Category Archives: Palestinian Issue

GAZA, Preparing for Dawn – Donald Macintyre. 

Prologue: Shakespeare in Gaza 

Leyla Abdul Rahim had come to the line in Act IV of King Lear where the blinded Gloucester laments, ‘As flies to wanton boys are we to th’gods. They kill us for their sport.’

Or, rather, the paraphrase offered in the textbook English for Palestine: ‘We are like flies and the gods are like cruel little boys. They torment us and kill us for fun.’ 

The teacher described children pulling the wings off a fly. ‘So the gods torment us for fun, to laugh, to play, okay?’ she said, quickly adding: ‘This is not related to our religion. It is away from our Islam. Allah doesn’t torment us, of course.’

It was tempting to point out from the back of the class that God isn’t supposed to do that in other monotheistic religions either. But that would have been an abuse of Mrs Abdul Rahim’s generous invitation to sit in on her Grade 12 English class at Bashir al-Rayyes High School for Girls in Gaza City. And the thirty students –preparing for the tawjihi, the high school matriculation, for which King Lear was a set text –were enjoying themselves. 

Hands shot up and there were repeated cries of ‘Miss, Miss’ whenever Mrs Abdul Rahim tested her seventeen-year-old charges, all but one in the standard uniform of pale blue smock, jeans and white headscarf. 

‘Goneril is now in love with Edmund. He’s evil. He’s like her exactly. Do you think Goneril respects her husband?’ (Chorus of ‘no’.) 

When Mrs Abdul Rahim ended the lesson, the girls burst spontaneously into applause. After the class, Khulud al-Masharawi said in English that she liked the play because ‘Lear began to feel sorry for people other than himself. He thought about people who had no home, or are on their own.’

It took a moment to remember that this classroom tour de force had taken place in an isolated, overcrowded 140-square-mile strip of territory corralled by concrete walls and electronically monitored fences, ruled by an armed and proscribed Islamic faction, and succinctly described in recent memory by Condoleezza Rice as a ‘terrorist wasteland’. Gaza, as often, was failing to conform to its stereotype. 

I had been brought to the Lear class by another English teacher, Jehan al-Okka. It was fair-minded of her, because she harboured doubts about the suitability for Gaza schoolgirls of Shakespeare’s tragedies, a sentiment clearly not shared by her colleague. For Jehan, Lear was at least an improvement on Romeo and Juliet. She had been among a group of Gaza teachers who staged a successful mini-uprising against a decision to include Romeo and Juliet in that year’s English curriculum for the tawjihi. (Despite the schism between Hamas and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority since Hamas’s seizure of control in June 2007, the PA continued to supervise the syllabus from its Ramallah base for Gaza as well as the West Bank.) 

Jehan was convinced that Romeo and Juliet was the wrong play at the wrong time. ‘It encourages suicide and disobeying parents,’ she said. Jehan was also concerned that some of her pupils, upon learning that they were to study the play, had downloaded the film version; more, she thought, for the ‘immoral scenes’ rather than any educational purpose. She was relaxed about university students studying the play but felt it was unsuitable for impressionable teenagers. 

As it happened, Romeo and Juliet had been part of the high school syllabus from the years when Gaza had been under Egyptian control and then after the Six Day War and Israeli conquest in 1967. But Jehan, who wasn’t in Hamas, saw a ‘contradiction’between Islamic culture and ‘the things that Shakespeare is trying to convey in his tragedies’. She spoke of the conditions in Gaza: the ten-year Israeli blockade crippling Gaza’s economy which, she believed, had led to a rise in crime. ‘I’m not saying King Lear is encouraging it, but we are trying to reduce violence in our country. And for people who have psychological problems this makes it looks glamorous.’

When she was teaching Lear she said she was careful to warn her pupils: ‘this is not in our culture. None of you will do this.’ Despite her doubts, Jehan took pride in the conscientiousness with which she taught the play. And she was popular. Abir, one seventeen-year-old in the science stream class Jehan took for English, gently defied her teacher by saying she wouldn’t mind studying Romeo and Juliet instead of Lear. 

When we discussed the right age to get married, none of the girls wanted to do so before their twenties, despite the tradition of early marriage prevalent in some sections of Gaza society. But the independent-minded Abir suggested the highest age of all: twenty-eight. 

Jehan explained that some two-thirds of science stream pupils wanted to be doctors – ‘It’s a dream,’ she said. But Abir wanted to be an engineer. Were there many women engineers in Gaza? ‘Yes, many,’ the teacher said crisply, ‘without jobs. Unemployed. 

’Back in the principal’s office we returned to the subject of the English set text. ‘Why give the students something that is full of misery?’ she asked. ‘The students, when someone dies – they are all like, “why is he doing this, the writer?” Everyone dies by the end and the lovely Cordelia dies. Some of the students cried when I said Cordelia died. 

When I studied at university I was old enough to understand the value. For children, when they read something they take the image – killing, suicide, treason. And life in Gaza is bad enough not to increase that misery.’ 

This was the most challenging of Jehan’s points. She was right, for example, that suicide among young Gazans seemed to be on the rise. Are there societies so under pressure that they cannot safely absorb Shakespearean tragedy? Whatever Jehan’s concerns, the prevailing Gaza answer to that question appeared to be no. 

At Gaza City’s al-Mis’hal Cultural Centre, a staged version of Romeo and Juliet ran to appreciative audiences for eight nights in early May 2016. The prominent Gaza writer Atef Abu Saif and the director Ali Abu Yassin had set the play in modern Gaza with the star-crossed lovers Yousef and Suha belonging to each of the main rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah, instead of to the Montagues and Capulets. 

It opened in a café where a clean-shaven Fatah doctor and a bearded Hamas businessman fall into an argument until they are thrown out by the owner. The café owner represented the Gazan everyman, enraged by the split between the two factions that has deformed Palestinian politics since 2007. 

But the ending differed from Shakespeare’s. Warned by the café owner that Suha’s family will never accept Yousef as an in-law, the young man, with the cries of Suha imploring him to stay ringing in his ears, leaves for Egypt through the tunnels to catch a boat for Europe, just like the dozens of Gazans believed to have drowned on a fatal voyage to Malta in September 2014. 

Nor did the denouement resolve the split between the two factions, as it had in the original. After years of futile meetings aimed at Fatah–Hamas reconciliation, such a finale would probably be too implausible for an audience of Palestinians now deeply cynical about the prospects of such a desirable outcome. 

Nor was this the only Gaza commemoration of Shakespeare’s death in the summer of 2016: students at the Nusseirat refugee camp in the middle of the Strip mounted their own video performance of Lear. It was advertised outside the Centre by a handsome poster of James Barry’s eighteenth-century painting, King Lear Weeping over the Dead Body of Cordelia. True, Cordelia’s (very modest) décolletage had been Photoshopped to leave an orange blur in its place. But this was the only concession to the socially conservative sensibilities of Gaza’s Hamas rulers. 

The show was an imaginatively produced series of drawn and photographic tableaux with a voiceover by the high school pupils in faultless English and some entertaining visual effects. Lear’s palace was Blenheim, while Regan’s home was Buckingham Palace, complete with ceremonial troop of Grenadier Guards representing her visiting father’s unwelcome entourage. There were no Arabic subtitles. But as it was condensed into thirty-one minutes with every plot development intact, none of the parents who had loyally turned out for the evening seemed to mind. 

First, there were speeches. Dr Kamal Ghunaim, an Islamic University professor and chairman of the Centre’s trustees, was convinced that Shakespeare had read the Qur’an and suggested that Othello had ‘contextualised’ the work of the ninth-century Arab poet Deek al-Jinn al-Homsi, who talked about killing his wife after being told to do so by his cousin. 

Dr Ghunaim explained that the Lear project ‘aims to help bridge the gaps between Palestinians and other nations’. Yet before we sat down for the evening, I had asked the Directorate’s Head of English whether the British Council had been involved in the event. No, he said sadly. The Ministry’s contact with the Council had stopped in 2006, when Hamas was elected. The international political and economic boycott of Hamas was a cultural boycott, too.

