My Home Is in Jerusalem
MOLLY LYONS BAR-DAVID
FIRST OF TWO PARTS
Step behind the battle lines of unhappy, bloodstained Palestine with this girl from Saskatchewan who is now a fighter of Haganah
JERUSALEM—Yesterday my daughters, aged seven and three, were playing in the kitchen. The younger one grabbed a grapefruit from the table and lobbed it toward me, yelling: “Bomb! Bomb!” The elder caught the grapefruit on the first bounce and indignantly put it out of reach.
“Take it easy!” she scolded. “There are plenty of bombs in Jerusalem right now, but not many grapefruit.”
My children know much of bombs. Our house in the suburbs, now abandoned, was under attack for weeks this year while we lived in it. They heard bombs and shells and mortars and watched soldiers at work repelling Arab attacks . . .
A month ago a group of men dressed as British soldiers parked a truck in Ben Yehuda Street, near where my husband and I operated a literary agency. The truck blew up as soon as the men had made a getaway. One hundred people were killed. Both the Arabs and the Palestine branch of the Mosley Fascists (their boast is that they will finish the job Hitler started) claimed “credit” for the deed.
Our offices were wrecked, but that was unimportant. What can I tell my daughter now when she wishes to go down to Ben Yehuda Street and see her friends there? Little Jacqueline is dead. Her eightyear-old cousin is blind. Mordekhai’s mother, father, sister and brother are dead. What can anyone say now to little Miriam, who saw a flying
boulder strike off her mother’s head as cleanly as a guillotine?
By the time this is published, the United Nations will have assumed—or perhaps evaded—responsibility for keeping peace between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. At any rate, most of the British will have gone—the Britons I liked and respected as well as the ones I think have been criminally negligent or worse. The future for us is unknown, except that it is fairly certain that if we Bar-Davids are still alive when you read this, we will still be praying and if necessary fighting alongside our friends and neighbors for the Jewish National Home in Palestine.
Why Jews Go Home
IT IS a long way back, in time as well as space, to my peaceful childhood in Tisdale, Sask., my home before I came to Palestine.
Jan. 15, 1936, was the coldest night I had ever known in Tisdale. The thermometer registered 65 below zero. And yet that evening has always left a warm glow in my memory. With two of my sisters, Hilda and Becky, I was leaving for Palestine in the morning—at the incredible hour of 3.45 a.m. when
the CNR passed through our little town. A group of friends had gathered at Dr. MacQueen’s house and they presented me with a scrapbook from which L. T. Carmichael, my old schoolteacher, read Crosby’s famous verse:
I am homesick. Homesick for the land I have never seen.
I am here by some sad cosmic mistake,
And I am homesick.
And then I knew that my friends understood me better than I understood myself. Though ours was the only Jewish family in Tisdale, and as content as most families about us, news of Palestine affected us deeply. Therein we were different from our neighbors. Therein, and perhaps in other ways too, because time and again some friend would ask questions which I would have to explain. How tired I sometimes got of explaining the business of being a Jew, especially when often enough I wasn’t so sure about it myself.
The Jewish people have a long memory and a strong conscience about
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remembering and perhaps that, more than our religion or our hopes, makes us Jews. The maiden captives in Babylon hung their harps by the willows and wept and sang: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its art, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, O Jerusalem, if I do not remember thee.” And for every generation since the Romans conquered Judea the scattered Jews have wept for homesickness for Jerusalem and tried in every generation to return.
I was not actively aware of homesickness. To leave Canada involved hard sacrifice: the sight of a colored autumn leaf still makes me yearn for the forests around Prince Albert. Though my parents were already in Palestine working in an orange grove with other Jews from Saskatoon, it was hard to part with my remaining brothers and sisters, precious friends, and a life of reminiscences. A thousand fine threads bound me securely, Gulliver fashion, to everything associated with those never-ending fields of golden grain.
But Britain during the First World War had declared that she looked with favor upon the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine and the League of Nations had underwritten that great pledge to repair the age-old wrong to the Jewish people. The Jewish people would be returned to its soil and made whole again. This scattered people, clinging to its ancient culture and religion, was a soul without a body—and people fear a disembodied spirit.
I Become a Zionist
I was very young when the Balfour Declaration was issued, but even as a girl the prospect of the Jewish renaissance held great fascination for me. I took my enthusiasm into the good Christian homes and later even to the pulpits of the churches of our little town. As I grew up I, too, wanted to share the task of clearing the swamps of Palestine, to stand waist deep in mire to win back to civilization a malarial fen. I knew that these swamps were bordered with the graves of idealists, but I knew too that these idealists had cleansed an area of disease and had created a plot of land for persecuted Jews to work without taking a plot from anyone else. I knew that most of Palestine’s soil had been declared uncultivable and every time I read of an acre of desert being watered, or a stretch of land washed out of salt, or a dormant thistle field cleared of millions of stones and new soil made arable, a surge of good feeling swept over me. It was resurrection. The once browbeaten Jews of Europe were living as free men. They were taking root in the soil without sinking into it, living an intellectual life with their minds as they toiled with their bodies. Learning and knowledge, science, literature and art were striving for expression in the little land where the newcomers were people who had enriched the world with spiritual and intellectual gifts.
