Category Archives: Palestinian Issue

T.E. Lawrence and the Desert Bromance That Sold America on a War – Clive Irving. 

The truth about Lawrence of Arabia & the beginnings of the Middle East disaster. 

It was bromance at first sight. The young American journalist was alone, walking along Christian Street in the Old City of Jerusalem. A group of Arabs approached, “their faces, half hidden, swarthy and bearded. All but one…I could see that this one, though dressed like the rest, and even with his face beaten by the weather and burned by the sun, was different. He was smaller, clean-shaven, his features more finely wrought, his eyes were a startling blue.”

Lowell Thomas didn’t realize it at the time but he had found the biggest story in the Middle East, centered on another young man that he would adulate with an astonishing outpouring of purple prose and, in the process, make himself a small fortune.

A few months earlier, in 1917, Thomas had been assigned by President Woodrow Wilson’s administration to an urgent propaganda role: sell America’s into World War I. 

Thomas’s 25th birthday fell on the day America declared war on Germany, April 6. He was a rookie journalist on a Chicago newspaper whose travel writing had caught the eye of Interior Secretary Franklin Lane. He was called to Washington where Lane told him, “Our people are not ready for this war.”

Lane’s idea was that Thomas should go to France, where the British and French armies were suffering horrendous casualties in stalemated trench warfare against superior German forces. He would hire a cameraman and together they would report on the arrival of American troops and on their hoped-for success in turning the tide, helping to silence those back home who thought Wilson should have stayed out of the war.

One look at the carnage of the trenches was enough for Thomas to realize that there was no uplifting message there and, with his photographer Harry Chase, he moved to the Italian Alps where the Italians were fighting a combination of the German and Austrian armies, assisted by a few American airmen. This battle was also going badly and offered no scope for sunny propaganda.

Then, in Venice, Thomas saw a military bulletin announcing that the British had appointed a new commander to their Middle East army, General Sir Edmund Allenby. Thomas knew little about this other war, where the British and Australians were attempting to end centuries of domination by the Turkish Ottoman Empire. He knew that most Americans were equally unaware that a conflict was taking place in a setting of such great contrast to the quagmire of Europe—the exotic orient where Chase’s camera would find much more promising vistas.

At first Thomas hit a bureaucratic wall. The British military didn’t see any value in the help of somebody as green about war as Thomas. But Thomas was personable and pulled strings in Washington and from there contacts were made in London. The British propaganda chiefs were anxious to do anything to stimulate America’s commitment to the war, and suddenly Thomas found himself in Cairo with access to Allenby…just as Allenby made his first big assault on the Ottomans and liberated Jerusalem.

As the British army paused and regrouped in Palestine, Thomas, taking his walk through the old city of Jerusalem, spotted the “blue-eyed Arab” —noting that he wore the short curved sword of a prince of Mecca. Thomas thought he might be a Circassian, a Muslim from the Caucasian Mountains. The British told him that he had probably seen a young British officer called Thomas Edward Lawrence who was working clandestinely with the Arab armies—and had a price of $500,000 on his head offered by the Turks for his capture or death.

Lawrence’s desert campaign had already been going on for more than a year, but had gone unnoticed in the British press. Thomas couldn’t believe that knowledge of it was still confined to a small circle of military officers and Lawrence’s intelligence handlers in Cairo.

David Leans Lawrence of Arabia recast the Lowell Thomas role as an American reporter named Jackson Bentley, played by Arthur Kennedy and much older than Thomas. This removed from the movie what must have been very apparent at the time—that Lawrence and Thomas were of the same generation and were both, in very different ways, adventurers out for fame and found it in this mutually reinforcing saga. As propaganda it was to far outshine and outlive anything that emerged from the charnel house of Europe.