Jehan al-Okka, the Bashir al-Rayyes High School Shakespeare sceptic, was thrilled in 2016 to be awarded a place on a US government-backed international six-week Excellence and Achievement Programme for teachers at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, coupled with a visit to Washington, DC. Among the programme’s aims was the building of ‘lasting relationships that promote mutual understanding and collaboration between the United States and international teachers and students through educational and cultural exchanges’. 

Except that in an experience wearily familiar to Palestinians in Gaza, Mrs al-Okka was refused by both Israel and Jordan the permits necessary for her to be able to leave. Maybe she wouldn’t have been converted to Romeo and Juliet as a high school text. But you couldn’t help thinking of the lively insights this spirited and engaging woman would have brought to discussions about teaching English in the Arab world. 

Amid the convulsions of the Middle East, from Syria to Libya, from Iraq to Yemen –and that of Gaza itself over the last fifteen years – a crushing mid-career disappointment inflicted on a high school teacher unable to improve her skills abroad seems trivial. But it was part of a larger story: Palestinian, Israeli and international, a story of how and why a population of two million at the south-east corner of the Mediterranean became so beleaguered and isolated from the outside world. 


Part One

From Ottomans to Oslo, 1917–1995

Reached by a sandy track through tall cypresses, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery is the most tranquil spot in the whole of the Gaza Strip. These days its vast lawn and carefully tended beds of geranium and rosemary are a refuge for picnicking families and those who simply want to meditate quietly in the shade of the cemetery’s oleander and jacaranda trees. 

But the neat rows of 3,217 graves are also a reminder of Britain’s pivotal role in shaping modern Gaza. After terrible losses in the French trenches of the First World War, the new Prime Minister David Lloyd George wanted a quick, high-profile victory over the Germans’ Ottoman allies, the imperial power in the Middle East for five centuries. What better conquest than Jerusalem? 

Following in the footsteps of great leaders of the past – Thutmose III, the great Egyptian warrior Pharaoh in the fifteenth century bce; Saladin, the general who led the Arabs against the crusaders; and Napoleon – the only route into Palestine was through Gaza. 

Sir Archibald Murray established a major camp at Deir el Balah (‘Dear old Bella’to the British Tommies) but twice failed to take the city in the spring and summer of 1917. Under Sir Edmund Allenby, who replaced Murray, the imperial forces broke through the Ottoman lines between Gaza and Beersheba despite fierce resistance; Allenby’s troops marched into Gaza City unopposed in November 1917. Within a month, Allenby was in Jerusalem, realising Lloyd George’s dream of capturing it by Christmas. 

Gravestone after gravestone –more than 700 of them inscribed with the anonymous ‘A soldier of the Great War: Known unto God’– commemorate the men of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force killed during the three assaults. Eighty-year-old Ibrahim Jaradeh, the gardener awarded the MBE for looking after the cemetery with his family over more than half a century, said the British had always been good to him although, ‘of course, my job here made me hate war. These soldiers lost their lives when they were young.’ 

For a man who hated war Jaradeh had seen a lot of it: as well as caring for the graves of thousands who had fallen in the 1917 military campaign for Palestine, he himself had lived through an even more epic turning point for his nation thirty years later. 

Five days before Allenby’s troops had entered Gaza City, the British government had taken a momentous step, setting in train a process that would eventually culminate in that second war. 

In a letter to Lord Rothschild, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour wrote: ‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’ 

While the Balfour declaration was a response to the long-standing Zionist urgings for a national home in Palestine after centuries of anti-Semitism and persecution in Europe and Russia, it was largely dictated by what the British government determined were its strategic interests. It held out the prospect of persuading Jewish leaders abroad to stiffen the resolve of the US, whose hesitant entry into the war was disappointing British expectations. 

At the same time, the secret Sykes–Picot negotiations with France to carve up the Middle East between the two powers after the war had been unable to reach agreement on Palestine, deciding it should be run by some form of postwar international administration. Thanks to Allenby’s decisive victory, the British were now anxious to retain control. 

As the historian Eugene Rogan put it: ‘On the face of it, Lord Balfour was offering Palestine to the Zionist movement. In fact Lloyd George’s government was using the Zionist movement to secure Palestine for British rule.’ 

In doing so, however, it cut directly across the promises of independence from foreign rule with which Britain had enticed the Arab leadership to rise up against the Ottomans in the First World War – aspirations which would be further encouraged by US President Woodrow Wilson’s dramatic pledge at the 1919 Paris conference of ‘an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development’ in the region. 

It was hardly surprising that the increase in Jewish immigration between the two world wars would meet with stiff resistance, expressed in the Arab riots of 1929 and a full-scale revolt in 1936. 

Britain, now exercising power in Palestine under a League of Nations mandate, would prove unequal to the task of reconciling the two conflicting aims of providing a ‘national home’ for the Jews while preserving the rights of its ‘non-Jewish’–overwhelmingly Arab –‘communities’, who were in the clear majority. Palestine would gradually become enmeshed in a triangle of rising and lethal violence between the Arabs, the Jewish underground and British forces. 

As David Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel’s first Prime Minister, had clear-sightedly remarked after the 1929 riots: ‘Politically speaking it is a national movement  .  .  . The Arab must not and cannot be a Zionist. He could never wish the Jews to become a majority. This is the true antagonism between us and the Arabs. We both want to be the majority.’ 

By the end of the Second World War the monstrous events which had unfolded in Europe – Hitler’s murder of some six million Jews in the Holocaust –immeasurably strengthened the case for a Jewish home in Palestine. Unable to find the basis of a peace agreement, Britain handed the problem to the UN, which in 1947 proposed a Palestine of two states: a Jewish one covering fifty-six per cent of the land and an Arab one on forty-four per cent. 

Most nations, including the US – after intial hesitation – and the Soviet Union, supported the partition proposal. But Arab leaders, both in Palestine and outside it, flatly rejected it. They saw partition of Palestine as requiring them, after having lived peacefully in earlier centuries with a local Jewish minority, and despite the promises of independence made by the Western powers during and after the First World War, not only to accept on their land, but also on a large part of it become subject to, a state controlled by immigrants from Europe – albeit including those fleeing persecution and now survivors of Hitler’s genocide. 

In 1947 the Arabs were still a two-thirds majority in Palestine. Cities like Haifa and Jaffa, designated as part of the Jewish state by the UN partition resolution, had large Arab majorities; the Arabs owned ninety-four per cent of Palestinian land and eighty per cent of its arable farmland. 

In fact a minority of Palestinians did support partition. A heavily autobiographical novel, Would They Ever Learn? by Mustafa Abdel Shafi, a Palestinian surgeon from an old Gaza family, gives a rare glimpse of Gaza in the 1940s and early ’50s. 

The life and loves of his hero, a conscientious and ambitious doctor named Basil, are set against the turbulent political background of the period. Coming from a family untainted by anti-Jewish prejudice –his father had been horrified by the Arab massacre of Jews in Hebron and elsewhere in 1929 – Basil (like the author and his more famous brother Haidar, in real life) is among those who had very reluctantly taken the (almost taboo) view that they should accept the partition resolution. 

‘The plan is painful and unfair  .  .  . but we cannot resist it, ’Basil says at a family discussion. ‘Let’s suppose, for argument’s sake, that we had the military power. Would the powers that be sit hand-bound and watch us frustrate what they had schemed for so diligently?  .  .  . They would invoke shameful incidents, of which we are completely innocent, to justify their action. They would remind the whole world of the atrocities of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Dachau to justify their determination to create a national home for the Jews in Palestine. We should follow the common saying “If you cannot beat them join them.” Let’s brace up, build our own state and let the future take care of itself.’ 

In view of subsequent events, this was far sighted, seen from the vantage point of a twenty-first century in which Palestinians are struggling for a state on twenty-two per cent of the land, half of what they were offered in 1947. 

But if rejection of the partition plan was as great an error as it is often described in hindsight – an ‘Arab mistake as a whole’ as the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, twelve at the time of the UN resolution, put it in 2015 – then the UK’s Labour government had done little to discourage it. Britain was drained militarily and economically by the Second World War, and armed insurrection – terrorism, as the British classified it – by Jewish groups had hardened public opinion at home against staying in Palestine. 

