In my last post, I touched on the subject of the 1936-39 Palestinian uprising against British colonial rule and Zionist immigration.*
The brutal crushing of that 4-year intifada by the British army left Palestinian society so weakened that it lacked the stamina and resources to withstand the armed Zionist takeover of Palestine 9 years later, in 1948.
As a reminder of that struggle, the high point of Palestinian resistance to the British mandate and Zionist colonisation, I reproduce here the eloquent and impassioned 1938 protest by American archeologist and biblical scholar Elihu Grant (1873-1942), Awake, England!
Grant was a man who had lived among and studied the Palestinian peasantry prior to World War 1, writing a warm and sympathetic account of their society and customs, The Peasantry of Palestine, in 1907.
Written 78 years ago, Awake, England! is both a lament for the peaceful Palestine of Ottoman times and a cri de coeur at what Palestine has become under the British, with their policy of imposing a 'National Home for the Jewish people' on an unwilling, non-Jewish native population. This is simply referred to by Grant as the 'experiment'**.
Sadly, it also reveals how little has changed in the history of the Palestinians' agonisingly protracted struggle for self-determination in their ancestral homeland:
"England! Where thousands live who, or whose kindred, have served over there in decent Christian ways these scores of years, who know the East, the Arab, who have bred such as Lawrence of Arabia, Hogarth of the Bodleian, Palmer and Allenby... Now look at the thousands of photographs of your 'authorities' in Palestine, today, of evictions and dynamiting, with accompaniments of machine-gunning, bayonetting, tanks, planes, gas, bombs, and starvation. Some of your representatives you would not trust in your stable. Yet you let them carry your name and fame among the peasants of a usually peaceable land which you are turning into a daily horror, while you lift your palms upward and outward when the owner of a few feddans, a few tools, a cow, a pair of goats, perchance sheep and chickens, or a plot of vineyard, when he strikes in his misery at his tormentors paid from the taxes you wring from him.
"One of your scions, officer in a district, told me that one of his concerns was to obliterate the native guest-rooms in the villages, muddafiehs, humble centres of fraternity and democracy, because he considered them seditious, harmful to the empire. That is tearing the ewe lamb apart and not even eating it decently.
"I could draw you pictures and have before of scenes, places, and people in Palestine, as dear, simple, and sweet as any in your fair England. But that would be pre-war. And the resentment that has burned in those places recently is not a 'circumstance,' as we say colloquially, to what would have happened in Somerset if half of the wrongs had been perpetrated there by an insider or an outsider. One of your own assured me of this five years ago and Lo, and behold, your artistry of misery since!
"And consider the provocation in Palestine in twenty years past, in twenty months past. Even today I could point you to places in Palestine where your 'experiment' has scarce touched as yet and where you might observe a measure of the peace and kindness among the natives which we knew thirty or more years ago.
"A dear, good, saintly Christian from the midst of peace-loving England said to me concerning one of my own native pupils in Palestine 'We fear he is not loyal.' Loyal to what? To the Empire? To a tormentor that he was trained to view was a civilised force in the world long before it turned persecutor with its 'experiments' and to what end, native welfare? That savors of the remark of an Irish officer in service in Palestine to one of the native nobility there charged with office, a man educated and qualified by years of European training to serve any good cause or purpose in the Moslem East. Charged by this Irishman, with being too sympathetic with the peasantry of the district!! with being less than fully loyal to the despoiling busybody busy with his papers, white, or other shade. Remember a few years ago when a white paper showed merciful comprehension of the aggravated native state of affairs in Palestine that it was officially pigeon-holed? Under what pressure?
"Oh, England, you are not fair to the England we admired. You are not frank, you are not English: at least in Palestine. Do you shudder for Abyssinia, for Spain, for China? What about Palestine!?! There are those among the thousands in Syria, refugees from Palestine, or among the hundreds of good Palestinian brains in other countries who could help you learn a truer function for young educated Palestinians.
"Once it was the wawy (jackal) whose bark we heard in the vineyards. Now it would be the bark and rattle of deadly weapons. Once it was the hyena prowling for dead flesh. Now it is those who provide death daily for the contest, the race between the scavenger and the family of the dead who at their peril seek the bodies of their dead after the official strafing by your orders. Once it was the kilmy frangieh*** and veneration by those Easterners who admired you. Still it is the kilmy frangieh but with a difference in those 'holy fields!'
Concluded in my next post...
[*See my 21/3/11 post Jogging Uri Avnery's Memory; **"It may fail. I do not deny that this is an adventure. Are we never to have adventures? Are we never to try new experiments?" Lord Balfour, House of Lords, 21/6/22; ***foreign word]