[(Continued from p.7)]though both the Mandates' Committee of the League of Nations, and proponents of the Jewish National Home everywhere, were aghast at this unilateral and highhanded act by the Mandatory power. As was to occur so often, the British simply ignored them.
Another betrayal, not so much one of official policy, but rather resulting from the actions of British officials on the ground, consisted of their attempts in April 1920 to encourage Arab attacks on Jews during the Muslim holiday of Nebi Musa (which that year coincided with Easter). The chief political officer of the British forces, Richard Meinertzhagen, recorded in his diary what happened: Allenby's aide, Col. Bertie Waters-Taylor, told the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, "that he had a great opportunity to show the world that the Arabs of Palestine would not tolerate Jewish domination in Palestine; that Zionism was unpopular not only with the Palestine adminstration but in Whitehall; and if disturbances of sufficient violence occurred in Jerusalem at Easter, both General Bols and General Allenby would advocate the abandonment of the Jewish Home."
Failure to include the Mandate's provisions is the first, but not the last, of the many bizarre aspects of this book.
On the day of the riots, all British troops and Jewish police had been ordered out of Jerusalem's Old City; after the Arab attacks began, British troops barred Jewish self-defense forces, hastily assembled, from entering the Old City to protect their co-religionists. Meinertzhagen protested all the way to Lord Curzon in Whitehall; Allenby threatened to resign if that protest was accepted; in the end, Meinertzhagen was expelled from Palestine. Segev, however, not only fails to report the evidence that the riots were known about in advance, and likely encouraged, by some British officials, but cites just a few of the words that Meinertzhagen actually wrote. Then he concocts an "explanation" to cast doubt on Meinertzhagen's veracity: "Meinertzhagen," he writes, "had his own reason for blaming the riots on his colleagues. Only four days before Nebi Musa, he had written to the Foreign Office that all was quiet. 'I do not anticipate any immediate trouble in Palestine,' he predicted. Thus he attributed the events to a plot by British officers." But Meinertzhagen did not "attribute events to a plot"; he accused some British officials of encouraging, not "plotting," the violence. More significant is that sly little "thus" which grades semantically here into "there fore." By sleight of word, Segev wants the reader to believe that Meinertzhagen was only a cautious careerist intent on protecting his back.
Because of his protest, and his refusal to drop it despite the opposition, Meinertzhagen was kicked out of Palestine. This kind of behavior hardly suggests a "careerist." It is more plausible to believethat Meinertzhagen was telling the truth (the circumstantial evidence, only some of which I have given and all of which Segev omits, supports Meinertzhagen). Segev writes that Meinertzhagen's diary gives the impression of a "lunatic." (Readers of this review are urged to read the amusing, touching, piercing prose of Richard Meinertzhagen's Middle East Diary, 1917-1956, to decide for themselves).
Perhaps here is the place to observe that while Segev consistently goes out of his way to explain away the virulent antisemitism of so many British officials, or to defend the criminal negligence of others, he gives no quarter to the handful of Zionist sympathizers among the British, especially Meinertzhagen and Orde Wingate. If the former was a "lunatic," the latter was, in Segev's account, even worse. Wingate, whom Churchill described as a "genius" and whom so many Jews, including Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, and Moshe Shertok, revered, the British officer who organized and trained Jewish soldiers, and taught them how to defend their own communities against ceaseless Arab attacks, and who later, in Ethiopia, dealt heavy blows to Mussolini's troops (although Zionism was his ruling passion, Wingate also felt strongly about securing independence for black Africans from colonial rule), and organized his celebrated "Chindits" to wage a guerrilla war on the Japanese in Burma, is depicted venomously by Segev as a torturer, a murderer, and "mad."
Nebi Musa was the first in a series of
large-scale Arab attacks on Jews; Segev does recount the
massacres in Jaffa in 1921 and the complete extermination
of the Jews of Hebron (who had lived there for 800
years) in 1929, but never seriously confronts the glaring
inadequacy in the quality of British protection for the
Jews; he does not comment on the justice of meting out
punishments to both attacker and victim alike
(Jabotinsky, who had helped organize some Jewish
self-defense forces to withstand Arab attacks, was for his pains
sentenced to prison); there is, rather, a consistent effort
at explaining away or even justifying British action,
though wary readers can piece together the indifference and
at times criminal negligence of some British officials.
Even though he often quotes British officials, civil and
military, in London and Palestine, uttering what are
clearly antisemitic or anti-Zionist remarks (though some of
the worst remarks are not given, particularly for the later
period), Segev consistently minimizes their significance,
or claims that they are unimportant, or distracts us
quickly with still other details. Although the British did build
roads, some schools, and other infrastructure, and
established an independent judiciary, this is what they did
throughout their imperium. Mandatory Palestine was not
in-tended to be a colony to be run however the
British thought fit; they were there not as colonial overlords
but as the possessors of a Mandate from the League of
Nations; they are to be judged, therefore, by another
standard: did they encourage, as they were obligated to,
Jewish immigration? Did they encourage, as they had prom-
[(Continued on p.9)]
[(Continued on p.9)]
Outpost - 8 - May 2001