that Yusuf Diya had not even raised. “You see another difficulty, Excellency, in the existence of the non-Jewish population in Palestine. But who would think of sending them away?” With his assurance in response to al-Khalidi’s unasked question, Herzl alludes to the desire recorded in his diary to “spirit” the country’s poor population “discreetly” across the borders. It is clear from this chilling quotation that Herzl grasped the importance of “disappearing” the native population of Palestine in order for Zionism to succeed. Moreover, the 1901 charter that he co-drafted for the Jewish-Ottoman Land Company includes the same principle of the removal of inhabitants of Palestine to “other provinces and territories of the Ottoman Empire.” Although Herzl stressed in his writings that his project was based on “the highest tolerance” with full rights for all, what was meant was no more than toleration of any minorities that might remain after the rest had been moved elsewhere.

Herzl underestimated his correspondent:

Herzl underestimated his correspondent. From al-Khalidi’s letter it is clear that he understood perfectly well that at issue was not the immigration of a limited “number of Jews” to Palestine, but rather the transformation of the entire land into a Jewish state. Given Herzl’s reply to him, Yusuf Diya could only have come to one of two conclusions. Either the Zionist leader meant to deceive him by concealing the true aims of the Zionist movement, or Herzl simply did not see Yusuf Diya and the Arabs of Palestine as worthy of being taken seriously.

Instead, with the smug self-assurance so common to nineteenth-century Europeans, Herzl offered the preposterous inducement that the colonization, and ultimately the usurpation, of their land by strangers would benefit the people of that country. Herzl’s thinking and his reply to Yusuf Diya appear to have been based on the assumption that the Arabs could ultimately be bribed or fooled into ignoring what the Zionist movement actually intended for Palestine. This condescending attitude toward the intelligence, not to speak of the rights, of the Arab population of Palestine was to be serially repeated by Zionist, British, European, and American leaders in the decades that followed, down to the present day. 

Arthur James Balfour


In 1917, Arthur James Balfour stated that in Palestine, the British government did not “propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.” The great powers were committed to Zionism, he continued, “and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.


Khalidi, Rashid. 2020. The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017. New York: Metropolitan Books. (Quotations in body of the post)

Khalidi, Rashid. 2009. Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness. New York: Columbia University Press. (Note beneath image of Yusuf Diya)

The interview:
Khalidi, Rashid. 2020. Palestine’s 100 Years War Interview by Philip Adams. Late Night Live. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. (Source that introduced me to the letter of Yusuf Diya)

Professor Rashid Khalidi’s family has been part of the Palestinian struggle since 1899, when his great-great-great Uncle, the Mayor of Jerusalem tried to warn off the leader of the Zionist movement, Theodor Hertzl, to not choose Palestine for a homeland.

Now decades down the track, and many attempts at peace later, the mood is shifting towards a new era of the Palestinian struggle, known as the Palestinian rights movement. Although this movement is in nascent form, its focus is no longer just on a two-state solution.

Duration: 20min 37sec
Broadcast: Wed 5 Aug 2020, 10:20pm

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Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

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23 thoughts on ““In the name of God, let Palestine be left alone.””

  1. Hey, if God could give away lands already occupied, who are we to say modern states shouldn’t? Similarly the US allowed “settlers” to poach lands already settled and gave away lands owned by others. This is a longstanding tradition.

    1. Another site apart from Palestine could have been chosen; several options were on offer for consideration.

      The state of Israel could have seized the moment when they were offered the 1967 borders as the basis for a genuine two-state solution.

      Now both of those options are long past their ‘use-by’ date, the state of Israel can reject its racist foundation and introduce genuine democracy for all, Arabs as well as Jews, as a single state incorporating Gaza strip, West Bank, and Israel as one free, united country, no longer “Jewish” (any more than we have the perpetuation of a white South Africa) but democratic for all races.

  2. “We must expropriate gently the private property on the estates assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border…”

    Zionist apologists will probably rush to tell you that Herzl was thinking about Argentina, and not Palestine, when he wrote this. They will ignore you when you point out that it is wrong to do this to anyone.

