Monday, March 30, 2015

Promise Betrayed - Jerusalem Under British Rule 1917 - 1948

Ordinary residents benefited from the veneer of civility that Britain brought to the Holy City even as London betrayed its solemn promise to establish a national home for the Jews.

In 1917, during World War I, the British captured Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks and governed it from December 1917 until May 1948 when, depleted and detested by Jews and Arabs alike, they withdrew.
British rule altered the city — aesthetically, politically, and culturally.
In a little over three decades, the British shaped the architecture of the city, permanently influenced its hue — ordering that all building exteriors be uniformly finished in Jerusalem stone, which ranges from gentle pink to off-white — introduced radio, advanced public health and sanitation, established a currency, and issued postage stamps.

Edmund Allenby enters Jerusalem 

Since Mecca and Medina outrank Jerusalem in Islam, the city had been treated as a backwater by the Ottomans. As Christians, however, the British venerated it, also bestowing it with a veneer of modernity and Western civilization.

Had you observed Jerusalem evolve from Ottoman to British rule, perhaps the first thing you'd have noticed was the increase in population. Hardship during World War I had driven out many of the city 45,000 Jews. By 1922 the trend began to reverse. Of the 62,578 souls living in Jerusalem, the Jewish population had inched back up to 33,971. There were 14,699 Christians and 13,413 Muslims, along with 495 others.

Jerusalem also began to develop a skyline. The Hebrew University was officially opened on Mount Scopus, then north of the city, in 1925. The centrally located YMCA (planned by Empire State Building architect Arthur Louis Harmon) opened in 1935. It melded Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, and neo-Moorish styles. Across the street, on what was then Julian's Way, stood the King David Hotel — with its European exterior and Levantine interior — which had opened in 1931. The Arab-built Palace Hotel, another architectural gem, built in 1929 was several blocks away.

Hebrew University Inauguration Ceremony,  April 1925

The General Post Office and the Anglo-Palestine Bank went up side-by-side on Jaffa Street in the late 1930s.The already established outdoor Mahane Yehuda Market further west on Jaffa Street had expanded. So, too, the ultra-Orthodox Me'ah She'arim district, within comfortable Sabbath walking distance of the Old City. Various other neighborhoods began dotting the city's hillsides. Romema, near the entrance of town, was founded in 1921. That same year Rehavia was founded and became home to the city's professional and academic classes. On a southern hill, the garden suburb of Arnona came into being in 1931.

Other small neighborhoods catering to various populations sprang up in the vicinity of the Train Station whose single track, built by French contractors for the Ottomans, linked the city to the Mediterranean coast and beyond. The British improved both the track and the station house. Nearby, sprang up the mixed Christian and Muslim neighborhood of Bak'a and "colonies" for Greek and Armenian Christians.

In 1920, on land expropriated from the northern Jewish suburb of Atarot, the British even opened an airfield.

Materially, life was getting better day by day.

By 1928, electricity had become readily available. The city had a reservoir — though lacked an infrastructure for efficient water distribution. The British also made headway in solving that perennial problem and, by 1935, had drawn a pipeline that delivered drinking water up to Jerusalem from the coastal plain. Many people still continued to use rooftop cisterns to capture rainwater.

And the population continued to increase so that by 1931 there were 51,222 Jews, 19,894 Muslims and 19,335 Christians.

Modern media, too, came to Jerusalem. The Palestine Broadcasting Service went on air in 1936. The English-language Palestine Post appeared in 1931. Haaretz, printed in Hebrew since 1918, was brought up to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv daily. The father of modern Hebrew Eliezer Ben-Yehuda had launched the fledgling Hebrew press back in Ottoman days.

The radio studios were in Jerusalem, while the transmitter was in Ramallah just north of the city. The service broadcast in English, Arabic, and Hebrew. The Jews grumbled that less than 30 percent of air time was devoted to Hebrew programming — and that included classical music. Radio certainly caught on. By 1946 there were 60,000 radio set licenses issued — 80 percent purchased by Jews.