Up to his meeting with Lawrence, Thomas had been a pedestrian travel writer, given to lazy stereotyping, as in this account of his arrival at Luxor, on the Nile:

“One old Arab said sadly: ‘American tourist he come no more. All we guides starve. Oh, woe! My guide here thirty-five years. Only real tourist in the world is you Americans. The Inglisse (English), German and French spend all their time counting their centimes. If American want something he say How much? You tell him, and no matter what price is, he say, All right, wrap her up.’”

The effect of Lawrence and his singular personality on Thomas’s prose was not corrective. The material was so original and vivid that Thomas lost any control he might have had of hyperbole. Thomas never really understood the inner torments and depths of his hero. He sweeps along on the surface of things, in partnership with Lawrence on the greatest of military adventures, ramping up the drama, inventing and embellishing where he fancies it is needed.

In the following passages I have used Thomas’s original text (and spellings and punctuation) as it appeared in a series of magazine pieces at the time. Standard Western prejudices about Arabs and the orient are evident. Later, given more perspective and attaining more maturity Thomas revised his descriptions (although he never lost the original fever). Here is his introduction to Lawrence:

“At the Gulf of Akaba we found Lawrence and Emir Feisal. The setting was so fantastic and full of color, and these Arabs so picturesque in their flowing beards, their gorgeous robes and peculiar head-dress, that it all seemed like some bizarre Oriental pageant. Lawrence was wearing an even more gorgeous costume than the one I had seen him wearing in Jerusalem. It was of pale green embroidered with beautiful gold figures. Nearly always he wore beautiful robes of pure white. To insure that what he wore should be clean, he carried three or four changes of clothing on a spare camel.”
This moves on to a morning in Feisal’s camp where Thomas describes Lawrence’s hypnotic gifts:

“One morning a young Bedouin was brought in charged with an evil eye. Feisal was not present. Lawrence told the young Arab to sit on the opposite side of the tent and look at him. For ten minutes Lawrence regarded him with a steady gaze, his steel blue eyes boring a hole right through him. At the end of the ten minutes Lawrence dismissed the Arab with the verdict that he had driven off the evil eye.”
As Thomas gets into the spirit of the desert campaign there is a rising celebration of their shared bloodlust:

“He was telling me about his archaeological work when suddenly he broke off to remark ‘Do you know, one of the most glorious sights I have ever seen is a trainload of Turkish soldiers going up in the air, after the explosion of a mine?’ I suggested to Lawrence that it would be a good idea for him to arrange a little dynamiting party for my benefit.”
There follows a scene of almost erotic symbolism that appears in the Lean movie, although in a different form:

“The train carried some 400 Turkish soldiers on their way to the relief of Medina…one of the Turkish officers recognized that the lone Arab was the mysterious Englishman for whom a reward of $500,000 had been offered. Lawrence allowed the Turks to get within about twenty paces of him, and then with a speed that would have made an Arizona gunman green with envy he whipped out his long barreled Colt’s automatic from the folds of his gown and shot six of the Turks in their tracks.”
Thomas wrote that the Arabs, however, are not to be trusted with explosives:

“The Bedouins were entirely ignorant of how to use dynamite; and so Lawrence planted nearly all his own mines and took the Bedouin along with him merely for company and to help carry off the loot. In 1917 he blew up 25 trains…and seventy-nine bridges.”
Occasionally, Thomas makes an effort at a more sober appraisal:

“Many times when we were trekking across the desert he told me that he thoroughly disliked war and everything that savored of the military.
“What was the secret of Lawrence’s success? He not only lived as an Arab, but thought as one. At the same time his brilliant mental gifts enabled him to achieve far greater results than any Arab leader could have attained.
“He made a special study of the camel. Lawrence is the only European I have met who possesses ‘camel instinct’ a quality that implies intimate acquaintance with the beast’s habits, powers, tendencies and comparative worth.”