  3. Except that there has never been a country called Palestine, so Jews didn’t occupy any country.
    The Palestine *region* has been sparsely populated by Arabs and Jews, until the Jews started to re-populate it.

    1. Well, you will have to justify that statement against the clear contrary evidence that you presumably read in the post above. Just repeating common baseless claims is no match for fact-checking.

      1. Okay, let’s start with this:

        After visiting the region in 1867, journalist and writer Mark Twain wrote the following in his book, ‘The Innocents Abroad’:
        “A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds… a silent mournful expanse…. a desolation…. we never saw a human being on the whole route…. hardly a tree or shrub anywhere.
        Even the olive trees and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

        Mark Twain’s description reveals the false narrative about a ‘massive Arab presence’ being overrun by the ‘invading Jews’…

        1. Okay — you win that one. I can’t argue against a famous fiction author when all I have are the various government archives of the Turks, the British, the Palestinians (of course Palestinians would be liars, would they not?) and the photographic testimony and family histories and the records and archives of Zionist plans to appropriate all the land of people who were not there and how they were going to pay for land that was not owned or occupied by anybody and how they were going to move people who were not there to other countries and how they have left millions languishing in refugee camps both in neighbouring countries and in Gaza itself because those refugees and their ancestors never had to leave Palestine because they were never there in the first place….

          Presumably the Arabs saw the Zionists entering an empty land so they rushed in from the deserts to take it from the Zionists instead, yes?

          1. How do you explain the fact that more than 20% of Israel’s population are Arabs (Muslims) with the same rights as Jews living there?
            They even have Arabs representatives in the Knesset.
            For some reason, some people keep condemning the only multicultural, multi-ethnic and democratic country in the middle east.

            1. Where did those Arabs come from? Did you not say that there were scarcely any Arabs in the land originally?

              You say, “for some reason ….” … Why not do a bit of homework and find out what that reason is? Why not take a little time out to find out why some people — even some Jews — are critical of Israel’s treatment of Arabs and Muslims in the State of Israel? If it is such a wonderful shining light in the Middle East of a multicultural democracy then why not do some research and find out why anyone — even some Jews, including rabbis — are very critical of Israel and say it does not give equal rights to Arabs within its borders.

              I get the impression you are not interested in responding to any of my replies but merely to change step and come back with another “How come….?” “How do you explain….?”

              I have told you how I explain your other quandaries and you ignore my explanations. Why not sincerely try to learn both sides of the story. You don’t begin with the assumption that Arabs and Muslims are naturally bad people, I hope.

              1. Of course I’ve done some research, and this is just part of it.
                Too bad you seem not liking my questions…
                As I said previously, there has never been a nation called Palestine.
                The first known leader of PLO was Arafat, but there was no defined and recognized borders of his Palestine.
                As a matter of fact, Arafat even tried to overrun Jordan’s government and was expelled from the country along with his militia.

                So, Palestine was sort of a province of the Ottoman empire, where Jews were considered second class citizens (dhimmis).

                Since its foundation, Islam has subjugated, enslaved and extorted the people it conquered in attempt to submit them to Sharia.
                After Muslims invasion of Christian and Jewish lands, Muslims created a class of citizen called dhimmis, who were considered second class citizens and forced to provide money by paying a special tax called Jizya for the caliphate and thereby consolidating the Islamic state supremacy over infidels.

                In a caliphate, Jews and other non-Muslims (dhimmis) were not allowed to ride horses, only donkeys, but while riding donkeys dhimmis had to ride sidesaddle and dismount if a passing Muslim demanded it.
                The dhimmi had to be humiliated, belittled, distinguished by his appearance with distinctive dress indicating to the Muslim that the dhimmi was to be treated as an inferior.

                Degrading non-Muslims is a religious obligation of all Muslims.
                Jews living in Muslim lands were not allowed to own property, and if they lived in cities, they had to pay the special Jizya tax to prove their subservience to Islam.
                A Jew marrying a Muslim woman was punishable by death.