The Arabs—I believe any unprejudiced view of history will show—had not revived the country with their advent but had dragged the Jewish community down to their sorry level. Despite hardship throughout the centuries, Jews had never left the country except when they were driven out and a small community always remained, for some hundreds of years even supported by compatriots abroad under a system known as “halukkah” in order to keep the land in trust for the nation until the
return. A British governor of Sinai, when he saw the devastation that centuries of neglect and misuse had made in Palestine, declared: “The Arab is not the son of the desert: he is the father of the desert.” I believed with all my heart that the Children of Israel would restore the Land of Israel, for they and they only carried the dream in their hearts. Disraeli said of them: “A race that persists in celebrating their vintage, although they have no fruits to gather, will regain their vineyards.”
I used to talk these things over with the mayor of our town, my friend Earl Van Blaricom. Though he never so much as put it into words, I felt that he thought me a little disloyal to Canada for being so drawn to that tiny ruined strip of land so far away. He would argue for assimilation, that elusive something which Jews try so desperately to win but which is a long hard path of rebuff through generations to accomplish.
I could not explain to him that a pogrom in Russia stirred Jewish selfconsciousness in America, for in his experience Dutchmen had never been persecuted in Timbuktu. I could not explain that assimilation was an evolutionary process that must be unconsciously developed and that, deliberately sought, it was a form of selfabasement and suicide: that as such the baptismal fonts could offer the Jew no social salvation. I could not explain to him why my brother Ben was content with life if he could pitch hay in the summer and go to college in the winter, while in me Jewish awareness was strong and potent.
Perhaps Ben did not remember as well as I did the first Saskatchewan village in which we lived, for we were both little children when we moved to Tisdale. But I remembered how one schoolmate in that other village had called me a dirty Jew and how another .had risen to defend me. I did not want either the abuse or the championing. I wanted to be just plain me and I guess my nose wasn’t of the right architecture for that.
Zionism was the name of my emotions and hopes. It was no mere finespun philosophy, no mere academic theory. It found almost spontaneous and simultaneous response over the world from Shanghai to Johannesburg, and especially in Russia and Poland where the people hungered for freedom. It quickened and refreshed the people in one great creative urge. It appealed not only to Jews but to many great statesmen in many lands. The better day was at hand.
When Becky kissed her little chum, Ruthie Wright, farewell, a big lump rose in my throat. When we passed Caribou School on the train, Hilda turned her head the other way and wept: she would never again ride horseback to teach her six classes of farm kids. As theSSBerengaria pulledout of New York a series of thoughts flashed through my head: It’s too late to turn back now! We’re in for it now! If only I could stop the ship and rush back to Tisdale! It lasted only a minute. It was the final wrench. Gulliver had snapped the strings. The hard and happy future lay ahead.
The Shock of Jaffa
Palestine was a revelation from the first. There was more than I had hoped for and more than I had feared.
When we got off the boat at the Arab city of Jaffa on March 13, we received our first impression with the force of a shock. Accustomed to the mild gentle azure of Canadian skies softened with grey-white clouds, the dark green of poplar woods, the
tempered coloring of all things and the modulated restraint of most people, Jaffa seemed unreal and fierce and as i exaggerated as a picture on a store calendar.
The sky was cobalt without a touch of relief. A magnolia bloomed with superlative exoticness. Russet-embroidered cloaks and purple eggplants, sheep’s entrails, tinsel and Japanese silks edged at each other in a galaxy of brilliant hues. Two Arabs in a stall were shouting at each other: they gesticulated wildly, screaming at the tops of their voices, but apparently not drawing the slightest attention. They were, apparently, only arguing about the price of a cabbage.
Amid the passionate Oriental beauty were many beggars—frightening beggars, mad, or blind, or crippled, or with running sores. Nearby squatted a group of men dressed in rags—and by rags I mean rags—barefoot, wild, living in tents made of torn sacks, bits of shrubbery and old tin cans. A goat and chickens shared the odd tent and camels and donkeys lived so close that one wondered whether the tent was stable or home. Some of the Arabs were cooking their noonday meal, huge pancakes of flour, water and a good dose of dirt. The bakeshops with the ovens open to the street were thick with flies and heavy with nauseating smells, chiefly stale oil and drying urine. Children tugged at our skirts asking for “baksheesh.” My stomach turned at the stench and at so much misery, yet I was enchanted by the color, the suave manners of the Arabs, the tattooed women who walked so gracefully with jugs on their heads, the snobbish-looking camels and their aristocratic-looking riders, the vaulted ceilings and thick old walls, and the blue sky there all the time.