Thomas becomes totally unmoored with the biggest scene of the story—the fall of Damascus, and Lawrence’s entry:

“The twenty-eight-year-old commander-in-chief of the greatest army that had been raised in Arabia for five centuries, this five-foot-three, pink-cheeked, blue-eyed, peerless young archaeologist, who in less than a year had made himself the most powerful man in Arabia since the days of the great Caliph Haroun-el-Raschid, this quiet young Oxford graduate who had been made an Emir of Arabia, made his official entry into Damascus, the city which was the ultimate goal of his whole campaign, at seven o’clock on the morning of October thirty-first. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Arabs, including the entire population of Damascus, the oldest city in the world which remains standing, and thousands and thousands of the wild Bedouin tribes from the fringes of the desert packed the street that is called straight and jammed the bazaar section as Lawrence rode through the city, dressed in the garb of a Prince of Mecca. Howling dervishes ran in front of him, dancing and sticking knives into their flesh, while behind him came his flying column of picturesque Arabian knights. As Lawrence passed the gates of Damascus the inhabitants in that ancient Arab capital, which was once the most glorious city in the east, realized they had at last been freed from the Turkish yoke.”

The correct date was October 1, and at 7a.m. that morning Lawrence was not riding into Damascus at the head of his column of Arabian knights. With another officer he had stopped by a small stream to wash and shave. They were found by a patrol of Bengal Lancers, part of Allenby’s army, and because they were both in Arab robes they were arrested. The Lancers spoke only Urdu and could not understand Lawrence’s explanation of who he was. Prodded by bayonets they were taken as prisoners and released only when discovered by a British patrol.

Allenby and an Australian General, Sir Henry Chauvel (a name misspelt by Thomas), were aware that Feisal and the Arab commanders knew that Damascus had already been promised to the French, in a backroom deal that gave them Syria after the war, and they did not want to inflame the Arabs any more by having any British officer, Lawrence included, parading as the conqueror. Chauvel in particular had a subtle understanding of the politics and was opposed to any theatrics from Lawrence.

Of course, the fake story was far better as propaganda than the rather ignominious predicament that Lawrence found himself in at the end of the adventure that would, with Thomas’s help, make him the most famous man in the world for a while. 

In New York the silent film footage that Chase shot was cut into a documentary with a commentary delivered by Thomas. It ran for eight weeks at Madison Square Garden to packed audiences. In America it had the effect of making the war look better because the Allied victory went beyond just European interests: the liberation of Jerusalem from the Ottomans had enormous religious appeal for both Christians and Jews.
Lawrence emerged as a matinee idol, a robed wraith in the service of Christendom, finally avenging Saladin’s 12th century humiliation of the Crusaders.

That was the real beginning of the Lawrence legend but the same narrative did not play in London. There it was received as a reassuring display of Britain’s imperial power, executed in part by a highly unorthodox military upstart. Realizing this, Thomas rewrote his script to give more space to Lawrence. The new show was a smash hit at the Royal Opera House. The British prime minister, David Lloyd George, saw it and said, “In my opinion, Lawrence is one of the most remarkable and romantic figures of modern times.”
Lawrence himself slipped unseen into a performance and sent a note to Thomas:
“I saw your show last night and thank God the lights were out!”
This should not be taken too literally. Lawrence was a master of backing gently into the limelight. He understood that the more elusive a hero is the more famous he becomes.

Thomas had done the job he was sent to do, romancing the war beyond what anyone had thought possible and making it look like a noble and disinterested act by Wilson in the cause of world peace. Until that time, America had no interests or involvement in the Middle East, and for the moment it made perfect material for a diverting fairy tale.
However, later Thomas did record a conversation with Lawrence at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, where Lawrence had to witness how, in his words, “the old men came out again” and fixed the Middle East map according to their own interests, including the creation of Syria as an entity ruled by France. Lawrence’s words serve to show that what was true nearly 100 years ago remains disastrously so today:

“In history, Syria has always been the corridor between sea and desert, joining Africa to Asia and Arabia to Egypt. It has been a prize-ring for its great neighbors, the vassal of Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Arabia and Mesopotamia. When given a momentary independence because of the weakness of its neighbors, it has at once resolved itself into northern, southern, eastern and western discordant kingdoms; for if Syria is by nature a vassal country it is by custom a country of agitations and rebellions. Autonomy is a comprehensible word: Syria is not.”