                Actually, the caliphate was a real Apartheid state.

                The former UN’s partition plan was based on the different population concentrations, initially giving 75% of the Palestine’s region to Arabs (Trans-Jordan) and 25% to the Jewish population.
                But the 25% was further chopped-off, and given as Gaza + West Bank to Arabs.
                So, Jews got just about 15% of the their ancient land.

                Jews accepted that partition, whereas Arabs did not and instead started a war to annihilate Israel and cleanse the region from all Jews – from the river to the sea, which is still ongoing.

                So, while Palestine was under the Ottoman empire, nobody bother about establishing a nation there, until the Jews started arriving…

              2. I have responded to your question but you ignore my responses.

                You say you do research, but you quote one passage from Mark Twain that supports your claim and appear to be ignorant of everything else he wrote in the same essays that contradicts your point.

                You seem to ignore the fact that Arab people have been living for generations in the area we call Palestine (and they are probably the literal descendants of the ancient Judeans who we read about in history — unless you believe the myths of expulsion : again, do some research).

                You are also ignorant of Muslim rule through the ages and how they treated Jews and Christians in their midst at different times. What are your sources for your research? You seem to only know one side of the arguments.

                Are you hateful of Muslims and is that what is really motivating you? You seem more keen to talk about how bad they have been in history. Can you cite any evidence that gives a more balanced picture or has your research not got that far yet?

                Why not study the following Jewish and international writings about how Arabs are treated in Israel today:



                https://www.amnesty.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/MDE1551412022ENGLISH.pdf (p. 75ff)

                Have you read the Masalha posts that I linked to? Or does your research not have time to look at anything other than Islamophobic and pro-Zionist propaganda publications?

              3. Too bad you seem not liking my questions…

                I like people asking questions and this is the eighth response I have made to you. (Why did you say that you did not think I would post a point of view you expressed that was different from mine? Were you surprised to see that I did and that I responded to it?)

                What I don’t like, however, is people who ask questions and then bluntly ignore my responses. That makes me think they were never serious in asking the questions but only using questions as bullets to shoot my views and springboards to heap more ignorant propaganda at me.

                I have studied the views you are representing here and posted at length about them in many, many posts about Islam, Muslim history, Islamism, as well as the history of Israel and Zionism.


                Will you in return genuinely seek to learn about those other points of view or are you so convinced that you believe you have nothing more to learn about why other people think differently from you?

              4. “Where did those Arabs come from?”

                Of course there have been Arabs living in that region, but so have Jews…
                None can deny the fact that Jews also have been living in that region, even though they became outnumbered by Arabs due to being persecuted, murdered and many forced into exile.

                Yes, I’ve unfortunately met some s.k. Palestinians (which BTW was how Jews were called for a century ago), and learnt that they all abhor Jews and despise infidels.

                You’ve started using the “Islamophobia” card, which is the typical argument used by people with your standpoints in attempt to discredit and vilify the counterpart.

                You asked me if I’m hateful of Muslims, well, likewise I could ask you if your are hateful of Jews.
                Why do you think that Jews who have been living in Palestine were not worth their independence from Islam and get their tiny land surrounded by dozens of Arab countries?

                Do you think Islam is a religion of peace?
                Have you ever read the Quran, especially chapter nine?
                Following are some few verses for you:
                [3:28] “Believers shall not take disbelievers as allies rather than believers. And whoever of you does that has nothing with Allah, except when taking precaution against them in prudence” (al-taqiyya).

                That means if a Muslim tells that he/she is friends with a non-Muslim, he/she is lying, he/she only tells that when he/she thinks it’s convenient.

                [5:51] “Oh you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are in fact allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is one of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.2

                [8:12] “Remember when your Lord inspired the angels, “I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike them upon the necks and strike from them every finger.”

                [8:39] “So, fight them till all opposition ends and the only religion is Islam.”

                [9:5] “Thus, when the sacred months have passed away, slay the disbelievers wherever you find them, take them captive, besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the tax, leave their way free to them.”