Britain abstained in the General Assembly vote. And having already decided to wind up its Mandate in May 1948, it did not seek to enforce the UN resolution. 

On the day the Mandate ended David Ben-Gurion declared Israel an independent state. The first major foreign leader to recognise the fledgling country was US President Harry Truman (the second was Stalin). Truman had ignored the advice of his own State Department, which had been seeking a postponement of Ben-Gurion’s declaration in the hope of averting war between the Jews and their Arab neighbours. 

With a domestic election campaign only six months away, Truman had an eye on Jewish support – which could hardly be other than enthusiastic about the new state of Israel after the horrors of the Holocaust. As when the Americans had voted with the majority at the UN Assembly the previous November, Truman’s recognition of the new nation –especially when contrasted with the slowness of Britain – would indelibly reinforce the Israeli view that the US was its most important supporter. Though occasionally complicated by serious disputes, the US–Israel relationship would deepen significantly over the next half-century. 

By now Gaza had become, like the rest of Palestine, engulfed in what became, for Israel, the War of Independence; and for Palestinians the nakba, or catastrophe. The military ‘Plan D’evolved by the Hagana, the paramilitary Jewish defence organisation which became the Israel Defense Forces after Israel’s birth, was to secure territory allocated to the Jewish state in the UN partition plan, ‘as well as settlements outside those areas and corridors leading to them so as to provide a solid and continuous basis for Jewish sovereignty’. 

A few years later, ‘Basil’, who, despite his reluctant backing of partition, remains a nationalist to his core, tells a Jewish audience in the American town where he is by then working that ‘they planned to occupy as much Arab territory as they could, trying to evacuate it of its rightful inhabitants’. Basil goes on to cite ‘the notorious massacre of Deir Yassin where scores of innocent unarmed men, women and children were killed in cold blood’. This, he says, was ‘aimed at terrorising other Arab villagers, to make them leave their homes  .  .  .’ 

Whether or not it was the ‘aim’, the April 1948 massacre at Deir Yassin, a village outside Jerusalem (which was in turn followed by the retaliatory killing of seventy-three Jews in a convoy travelling to the Hadassah Hospital-Hebrew University complex in Jerusalem) did indeed give a ‘powerful push to the flight of Arabs from their homes elsewhere. 

In fact there were two wars, or a war of two phases. The first civil or ‘ethnic’war between the Jews and Arabs of Palestine lasted from the UN partition resolution in November 1947 until Ben-Gurion’s declaration of the state in May 1948. The second, from May 1948, was between the newly founded Israel and the armies of neighbouring Arab states that arrived to support the Palestinians: Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt, the last of which, for obvious geographical reasons, formed a southern front that included Gaza and its surrounding countryside. 

According to Uri Avnery, who fought as a commando on the Jewish side in the 1947–8 war and later became a pioneering left-wing peace activist, it was in the second phase that ‘a deliberate policy of expelling the Arabs [living in Palestinian towns and villages] became an [Israeli] war aim on its own’. As Avnery also pointed out, no Jews remained in the land the Arabs conquered – like the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. But that hardly compared with over 700,000 Arabs driven by the Jewish advances from their homes into permanent exile, internal or external, or with hundreds of Palestinian villages which (unlike the handful of Jewish neighbourhoods conquered by the Arabs but recovered twenty years later after the Six Day War) were subsequently destroyed. 

Refugees poured into Gaza not just from the surrounding villages but from major towns like Jaffa, Ashdod, Majdal (now Ashkelon, where Mustafa Abdel Shafi had been a GP) and Beersheba as they fell to the Israeli forces. The Gaza cemetery gardener Ibrahim Jaradeh’s family fled Beersheba, which was repeatedly hit by strafing and bombing by the Israeli air force on the nights of 19 and 20 October 1948. 

Israeli ground troops moved into the town on 21 October, in a conquest ‘accompanied by the execution of a handful of Egyptian POWs and wholesale looting by individuals and military units’. 

Aged eleven at the time, Jaradeh remembered the journey by camel to Hebron where they were eventually given temporary housing through the winter of 1948. ‘So it wasn’t only the immigration, God also made it harder with the cold and snow, we used to sleep next to each other, holding the [younger] kids to make them feel warm with the very light blankets.’ 

Then the family, plus two camels, and, said Jaradeh, a monkey, made for Gaza. His younger brother travelled in one of the camel’s saddle bags. Sixty-nine years later he told his British visitor that Ethel Mannin’s The Road to Beersheba was an authentic account of how ‘Israel stole our land’, but then added quietly: ‘God willing things will be for the better, we ask God for peace for the Jews and for the Arabs.’ 

Many refugees, including Jaradeh’s family (and indeed Gamal Abdel Nasser, who served as an Egyptian officer in the Gaza district during the war), blamed Egyptian failures for the loss of territory. Attia Hijazi was twenty-two and living in Deir Sneid, only half a kilometre from the Gaza district kibbutz of Yad Mordechai.

His father was the village mukhtar (local leader). ‘We had good relations with them [the Jews] before the war. They were Palestinian Jews and immigrants. My father regularly visited the Jews’ mukhtar. We were connected by the common interest of agriculture.’ When the war started, the residents were determined to prevent the village from being captured. But, said Hijazi, ‘when the Egyptian army came during the war they told our fighters they could take a rest, saying, “We’ll do it.”

’The Egyptians occupied Yad Mordechai after a five-day battle in May during which the local kibbutzniks, aided by a Hagana unit, had held out under heavy Egyptian bombardment, allowing Israeli forces time to halt the Egyptian army’s northern push. Hijazi said that when the Egyptians started to fall back to Deir Sneid, ‘the Jews attacked them, and we understood that the Egyptian army was covering its withdrawal, not fighting. 

By October, they left us all with no protection whatever and the Jews bombarded the place. My brother was injured. When we saw the Egyptian flag coming down at Yad Mordechai [in November], we left for Beit Lahiya [in Gaza].’ 

By the winter 13,500 refugees were sheltered in a former British Army camp at Bureij, south of Gaza City. ‘They had staked out little cubicles for themselves using rags or flattened gasoline tins. Everyone was very dirty and cold. In one cubicle we saw a group of ten people ranging in age from infancy to about seventy looking at an old woman on the floor who had just died.’ 

By then Basil/Abdel Shafi had become the only doctor at a clinic servicing refugees in Khan Yunis and agitating against the ‘unacceptable’ insanitary conditions in the camp, where, according to an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimate, children were dying at the rate of around ten a day. 

The war ended with an armistice signed by Israel and Egypt in February 1949, followed by similar agreements with Syria and Jordan in the succeeding months. These divided what had been Palestine into three separate parts: first the new state of Israel, of course; second, a landlocked 5,640-square-kilometre territory under Jordanian control which contained East Jerusalem (including the Old City) and a sector that became known as (and still is) the West Bank (of the Jordan river); and, finally, the ‘Gaza Strip’, which came under Egyptian control and was cut off from the Jordanian-run East Jerusalem and the West Bank by what was now southern Israel. 

Israel had been offered fifty-six per cent of Palestine under the UN partition plan. It now held seventy-eight per cent; the rest was made up of Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. 

The armistice brought little relief for the now 200,000 refugees in Gaza, numerically overwhelming the existing population. (There were up to 750,000 Palestinian refugees in all from what was now Israel: 280,000 in the West Bank, and most of the rest in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.) A new body, the UN Refugee and Works Agency (UNRWA), had taken over from Quakers and others who had been caring for them voluntarily. 

A year later Sir Ronald Storrs, who had been Britain’s first military governor, launched a series of appeals for clothing to be donated to UNRWA for refugees who had ‘fled their homes of more than 1,000 years’, quoting a UN official at one camp describing ‘children by the hundred, most of them half naked – shoeless, shivering.’ 

Uri Avnery always believed the moment that determined the subsequent history of the conflict was not so much the expulsion and flight of the refugees itself; rather, that ‘the real decision was taken after the war: not to allow the 750,000 Arab refugees to return to their homes’. 