My remarks about it brought forth a speech from our escort. Just as the dreaded eye disease, trachoma, which had blinded thousands, had almost been wiped out since the advent of the new Jew to Palestine, and just as the maternal death rate had shown the greatest decrease in the world since the Zionists had introduced wholesale I medicine to the country, so would ¡ sanitation find its way with education I into those areas which it had not yet I blessed. He was right, but so eager ! that it grew tiresome. I have often J thought since that Jewish fate in ; Palestine might have been different if ! we had not been so keen on every jot I and tittle; but we were so happy, so I devoted, in our chance to make some| thing of our land.
Ice Cream and Pop
If Jaffa dazed me, Tel Aviv amazed me. For this all-Jewish city which borders Jaffa is the best example of the contrast between Arab and Jewish ways of life. The picturesque alleyways of Jaffa, narrow and winding, suddenly open into paved boulevards with bright street cafés and modern shops. Here the perfume of pink ice cream and vanilla, freshly ground coffee and sprinkling fountains filled the air as we passed cafés and “gazoz” stands where orange juice and soda water were sold to the ever-thirsty public. The effect of so much ultramodernity was breathtaking. The Jews were building like mad in Tel Aviv, to make room for refugees and for growing Zion, and street after street sprung up in the night.
I dreaded leaving the city for fear its limits would bring us to the bare hills of Judea, to sand dunes, to rocky soil. But we were in the coastal plain where Zionist activity was fullest. So we traveled on a paved highway, along fences which were a solid mass of
morning glories in bloom, waysides strewn with scarlet poppies, trees bowed down with ripened oranges, roses everywhere. The thought that all this beauty was new, all reclaimed from land considered unfit for cultivation, and the call of what had yet to be done, moved me deeply.
When we arrived at my father’s orange grove at Gan Hasharon, which was then the end of the trail but which is now in the heart of a thriving Jewish agricultural area, our car got stuck in sand up to the axle. The Sahara could not have looked more glum than the left side of the road where an old Arab was trying to eke out a living by growing a few watermelons. But on the other side—on an equal area—a group of Saskatoon Canadian Zionists, among them my dad, had planted an orange grove. They had dug for water (the first to be found in the district), installed a Diesel engine, irrigated the soil, and no fewer than 300 souls made a high-standard living out of the stretch of land. And to see it! Or rather to smell it! The waxlike orange blossoms were peeping out of the shiny leaves. The perfume is something I have never got used to: love and romance and adventure in ethereal form.
Our Friends, the Guns
Love and romance and adventure in more concrete form were not far ahead. The first thing that greeted us when we entered the little hut my parents were living in was a steel box with “Gan Hasharon—6” stamped upon it. “Those are our guns” said my father. “The Government gave this colony six of them after the unhappy incidents of 1929. It has not been opened since then, I understand.” A week later that box was to be unsealed. It remained open for three years during which time we walked with guns, ate with guns, slept with guns. I have grown very familiar with guns since and now 1 rather sneer at the innocuous shotguns we had then.
Gan Hasharon was rather frightening in those first days. Eighty Arabs were working on the orchard and our guard often had difficulty in keeping peace between them. There was a good deal of unrest among the Jews, too. Arab terrorist acts and murders, the result of anti-Zionist propaganda, were becoming too frequent to be taken calmly. Only a few weeks after we arrived, Arab mobs ran amuck and the blood of unsuspecting Jews and British police flowed thick in the streets of Jaffa. Jews moved out of Arab districts the next day and Arabs moved out of Jewish districts. Each people went back to its own tents and the economy of the country began to sift into two camps. The partitioning of Palestine was in the making.
The dark nights were very still, except for the weird howling of jackals and the frequent mournful braying of a passing donkey. One night we were sitting about in the lamplight at home when a knock came to the door. We did not answer it at once for the hour was late and we knew that all had retired except the guards. Our Arab workmen had been forced to leave a few days before and most of our Jewish workmen lived in the nearby village of Kfar Sava. The knock was repeated and father called “Come in . . .”
An Arab leaned against the door. No Arab had dared to come to a Jewish settlement for days.
I stepped into the next room, near to the gun box, ready if necessary . . .
But it was Salah, an Arab friend. He had come to warn us that we were to be attacked by 40 Arabs who would soon
be in their positions about the orchard !
It was decided that the watchmen and 10 men stay behind, there being only six guns. The rest of us must venture to the village to call the police. While the horses were being hitched my sister finished the dishes. Mother put a kettle on for sterile water. I laid out the bandages and the iodine, just in case . . .
As were were leaving, my father handed me the scout knife which I had used in my Girl-Guide days in Canada. The knife was inscribed with the motto “Be Prepared.”