In the political realm, try as they might, the British proved to be serial fumblers.  

A few weeks before Jerusalem fell to them, on November 2, 1917, Her Majesty's Government issued the Balfour Declaration promising to establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The post-WWI international powers adopted this promise at the 1920 San Remo conference. And in 1922, the League of Nations codified the Balfour Declaration, expressly granting Britain the "Palestine Mandate" so that they could create "a national homeland for the Jews."

As soon as they arrived in Jerusalem, however, the British got wobbly. Their default policy stance was to placate the Arabs who viscerally opposed creating a national Jewish homeland anywhere in the Middle East.

On September 16, 1922, the British divided Mandatory Palestine into two administrative areas with 77 percent earmarked for the Arabs. The space for a Jewish national home became dramatically smaller. It would not be until 1946 that the bigger eastern chunk of territory officially become known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan

With the appointment of Ronald Storrs as Jerusalem's military governor in 1917, the die had been cast. Thoroughly unsympathetic to the Zionist cause, he made sure that the city's Jewish majority was not reflected in the distribution of municipal power.

Storrs organized a municipal council and appointed an equal number of representatives from the various communities. Later, the British arranged elections for a 12-member council evenly divided between Christians, Muslims and Jews based on a dozen constituencies. The Jewish majority notwithstanding, and even though Jews comprised most of the taxpayers, the British always appointed a Muslim mayor, and two deputy mayors, one Jewish and one Christian.

As Jerusalem's Jewish population got bigger, British efforts to appease Arab rage invariably fell short.

During Passover 1920, the city's Arabs rioted, killing five Jews, wounding hundreds, and looting property. This was one in a seemingly relentless series of "intifadas" that has now stretched nearly 100 years.
Anything could set off the Arabs. Typically, it was an unfounded rumor that the Jews planned to destroy the Dome of the Rock or the Aksa Mosque, Muslim holy places atop the Temple Mount.

Things went from bad to worse. In 1921, the British appointed Hajj Amin al Husseini to be the mufti, or spiritual leader, of the Palestinian Arab Muslims. He would remain at the epicenter of anti-Zionist incitement until he fled to Hitler's Berlin during World War II.

With the mufti leading the way, Arab violence became a toxic reality of life in Jerusalem. In 1925 the spark was a general strike. In 1926, it was a protest against the French presence in Syria. In 1928, the installation of a flimsy partition at the Western Wall to separate Orthodox Jewish men and women during the Yom Kippur prayer service was the catalyst. In August 1929, some of the most gruesome and sadistic Arab rioting enveloped Hebron, Jaffa, and Jerusalem. The spark? Jews had brought chairs to the Western Wall for use by elderly and infirm worshippers during Yom Kippur services. A week of countrywide rioting left 116 dead.
Sharing environs with the Arabs became too dangerous. Jewish shop owners began abandoning the Old City.

In 1933, in a variation on a theme, the Arabs rioted, this time targeting the British as much as the Jews. In 1936, the mufti instigated yet more rioting – this time under the auspices of the Arab Higher Committee.
In an attempt to mollify the Arabs, the British took one measure after another that backtracked on the Balfour Declaration. The British government’s Peel Commission of 1936 recommended dividing the remaining western Palestine into two states. But the Arabs rejected any territorial compromise with the Jews — even though they would get the bulk of the land.

At some point, most likely in 1937, you could no longer think of the Arab violence as rioting. Organized gangs bombed public transport and shot at vehicles along the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road.

And still, Jerusalem retained its Jewish majority.

Finally, in May 1939, only months before World War II would engulf Europe's Jews, Britain officially reneged on the Balfour Declaration. London issued a so-called White Paper closing the gates of Palestine to Jews and barring land purchases by Jews.