The decision was ruthlessly enforced. Mustafa Abdel Shafi’s autobiographical novel describes his own indelible memory of carrying out post-mortems of impoverished refugees shot dead by Israeli forces on the new armistice line as they tried to get back to the villages where ‘they had earned their living by hard work’, if only to retrieve a few belongings: ‘There was a dead man, riddled with bullets and his intestines were exposed, for the first time Basil saw maggots in action; it was a ghastly scene  .  .  . On the way back he wondered when the massacre of these innocent, ignorant and unarmed people was going to stop.’ 

The plight of many of Gaza’s non-refugees was hardly better. The Gaza Strip was now under Egyptian control, but the armistice lines made it far narrower than the old Gaza district under the British Mandate; forty-one kilometres long and a mere twelve at its widest point. As a result peasant farmers whose land lay beyond the armistice line, and therefore in Israel, simply lost their livelihoods. Nor were they afforded even the rudimentary provision for refugees; their woefully undernourished children were sent begging, and some of the poorest were reduced to selling the doors and windows of their houses and even timber from the roofs. 

D. C. Stephen, the district officer of UNRWA, which became and still is to this day responsible for the education and welfare of the refugees, pointed out that the native Gazans had previously ‘made a fair livelihood according to standards generally accepted in the Middle East’. ‘They are of a proud race and it is as degrading for them as it would be for us to be in their present position  .  .  . The setting of the present boundary by the “Powers that Be” means that the people of Gaza have completely lost their only means of existence.’ 

Over the following eighteen years, Gaza –now under Egypt’s control – played a pivotal part in the hostilities between Israel and its Arab neighbours, which culminated in all-out war in 1967. 

The 1955 Gaza Raid, authorised by then Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion after Palestinian infiltrators killed an Israeli cyclist, and led by twenty-seven-year-old paratroop officer Ariel Sharon, killed thirty-seven Egyptian soldiers at a cost of eight IDF lives. It almost certainly put paid to a secret dialogue between Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and Israel’s dovish Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, which might have dented the unremitting hostility of Arab countries towards the eight-year-old Israeli state. 

Instead, after the raid Nasser, who had hitherto restrained Palestinian fedayeen –nationalist volunteer militants mostly from refugee families – allowed them to carry out commando raids across the Gaza border. Ben-Gurion, who soon became Prime Minister again, in turn adopted a much more confrontational policy towards Egypt. 

The secret partnership between the United Kingdom, France and Israel to confront Nasser after he decided to nationalise the Suez Canal in July 1956 ended in disaster for the first two governments, causing head-on confrontation with US President Eisenhower and leaving the Canal in the hands of Nasser, whose prestige in the region greatly increased in the wake of the Anglo–French fiasco. But, at least in the short term, it was a military triumph for Israel, which overran both Gaza and the Sinai Desert in Egypt. 

Although Ben-Gurion too was forced to bow to US pressure, in his case to withdraw from both Gaza and the Sinai, and he did not succeed in overthrowing Nasser as he wanted, nevertheless the Israeli military destroyed the main fedayeen bases in Gaza during its four-month occupation of the Strip. And he secured a US guarantee that Egypt would allow free passage for ships bringing Iranian oil for Israel through the Straits of Tiran. 

In the following decade, which passed without military conflict between Egypt and Israel, Nasser moved to bring Palestinian nationalism under the wing of the Arab states, and Egypt in particular. He took the lead in the Arab League’s formation in 1964 of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) with its military arm, the Palestinian Liberation Army; their stated aims were the ‘restoration of the Palestinian homeland’–including the return of the 1948 refugees to their original homes in what was now Israel. In practice the PLA came under the strict control of its Egyptian, Iraqi and Syria sponsor governments.  

Nasser was also seeking to curb the activities of the more militant and independent Fatah. On 22 May 1967 Nasser decided to close the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. This was a dangerously provocative step, though it is unlikely Nasser intended it to lead to war. The Six Day War, which did indeed break out a fortnight later, on 4 June, was arguably the only Arab–Israeli war that ‘neither side wanted’.  

Nasser was under mounting Arab pressure to show solidarity with Egypt’s ally Syria, whose border with Israel was the focus of an escalating series of incidents culminating in an aerial battle in which six Syrian MIGs were shot down in April. The historian Avi Shlaim has persuasively depicted Nasser as having embarked ‘on an exercise in brinkmanship that was to carry him over the brink’, while also rejecting a widespread Arab view that Israel deliberately provoked the war to expand its territory.  

The huge expansion that did indeed follow Israel’s stunning military victory against the forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, was a consequence rather than a specific war aim. This did not make it any less traumatic for the Palestinians in the conquered territory. Israel now occupied all the land that since the 1949 armistice had been controlled by Jordan (the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including its holy sites) and by Egypt (Gaza). 

By 1967, the tents and makeshift huts in the still crowded and impoverished refugee camps set up in 1948 had largely been replaced by UNRWA with more solid housing. But the somewhat better conditions added to the bleak sense of permanent displacement among refugees, now reinforced by the catastrophic defeat of the Arab states. For the refugees it meant being controlled by the very forces who had driven them from their homes –sometimes on land that, painfully, they could still see from inside the Strip –nineteen years earlier. 

Mohammed Kardash, who was thirty-three and living in Jabalya at the time, remembered with disgust forty years later the bombastic claims of Ahmed Said, the Egyptians’ propagandist-in-chief, who declared Israeli warplanes were ‘falling like flies’, when in fact Egypt’s air force was destroyed on the first day of the June war. ‘We huddled round the radio all the time to listen to him. I believed what he was saying and so did everyone else. He said, “I congratulate the fish of the Mediterranean because they will eat the flesh of Jews.” ’Still furious at the deception, Kardash added: ‘There is a stain of shame in the way he was talking.’

After the war, Kardash, who had originally been brought to Gaza in a Turkish boat by his parents fleeing from his native Jaffa in 1948, would now be a refugee again, this time in Jordan, part of a limited and ill-starred scheme by then Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to evacuate (with some money) refugees from Gaza after the 1967 war. (In fact, Kardash had hidden two rifles for his brother who had been in the Palestine Liberation Army. After what he said was a beating, ‘the [Israeli] army gave me a choice,’ he says, ‘to go to prison or to leave Gaza’. He never revealed the whereabouts of the rifles.)  

It was after the Six Day War that Fatah, the secular resistance organisation founded by Yasser Arafat ten years earlier, began its ascendancy in the Palestinian liberation movement. In 1969 it joined and immediately dominated the PLO. 

Arafat, whose chequered keffiyeh and battledress would become the global symbol of Palestinian struggle, had been born in Cairo to Palestinian parents. He had studied in the Egyptian capital, fought in the 1948 war and founded Fatah in the early fifties in Kuwait with a group including two Gaza-based refugees, both to become prominent PLO leaders. 

The militancy repressed by the occupation of 1956 resumed in Gaza after the Six Day War. Within a few months of the war ending, the military occupying authorities began to allow Palestinians out through Erez, the Strip’s northern crossing, to work in Israel. This would begin what was to be for three decades a major source of income for tens of thousands of Gaza’s families, albeit one entirely dependent on Israeli goodwill and the demand for cheap labour. 

As a boy growing up in the poor and overcrowded Shaboura district of the Rafah refugee camp, Fathi Sabbah, who would later become an activist and later still a leading journalist, remembered armed militants throwing grenades at Israeli buses transporting the workers, as well as ambushing soldiers in the camps’ narrow alleys and attacking military bases. ‘There was a saying that the Palestinian militants were ruling Gaza at night and the Israeli army in the daytime,’ he recalled.  

In 1971 Ariel Sharon – by now in charge of the IDF’s Southern Command – moved large forces into the refugee camps in a remorseless operation to crush the nascent resistance. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed in Gaza in 1971–2 and thousands more detained and sometimes deported. His troops conducted house-to-house searches under curfew, bulldozed thousands of houses to create buffer zones and widen the roads to allow armoured vehicles easier movement through the camps. 

