Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Foretelling the Nakba

Today is Nakba Day, which marks the 65th anniversary of the expulsion of around 85% of Palestine's indigenous Arab population from those parts of the territory overrun by Zionist forces in 1948.

Those expelled, augmented by further mass expulsions in 1967, make up the Palestinian refugee problem which is still with us today. Needless to say, this is because Israel refuses to repatriate these refugees simply in order to maintain a Jewish supremacist state in historic Palestine.

I've often wondered if anyone in Palestine in the years/months immediately prior to the Zionist campaign of ethnic cleansing which began in December 1947 could see, or at least sense, what was coming.

Two unblinkered observers of Palestine's Jewish community at the time, both British, certainly came close.

The following disturbing portrait of the community comes from the novelist, playwright and travel writer Robin Maugham (1916-1981), a nephew of Somerset Maugham, and appears in his 1947 book Approach to Palestine:

"It seemed to me, as I travelled round Palestine that too much time had been spent arguing the rights and wrongs of the business and far too little time in examining dispassionately the facts. Noble perorations to the converted cannot transfer populations or transmute Jews into Arabs. There are probably over 700,000 Jews in Palestine today. They are there - in the wide streets they have built and in the lovely orange groves they have planted on land that was desert. They vary in type from the old, religious gentle Zionist (who settled there before the Balfour Declaration) to the 16 year old, atheist, Russian-trained gangster who joins in a raid within 3 days of his secret landing. There are infinite variations in type and in attitude. All generalisation is bound to be inaccurate. But I found that the Jews I met could be divided into precisely the same categories as the Germans I knew in Berlin before the war.

"I found merchants and doctors who only wanted to get on with their jobs and to be left in peace. These were the moderates. Some approved of illegal immigration. All condemned terrorism. But moderates all over the world are generally the quiet, docile people. The tragedy of moderates is that they are ineffective. I asked these Jews, the friendly shopkeeper and the talkative barman, the old German specialist and the Australian tailor, I asked them why they did nothing to stop terrorism and illegal immigration. 'But what can we do to stop it?' they replied. 'How can we control the Jewish Agency? We're only little people of no importance. There's nothing we can do.' It was the same answer I used to hear in Germany, in Italy, and in Austria.

"Many of the Jews in Palestine went there to escape an evil. They decided to build a new country. For the sake of their friends still in Europe and for the sake of their children they suffered great hardship. Slowly, painfully, the desert was made fertile, the avenues were constructed. And now the evil they sought to escape has come upon them.

"Striding along the roads between the rich groves and over the blue hills of the Holy Land come bands of brown-skinned vigorous boys, flushed and bright-eyed, chanting their patriotic songs. The satchels clamped on the back of lean, healthy bodies clad only in shorts, the defiant gaze, even (surprisingly enough) the curly blonde hair - all is the same as in Hitler's Germany. Buses full of school children bellowing their slogans rush through the streets of Tel Aviv. And the parents cannot control them.

"'I would not even know if my son belonged to the Irgun Zwei a shopkeeper said with tears in his eyes. 'He would not tell me. He tells me nothing.' The old man was leaning across the counter talking to me. As he spoke, three boys of about fourteen walked into the shop, barged violently against me and ran out. I met Jews who were friendly, Jews who were nervous, men and women who openly supported the terrorists, people who said (with a backward glance to make sure that they were not overheard) that they loathed the Jewish Agency and longed to leave Palestine. The adults varied. But every single Jewish child I saw looked at me with unconcealed hatred. And every single one could speak no language except Hebrew. Fascism has come to Palestine. And the Jewish young man is potentially more dangerous than the storm trooper. He is more intelligent." (pp 85-87)

Another equally disturbing snapshot of the community comes from an article in the May 1948 edition of The Nineteenth Century Magazine, Palestine Note-Book. It was written by Bevil John Rudd (1927-2009), an officer in the Coldstream Guards:

"When I took part in the search for arms in the Jordan Valley settlements, I was very impressed with the grim determination and unity that the settlers displayed in the face of guns and bayonets. The communal pattern of their lives became clearer. It was pathetic to see photographs of their children among the parents' precious belongings, up to the age of about five, and then none at all until they were nearly grown up. From six years old they seemed to have been sent away to the child-rearing settlements. There is no such thing as family life. On the roads I have often seen bands of young children slogging along on a settlement route march. I have never seen, in the open, a mother and father with their child, not even with their baby in a pram. The babies live in a communal nursery. Parents were miserable as they told how they were only allowed to see their babies when they have come in after twelve hot hours work in the fields.

"The crudest living arrangement of all seemed to be in the tents, which housed a training company of Hagana. There were six grizly men and one girl sleeping in each tent. None of these ferocious youths had any belongings except blankets. They were a hard, pitiless band.

"In an Upper Galilee settlement, there is a Stock farm for human beings. Fine figures of Jewish youths are imported and breeding is accelerated. This blatant method of race production revolted us.

"After all these observations my mind turned against this regime of gaunt, narrow-minded people, pent up with bitterness and cunning. People who suppress a child's wish to own a rattle or a bicycle. However primitive the Arab may be, I thought his individualism worth more than the Jewish modernity and lack of liberty. On the other hand, if the Jewish community plans a struggle - the survival of the fittest - in the Middle East, then mass-produced, tough, settlement stock is the breed they want. Otherwise I do not understand what all this is leading to. Surely some form of master race, so similar, it seems, to the Nazis."

Now lest any Zionist thought police out there mount their high horses to condemn Maugham and Rudd's Zionist-Nazi analogising as mere expressions of rank anti-Semitism, let them first ponder deeply the following diary entry for 17/3/45 by Lord Balfour's niece, Blanche Dugdale:

"Went to the Dorchester and had tea with Chaim [Weizmann] and Vera... [Chaim] painted a dark picture of psychology of rising generation in the Yishuv, said Ben-Gurion is much to blame and is perhaps frightened now of the devils he has failed to discourage." (Baffy: The Diaries of Blanche Dugdale 1936-1947, 1973, p 219)

And this for 25/3/45:

"After tea I walked with [Chaim] in Hyde Park, he poured out things that made him uneasy about the youth in the Yishuv. He said Ben-Gurion was largely responsible and had much on his conscience." (ibid, p 220)

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