After that, British authorities dropped even the pretense that Jewish interests were of any concern. They kept the doors to Palestine locked solid throughout the Holocaust leaving Europe's Jews no haven. Still, the two main Zionist camps led by David Ben-Gurion and Ze'ev Jabotinsky supported Britain's war effort. Only in February 1944, with the Allied victory assured, did the Irgun under Menachem Begin kickoff its campaign to throw the British out of Palestine with an attack on the immigration offices in Jerusalem. The small Freedom Fighters for Israel (the Stern Group) had fought the British throughout WWII.
In 1944, meanwhile, Jerusalem's Muslim mayor died in office but — under Arab pressure — the British did not allow his Jewish deputy to succeed him, even though Jews were a 61 percent majority.
The Second World War ended in May 1945. But Jerusalem found no peace. The followers of Jabotinsky embarked on a guerilla campaign to throw the British out of Palestine. 

Finally, in November 1947, the UN decided that with the exhausted British quitting the Jews and Arabs should divide eastern Palestine into two states. The Arabs rejected the compromise; the Jews reluctantly accepted.

Open warfare between Arab marauders and Jewish self-defense forces became a feature of daily life. Jerusalem neighborhoods were divided by barbed wire to protect residents from attack. In February 1948, the Palestine Post building was bombed and in April 1948, 77 Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital members were murdered when a convoy to Mount Scopus was attacked.

Food, sometimes water, too, became scarce. Convoys bringing supplies up to Jerusalem from the coastal plain were attacked by Arab guerrillas.
Jerusalem went into the War of Independence already partly divided — the Old City, for all practical purposes, was in Arab hands.

Jewish life behind the Old City walls had become untenable and the last remaining Jews — mostly Orthodox elderly people — were evacuated on May 27, 1948, on the eve of the city's fall to the Arabs.


Hilda Salomon Ferder Goldberg, 83 

Where: Her living room, Jerusalem. 

My father was assigned to be the American Express bureau chief in Palestine and my parents arrived, from England, in 1929 — just in time for the Arab riots.

Mummy told me that in those days she kept a pot of boiling oil on the stovetop. She'd been advised to pour the oil down on any mob that tried to storm the building.

The American Express offices were situated just inside the Jaffa Gate of the Old City. My father always carried a gun and kept another in his desk drawer.

He had Jewish and Arab employees.

The bookkeeper was a man named Aaron Bloch. He went on to marry a girl named Dora. When she was already a grandmother, she was murdered by Idi Amin's soldiers in Uganda in retaliation for Israel’s Entebbe rescue on July 4, 1976.

My parents lived on King George Street, not far from where the Great Synagogue now stands.

It was me, my parents, and my brother and sister.

I was born in 1931 in Palestine at Sharei Tzedek Hospital which was then on Jaffa Road.

I attended an English-language girls school – Evelina De Rothschild. In many ways it was a typical British girl's school. We wore uniforms and hats. And we also had Jewish religious studies. My parents sent me there because the language of instruction was English and they could speak to the teachers and principal in English. The school was then in Musrara near the Old City.

It was the first school for girls in Jerusalem and was paid for by the British Jewish banker Lionel Nathan de Rothschild. A few years ago, when I moved back to Israel, we had a school reunion party and many of the "old girls" turned out.

Outside of class, we spoke to one another in Hebrew but inside only in English.

The school had a rule: because of Arab-Jewish tensions, the girls could not participate in extracurricular activities outside the school compound.
It was an exciting time. As my father was the head of American Express, he mixed with the business and political elite of Jerusalem including the [first high commissioner for Palestine] Sir Herbert Samuel.

Even we children enjoyed visits to Government House — on the Hill of Evil Counsel.

There was a store frequented by ex-pats called Spinneys near the Russian Compound. I remember what a treat it was to go there. My parents would buy kippers [smoked fish] that had been delivered from London.

Every Friday, my mother made steak and kidney pie – kosher, of course!
There were three movie houses in Jerusalem: the Edison, Eden, and Zion. As a special treat, in 1937 I think, my mother took me out of school and we went to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs  — in Technicolor — which had arrived in Palestine. 