In Shaboura, Sabbah recalled, ‘the only street that was paved with asphalt was for security reasons, not for helping people. It wasn’t easy for their vehicles to withdraw. So they destroyed hundreds of houses and they deported people from Shaboura to the Canada and Brazil camps. ’Those two camps – named after the UN national contingents that briefly patrolled the border immediately after the 1956 Sinai campaign – were located on either side of what became the closed border, which cut Rafah in two and left thousands of Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian side.

Now in 1971 – after the mass exodus of 1948 and further displacements in 1967 –refugees were on the move again. Sharon’s draconian tactics were successful. 

Elsewhere in the region, the following decade was turbulent: the ‘Black September’ conflict between the PLO and Jordan, the massacre of athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Anwar Sadat’s decision to address the Knesset in Jerusalem in 1977, the Israel–Egypt peace agreement in 1979 and Sadat’s subsequent assassination in 1981. 

But Gaza was relatively calm. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s ‘invisible’ occupation policy of trying to ensure ‘that areas of friction between the two [Israeli and Palestinian] peoples are minimal’ was intended to dilute Palestinian nationalism; but it had financial benefits. 

The opening of the borders to daily migrant workers was one; another was allowing farmers and manufacturers to trade with Israeli companies, though with restrictions to ensure their exports did not adversely compete with Israeli business (while no such restrictions applied to imports from Israel to Gaza). Exports abroad – beyond Israel and the West Bank –were invariably handled by Israeli agents. But when a generation later exports of goods and labour were barred and unemployment shot up above forty per cent, and above sixty per cent for youth, older Palestinian civilians often looked back on the 1970s as –paradoxically –something of a silver age. 

Munir Dweik started work in Israel at the age of fifteen. He had grown up in a desperately poor family of refugees in the Jabalya camp. His parents had been peasant farmers from Batani al-Gharbi, east of Ashdod, one of the villages targeted – and in most cases mortared – by incoming Israeli troops in May 1948 during the IDF’s Operation Lightning, under which the Givati Brigade was ordered to deny ‘the enemy a base for their future operations  .  .  . by creating general panic’.  

In a circuitous flight typical of the times, the Dweik family fled to Gaza through neighbouring villages, moving on as each also fell. With his father unable to find regular work, his steadfast and resourceful mother decided that tourmos – lupin beans, a regional staple and universally popular in Gaza – could provide a living for the family. 

Half a century later, now a fifty-two-year-old taxi driver, Dweik recalled every detail of the process. First his mother bought a sack of lupin beans and boiled them in a large saucepan; then she decanted the beans into half a dozen separate earthenware pots filled with sugary water to counter their natural bitterness. She changed the water three times a day, over several days, until they tasted good enough to eat. At 8 a.m., Dweik and his father would carry them in sacks 2.5 kilometres from the refugee camp to Beit Lahiya to sell, shouting ‘tourmos, tourmos’ when they arrived; if they could find a wedding, they might sell out by noon; if not they stayed into the afternoon. 

Dweik remembered the journeys back to Jabalya in summer on the scorching sand. His father had plastic shoes but he had none; sometimes to cool his feet he would sit on the ground and put his legs in the air. ‘It was boiling. Sometimes I was making a pee, and then put my feet in the pee to cool them, after that I was running, running to find some shade and wait for my father.’ 

A school friend suggested Dweik join him working as a chicken plucker and cleaner for a shopkeeper in Tel Aviv during the summer holidays. The boys took the bus through Erez early in the morning from Monday to Thursday, earning about 150 shekels a week. When he was sixteen, Dweik decided to work in Israel full-time; his mother resisted strongly because she wanted him to stay at school and complete his education, despite the parlous state of the family finances. ‘This is your future, you should continue studying and learning – maybe you could become a teacher or a doctor,’ his mother told him. 

Remembering his mother’s warmth and selflessness, Dweik put his hands over his face to cover his tears. From 1981 until restrictions were imposed on Palestinian workers in Israel during the 1990–91 Gulf War, Dweik worked full-time in Israel. As he improved his skills and became fluent in Hebrew, he worked for several Jewish employers, each of whom successively poached him with higher pay, till he was earning around 450 shekels a week. Dweik remembered nearly all his employers with affection. 

By now the right-wing Likud government elected in 1977 and led by Menachem Begin had begun to expand Jewish settlements in occupied territory. Like Palestinian refugee camps, settlements are the object of a frequent popular misconception. The camps now consist not of tents but residential buildings, even if usually ramshackle and heavily overcrowded, set along dusty narrow alleys. 

Similarly, settlements are not normally the remote, hastily assembled barbed wire-protected hilltop clusters of caravans the word conjures in the foreign imagination. Such outposts – many illegal even in Israeli law – have always existed, and usually as an embryonic settlement or the expansion of an existing one. But most settlements proper, essentially colonies in occupied territory, would in time become well-planned communities, often close to Palestinian villages or towns, and typically comprised red-roofed villas, often with shops, synagogues and leisure centres, making ample use of local water and land for agriculture and domestic purposes. 

The rural ones were and still are normally protected from the Palestinians (to whom they were such a daily affront) by their own armed security details, and by IDF troops stationed in the vicinity. Not only did the Palestinians see their land, including pastures and olive groves, swallowed up by the settlements and their surrounding military security zones, but they themselves, unlike the settlers, who enjoyed normal civil rights as Israeli citizens, were subject to the Israeli military justice system. 

The biggest settlements, those bordering the 1949–67 ‘green line’, like, say, Maale Adumim, close to Jerusalem, or Ariel, a great residential finger stretching through the West Bank from east to west, became essentially dormitory cities, many of whose breadwinners would work in Israel itself. 

The settlement building in Gaza and the West Bank had started, albeit falteringly, after the Six Day War under a Labour government, despite the written opinion of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s own legal adviser, submitted in secret to ministers, that it contravened international law, especially the Fourth Geneva convention, for a country to transfer civilians to occupied territory. 

That might be less significant had the lawyer not been Theodor Meron, who rose to become one of the world’s most eminent international jurists and President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. A Holocaust survivor, Meron has never recanted, and in 2007 confirmed that this was still his opinion.  

Yet despite that legal view, widely shared by most Western governments, settlements steadily multiplied during the seventies in the West Bank and Gaza – where the most rapid growth would take place in the eighties. And that in turn convinced many Palestinians that Israel felt no real international pressure to end the occupation. For this and other reasons, the relative calm in Gaza in the early 1970s could not last indefinitely. 

The Palestinian sense of abandonment increased with the 1979 Egypt–Israel Treaty; Sadat effectively subordinated the Palestinian cause to Egypt’s own interests and Begin had little intention of implementing even the severely limited provisions for Palestinian autonomy contained in the treaty terms. 

At the same time, the factions were beginning to stir again. Fathi Sabbah recalled that when he joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a smaller leftist faction within the PLO, in 1981 as a nineteen-year-old, he was part of a consciousness-raising group. ‘Our main duty was to read about what happened in the nakba . . . then we make a presentation to the group about it.’ The group then passed on what they had learned to high school students and others.

 The PFLP was rooted in the left and, unlike the Communist Party, had not rejected armed struggle. Its members studied Marx, Engels, Maxim Gorky, Che Guevara. They idolised Ghassan Kanafani, a PFLP official and among the greatest of Palestinian twentieth-century writers, assassinated by Israel in 1972 at the age of thirty-six. 

The PFLP also ran social programmes, including food donations, house repairs and street cleaning.


GAZA, Preparing for Dawn

by Donald Macintyre 

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Palestine Will Be Free! 100 years on: The Balfour Declaration explained.

