Friday, August 3, 2012

Palestine's Patriot Dead

Remember our Dorset farmer (By George, He Gets It!, 1/7/12)?

"I was glad to get away, especially after my tour [of Acre prison] was ended by my being shown the execution chamber, and the gallows on which so many men have died. One piece of probably unwitting savagery jarred upon me. The condemned cells are cages in the vestibule to the execution-chamber. There are two of them, and if, as often happens, there is more than one execution to be carried out on a certain morning, the second or subsequent victim, must suffer the agonies of the damned - for he can see his comrade in evil fortune taken out, hear all that takes place on the farther side of the black door - and then die himself a hundred times before the bolts of his cage are shot back, and it is his turn to suffer. 

"The British Inspector who took me round told me that there had been as many as 3 executions on one morning, one of them being the time when 3 men were hanged for their parts in the 1929 rebellion. 'It's not fair,' he said. 'In an English prison the governor and deputy-governor have a far easier time than Jock and I have here with these continued executions.

"'What do you mean?' I asked.

"'In England,' he replied, 'it is bad enough. Like us, a prison governor there gets to know the man who is going to be hanged. You see him every day. You know his motives and his own feelings - often a murderer is not nearly so bad a criminal as a professional thief or blackmailer, let alone a dope-dealer or a white-slaver. He's often some poor devil who has killed in a sudden fit of overmastering passion, jealousy or rage - I often feel like saying 'there but for the grace of Allah goes little me.'

"'As I say, you get to know the man, his relatives, and his own worries and family-troubles, and then you've got to kill him with your own hands, for we British officers have to act as executioners, not just stand by and watch like our opposite numbers do in England. It's a rotten job, believe me. I'm pretty tough, but I'd give anything to be really sick on an execution morning, so that I could beg off the spectacle.

"'Surely you don't get much chance to weep over the troubles of the fellows who are tried by the Military Courts?' I said.

"His face set grimly. 'No, and there'd be no tears in any case for that bunch of crooks. I want no excuse to miss their hangings, believe me.'

"'But why?' I asked. 'Aren't they quite sincere in believing that they are fighting for their rights?'

"The burly Inspector snorted. 'Don't make me sick,' he grunted. 'They're just a gang of toughs looting and killing for what they can make out of it. They're not patriots, they're criminals.'

"'I suppose that you served in the Royal Irish Constabulary, didn't you?' I asked. 'Most of the officers of the Palestine Police seem to have done so.'

"'I did,' he said, 'and it was a far better and safer job than this one.'

"'Some of the men who were hanged during the Troubles of 1919, '20 and '21, were also condemned as criminals,' I said gently. 'Kevin Barry and the rest.'

"'That was different, they were white men,' the Inspector snorted.

"'You mean that they are heroes nowadays, noble patriots, held as martyrs by their fellows, because they were white men - and, conversely, that the Arabs, whom you are hanging, are ruffianly murderers because their skins are brown?' I inquired.

"'Go to Hell!' he said, and turned upon his heel.

"I passed out of Hell, instead, by recrossing the narrow bridge, and, as I emerged on to the rampart walk, felt a dirty, greasy cloud lifting off my spirit." (Palestine Unveiled, Douglas V. Duff, 1938, pp 72-74)

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