Clive Irving wrote the story for A Dangerous Man, Lawrence After Arabia, an Emmy winning TV movie starring Ralph Fiennes as Lawrence

The Daily Beast

New Zealand must show Israel cost of staying its course – Janfrie Wakim. 

Our Government and the United Nations Security Council are optimistic if they think the UNSC Resolution 2334 is a bold and balanced measure which will bring a two-state peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The only thing new about it was the lifting of the United States veto which had protected Israel from any UNSC criticism during the Obama years.

Previous US Administrations, from President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 to Secretary of State James Baker in 1991, have given much harsher responses to Israel’s military or settlement adventures than Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent tepid statements.

Other than Obama’s betrayal of his previous obsequiousness towards Israel, what generated this resolution was the increasing rate of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel has continued building them, contrary to clear international law and its own Oslo Agreement undertakings, since it conquered these lands in 1967.

There are now 650,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the proposed area of the Palestinian state. The resolution becomes quixotic in the context of such a non-reversible demographic injection designed by Israel to thwart the two-state outcome.

NZ Herald

A typically Jewish perspective. Israel vote was an affront to all New Zealanders. – Juliet Moses. 

New Zealanders are often told that our country punches above its weight internationally. Unfortunately, in the case of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 regarding the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully has delivered New Zealand an uppercut to its face.

New Zealand co-sponsored the “anti-settlement” resolution with Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela, hardly bastions of human rights. (Hans: that’s a typically childish Israeli response. ‘But he’s doing it too’.)

With the United States abstaining, the Security Council passed it at its last sitting of 2016 on Christmas Eve.

You don’t have to be a fan of Jewish settlements in the West Bank to criticise the resolution. And there are many people, like me, who support a two-state solution – the co-existence of a secure Jewish state and a viable Palestinian state, who are demoralised by this resolution, believing that it makes that outcome less likely.

The resolution goes well beyond condemning Israel for West Bank settlements. It deems all settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines a “flagrant violation of international law”.  (Which they are, as the world has been telling Israel since 1967. Israelis seem to forget that their nation was created for them by the UN. That hasn’t been enough for them. The typically super arrogant Jewish state has been a criminal state ever since.) 

It declares all the land beyond those lines “occupied Palestinian territory”. That includes East Jerusalem, where Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, as well as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, are situated.

When Israel’s Arab neighbours mounted a second unsuccessful attempt to exterminate her in 1967, Israel acquired East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan. Palestinians have never had a sovereign state in the West Bank or elsewhere, although they have refused several opportunities for one. (Bullshit! The only solutions Israel has ever offered have been heavily loaded with impossible preconditions.)

That is not to say that they should not have such a state. It means, however, that the Security Council has purported to act as an international court, creating a legal principle in doing so. (And it is high time that legal principle is established.) 

It has pre-determined an issue that should be negotiated between the two parties. It has taken away any incentive for the Palestinians to negotiate without pre-conditions and to accept any less than what they have now been told is theirs. (Yes, and it is theirs, Israel stole it in 1967. Why should they settle for anything less?) 

It has undermined Israel’s policy of trading land for peace, successfully implemented with Egypt, for, if the West Bank is not Israel’s, what bargaining chip does she have? (Israel doesn’t need a bargaining chip. It needs to get out of the occupied territories as the UN resolution states. Are you thick, or is it just your typical Israeli arrogance that blinds you?) 

It has ignored that Jews have the best legal claim to the land as the indigenous people, under the League of Nations mandate and as the victor of a defensive war. And it requires Israel to return to suicidal borders, the very ones that led to her being attacked in 1967, with no guarantee of her security. (It’s a bitch when the shoe is on the other foot, isn’t it?) 