                [9:14] “Fight against them so that Allah will punish them by your hands and disgrace them and give you victory over them and heal the breasts of a believing people.”

                [9:30] “And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!”

                [48:29] “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are ruthless against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves.”

                Bukhari [52:177] “Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. “Oh Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him!”

                And the words of Samy Rahim speak volumes about the true nature of the Arab/Islamic terrorism:
                “Every day on which the sun rises and no Jew is killed, nor any martyr has died, will be a day for which we will be punished by Allah.”
                (AL-ISTIQLAL), August 20, 1999.

                Now compare that to Theodor Herzl’s vision of an open society, which BTW you’ve failed to mention in your article:

                “It is founded on the ideas which are a common product of all civilized nations … It would be immoral if we would exclude anyone, whatever his origin, his descent, or his religion, from participating in our achievements. For we stand on the shoulders of other civilized peoples …
                What we own we owe to the preparatory work of other peoples. Therefore, we have to repay our debt.
                There is only one way to do it, the highest tolerance. Our motto must therefore be, now and ever: ‘Man, you are my brother.'”

              5. None can deny the fact that Jews also have been living in that region, even though they became outnumbered by Arabs due to being persecuted, murdered and many forced into exile.

                Here is how Arabs treated Jews before Zionism (pluck up the courage to actually watch it!):


                When you can show that you have read any of the posts and articles to which I referred and are willing to demonstrate that you have examined the other side of the story then you can post here again. Until then I treat your comments the same way I treat those of all hateful, ignorant bigots who try to spread their falsehoods here.

        2. You may read the rest of Twain’s account of Palestine at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/3176/3176-h/3176-h.htm — strangely, he refers to villages, people, settlements, shepherds, farmers…… Is it possible that Palestine had a mix of pasture areas and urban dwellings? Areas where there were few people to be seen and others where they could not be avoided? Like other countries? Unfortunately, he does paint a depressing picture of the standards under Turkish rule, but since then some great artists, intellectuals, sportspeople, and the rest have emerged from Palestine. Though now their libraries and universities are destroyed….. I hope one day you can meet some Palestinians and learn.

  4. For some reason Neil Godfrey, the author of this article left out the following from the Herzl diary:
    “It goes without saying that we shall respectfully tolerate persons of other faiths and protect their property, their honor, and their freedom with the harshest means of coercion. This is another area in which we shall set the entire world a wonderful example … Should there be many such immovable owners in individual areas [who would not sell their property to us], we shall simply leave them there and develop our commerce in the direction of other areas which belong to us.”

    Now, censure this too…

    1. You appear to have missed the point of the original quotation in the post. Yes, Herzl said he wanted the indigenous population removed “gently”, “discreetly” … or, as one might even conclude from the passage you quoted, he wanted them removed “respectfully”, allowing them their freedom to to practice their faith anywhere but in Palestine, to allow them full property rights in Iraq as compensation for what we will “respectfully” take from them in Palestine. But if in “individual areas” there are those who remain, even “many” of them — noting of course as they are confined to “individual areas” — then we will demonstrate how tolerant and respectful of their dignity we have been just the same way as Australia and Canada and the US have been leading lights demonstrating their love for individual areas reserved for their indigenous peoples.

      One might even think of the humanitarian Joe Biden who trumpets sending aid to Gazans while at the same time rushing more weapons to the IDF so they can continue to cause the Gazans need for that aid.

      That was Herzl. Herzl was not the voice. He worked with and enabled the policies of other Zionists who were not at all so discreet and concerned for their public image. In other words, when reading what leaders (or anyone) says they want to do, one should always be prepared to note what they actually DO — and see if it matches their “nice” words.


  5. See the above link to the Masalha posts. You will read about the historical debates among early Zionists, some claiming that most of the Arabs would be persuaded to move voluntarily while others scoffed at such a notion. Herzl represented one side of several debates, and even his was based on the assumption that Arabs on the whole aren’t like other people — they don’t have any real attachment to their homes of generations. That was the thinking among them.

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