Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Joke

The first two episodes of The Promise (SBS1 on Sunday nights) have confirmed my hopes (Looks Promising! 25/11) for Peter Kosminsky's dramatised interweaving of the final years of British mandate rule over Palestine with the current situation in Israeli-occupied Palestine. The quality, sweep, intellectual courage and historical fidelity of this television drama makes it compulsory viewing for anyone interested in understanding why things are as they are in Palestine/Israel today.

In large part, episode 2 focused on the 1946 Zionist terrorist bombing of the British Mandate government's civil and military headquarters in Jerusalem's King David Hotel and the motivation of its Irgun perpetrators - which brings me to the real subject of this post.

Who could have predicted that, 63 years after the event, this particular outrage would become the subject of one of the most tasteless jokes ever made by any Australian politician, and one that, in fact, should figure prominently in any future assessment of the joker's character and fitness to retain office. But I'll come to that later. For some idea of the scale of the Irgun's operation, and hence its potential and actual human cost, against which the gravity of 'The Joke' might be measured, it is necessary to first revisit the massacre in some detail. The following account of the bombing comes from one who was there, a young British officer named Philip Brutton:

"In Tel Aviv [Menachem] Begin's Irgun gang began their operation early on Monday 22 July, while Jerusalem and the author slept. At 05.30 they stole a Jewish taxi and a Jewish truck. They then drove to Jerusalem where at 11.00 they stole a pick-up lorry and loaded it with 7 milk cans, a significant number in Jewish tradition. Then, dressed as Arabs, armed with Sten and Tommy guns, they drove to the King David Hotel at 11.45. They descended the slope to the unguarded entrance, rounded up the stuff and unloaded the explosives packed into the milk cans... (p 44)

"[T]he first - diversionary, as it turned out - bomb exploded [at about 12.20]. The city siren sounded, then the all-clear at 12.31... Then at 12.37 there was a very loud explosion indeed... More than 90 people had just been killed, including 17 Jews, in the Hotel and one terrorist found by the police. The terrorists had, as noted, arrived at the basement of the King David Hotel at 11.45, placing the 7 milk cans containing the explosives along the corridor underneath the government Secretariat offices...

"Two orders had been ignored by the Irgun, the first being that the operation was to take place out of office hours to avoid, hopefully, any loss of life; also a warning must be telephoned in good time. It was, even so, a dangerous, uncertain, unprincipled and ungrateful act against the one country which had gone out of its way, however unfairly to the Arabs and disastrously for its administrators, to help the Zionist cause. It was, too, organized at the highest level of the Yishuv. The planting of the bombs, and consequent planned destruction of government offices, was an extension of the rebellion, undeclared and never admitted, against the Mandatory power. British intelligence, however, was well aware of the existence of X Command and the identity of its chairman, Ben-Gurion. The King David Hotel operation did not have the destruction of documents as a prime objective: they were not filed exclusively there and those removed from the Jewish Agency had been copied. It was a pointless counter-reaction of provocation which backfired. It was also cold-blooded premeditated murder by the Irgun gang. [British PM] Ernest Bevin and the British government were conversant with the Zionist strategy to obtain their state, both from public pronouncements and from decryptanalysis:

1. Calculated use of violence and, when the occasion demanded, denunciation of the violence initiated by X Command or its affiliates.
2. Condemnation of government response, provoked by violence, as being - to use Weizmann's words - a declaration of war against world Jewry.
3. The Arab position to be ignored.
4. American support to be rallied in both political and financial dimensions.

"The government's knowledge of facts, nevertheless, could not provide a solution. If a solution was acceptable to the Jews, it would not be to the Arabs, therefore not to the Mandatory power. Thus, the strategy and tactics of obtaining the end by the means outlined above continued: terrorism - condemnation of terrorism - government reaction - condemnation of this reaction - more terrorism. Neither the ambition to obtain the goal, nor the blood lust which went with it could be either controlled or assuaged.