Every day an Arab milkman delivered our order on a donkey.

There were not many cars in Jerusalem but daddy had a Dodge and an Arab driver. When daddy went through the Arab areas, the driver wore a ṭarbūsh [Turkish hat] and otherwise no hat at all.

Because of his position, we also had a telephone. I remember the number to this day: 5360.

Water shortages affected everyone. My mother had to recycle bath water to wash the floors. We had electricity though there were often outages.
Then, in 1948, daddy was re-assigned to Cairo. We remained there until 1950 when it became too dangerous and we moved back to England.

This article first appeared in Israel My Glory

Please cite both this blog and Israel My Glory magazine if quoted. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Letter to an American Friend -- What You Need to Understand About the 2015 Israeli Elections --Two Days After

The New York Times seems to be having a hissy fit because of the Netanyahu victory. Tom Friedman, the Times editorial, Roger Cohen, Jodi Rudoren subtle tendentious coverage…
Yawn. One article I saw claimed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "frank admission that he would never agree to a Palestinian state" justified the PLO's continuing push to have the international community unilaterally hand them everything they want -- without having to negotiate with Israel.
What Netanyahu actually said was: "I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel."
That's not a repudiation of his Bar-Ilan speech. It is simply facing the facts on the ground. It is verbalizing the obvious. (Albeit for partisan purposes to win an election.)
The Palestinians refused to reach a deal with Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak. They are not about to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. They are not about to de-militarize. They are not about to give up on the "right of return."
And, you know something, Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog could have done no better with the Palestinians than Barak or Olmert.

What about the actual election results?
Let's go over them. The number in parenthesis reflects seats in the current Knesset.
Netanyahu/Likud 30 (18)
Bennett/Jewish Home Party 8 (13)
Israel Beiteinu/ Lieberman 6 (12)
TOTAL HAWKS: 44 (43) +1
Lapid/Yesh Atid 11 (19)
Kahlon/Kulunu  10 (0)
TOTAL CENTER: 21 (19) -2
Herzog /Labor24 (15+6=21)
Galon/Meretz 4 (6)
TOTAL DOVES: 28 (27) +1
Deri/Shas 7  (11)
Litzman/UTJ 7  (7)
TOTAL ARABS: 14 (4+4+3=11) +3
(they ran as one party though in practice they will re-divide)

That changes everything…
Substantively, the elections change almost nothing. The ideological camps control roughly the same number of seats.

When will the new government be formed?
With any luck after Passover. More probably around Shavuot.

So why are the NYTimes and the White House in mourning?
 Here too, all but one major viewspaper (the one owned by Sheldon Adelson) and all the nightly views shows (sadly, there are no news programs anymore) are also in shock and with depressed anchors pulling their hair out. Even the adorable Yonit Levi
(if every dove looked like her, mamamia…)

Anyway, seeing them so downtrodden raised my spirits.  Except for Yonit, I mean.

Yes, but what about the peace process?
 One of Netanyahu's many weaknesses is that he is not skillful at giving the Americans and Europeans the sense of illusion of momentum they crave. He does not know how to deal with the supercilious Barack Obama.  But neither does Harry Reid.

As far as pulling back to the 1949 Armistice Lines – give or take – which is what the Obama administration is pushing for – that's not going to happen.

 Because territory and strategic depth matter STUPID. They matter a great deal in today's Middle East. A Palestinian state within walking distance of Tel Aviv makes the Jewish state too vulnerable. It means a couple of mortars can shut down our only airport. Hamas is already ensconced in Gaza. The Islamic State in nipping at Syria. God knows what will happen in Jordan. The PLO is weak and corrupt. How long they could hold Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) if the IDF did not control the Jordan Valley is anyone's guess. And the PLO itself is not just thuggish but is itself a danger to us.