This week, Palestinians around the world are marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration was issued on November 2, 1917.
The declaration turned the Zionist aim of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine into a reality when Britain publicly pledged to establish “a national home for the Jewish people” there.
The pledge is generally viewed as one of the main catalysts of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 – and the conflict that ensued with the Zionist state of Israel.
It is regarded as one of the most controversial and contested documents in the modern history of the Arab world and has puzzled historians for decades.
What is the Balfour Declaration?
The Balfour Declaration (“Balfour’s promise” in Arabic) was a public pledge by Britain in 1917 declaring its aim to establish “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
The statement came in the form of a letter from Britain’s then-foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a figurehead of the British Jewish community.
It was made during World War I(1914-1918) and was included in the terms of the British Mandate for Palestine after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
The so-called mandate system, set up by the Allied powers, was a thinly veiled form of colonialism and occupation.
The system transferred rule from the territories that were previously controlled by the powers defeated in the war – Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria – to the victors.
The declared aim of the mandate system was to allow the winners of the war to administer the newly emerging states until they could become independent.
The case of Palestine, however, was unique. Unlike the rest of the post-war mandates, the main goal of the British Mandate there was to create the conditions for the establishment of a Jewish “national home” – where Jews constituted less than 10 percent of the population at the time.
Upon the start of the mandate, the British began to facilitate the immigration of European Jews to Palestine. Between 1922 and 1935, the Jewish population rose from nine percent to nearly 27 percent of the total population.
Though the Balfour Declaration included the caveat that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”, the British mandate was set up in a way to equip Jews with the tools to establish self-rule, at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs.
Why was it controversial?
The document was controversial for several reasons.
Firstly, it was, in the words of the late Palestinian-American academic Edward Said, “made by a European power … about a non-European territory … in a flat disregard of both the presence and wishes of the native majority resident in that territory”.
In essence, the Balfour Declaration promised Jews a land where the natives made up more than 90 percent of the population.
Secondly, the declaration was one of three conflicting wartime promises made by the British.
When it was released, Britain had already promised the Arabs independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1915 Hussein-McMahon correspondence.
The British also promised the French, in a separate treaty known as 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, that the majority of Palestine would be under international administration, while the rest of the region would be split between the two colonial powers after the war.
The declaration, however, meant that Palestine would come under British occupation and that the Palestinian Arabs who lived there would not gain independence.
Finally, the declaration introduced a notion that was reportedly unprecedented in international law – that of a “national home”.
The use of the vague term “national home” for the Jewish people, as opposed to “state”, left the meaning open to interpretation.
Earlier drafts of the document used the phrase “the reconstitution of Palestine as a Jewish State”, but that was later changed.
In a meeting with Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann in 1922, however, Arthur Balfour and then-Prime Minister David Lloyd George reportedly said the Balfour Declaration “always meant an eventual Jewish state”.
Why was it issued?
The question of why the Balfour Declaration was issued has been a subject of debate for decades, with historians using different sources to suggest various explanations.
While some argue that many in the British government at the time were Zionists themselves, others say the declaration was issued out of an anti-Semitic reasoning, that giving Palestine to the Jews would be a solution to the “Jewish problem”.
In mainstream academia, however, there are a set of reasons over which there is a general consensus:
  • Control over Palestine was a strategic imperial interest to keep Egypt and the Suez Canal within Britain’s sphere of influence
  • Britain had to side with the Zionists to rally support among Jews in the United States and Russia, hoping they could encourage their governments to stay in the war until victory
  • Intense Zionist lobbying and strong connections between the Zionist community in Britain and the British government; some of the officials in the government were Zionists themselves
  • Jews were being persecuted in Europe and the British government was sympathetic to their suffering
How was it received by Palestinians and Arabs?
In 1919, then-US President Woodrow Wilson appointed a commission to look into public opinion on the mandatory system in Syria and Palestine.
The investigation was known as the King-Crane commission. It found that the majority of Palestinians expressed a strong opposition to Zionism, leading the conductors of the commission to advise a modification of the mandate’s goal.
The late Awni Abd al-Hadi, a Palestinian political figure and nationalist, condemned the Balfour Declaration in his memoirs, saying it was made by an English foreigner who had no claim to Palestine, to a foreign Jew who had no right to it.
In 1920, the Third Palestinian Congress in Haifa decried the British government’s plans to support the Zionist project and rejected the declaration as a violation of international law and of the rights of the indigenous population.
However, the other important source for insight into Palestinian opinion on the declaration – the press – was closed down by the Ottomans at the start of the war in 1914 and only began to reappear in 1919, but under British military censorship.
In November 1919, when the al-Istiqlal al-Arabi (Arab independence) newspaper, based in Damascus, was reopened, one article said in response to a public speech by Herbert Samuel, a Jewish cabinet minister, in London on the second anniversary of the Balfour Declaration: “Our country is Arab, Palestine is Arab, and Palestine must remain Arab.”
Even prior to the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate, pan-Arab newspapers warned against the motives of the Zionist movement and its potential outcomes in displacing Palestinians from their land.
Khalil Sakakini, a Jerusalemite writer and teacher, described Palestine in the immediate aftermath of the war as follows: “A nation which has long been in the depths of sleep only awakes if it is rudely shaken by events, and only arises little by little … This was the situation of Palestine, which for many centuries has been in the deepest sleep, until it was shaken by the great war, shocked by the Zionist movement, and violated by the illegal policy [of the British], and it awoke, little by little.”
Increased Jewish immigration under the mandate created tensions and violence between the Palestinian Arabs and the European Jews. One of the first popular responses to British actions was the Nebi Musa revolt in 1920 that led to the killing of four Palestinian Arabs and five immigrant Jews.
Who else was behind it?
While Britain is generally held responsible for the Balfour Declaration, it is important to note that the statement would not have been made without prior approval from the other Allied powers during World War I.
In a War Cabinet meeting in September 1917, British ministers decided that “the views of President Wilson should be obtained before any declaration was made”. Indeed, according to the cabinet’s minutes on October 4, the ministers recalled Arthur Balfour confirming that Wilson was “extremely favourable to the movement”.
France was also involved and announced its support prior to the issuing of the Balfour Declaration.
A May 1917 letter from Jules Cambon, a French diplomat, to Nahum Sokolow, a Polish Zionist, expressed the sympathetic views of the French government towards “Jewish colonisation in Palestine”.
“It would be a deed of justice and of reparation to assist, by the protection of the Allied Powers, in the renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that Land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many centuries ago,” stated the letter, which was seen as a precursor to the Balfour Declaration.
What impact did it have on Palestinians?
The Balfour Declaration is widely seen as the precursor to the 1948 Palestinian Nakba when Zionist armed groups, who were trained by the British, forcibly expelled more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland.
Despite some opposition within the War Cabinet predicting that such an outcome was probable, the British government still chose to issue the declaration.
While it is difficult to imply that the developments in Palestine today can be traced back to the Balfour Declaration, there is no doubt that the British Mandate created the conditions for the Jewish minority to gain superiority in Palestine and build a state for themselves at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs.
When the British decided to terminate their mandate in 1947 and transfer the question of Palestine to the United Nations, the Jews already had an army that was formed out of the armed paramilitary groups trained and created to fight side by side with the British in World War II.
More importantly, the British allowed the Jews to establish self-governing institutions, such as the Jewish Agency, to prepare themselves for a state when it came to it, while the Palestinians were forbidden from doing so – paving the way for the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.


Al Jazeera


The Biggest Prison on Earth. The History of the Occupied Territories – Ilan Pappe. 

The ‘Shacham Plan’, ‘The Organization of Military Rule in the Occupied Territories’.

The strategy was presented by the Israeli Chief of the General Staff to the army on 1 May 1963 and was meant to prepare the army for controlling the West Bank as an occupied military area.

The West Bank, of course, was not yet occupied, but the fact that four years before the actual occupation the Israeli military was ready with a judicial and administrative infrastructure for ruling the lives of one million Palestinians is highly significant.

Since 1948, and even more since 1956, Israel’s military and political elite was looking for the right historical moment to occupy the West Bank.

The plan was code-named the ‘Shacham Plan’ and it divided the West Bank into eight districts so as to facilitate the imposition of an organized military rule. The plan included the appointment of a legal advisor to the future Governor General of the Occupied Territories and four military courts.

The main concern was that the Geneva Convention did not permit executions. A year into the occupation Israel decided that the Convention did not apply to the occupation and, as for executions, the Israelis would not adopt the death penalty but instead resorted to other equally lethal means of execution.