"No one knew this better than Israel Levi who was in charge of the party which placed the bombs. He connected the timing devices, and also a booby trap, duly announced, to discourage defusing. He and his gang were disturbed by Captain A.D. Mackintosh, Royal Signals, whom they failed to overcome. They then shot him in the stomach. He stumbled towards the staircase and was found by a porter to whom he gave the facts. The porter informed the manager, Hamburger, who told security.

"Thus the Hotel security, alerted through the heroic efforts of the Royal Signals officer, knew at 12.10 that 'an officer had been attacked. Armed Arabs were in the basement'. A security officer then peered through a grill. He was fired at. Irgun withdrew at 12.15. The Hotel alarm bell alerted Jerusalem Police Headquarters. Hotel security fired on the Irgun lorry. It was abandoned. The occupants fled on foot. Two were hit.

"Minutes later, between 12.20 and 12.25, the smaller bomb we heard in the Old City, intended to divert attention and block access to the Hotel, was exploded. At 12.37 the 7 milk cans blew up. The whole south-west corner of the Hotel collapsed; 6 floors and 28 rooms were reduced to rubble. Robert Newton was in his office when the ceiling fell and the wall behind him disappeared. Below was open space; beyond had been the lift shaft, the typists' room and an adjacent office in which a colleague had worked. Everything and everybody had disappeared. The girls in the typing room were buried under the rubble, dead.

"Superintendent K.P. Haddingham had just arrived from Police Headquarters. He was injured and placed on a stretcher. He then saw, with horror, on the wall of the YMCA opposite, the bodies of two middle-aged men, flung by the blast, like plaster, against the stone, their blood streaming in rivulets, their crucified remains splayed and contorted 16 feet above ground, resembling some sick mural, stuccoed and silhouetted in high relief. They were his friends, Postmaster General G. D. Kennedy and Assistant Secretary E.W. Keys, who had been standing at the Secretariat entrance.

"About 15 minutes earlier the first so-called diversionary bomb had been detonated outside a car showroom, owned by a Christian Arab, a few yards from the Hotel. It failed to set off the ancillary devices which would have fired the whole street. The second diversionary bomb failed to explode and was dismantled by the police... It was some diversion. It had been placed north of the Hotel in a nearby street, outside a shop named Deen's Indian Taylor. It contained TNT and inflammable wadding. Four petrol cans were on top.

"Meanwhile, we made our way back to the New City through the deserted, winding ways of the Old and soon passed through a police cordon where the car containing the second so-called diversionary bomb was being searched and the bomb dismantled. We collected the jeep and went to the Hotel. The bar was a shambles of broken glass and blood. The barman told us no one had been killed there, so Rosemary Walsh was safe. Arthur Butler was cut about the knees. Had we been there we would not have been killed, but flying glass can damage more than knees.

"Rosemary's father was buried under the masonry and presumed dead. He was not among those missing who miraculously survived, one of whom was dug out 24 hours later. He shook hands with the High Commissioner and was taken to hospital where he died of shock.

"After lunch we returned to examine the damage, having no idea of the numbers buried, dead, and alive underneath. There was no noise as soldiers and police began the prolonged job of digging into the rubble. The police, in the meantime, had found the two terrorists hit by the Hotel security: one was dead, the other wounded. He was arrested, later tried and hanged. They were the soldati. The capi escaped.

"The warning ordered by X Command, with whom the ultimate responsibility for the outrage rested, was, in practice, ignored. The first warning was given two minutes before the main explosion, and repeated twice afterwards, by which time it was an epilogue...

"In sum: the terrorists fled from the Hotel at 12.15, after being there for half-an-hour, during which time they placed and primed the bombs. The diversionary explosion occurred between 12.20 and 12.25. The first of 3 warning calls was received at 12.35. The main explosion occurred at 12.37: 91 dead, including 41 Arabs, 28 British, 17 Jews and 5 others. Our rendezvous with Rosemary Walsh saved her life. She would otherwise have been in her father's office. Weizmann's cordite had come full circle." (A Captain's Mandate: Palestine 1946-1948, 1996, pp 46-49)

Got the picture? Now for the loose lips. Here, according to he Australian Jewish News of December 17, 2011, is how foreign minister Kevin Rudd began his "keynote address" to an Australia Israel Leadership Forum (AILF) audience in Jerusalem's King David Hotel on December 13, 2010:

"It is an honour to be among Israeli and Australian friends tonight here in Jerusalem, at the King David Hotel. Shimon Peres, Israel's President, who we met earlier today, said some years ago that when you come to the King David, you come not just as a guest, but you come also to a place which has seen almost the complete cast of players across the history of the modern State of Israel, often in this room in which we gather here tonight. From the 1930s, this hotel became the British field headquarters for what was then British Palestine, until Menachem Begin undertook some interior redesign."

