Sunday, May 12, 2013

Israel: The Movie?

Every settler-colonial state has its epic tale in which the heroic White Man faces and beats back an onslaught by fanatical black, brown, red or yellow hordes. To cite but two examples of the genre, the Britz have their Battle of Rorke's Drift against the Zulus in 1879, and the Yanks their Battle of Killdeer Mountain against the Sioux in 1864.

But what about that Johnny-Come-Lately to sticking it to the natives, Israel? Not to be outdone, Israelis have their Battle of Hanita against the Bedouin hordes in 1938.

Now you've probably never heard of it, and that's because, when it came to Zionist heroics in 30s Palestine, reputable chroniclers of the time could be such party poopers.

Take J.M.N. Jeffries, for example. Clearly, he just didn't get it:

"The Zionist movement to obtain Galilee had been launched in the spring in London with every circumstance of importance. Dr Weizmann and other chiefs of the Zionist Executive started the campaign with an appeal to the Zionists of the world to support an 'On to Galilee' fund. 'Hitherto,' it said, 'the north has benefited only meagrely from the boon of Jewish creative effort.'

"But now strategic reasons involved a campaign for what was called 'the redemption of Galilee' and produced a sudden re-evocation of Galilee's Jewish connections in the past. These strategic reasons were not concealed in the literature of the movement. 'Safeguard the frontiers of Palestine,' said a typical slogan amidst the announcements of the new drive for Galilee. Zionist settlements, it was made clear, were to be set down like strong-points along the frontier, so as to establish an occupation and to justify the handing-over of the province to the Zionist State. The Zionist Press gave details of the foundation of these fort-settlements in hostile territory. At Hanuta, the first of them on the northern frontier (this was in March) 'the permanent buildings and defence stockades [my italics] at the village are rapidly being completed by the group in occupation.'

"'It is of paramount importance,' continued the Jewish Chronicle when giving this information, 'for a larger Jewish area to be established in Upper Galilee, where the Jewish agricultural community has been more or less static since the initiation of post-War colonization. The area of Jewish settlement will have to be taken into account by the authorities as a decisive factor in the formulation of any definite policy. Such colonization is also necessary from the point of view of the security of the existing Community.'

"The strategic character of Hanuta soon was endorsed by an attack upon it, in which one of its defenders was killed, and one of the assailants. Three hundred new 'settlers' were sent up to this isolated position. They would have been better described as reinforcements." (Palestine: The Reality, 1939, pp 689-690)

See what I mean about party poopers? No, what was needed was a real live Zionist party animal to tell and sell the Battle of Hanita to Mr and Mrs America.

Enter the Dutch-Canadian-American Gentile Zionist and writer, Pierre van Paassen (1895-1968). Almost forgotten now, but a best-seller* in his day, van Paassen, in his 1943 book The Forgotten Ally, turned the battle of Hanita into, well, the Battle of Hanita - know what I mean? Not quite? Well, put it this way: if you loved Leon Uris' Exodus, you're going to LOVE van Paassen's ripping good yarn.

[*My February 1946 copy is a twelfth printing.]

Next post: The Battle of Hanita 1

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