Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Truganini in Jerusalem

"They consider every injury they can inflict upon white men as an act of duty and patriotic, and however they may dread the punishment which our laws inflict upon them, they consider the sufferers under these punishments as martyrs of their country... having ideas of their natural rights which would astonish most of our European statesmen." (Gilbert Robinson, 1828, quoted in Tasmanian Aborigines: A History Since 1803, Lyndall Ryan, 2012)

It's 1936, Year One of the Palestine Revolt (1936-1939). Author and former Palestine policeman, Douglas Duff, on a visit to the country, is listening to the speech of a Palestinian agitator in a Jerusalem bazaar when it suddenly takes a most unexpected turn:

"Jerusalem, within the walls, seemed empty and dead; yet it needed very little imagination or knowledge of the East to feel the pulsing, ageless, ancient life that was beating malevolently behind those shuttered walls. At the large coffee-house on the left-hand side, in front of the dark arches that cover the junction of the Spice Bazaar, the Goldsmith's Bazaar and the entry to the Jewish Quarter, I paused for a moment amongst a crowd of elderly Arab merchants who were listening to a young man haranguing the smoking, coffee-drinking crowd in the restaurant. I was curious to hear what latest twist the agitator propaganda was taking, and listened with every nerve in my mind.

"'And so I tell you, Brothers in the Faith,' shouted the young man, 'that this is our last chance to save the blood of the Arab from becoming nothing but a memory in this land of our fathers. If you do not wish to see the sons of Islam barred from the Great Sanctuary, if you wish to have your sons and your sons' sons to have the right of enjoying this land of ours, you must stand loyally by your leaders. If we do not bring the Ingliz to their senses - and we can only do so by frightening them - then we are lost.'

"He paused for a moment. Very ordinary stuff, this. I was not greatly impressed, but his next few sentences startled me, for I had had no idea that the forces working against England were so well trained.

"'You all know the accursed Balfour Declaration by heart?'

"A savage growling arose from the seated mob, and curses against Jew and Briton were shouted. The young man, in his blue serge suit and scarlet tarbush, waited for it to die down with a smile upon his face, and then went on.

"The Ingliz tell us that the rights of the Arabs will be safeguarded. Let me show you what liars they are. Let me tell you of one colony of which they have possession. Listen with all your ears to what happened, in a few short years, to the native population of that country. Remember that we, the sons of the Arab - who were a great nation when the Ingliz were lower than the Blacks of Africa are to-day - are nothing but 'natives' to these proud white men. What they have done to one 'native' race, they will be only too willing to do to another.' 

"By now you could have heard a pin drop in the crowded coffee-house. With strained attention the Arabs, most of them of the village and Bedouin type - for there were few townsmen among them - crouched forward to hear what the young Effendi had to say.

"'What I am going to tell you is true; do not think that my father's son lies. When you go forth to your own villages you must bear the tale I am about to tell you as a warning for all to heed, if they would live and possess the land of our fathers.'

"I began to wonder to which particular colony the young man was going to refer, what unparalleled lie he was going to utter. Unfortunately he had ferreted out the truth.

"'To the south of Australia,' he said, 'the land which sent all those soldiers to Palestine during the last War, there is a large island called Tasmania, nearly three times greater in area than this Holy Land. One hundred and thirty years ago it had a large and happy native population, who had lived for untold ages secure in their own country. I will speak in terms of the Western years, the time of the Franks, for it is in their style that the chronicle is written. This year, as you all know, is 1936, according to their counting. Then, in 1804, the Tasmanians - 'natives' in the eyes of the Ingliz - were a happy and contented people. What happened to them? I will tell you.'

"He paused, whilst the crowd held its breath. Then, in accents of awe, mingled with deadly hatred, he went on:

"'In the year 1869 the last Tasmanian died; in 1876 the last of the Tasmanian women died in London, and the 'natives' of Tasmania were completely extinguished! A nation, a race, a whole people had been stamped out completely in seventy-two years! How was it done? By bullets and bayonets and unjust laws; by English hatred and greed. That is how it was done. How many years have the Ingliz been in Palestine? Nearly twenty! Then how much longer have we left before we suffer the fate of the Tasmanians?'

"By this time he had lashed himself to a lather of fury.

"'I tell you, Brothers in the Faith, that if I were a rich man I would bring the bones of that last of the Tasmanians - the woman called Trukanini - and I would lay them beneath a great monument here in Jerusalem, for a solemn warning to all we men of Arab blood. She should be our example, our guide and our inspiration.'

"He glanced around. 'Is there one who doubts this tale? If there be, let him go to any of the learned men, ask them to consult their books, and he will find that I have spoken naught but the truth. The rights of subject peoples! I tell you that we cannot trust the Ingliz. This time we must be staunch and loyal.

"I walked quietly away, anxious to be absent from the scene ere any of the enthralled Arabs realised that one of the Ingliz was looking on; before any of them, with their passionate fanaticism alight, saw in me a heaven-sent opportunity to revenge the wrongs done long ago to the Tasmanians." (Palestine Picture, 1936, pp 65-68)

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