Seeing 1948 through the eyes of British soldiers

Coming to terms with the skeletons of the past is tough for any country.  It is especially tough for Israel.  Massacres, ethnic cleansing are not what nations like to be remembered for. 


The British director Peter Kosminsky has recently been involved in the TV mini-series "The Promise".


It is set in 1946-48 British mandate Palestine and looks at the lives of British soldiers before their withdrawal and the relationship between Arabs and Jews.   The massacre at Deir Yassin is a key incident portrayed in the series.


Kosminsky's mini-seies is a timely reminder to the murky origins of the creation of Israel and the effects that still haunt us today.


Kosminsky, who is Jewish, is seen here responding effortlessly to critics of his film.






Opening scenes

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Comment by Stewart Mills on June 14, 2011 at 7:48pm

Common decency Jeff?  


What ever happened to self-determination and self-defence of the descendants of the 90% population of British occupied Palestine of 1918?


At a tactical level I can denounce the attack on the medical convoy.  Morally and legally it was a repulsive action.  


But in the context, what are the dynamics at play?  


Palestinian self-determination and British occupation


It is 1948.   For the past 30 years a former Ottoman controlled region is now controlled by the British (under the guise of the League of Nations) but still seen as a Western enterprise.  Britain has allowed mass emigration from Europe of European and American Jews, despite the wishes of the local population.  


The dismal response of the West to Jewish refugees

What complicates things here are the events of 1933-1945.  Yes, more should have been done to 1. Respond to Nazism in the first place; and 2. Provide a refuge for Jewish refugees.  However, why lay the feet of blame at the people of Palestine.  The seat of anti-Semitism in Europe was the work of Europeans not Palestinians.  Europe, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa took on a mediocre amount of Jewish refugees.


Australia took 8,500 Jewish refugees from 1933-1945. It even interned certain Jewish refugees as enemy aliens.


Canada, according to Yad Vashem, "closed its doors to Jews long before the Nazis rose to power."


Great Britain "Fearing that anyone with a German accent might be a spy, the British government began imprisoning Germans and Austrians who had settled in Britain, calling them "enemy aliens." This
included Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Germany and Austria. About 30,000 were interned in camps in Britain itself (where in some cases Jews and pro-Nazi Germans were put together), while 8,000 were deported to Canada and Australia (some of whom died when their ships were hit by torpedoes). As the threat of a German invasion passed, the prisoners were released and some of the deportees were returned to Britain."


USA "The United States, despite its long-held reputation of a safe haven for refugees, did not open its doors to Jewish refugees during World War II. The Bermuda Conference of April 1943 was just an attempt to quiet public opinion, without having to actually make a serious effort to save any Jews. "


A more flattering view of the US role is made by the US Holocaust Museum which stated: "About 85,000 Jewish refugees (out of 120,000 Jewish emigrants) reached the United States between March 1938 and September 1939".  


This is contrasted by the St Louis incident -
"In May-June 1939, the United States refused to admit over 900 Jewish refugees who had sailed from Hamburg, Germany, on the St. Louis. The St. Louis appeared off the coast of Florida shortly after Cuban authorities cancelled the refugees' transit visas and denied entry to most of the passengers, who were still waiting to receive visas to enter the United States. Denied permission to land in the United States, the ship was forced to return to Europe. The governments of Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium each agreed to accept some of the passengers as refugees."  [The St Louis incident reminds me of the Exodus].


Evian Conference 1938


The response of Palestine to Jewish refugees

Palestine "Over 60,000 German Jews immigrated to Palestine during the 1930s, most under the terms of the Haavara (Transfer) Agreement. This agreement between Germany and the Jewish authorities in Palestine facilitated Jewish emigration to Palestine."


That is Palestine was taking a lion share of Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria compared to European nations given the small size of Palestine and resources.



Jeff, did you watch Kosminsky' interview?  He is a courageous Jewish director.  Who through personal interviews with scores of ex-British soldiers from 1948 Palestine has helped recreate a sense of what the situation was like. 



Comment by Jeff stern on June 13, 2011 at 7:15pm

Indeed the state of Israel was built on a lot of innocent blood - both Jew and Arab:

The massacre of the Hadassah convoy which took place on April 13, 1948, was part of the Arab plan for ethnic cleansing of  Jerusalem and Palestine in 1948, planned by the Nazi Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al Husseini, and his able relative, Abdel Khader Al-Husseini and announced by Arab League.

About 80 people, mostly innocent  civilians, including doctors and nurses, were murdered while trying to bring medical supplies and personnel to Hadassah hospital on Mt. Scopus. The massacre was a gross violation of international military conventions, human rights and common decency.

The account below, adapted from a document by the Zionist Hadassah organization, provides proof of two very important points:

    The massacre had been planned well in advance, and was not really "retaliation" for the Irgun and Lehi massacre at Deir Yassin.
    British personnel cooperated and participated in the massacre.

The world has often excused the Hadassah massacre as a "retaliation" for the Deir Yassin massacre. Even if it were true, one crime against humanity cannot excuse another, especially as the Hadassah massacre was in part the work of British collaborators. However, it is evident from the account below that the events at Deir Yassin only served as a convenient excuse for a crime that had been planned well in advance. Unlike the Deir Yassin massacre, which was the spontaneous reaction of untrained troops, the Hadassah massacre was planned in advance, in cold blood.



On the 13th of May the defenders of Kfar Etzion surrendered to the Legion. The Legion honored the surrender, though Arab irregulars continued to fire for some time. The defenders gathered in front of the school and put down their weapons. They were photographed by someone in a kaffiyeh (Arab headdress and European suit. Then an armored car, apparently belonging to the Legion, approached and opened fire, and other Arab attackers opened fire with submachine guns and grenades. Some survivors claimed Legion soldiers were not involved, others insisted that they were. Survivors all recall that that the Arabs were screaming "Deir Yassin." All accounts agree that Legion officers rescued several survivors.

About 50 defenders escaped to the cellar of the old German monastery that was within the grounds, and tried to defend themselves there. The Arab attackers finished them off with hand grenades and then blew up the building, which collapsed over them. All but about five defenders were eventually killed. In all, about 128 defenders were massacred by the Palestinian Arab irregulars or the Jordan Legion, counting those who had escaped to the basement of the monastery. Some accounts do not count these people as "massacred" and estimate that fifty were massacred. However, those who fled to the basement were given no chance to surrender.  One of the survivors, a woman, was taken to a field to be raped by two Legion soldiers, but saved by an officer. About 157 Jewish defenders died in the final battle for Gush Etzion, including those killed in the massacre.


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