Off to The Shire again today

For my uncle’s funeral.

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Fortunately it’s a lovely day and the trains are running again.

Last night I watched The Promise. I get extremely annoyed with BOTH sides in the Israel-Palestine issue. I really don’t want to go into it again either – but see these posts if you really want to know. I am finding The Promise truly excellent – a must see, much more worth bothering with than bloody Charles and Sebastian again! I love it for its recognition of complexity, its having an attention span longer than the past week, and being unafraid of urgers and lobbyists on all sides.

… It’s a common misconception that the conflict between Jew and Arab in the region has its roots in Biblical times. Our research suggests that the two communities lived in relative harmony until the 1930s, intermarrying and speaking the local vernacular – Arabic. The burgeoning of Zionism as a concept coincided with the attempted extermination of Ashkenazi Jews in Central and Eastern Europe. Jews in their tens of thousands started arriving at ports in Palestine, often having made the journey from Europe in overcrowded, insanitary and unseaworthy vessels. These survivors of massacred families, some still skeletal in their concentration camp uniforms, were determined to carve out a homeland where they could be safe from further persecution and to oppose, with violence if necessary, any attempt to dislodge them.

Initially, it seems that British soldiers had nothing but sympathy for the plight of the refugees. Some, like our Len Matthews, had taken part in the liberation of a German concentration camp. Others had heard rumours, seen graphic newsreels, spoken to those who had witnessed the atrocities with their own eyes. When British Tommies were ordered to corral newly arrived refugees in cages, strip search and question them, then ship them back west to internment camps in Cyprus, many were deeply uncomfortable. Their behaviour was too obviously redolent of Nazi brutality; the Jews didn’t deserve this further degradation.

Forced to hold the ring between the arriving Jews and Arabs who had lived in the region for generations, Britain enforced its Palestine immigration quotas strictly. Jews fought back with ferocity and cunning. In many ways the Brits bore the brunt of Jewish determination never again to remain passive in the face of an enemy. British soldiers who had fought the Germans for six long years now found themselves branded Nazis, a particularly bitter pill. A large conscript force, they presented an easy target for a highly motivated Jewish guerrilla army, many of whose leaders had been trained in insurgency tactics by Britain for use behind enemy lines in the recent war. Slowly, British sympathy for the plight of the Jews waned, as squaddies out on the town found themselves increasingly falling victim to kidnappings, bombings and shootings, often in broad daylight. In one disturbing incident which we dramatise, described in a report written in December 1947, three soldiers were shot at close range in a busy commercial street by gunmen who melted away into the crowds. The soldier describes how he lay bleeding on the ground but no one moved to help him. Life continued around him as if nothing had happened. Eventually, he dragged himself back into his Jeep and, clutching his stomach wound, drove himself to hospital. One of his comrades had to work the pedals as he began to lose the use of his legs. It was incidents like this which ensured that, by the time they left Palestine in May 1948, the attitude of the average Tommy had undergone a complete change. The truth is, many of them felt hurt by the hostility of the Jews, which they found incomprehensible, ungrateful. “They were happy enough to accept our help in the war,” one said.

At its simplest level, in telling this story in drama form, I’m just responding to a suggestion written in a letter over a decade ago. But, in imagining a character based on the veterans of the Palestine campaign, in interviewing old men still brooding half a century later on those three dark years of their lives, I’ve found myself moved and incensed in equal measure. In 1945, while Britain was focused on postwar bankruptcy and independence for India, these men traded a demob suit and family reunions for a bitter conflict in Mandate Palestine. They were carrying out British policy, even if it’s a policy we would now like to quietly forget. They deserve our gratitude, our respect and, above all, their national memorial.

Peter Kosminsky on The Promise, his drama about Palestine

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One thought on “Off to The Shire again today

  1. My sympathies on your loss.

    I did just wanted to put a word in for Charles and Seb. I have to agree with one reviewer who called it mid-range Merchant Ivory. As an adaptation I think it ranges from insightful to completely obtuse but the brilliance of the original can’t help but shine through. It was worth watching.

    I’m quite pessimistic about the issues the Promise would have got into but I’m still keeping my eye on the Arab Spring for some inspiration in that connection.

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