Mandatory emergency regulations became the legal infrastructure for the military courts, those institutions through which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians would pass, arrested without trial, sent to be tortured and abused. Only rarely did they emerge from them unscathed. The judges were all army officers, and were not required to have a legal background. Courts had either one, two or three judges. Those courts with three judges had the right to order executions or sentence people to life imprisonment. Among the theoretical institutions envisaged in 1963 was a special military court of appeal that would become operational in 1967, sanctioning the decisions of the lower courts in order to show to the world a system that apparently had the right to appeal built into it.

What the 13th Israeli government contemplated and executed in 1967, and what successive generations of Israeli bureaucrats would maintain, was the largest ever mega-prison for a million and a half people – a number that would rise to four million – who are still today, in one way or another, incarcerated within the real or imaginary walls of this prison.

After almost three months of deliberation, they concluded their discussions with a series of decisions, all of which in one way or another condemned those living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to life imprisonment in the biggest ever mega-prison of the modern age. The Palestinians living there were incarcerated for crimes they never committed and for offences that were never committed, confessed or defined. As this book is being written, a third generation of such ‘inmates’ have begun their lives in that mega-prison.

Never before, or since, this government’s term in office would such a consensual partnership lead the State of Israel in its future and critical decisions.

Contrary to conventional wisdom about the history of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, no one apart from the government of Israel has played a crucial role, then or now, in deciding the fate of these territories or the people living in them. What these ministers decided in the second half of June 1967, and in the following months of July and August, has remained the cornerstone of Israeli policy towards the Occupied Territories to this day. None of the successive Israeli governments have deviated from this path, and nor have they ever wanted to, in any shape or form.

The resolutions adopted in that short period, between June and August 1967, clearly charted the principles to which future Israeli governments would religiously adhere and from which they would not diverge, even during the most dramatic events that followed, be it the first or second Intifada or the Oslo peace process and the Camp David Summit of 2000.

This government represented, as never before or since, the widest possible Zionist consensus. This can also be attributed to the euphoric mood in the wake of the total devastation of three Arab armies by the IDF and the successful blitzkrieg that ended with the military occupation of vast areas of Arab lands and countries. An almost messianic aura surrounded the decision-makers in those days, encouraging them to take bold decisions of historical consequence that their successors would find hard to refute or change.

Because the decisions taken reflected the consensual Zionist interpretation of the past and present reality of Palestine as an exclusive Jewish State, none of the developments occurring thereafter appeared to undermine their validity for future Israeli policymakers. The only way of challenging the decision taken then was by questioning the very validity of Zionism itself.

Two fundamentals of Zionist ideology were still unfailingly adhered to by the politicians of 1967, just as they had been by their predecessors. The struggle for the survival of the Jewish State depended, on the one hand, on its ability to control most of historical Palestine, and, on the other, on its capacity to reduce considerably the number of Palestinians living in it.

The historical consensus dictated a wish for a purely ethnic Jewish State. There were sometimes attempts to ascertain what would constitute a tolerable non-Jewish minority within a Jewish State, but the unspoken (and at times spoken) desire was to have only Jews in what was considered to be the ancient Land of Israel.

1948 provided the historical opportunity to realize both goals: taking over much of the land and getting rid of most of the local population.

Several discrete processes came together to allow the Zionist movement to ethnically cleanse Palestine that year: the British decision to withdraw from Palestine after thirty years of rule; the impact of the Holocaust on Western public opinion; the disarray in the Arab and Palestinian worlds; and, finally, the crystallization of a particularly determined Zionist leadership.

As a result, half of the country’s native population was expelled, half of its villages and towns destroyed and 80 per cent of Mandatory Palestine became the Jewish State of Israel.

The dispossession was witnessed at close hand by representatives of the international community: delegates of the International Red Cross, correspondents of the Western press and UN personnel.

The Western world, however, was not interested in listening to their incriminating reports; the political elites chose to ignore them.

The message from Europe and the US was clear: whatever happens in Palestine is the inevitable final act of the Second World War. Something had to be done so that Europe could atone for the crimes committed on its soil against the Jewish people – and therefore a last, massive dispossession of Palestinians was needed so that the West could move on to post-war peace and reconciliation.

The situation in Palestine, of course, had nothing to do with the movement of populations in Europe in the wake of the Second World War or with the genocide of Europe’s Jews; it was the culmination not of the war in Europe but of Zionist colonization of the land that had begun at the end of the nineteenth century. It was the final act in the making of a modern-day settler Jewish State at a time when the international community seemed to view colonization as unacceptable and an example of the deplorable ideology of the past.

But not in the case of Palestine. The message from the enlightened world was unambiguous: the Israeli dispossession of the Palestinians as well as the takeover of most of Palestine were both legitimate and acceptable. Almost half of the ministers attending the 1967 meetings were themselves veterans of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Some were members of the small cabal that took the decision to expel almost a million Palestinians, destroy their villages and towns and prevent them from ever returning to their homeland. Others were generals or officers in the machinery that perpetrated the crime. All of them were fully aware of the international indifference in 1948 when the Zionist movement took over 78 per cent of Palestine. And this is why they, and their colleagues, were convinced that the international community would allow them once more to act unilaterally now that the Israeli army occupied the remaining 22 per cent of the land. Having acted with impunity in 1948, there was no reason to expect any serious rebuke for, or obstacles to, a similar policy of ethnic cleansing in June 1967.

The government was determined, almost en masse, to decide unilaterally about the territories’ future, but was more divided about the possibility or the wisdom of another huge ethnic cleansing after the official end of hostilities. The counter-arguments were clear: a post-war ethnic cleansing could have awakened an otherwise dormant Western conscience. Furthermore, it was also doubtful if the army had the will and mentality to carry it out, as it was unclear whether it had sufficient means to accomplish it. The 1967 government was also a larger forum than the one that devised the 1948 ethnic cleansing. The thirteenth government included quite a few conscientious ministers who would have objected to such a master plan on moral grounds.

Notwithstanding the decision to refrain from mass expulsion, very few members of that government and those that succeeded it objected to the incremental expulsions and dispossession that have reduced significantly the number of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (nor did they object to the harassment that triggered emigration from Palestine). The fewer the Palestinians, the easier it would be to police them in the new mega-prison that was constructed.

So, ethnic cleansing on a grand scale was ruled out in 1967.

However, the prevailing sense was that the international community would not act against Israel’s land expansion – not as an endorsement of expansionism per se but more as a reflection of an unwillingness to confront it.

But there was one crucial caveat: there could not be a de jure annexation of the territories, only a de facto one.

There were two reasons for this: first, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were regarded by international law as occupied territories, whereas the areas Israel occupied during the operations in 1948 were all recognized by the United Nations as part of the State of Israel. Second, if the population could not be expelled, it could also not be fully integrated as equal citizens of the Jewish State, given their number and potential natural growth that would have.

There was then, and there is now, an Israeli consensus and an overwhelming desire to keep the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for ever, while at the same time there was and still is the two-fold recognition of the undesirability of officially annexing these territories and the inability to expel the population en masse.

And yet keeping these territories, with the population in them, seemed as vital as the need to maintain a decisive Jewish majority in whatever constituted a Jewish State.

Ministers were convinced, as all the ministers after them would be, that they had found the formula that would enable Israel to keep the territories it coveted, without annexing the people it negated, while safeguarding immunity against international condemnation and rebuke.

In fact, they had not discovered anything new. Since 1948 they had faced a similar predicament when they and their predecessors had had to decide how to treat the Palestinian minority inside Israel. They imposed on them a military rule that was only lifted after eighteen years and replaced by a new kind of regime of inspection, control and coercion. With time, this eased somewhat but became more hidden and complex. But by now there were more people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; therefore, while the limited citizenship granted to the Palestinian minority in Israel seemed to tally with the aim of maintaining a decisive Jewish majority in the state, the same would not have been the case had similar citizenship been extended to the people of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Thus, there was a need to keep the territories, not to expel the people in them, but at the same time not to grant them citizenship.

These three parameters or presumptions have remained unchanged to this day.

1. Maintain a decisive Jewish majority in the State of Israel.

2. Keep the Occupied Territories.

3. No granting of citizenship to the Palestinian people in them.

They remain the unholy trinity of the consensual Zionist catechism.