Obama says he will reevaluate the peace process with Israel.
You mean like Gerald Ford did when he was president? That comes with the territory. No Israeli leader can cave to pressure that would have us pullback to the 1949 lines (a/k/a/ the 1967 boundaries).

It can't be that there is no difference between Netanyahu and Herzog.
Oh, there are plenty of differences. But on those you care about, the so-called peace process and on Iran's quest for nukes the two are on the same page. Though you'd not know it from the tone and spin.

Herzog would have let Livni spin with Mahmoud Abbas – there would have been lots of meetings and plenty of momentum. But when push comes to shove our minimum needs are well beyond anything the Palestinians can meet. Maybe that will change one day, who knows.

Right now, the Israeli center knows that the Palestinians remain committed to Israel's destruction. They are engaged in a zero sum game. The difference between Hamas and the PLO is purely over tactics

So you must be thrilled that Netanyahu won.
 Look, in Israel politics is a non-Zero sum game. I would have wanted to clip Netanyahu's wings and force him to form a broad national unity government.

I voted for Moshe Kahlon so I didn't have to vote for either Livni/Herzog or Netanyahu.

But now Netanyahu will be even more insufferable and arrogant. He is great at getting elected – he's a terrible manager of daily affairs.

You are painting a picture of a fragmented society
Yeah, but in this age of new media and hyper pluralism no more so than the US.
The prime minister did not win anything close to a majority – not in the popular vote and not in number of Knesset seats (30 out of 120). In Jerusalem, Likud captured 24 percent of the vote. In Tel Aviv, to take it from a different angle, Labor got just 34 percent.

Herzog says he will stay and lead the opposition.
That's unfortunate – that he won't consider forming a national unity government – but neither will Netanyahu. Maybe after Passover they may reconsider. Unlikely. As a result, we face the "international community," the Palestinian enemy, the Iranian enemy (I'll stop with the enemies) without any chance of building a national consensus. Not to mention this means badly needed electoral reform is still off the agenda. And Obama can continue to demonize Bibi (I wish he'd leave that to me).

Any good news?
Yes. Avigdor Lieberman has lost much of his influence. Eli Yishai and the unpleasant chauvinists he ran with did not get into the Knesset.

But lots of Arabs did…   
Three more than last time. I have no problem with that. That's representative government. The Arabs will accomplish little, though, if they reject coalition-building with the Zionist parties. If they poison the atmosphere than all the social issues we could make common cause on will be pushed aside… Also, the Arabs are divided between Islamists and nationalists and there are plenty of personal animosities just like among the Jews….

Let me get this straight – you're NOT worried about Obama?
I am very worried about Obama. For the most part, Washington protected Jerusalem from the tyrannical majority not just in the General Assembly but in the Security Council too. 
Obama will now probably threaten to let us hang alone. He will encourage the Palestinians to use the UN against us.
If Netanyahu can start being clever, he can out maneuver Obama – not with crass appeals to the Republicans but with smart statecraft and diplomacy.

Anything else?
Yeah. Wish us luck. It's gonna be a bumpy ride until 2016 and bumpier still if Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton replace Obama in the White House.

Stay in touch.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Mr. Netanyahu Goes to Washington

What do you make of the retired generals who say Benjamin Netanyahu is jeopardizing relations with Washington?
I say a plague on both your houses.

This group of dovish retired Israel military and intelligence officers organized under the rubric of Commanders for Israel's Security has denounced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for damaging relations with the United States.
And no doubt he and his ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer have. Either out of ineptitude or hubris they've managed to take the spotlight off Iran and shine it brightly (and unflatteringly) on Netanyahu. And they've managed to give wobbly Jewish liberals yet another excuse to take sides against Israel.

The ex-officers said that Netanyahu's address to Congress on Tuesday, against Obama administration efforts to cut a nuclear deal with Iran, would do nothing to slow down Iran's quest for nuclear weapons.
Well, that's pretty obvious. A president can enter into an agreement of this kind without the advise and consent of Congress.

