Let the Die Be Cast

by Sonia Sulaiman

(CW: colonialism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, arson, racism, bigotry).

“Mais, au nom de Dieu, qu’on laisse tranquille la Palestine.”

“But, in the name of God, leave Palestine alone.”

-Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalili to Theodor Herzl via Zadoc Kahn, Jerusalem, March 1st, 1899.


Since you are a man of action as well as letters and powers, I invite—no, I challenge you!—to accept my invitation: come to Jerusalem before the autumn. I hope that I may provide to your eyes the proof of my words concerning the dire consequences of your colonial enterprise for Palestine. Our people have uncovered a relic of immense antiquity which is, I believe, the Key to resolving our futures, fatally entwined as they are.

Monsieur Diya,

I confess, I thought very little of your letter. How could the mere prejudices of a people still living in medieval conditions sway a mind fixed on the lofty, the ideal? I meant to write to you about the benefits of colonialism for the colonized. I thought, somehow, that it would be sufficient to allay your fears, fears which I believed were a sort of shield against your true feeling, which was animosity against me as a Jew—despite your claims of kinship with us, and concern, even admiration for our plans to secure a refuge on this Earth. Yes, I assumed all of that was a play. And, so, I too meant to play with you, to conceal my intention to conquer Palestine by any means necessary.

I cannot express now how I feel, writing that phrase after what I have seen. And, as hard as I try, whenever I think of my Dream, all I can see is the vision shown to me by that holy relic: the village of Huwara on fire, the Jewish youths who lit the flames celebrating the savagery with song. This cannot be our fate! Yet, I am the very architect that laid the foundations for this horror. I feel compelled to temper what I have started, but I fear it is already much too late to avert the coming catastrophe. As Caesar said: ἀνερρίφθω κύβος, let the die be cast.

-M. T. Herzl, Jerusalem.

Monsieur Herzl,

No, monsieur; what if the die could be recalled into the cup upon reflection? In the spirit of brotherhood, let us earnestly strive to put an end to the catastrophe if we cannot prevent its course! Let there be an end to it, and by our hands, together. The relic can not only show a vision of the certain future, but allow for movement along the lines of Mr. Wells’ novel. Do you know it? It is called ‘The Time Machine.’ Come with all swiftness back to me. We have much work ahead of us, my friend.

-Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi, Jerusalem.

Submitted for the approval of the Palestine Exploration Quarterly: Notes on a Curiosity by Rev. John Winston-Thorp.

I have with some difficulty leaned upon my professional contacts to allow me access to a wondrous relic currently in a private collection in Jerusalem. Unlike most holy objects of its kind, it is not encumbered by claims of Biblical lineage. It isn’t the purported limb of a saint, piece of the True Cross, etc…There has been much to do about the prospect of temporal travel by means of machinery in the imaginative mode. Short stories and novels have been cropping up of late which touch on the theme.This relic is what may be called a ‘Time Machine’ if we accept objects such as mirrors to be ‘machines.’ It is quite unimpressive to behold. I have enclosed a sketch of it. It appears to be a mirror of great antiquity. It is difficult to establish a date for it; the materials seem to be of different eras, the reflective surface exceedingly bright and well polished even beyond our modern standards. If this were not curious enough, there are the associated miracles.

Every holy relic is such because of its lore. And this item is peculiar insofar as the miracles associated with it are more fanciful than one would expect. The mirror displays images in the reflective surface that are visionary, in short. Its keepers claim the moving pictures on the surface are from historical events, pivot points in history including that of the distant future. 

One of the most learned and illustrious gentlemen of the country, no less than the one-time deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Yusuf Diya al-Din Pasha al-Khalidi, is a stout believer in the powers of the relic. This will illustrate the pervasiveness of superstition, even among the learned class. He arranged a meeting with Theodor Herzl, the founder of the modern ‘Zionist’ movement for the colonization of Palestine by European settlers. The purpose of this meeting was to show him the alleged proof of the end of his enterprise, which Mr.Diya claims would be disastrous for the harmony of the Abrahamic congregations of the Ottoman Empire. The European gentleman seemed quite disturbed by the experience, and left before expounding on what, if anything, he had seen in the mirror. A second meeting was suggested, with Mr.Herzl begging to be excused. It is presumed that Mr.Herzl has returned to France.

I beg leave to assume that Mr. Herzl had been trying to maintain the “face” of Mr. Diya by granting the first meeting but a second was not to be afforded, to maintain the “face” of Mr.Herzl, as a “forward-thinking Western man whose principles carry the weight of the 20th century, if not the 21st,” as they say. Such a persona is at odds with the present character of the Holy Land, and of this oddity I have brought to light. Still, this curiosity should be recorded in the annals of the Palestine Exploration Fund.

-Rev. John Winston-Thorp, Jerusalem.

Author’s Note:

Historical context: Yusuf Diya wrote his letter to the founder of modern Zionism in order to persuade him not to advance his colonial project in Palestine, arguing that it would be disastrous for the harmony of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Ottoman Empire. Herzl responded by ignoring his thesis, and suggesting that colonization would produce nothing but “a happy result” for the natives there. Huwara is a Palestinian village burned in a 2023 pogrom of ethnic cleansing where Jewish settlers who lit the flames were caught on film chanting songs and patriotic slogans.