In 1967 the official Israeli navigation between impossible nationalist and colonialist ambitions turned a million and a half people into inmates of a mega-prison. But it was not a prison for a few inmates wrongly or rightly incarcerated: it was imposed on a society as a whole. It was, and still is, a malicious system that was constructed for the vilest of motives.

The open-air prison also became Israel’s peace plan, endorsed by the USA and European countries. This plan formed the basis of diplomatic efforts and the ‘peace process’. In Israel and in the West, a vast laundering of words and a very cooperative media and academic community were essential for maintaining the moral and political validity of the open-air prison option as the best solution for the ‘conflict’ and as an idealized vision of normal and healthy life in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

But this laundering did not cleanse the reality of the situation, and the hyperbole of peace and independence did not deafen the conscientious members of all the societies involved: in the Occupied Territories, in Israel and the outside world. In the age of the internet, an independent press, active civil society and energetic NGOs, it was hard to play the charade of peace and reconciliation on the ground where people were incarcerated in the biggest ever human prison witnessed in modern history.

This book is as much about the officials, academics and bureaucrats as it is about the system they built in June 1967 and that is still maintained today. A second generation is already in place and a third is imminent. Once you cross that generational gap any discourse about temporality or even finality is useless. It becomes a living organism that is very hard to combat or dismantle, hence the understandable desperation in recent years that takes the form of suicide bombs or rocket attacks, neither of which have any hope of persuading Israelis to dismantle this monstrosity.

This book does not seek to demonize Israeli society as a whole, although many of its members support the mega-prison and many others choose to turn a blind eye. It singles out the politicians and academics who in 1967 established the mechanism of the creation of an enclave and imprisonment, as well as the thousands of officials, officers, soldiers and police who ran it. Some who appear in this book are as guilty as those individuals all over the world, and throughout history, who stood by and did nothing about the crimes committed on their behalf, in their name and before their very eyes. These Israelis, who either support or do not object to the oppression, are still hailed in the Western world as champions of peace and humanity, endowed with an endless stream of undeserved prizes and awards.

But that said, there are very few really evil people in modern human history but there are quite a few evil systems. The mega-prison of Palestine is one of them.

The villains of the piece, of this book, are therefore the Israelis who worked out the fine detail of the system to begin with, those who upheld it for all those years and those who ‘perfected’ its operation: namely, its power to abuse, humiliate and destroy. They were and are servants of the bureaucracy of evil. They come quite innocent into the system but only very few among them fail to succumb to its raison d’être, to its modus operandi. As wardens of this largest prison on earth, they are constant abusers, dehumanizers and destroyers of Palestinian rights and lives. Only when the last of them has been discharged from this service will we know that the mega-prison of Palestine has been abolished for ever.

This book is dedicated to those who relentlessly tried to alert decent human beings to the importance of not standing by and watching while millions of people were being treated in such an inhumane and dehumanizing way – just because they were not Jews.


The Biggest Prison on Earth: the History of the Occupied Territories

by Ilan Pappe

Get it on Amazon

Israelis tend to think they can intimidate critics into silence. But I will not be silenced. – Zenia Stampe, Danish MP. 

I am a Danish politician and Member of the Danish Parliament. I have just returned from a week in Israel and Palestine. The trip concluded with a very unusual experience. We were meeting with a political director from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He also happens to be the next Ambassador to Denmark. We discussed the situation in the Middle East. But towards the end of the meeting he changed the subject and began attacking Facebook updates I have written in Danish.

It is very unusual for a diplomat to argue with a politician from abroad. It shows how sensitive the Israeli government is to foreign criticism. It also shows that Israelis tend to think they can intimidate critics into silence.

But I will not be silenced. I have seen systematic and deliberate breaches of international law during the last week. I intend to speak out. And now I know the Israeli government is listening.

And that’s why I ask you to read and share my post with your network. For the further it reaches, the more seriously the Israeli government will be forced to address it.

We often hear the Israeli government using “security considerations” to justify their politicies But one thing is now only too clear to me: Israel is making systematic efforts to drive the Palestinians out of large areas of the occupied territories. Israel is in the process of colonizing the areas that were intended to become the Palestinian state. And the word security is a thin layer of varnish applied by Israel to cover that policy.

Let me provide just four examples:

1. Confiscation of Palestinian houses

Israeli law allows any Jewish Israelis to claim homes where Jews lived before 1948. Note that this is taking place in the occupied territories, not in Israel. This means that an Israeli Jew can knock on the door of a house where a Palestinian family has lived for generations. They can obtain a court order to force the family to move out; the settlers then move in. Most often they put a huge Israeli flag on the roof. And the Israeli military is now obliged to protect the house. So the neighbours suddenly see their street turned into a militarized area. The children play among heavily armed soldiers and checkpoints.

How can this policy benefit Israel’s security in any way?

2. Settlements

There are currently 600,000 Israeli settlers living in the Palestinian territories, and the number is rising rapidly. According to international law the settlements are illegal. An occupying power must not transfer its own population to occupied territory. But the most critical aspect is not the growth in the number of settlers but the systematic confiscation of Palestinian land, the demolition of Palestinian property, the depletion of natural resources, and the compulsory relocation of Palestinians. These are all breaches of international law, and a de facto colonization of the Palestinians’ country.

This is not just a matter of principle. I have witnessed demolitions. I have spoken to farmers driven off land where they have lived and which they worked for generations. I have seen settlements covering larger and larger areas on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, with security walls, control towers and huge security zones. If this development continues Palestine will become like a Swiss cheese, where all that is left for the Palestinians is the holes in the cheese. The Palestinians are confined to ghettos in their own country.

How can this in any way be justified by security considerations?

3. Living Conditions

Palestinians in large areas of the West Bank must submit applications in Israel to extend their homes, dig wells, etc. But their applications are systematically rejected. They find water supplies get cut off and electrical installations destroyed by the military. Meanwhile they see the settlements in the area constantly expanding and being given unrestricted access to electricity and water. I have stood on a road where the Palestinians on one side of the road only had a little water, while the settlers on the other side of the road had all the water they needed. It is not just a problem for individual families and businesses forced to cope with very limited resources. This is also a huge obstacle to the Palestinian economy because it impedes the creation of jobs. We visited a farm and a brewery, both of which were very well run and had considerable potential. But when you only have very limited access to water and do not know when it’s going to be cut off, it’s hard to expand production.

What has any of this to do with security?

4. The security wall

Israel has the right to protect its borders from potential terrorists. This includes the right to build a wall. But Israel’s security wall is not on the Israeli border and it does not separate Israelis from Palestinians. The wall cuts through Palestine and prevents Palestinians from accessing their own farmlands, schools, institutions, hospitals, and jobs. Thousands of Palestinians cross the wall every day but doing so requires permits and hours of waiting in chaotic conditions.

The wall is therefore a clear breach of international law, and it cannot be justified by security considerations. If this were about security, the wall would surely be located along the green line: the internationally recognized border between Israel and Palestine. And why does Israel at least not provide a proper number of operational checkpoints so that Palestinians can cross the wall quickly? Chaotic scenes with thousands of desperate people queuing for hours and hours are normal. It’s sheer harassment.

How can this be of any value in terms of security considerations?

I know many Jews and many Israelis. I understand and respect how centuries of persecution have created a need for security, both in terms of protection from persecution in the many countries where Jews live and in the mere fact that Israel exists as a safe haven. I will stand up for this at all times.

But the Israeli government is pursuing goals that are not about security. They are about a land grab; about taking over the little the Palestinians have left. It is a slow and deliberate displacement of the Palestinians from their own country. This must not go unremarked. We have a duty to criticize it.

I look forward to welcoming the new Israeli ambassador to Denmark. He must know that many Danes follow what is going on in Israel and Palestine. Many of us are gravely concerned. And we are not going to remain silent.

Please share. Thanks!

PS: The photo shows me on the outskirts of the Palestinian village of Susiya. Susiya has been demolished by the Israeli military six times and is subject to a standing demolition order. On the horizon, the watchtower of the settlement that Israel says is threatened by the village. Which is why the village is to be demolished. But actually, who is threatening who?”


Zenia Stampe, Danish MP 

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.