The major obstacle to a Palestinian state is not settlements. It never has been. (It is for the Palestinians. Shall we tell you again? WE WANT OUR LAND BACK!

It is the refusal of the Palestinian leadership, along with many Arab and Muslim states, to accept the existence of a tiny Jewish state smaller than Northland. When Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and disbanded settlements, it was thanked with thousands of rockets from the reigning Islamist group Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

(And Israel has blockaded and otherwise made life very difficult for people in Gaza ever since. That’s not to say that the Hamas attacks are OK, the attacks on Israel are murderous criminal acts for which ‘the perpetrators’ deserve to be punished in a court of law. Does Israel ever ask itself whether genuine economic help for the people of Gaza over the last 40 years might have changed their mindset regarding Israel?)

The more “moderate” Palestinian Authority which rules the West Bank refuses to recognise Israel and glorifies terrorism in its schools and media. Israel cannot risk that the West Bank goes the same way as Gaza or worse still Syria, on which the council has been an abject failure. (Israel is a fact. Any deal over the occupied territories needs to recognise the State of Israel. Won’t happen if the deal doesn’t include economic assistance. Why should we pay? Israel will ask: the Palestinians have been paying for the consequences of Israel’s actions for decades.) 

The security of the Jewish state and the survival of its people is not something that warrants merely a passing mention in a resolution under the guise of even-handedness, nor is it something that we can afford to be reckless about, as history attests. (The current insecurity of the Jewish State is largely the consequence of Israeli actions and more importantly, inaction, since 1949.)

Palestinians should have their self-determination, but not at the expense of the Jewish people’s(Israel has had it’s self-determination at the expense of it’s neighbors since 1949.)

As a Jewish New Zealander, I feel betrayed by our Government. Given our own shameful colonial past, New Zealand’s role in illegalising an indigenous people in their ancestral homeland has been noted by several overseas commentators. (Typically arrogant Jewish statement. We are dealing with events now, in 2016. Debating tit for tat ‘you did, no you did’ over regrettable events in the distant past has zero to do with the Israeli made plight of the Palestinians.) 

However, all New Zealanders, regardless of religion or political ideology, should ask questions about this resolution. (Only one question comes to mid: Why has it taken so bloody long to arrive at this resolution? The territories have been illegally occupied since 1967.)

How did Murray McCully manoeuvre this resolution, opaquely and urgently, on the last day of New Zealand’s two-year term on the council, and upon whose advice or insistence? (Us Kiwis tend to empathise with the underdog, especially when the victim is treated to decades if occupation and cluster bombs. Also we have a conscience, not something Israel would easily understand.) 

It is doubtful that the resolution was put to Cabinet, so who determines our foreign policy? Why the apparent change in policy as regards Israel? And when can we expect the prime minister to finally respond to calls for comment? (Their is no further comment needed. Shall we tell you again? THE SETTLEMENTS ARE ILLEGAL.

We might expect such a lack of transparency and accountability from our new besties, Senegal, Malaysia and Venezuela, but for proud puncher New Zealand, it is of grave concern. (Once again, the arrogant attitude we have witnessed from Israelis for decades.) 

Juliet Moses is an Auckland-based lawyer and member of the New Zealand Jewish Council.

When Jews light the Hanukkah candles, they should remember their own history and stand up to Israel over illegal settlements – Michael Segalov. 

Though the story of the Maccabees fighting their oppressors took place thousands of years ago, disputes over who should control swathes of land in Israel and Palestine are pressing and pertinent to this day.

Following last week’s United Nations Resolution 2334, which describes Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as “illegal” and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians, the Israeli government has made its position clear: settlements in the occupied territories will continue growing, and any states who criticise this are making a “declaration of war” against Israel. Ambassadors have been; meetings with leaders have been cancelled; Israeli aid to Senegal has been stopped.