So you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with IDF armored corps ex-general, Amnon Reshef, founder of Commanders for Israel's Security?
I just happen to agree with him on this one point. 

By the way, I'm curious about who handles his public relations and who stands behind the people who are arranging his publicity.

Anyway, in November, Reshef told the Yediot Aharanot viewspaper that he was "absolutely" convinced it was possible to establish a Palestinian state that posed no threat to Israeli security -- with the support of the Arab countries  -- if Netanyahu were willing to be "courageous."

That's a pretty delusional claim. 

A pullback practically to the 1949 Armistice Lines? Now? When the countries surrounding us are wracked by instability? When the Palestinian polity is divided between Hamas and the PLO? Or "worse" and "worser." When every previous Israeli pullout led to a poorer security outcome than the status quo? When the "moderate" PLO remains committed to the principle that Jews have no legitimate place anywhere in the region…

Amiram Levin, a former Mossad officer who was also Netanyahu's commander in an IDF special forces unit, said that the mullahs in Iran were glad to see a rift develop between the Obama administration and Jerusalem. "Iran wants Netanyahu's speech. They understand that it will weaken Israel's bipartisan bond with the United States."
I certainly don't disagree. Though since the generals knew their statement would not persuade Netanyahu to scuttle the Washington trip – aren't they also feeding into Iran's desires?

"It's hard for me to speak out against Bibi," Levin said using Netanyahu's nickname. "I was his commander. I recruited him. I taught him how to navigate and I'm telling him now: 'Bibi, you've made an error in navigation. The objective ought to be Tehran, not Washington,'" the Hebrew-language tabloid Ma'ariv reported.
Look, history shows that many of those who know Bibi up close and personal, who worked for him, have, on the whole come to despise him.
In the March 17 elections, Bibi is running against Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett both of whom were once close aides. He's not known to engender loyalty.

Another ex-general, Giora Rom said Jerusalem should not be "fighting" President Barack Obama. "There are more suitable ways to deal with the Iranian agreement being worked on rather than going to Congress like this," the WPost reported.
That horse has left the barn.
It's basically too late.
No American administration-- and certainly not Obama's-- is going to go to war against Iran in order to stop them from developing an atom bomb. See North Korea as a precedent. 

The tragedy of the George W. Bush administration is that by going to war with Iraq it not only unleashed the Pandora's Box of sectarian Muslim-on-Muslim bloodletting, de-stabilized the Arab nation-state system, set the stage for the so-called Arab Spring, but that the Iraq war secured Iran as a regional powerbroker.

Netanyahu should apologize to Congress for egging Bush on in those days though he was not in office and Ehud Olmert was. The unintended consequences of the Iraq war have proved to be disastrous all around.

And if Netanyahu really believed Israel faced an immediate, existential danger – why talk, talk, talk? I don't recall Menachem Begin blustering before ordering the air-force to destroy Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor. Obviously, every Israeli premier since Rabin (in his second term) will have to answer to history for letting Iran get this far.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon defended Netanyahu's decision to go ahead with the speech. "There is a huge gap between how we see things and how the Americans see them. We could capitulate and grovel, but this is a historic moment – and if we don't act correctly, history will judge us badly."
I like Ya'alon but I doubt his political instincts. I think he meant "how Obama's administration sees them."

Wait. Are you saying, though, that 180 Israeli generals, ex-Mossad and ex-Shin Bet are wrong to be "dovish" as you so dismissively label them?
As prime minister's former Israeli generals have been willing to take risks for peace. Yitzhak Rabin signed the catastrophic 1993 Oslo Accords which brought Yasser Arafat out of Tunisian exile and established him as head of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Ariel Sharon uprooted 21 Israeli settlements and pulled IDF forces out of the Gaza Strip in 2005. [mea culpa, I supported what he did at the time.] And the feckless Ehud Barak offered to turn over the Golan Heights to Syria when he was prime minister in 1999.
So much for the prescience of ex-generals.

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