Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Battle of Hanita 1

Continued from the previous post...

'The Jews Would Not Take No for an Answer'*

"It was in 1938 that the Jewish National Fund acquired several hundred dunums of land in the north western corner of Upper Galilee near the borders of Lebanon and notified the British administration of its intention to establish an agricultural colony on the newly purchased territory. A beginning was to be made with the redemption of the Galilean province of the Holy Land, once the most densely settled and most flourishing agricultural area of Palestine, now for the most part a howling wilderness of rock and treeless solitude.

"The Palestine administration at once vetoed the project. The High Commissioner, Sir Harold MacMichael, based his objection on the argument that colonists taking up residence in so remote and isolated a district would present a constant temptation to Bedouin raiders both from across and inside the borders of Palestine. The nearest Jewish inhabitants were in eastern Galilee, too far for their settlers to come to the aid of an establishment in western Galilee in the event of danger. If the Jews, the High Commissioner intimated, instead of starting in the extreme northern wilds of Galilee, would establish colonies in the south of that province and then gradually push northward, establishing colonies chainwise or rather like stepping-stones in the direction of the frontier, something might perhaps be said for the reclamation of Galilee. But to establish the first settlement at the extreme limit of no man's land, was a too hazardous enterprise for which he, Sir Harold, would not assume responsibility.

"The directors of the Jewish Agency replied that they would be glad enough to establish an entire chain of colonies but that the administration's land-buying regulations had so far precluded the purchase of sites that might serve as steppingstones on the road to the north. They must therefore start where they could - that is, on the spot which had just recently become the property of the Jewish people. Sir Harold proved adamant. His interpretation of the mandate which charges Britain with facilitating 'the close settlement of Jews on the land' works out in practice in placing, by order of the government of Great Britain, of course, as many obstacles in the way of the purchase of land by Jews as possible and after that, if the Jews still succeed in getting hold of a plot of barren, rocky, desert land on which no human being in his right sense would live, in discouraging them from settling on it.

"Only, the Jews would not take no for an answer. They could not abide by the High Commissioner's decision. In withholding his official fiat, the High Commissioner may well have been carrying out his duty in that he acted in the spirit of those restrictive measures designed against and imposed upon Jewish Palestine by a narrow-minded, anti-Jewish bureaucracy in the sole interests not of the British Empire, but of a handful of feudalistic Arab landowners. The Palestinian Jews, on the other hand, could not do otherwise than what they did. They insisted again and again that the High Commissioner's decision be revoked and that the colony be opened up - that particular colony and others, always more colonies and settlements by hook or by crook. For the Palestinian Jews feel behind their backs the ever-growing anguish and desperate pressure of the homeless and hopeless Jewish masses in Europe still seeking a way out of what had become to millions of them a gruesome deathtrap or a living hell after Hitler's advent to power...**

"After months of wearisome palaver, pleading and insisting on the one side, haggling and quibbling on the other, with references to the Colonial Office in London going to and fro, the High Commissioner finally, reluctantly gave in. The Jews were permitted to establish that colony on their own land in their own country. They could go out there to that desolate spot in Galilee if they wanted to, but they must not blame the administration if disaster should overtake them on the pioneer trail.

"Mi yivne ha-Galil? Who will build Galilee? the young people sang that night all over Palestine, when the government's decision became known. El yivne ha-Galil! God will build Galilee! came the answering chorus." (pp 208-211)

Will the valiant White Man succeed in carving out Godzone in the howling wilderness of Upper Galilee or will he succumb to the onslaught of the savages who infest its trackless wastes? Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of The Battle of Hanita.

[* Heading and emphases are mine; **Van Paassen is rewriting 1938 in light of later, wartime developments. Here's the real motive for 'reclaiming' the Galilee: "Re Palestine: Chaim [Weizmann] and the Palestinians [i.e. Palestine's Jewish leadership] hold the view that the turn of the Yishuv to be sold to the Arabs is very near. We cannot yet resist by arms - we can only work by every means, fair and foul (all is kosher now) to buy land, bring in men, get arms. And in 2-3-4 years we will bring the Jewish State into being." (Blanche Dugdale, Baffy: The Diaries of Blanche Dugdale, 1936-1947, 1973; entry for 1/10/38, page 110]

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