This latest resolution isn’t much of a development in the history of the region. Back in 1967, Resolution 242 was passed by the UN Security Council calling on Israel to withdraw its military from the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. But after years of inaction from many of the world’s most powerful nations, the significance of this latest warning to Netanyahu’s government can’t be underestimated.

The vast majority of Jews living in Britain simply don’t support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

It’s now more evident than ever that the occupation of the Palestinian territories must come to an end.

The voices of the Jewish diaspora must now join in this growing crescendo calling for the occupation to end.

The Independent 

The two-state solution in the Middle East – The Guardian. 

For decades, the two-state solution has been held up by the international community as the only realistic deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its basis is two separate states, Israel and Palestine, living peacefully side by side on the land between the western bank of the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea. This territory would be divided broadly along the pre-1967 armistice line or “green line” – probably with some negotiated land swaps. Jerusalem, which both sides want as their capital, would be shared.

Past negotiations have failed to make progress and there are currently no fresh talks in prospect. The main barriers are borders, Jerusalem, refugees, Israel’s insistence on being recognised as a “Jewish state” and the Palestinians’ political and geographical split between the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinians demand that the border of their new state should follow the green line, giving them 22% of their historic land. But Israel, which has built hundreds of settlements on the Palestinian side of the green line over the past 50 years, insists that most of these should become part of Israel – requiring a new border which would mean, according to critics, the annexation of big chunks of the West Bank. Land swaps could go some way to compensate but negotiations have stalled on this fundamental issue.

Jerusalem is another obstacle. Israel has said it cannot agree any deal which sees the city shared or divided between the two sides. The Palestinians say they will not cede their claim and access to their holy sites, all of which are located in East Jerusalem, on the Palestinian side of the green line.

The Palestinians have long insisted that refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants should have the right to return to their former homes, although many diplomats believe they would settle for a symbolic “right of return”. Israel rejects any movement on this issue.

Israel insists that the Palestinians must recognise Israel as a “Jewish state”. The Palestinians say this would deny the existence of the one in five Israeli citizens who are Palestinian.

Any potential deal is complicated by the political breach between Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian factions, and the geographical split between the West Bank and Gaza.

The Guardian 

Trump intervenes to sideline Obama over Israeli settlements – The Guardian. 

Donald Trump appears to have intervened with two foreign governments in a move aimed at sidelining Barack Obama over a UN security council resolution criticising Israel’s settlements.

A resolution drafted by Egypt had demanded Israel halt all settlement activities in occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians and declared that existing settlements “have no legal validity”.

However, the vote on passing the resolution was abruptly postponed by Egypt on Thursday amid a series of contacts between Israel, Trump and his transition team and Egypt, which culminated in Trump calling Egypt’s President, Abdel Fatah al-Islam.

Details of the contacts emerged on Friday morning as Israeli officials disclosed that the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had contacted Trump’s transition team on Thursday seeking help after learning that the US delegation at the UN, under the instruction of Obama, might not veto the resolution.

The Guardian

Packing the barrel. A Dangerous Choice for Ambassador to Israel – NY Times. 

In appointing David Friedman as the next ambassador to Israel, Donald Trump voiced a desire to “strive for peace in the Middle East.” Unfortunately, his chosen representative would be far more likely to provoke conflict in Israel and the occupied territories, heighten regional tensions and undermine American leadership.

Mr. Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who has represented the president-elect in matters involving Atlantic City casinos, has no diplomatic experience, unlike nearly every American ambassador who has served in this most sensitive of posts. That might not be quite so alarming if he didn’t also hold extremist views that are radically at odds with American policy and with the views of most Americans.

Mr. Friedman has doubted the need for a two-state solution, under which Israelis and Palestinians could live side by side in peace. Ignoring international law and decades of policy under Republican and Democratic administrations, he has endorsed continued Israeli settlement of occupied territory in the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan during the 1967 war. Mr. Friedman has gone so far as to endorse even the annexation of some of that land, where Palestinians hope to build a state of their own.

New York Times