That crack, in the context of Rudd's obscenely uncritical embrace of Israel, goes to the heart of the man's character, and, as I've suggested, raises the issue of whether he's fit to represent this country as foreign, or any other, minister.

Equally, it goes to the heart of our corporate media culture, which never really gave it the attention it deserved. None of the ms media's court reporters who accompanied Rudd, or any of its Middle East correspondents (Koutsoukis/Fairfax; Ben Knight/ABC; John Lyons/ News Ltd) queried it, as the Q&A following Rudd's press conference next day with PA foreign minister Riad Malki makes clear.

Rudd barracker and foreign editor of Murdoch's Australian, Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, managed to simultaneously soft-soap Rudd and whitewash Israeli terrorism when he wrote that there are "times when he seemed to strain just that bit too much to connect with the audience. Rudd was referring to the incident in which Israeli independence activists [!] blew up the hotel. I accept that they were not the equivalent of modern terrorists. [!] But people died in that incident. I don't think such a joke was in good taste, although many in the audience appreciated it." (That's no way to treat a precious friend, Mr Rudd, 16/12/10)

That many in the audience appreciated [the joke] speaks volumes for the moral void inhabited by Rudd's camp followers.

At home, the Sydney Morning Herald editorialist came closest to cottoning on to its significance when he/she called it "a distasteful joke," and asked, "Has Rudd really got it as a diplomat?" (Mid-East peace: a time to speak, 21/12/10).

Further along (May 5, 2011), journalist Brian Toohey, writing at inside.org.au, commented relevantly: "Nor does... Kevin Rudd display a deep concern for human rights. Although Rudd professes to abhor terrorism, this belief wasn't apparent while he was seeking to impress an audience during a speech at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in March [sic] this year. Representing Australia, Rudd said that Menachem Begin 'undertook some interior redesign' at that same hotel. This sick attempt at humour was a reference to how Begin's terrorist group killed 91 people when it blew up the British-occupied hotel in 1946."

But that was it really. No doubt 'The Joke', which should have resulted in lead stories all over, is destined for Orwell's memory hole.

Finally, to round this one off, what about the Zionist response to 'The Joke'? In fact, there was none. The Australian Jewish News wisely kept mum. But, true to form, there's always one in this category who wants his tuppence worth. Someone called David Singer, who blogs at - wait for it - jordanispalestine.blogspot.com, just couldn't contain himself at the Herald's reference to Rudd's "distasteful joke" and its questioning of his diplomatic competence:

"(i) The King David Hotel was the headquarters of the British army - a legitimate target for an attack. (ii) Warnings were given to clear the hotel but were ignored by the British. (iii) The attack was not a 'terrorist bombing' since the civilian population was not deliberately targeted. I would suggest the Herald not worry about Rudd... the Herald needs to worry about its journalists who write such nonsense as this skewed and inaccurate editorial. Maybe in the spirit of openness and transparency being lately espoused by the Herald in its ongoing exclusive releases from WikiLeaks - the Herald might tell us (i) who wrote the editorial (ii) the qualifications of the person writing the editorial (iii) who checked the editorial for its accuracy before publication. At this festive time of goodwill and cheer the Herald has clearly displayed that this editorial is lacking in both." (Hark the Herald devil sings, analyst-network.com, 7/1/11)

Presumably, the Herald editorialist should have endorsed 'The Joke' with a hearty 'Ho, ho, ho, Kevin! What a blast! May you and yours have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

[For the background to Rudd's 'joke' see my posts The Kevin Rudd Road Show 1 (18/12/10) and TKRRS 2 (20/12/10).]

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