Well, at least all the right boxes have been ticked now. The election of Malia Bouattia as the new President of the National Union of Students is the perfect appointment. Female – tick; black – tick; Muslim – tick; Pro-Palestine – tick; Anti-Semitic – tick. Whoops, slight error there; I meant to say Anti-Zionist, which has nothing remotely to do with Anti-Semitism, of course. It’s cool to be Anti-Zionist, just as it apparently is in some circles to be pro-ISIS; not that I’m suggesting Ms Bouattia is, naturally. It’s just that publicly rejecting a motion put forward by her fellow students two years ago to condemn ISIS activities does suggest she’s not entirely opposed to the methods some adopt to cope with the ‘Zionist’ problem.
Funnily enough, I once had an ‘uncle’ (one of those non-blood relatives families used to attach that title to) who had been an officer in the Palestine Police when the country was under its guise as the British Mandate of Palestine, something it became following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of the First World War. The exit of the British from a state in which Jews and Arabs had co-existed in relative harmony for centuries to make way for the foundation of Israel in 1948 was not one of this nation’s proudest colonial retreats, but it seemed as though keeping the peace was more trouble than it was worth, as proved to be the case in Cyprus, another sectarian powder-keg, a decade later.
There was an organised Arab revolt in 1936-39 and this was followed by wartime and post-war increases in Jewish – or Zionist – terrorism. Both camps knew the modern state of Israel would be an eventuality, proposed as far back as 1917, and a tussle for control began long before Israel came into being.
The understandable post-war displacement of those European Jews who had survived the Holocaust presented the British authorities in Palestine with a refugee crisis, the symptoms of which are all-too familiar today. American President Harry S Truman intensified the pressure on Palestine to admit 100,000 Jews, yet the British were acutely aware of the potential dangers of flooding a small landmass with so many people representing one of the two dominant religions in the region and upheld an immigration ban despite world opinion. Violent Jewish reprisals followed, and the years 1944-48 were the height of Zionist terrorist incidents in Palestine, something the British forces present were unsurprisingly at the receiving end of, including my Uncle Joe.
The bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, which served as the British HQ in Palestine, in 1946 resulted in a death toll of 92. Perhaps first-hand experience of such an incident was to shape my Uncle Joe’s undeniable Anti-Semitic opinions, the most extreme example of which was one he aired during my childhood, that those Jews who had died in the Holocaust deserved it. Not that such an opinion can be in any way justified, but it’s easy to see why he might harbour a grudge, fishing the corpses of his comrades from the rubble of the King David Hotel.
Somewhere, I still have his badge from the Palestine Police, given to me when I was far too young to realise what it represented; I’m still not quite sure what it does represent.
The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry was set up after the war to look into the problem of Palestine and came to the conclusion that the country should not be either an exclusively Arab or exclusively Jewish state. President Truman wouldn’t acknowledge the committee’s recommendations and pressed on with calling for the immediate admission of 100,000 Jewish refugees, something the British knew would lead to another Arab revolt. When the British requested US troops to prevent this from happening, the Americans baulked and the Brits decided to wash their hands of the problem by announcing the hasty termination of Mandatory Palestine and leaving it up to the United Nations to come up with a solution. The UN conclusion was to establish separate Arab and Jewish states, effectively partitioning the country.
Palestinian Arabs rejected the proposals, scheduled to take place the moment the British departed, with the Arab League threatening military opposition to the plan; and though the British reluctantly accepted it, they refused to enforce it as they regarded it as unfavourable to the Arab population. Zionist terrorist atrocities had turned British opinion against the Jewish cause, and the Brits declined to oversee the transitional period alongside the UN Palestine Commission, preferring to cut and run. Remarkably, the proposed partition was also opposed by future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, though his was a lone voice amidst majority Jewish rejoicing.
On the eve of Israel’s birth, a civil war erupted in Palestine that the British again felt the full force of. This conflict accelerated the exit of the British and made the end of Mandatory Palestine something that couldn’t come soon enough for many in this country. As British rule rapidly broke down, Jewish leader David Ben-Gurion declared the state of Israel had been born, even though this declaration was unrecognised by surrounding Arab nations. The Palestine Mandate officially ended on 15 May 1948, bringing the curtain down on a thirty-year period in which the British had tried and failed to do what the Ottomans had succeeded in doing for far longer. And it’s fair to say the situation has never been resolved since.
The Palestinian ‘cause’ over the last seventy years has become a cause célèbre for every generation of would-be revolutionaries and right-on rebels; it shouldn’t instinctively lead to Anti-Semitic sentiments, though it has a habit of doing so, especially where those whose knowledge of its history is derived less from actual experience of its realities and more from propaganda garnered from the insulated cocoon of the demo and the debating society. That the new NUS President regards Middle East peace talks as ‘strengthening the colonial project’ highlights the fact that this dead-end is set to continue.
VICTORIA WOOD (1953-2016)
Not acknowledging every notable passing on here has become necessary this year in order to prevent the blog being a permanent roll-call of celebrity obituaries. The death of Victoria Wood from cancer at the age of 62, however, I feel is worth noting. At the height of the Alternative Comedy craze in the middle of the 80s, she was something of a curious anomaly. Her BBC2 series of the time, ‘Victoria Wood As Seen on TV’, didn’t naturally sit alongside the likes of ‘The Young Ones’, but the fact it was positioned outside of the zeitgeist has given some aspects of it, particularly the superb soap parody ‘Acorn Antiques’, a timeless appeal on a par with Morecambe and Wise.
Wood had gained her first break on ATV’s 1970s talent show ‘New Faces’, though there wasn’t really a suitable vehicle for her talents until she linked up with actress Julie Walters in the late 70s, eventually resulting in an early Channel 4 cult comedy, ‘Wood and Walters’. This in turn took her to the BBC, where she finally had free rein to showcase her superlative comic writing and performing on a mainstream platform. Wood was unique at the time for eschewing confrontational and politically-themed comedy and instead focused her affectionate, subtle satire on (for want of a better word) the little people.
Gradually branching out into the more conventional sitcom world as well as straight acting, Victoria Wood didn’t belong to any comedy movement or any specific moment in comedy history; that she was one of the first women comedians on British TV to headline and write her own show tends to be overlooked because she was never ‘in-yer-face’; but it’s something that shouldn’t be forgotten. And one could argue the likes of Jo Brand, Catherine Tate and Tracy Ullman are in debt to her little-trumpeted trailblazing.
© The Editor