As we turned the bend from our corner the harness broke. We were on the road leading directly to a dangerous Arab village. Around the corner we knew there was a Bedouin encampment and thoughts of being discovered were not particularly cheerful; I even opened the blades of the knife. We tried to repair the harness but it was dark and we dared not use a flashlight. We waited, quiet as mice. The children were restless and uncomfortable. The old lady felt faint with fear. And the time dragged on to a dangerous hour. I determined then that I would have a revolver—legal or illegal. It was Lesson I in Palestine education.
At last the harness was repaired and we were on our way.
We gave the warning and at five o’clock the next morning we learned the Arabs knew that the police and our guards were alert at Gan Hasharon. They moved on to a neighboring grove and uprooted 300 trees. Then they planted a land mine in the sand road leading to Ramat Hakovesh: the first time a weapon of that sort had been used. It killed seven Jewish peasants the following morning.
Initiation in an Orchard
My sister and 1 then were invited to join the Haganah, the Jewish militia. We met after dark one night in an orange packing shed, in the middle of a neighboring grove; the whole atmosphere was one of conspiracy and unreality. Discipline and democracy rubbed shoulders in a most unusual way. We called our commander by his first name, argued with him often enough, but obeyed him without a quibble when we got an order. We were taught in the use of such mild weapons as revolvers and shotguns. We also learned first aid, signaling and the rules of the game. Today, when truckloads of TNT, cannons, mortars and land mines are the order of the day, 1936 seems like child’s play.
I shall never forget the innocence of my first remark. Benny Adilman, of Saskatoon, was apparently a big shot in our Haganah district. When I said, “But, Benny, why do we need all this? After all, what about the police?” my remark was greeted with a roar of laughter by all present and they were right to laugh. I have no doubt in my mind at all, that were it not for the Haganah we could never have held out on Gan Hasharon during those next 90 nights when we were attacked 30 times.
Before a week was out, and the heavy attacks on our district began, we set up a system of intercommunication that was foolproof. We could not depend on the telephone, for wires were cut continuously. So from every water tower in the surrounding settlements, lights flashed in Hebrew morse code and double codes. Searchlights were set up on these towers and radio was installed. Everyone learned to use a weapon, but our arms were defense arms only. For the Haganah, which means “defense,” had been instructed by the Jewish governing bodies to shoot only if shot at and to shoot only from one’s thres-
hold. The police and the Haganah often came to each other’s defense. It was then we got to know our patrol group who came in for tea and fruit cake each night. The corporal in charge, Eatell, is today one of Palestine’s top-ranking police officials. He was able and devoted and we became friends.
Wingate’s Jewish Soldiers
The riots continued until 1939. There were times when our watchword “Havlaga” which means “restraint” tried our impulses to the breaking point. But we believed that if we defended ourselves only and kept our hands clean of unnecessary bloodshed, the Arab would recognize our moral courage and Britain would honor our behavior. We kept on setting up new settlements and industries during all this period. It was a joy to build under stress and my folks then achieved their dreamt-of villa on the farm, set in an acre of parkland. What love was poured into its construction, with a real opera singer humming arias of Aida as he hammered nails, and a philosophy student talking of Spinoza as he stopped for midmorning lunch! Bullets whistled over the foundation and we were proud to think that our new home built for peace had been christened with fire.
Jewish immigration continued restricted only by what was termed “absorptive capacity” over which there was much argument during this period, and it was also limited by the number allowed to get out of Germany. Thousands of refugee children came without their parents. Those hoys and girls were to be the forerunners of their families, but very very few ever saw their parents again. Gas, in the Nazi crematories during the war, took those parents.
During the disturbances, Major Orde Wingate, an English Zionist, who was later to become general and gain such fame in Burma, organized the Palmach, the striking force of the Haganah. He led them in skirmishes where they wiped out Arab snipers’ nests. We got to depend less and less on the police and more and more upon ourselves. A young British Army lieutenant who was stationed across the way from our house, which was then a tough spot , told me on more than one occasion that if he were allowed to do so he could put a stop to the troubles in our area in a week. Stories like this began to seep in from all over the country and piled up into a mountain of evidence which shook and frightened me. Yet I could not believe it—l refused to believe it — and became known among my friends as a stupid Anglophile.
Working, Fighting, Playing
Though we had to sleep on the floor for many months while we lived in our hut, and though going to funerals of friends was a thing too often experienced, yet life was reasonably normal. We were young and we were gay. We danced Palestine folk dances on the roof of our house until the shooting began at night and then we would lie down and use our guns. Life was exciting and hard. We worked in the grove and took to the soil like chickens scratching in the dirt. And after four o’clock and a shower we shared in the rich cultural life of our fellow workers. We would go over the way to the collective settlement and listen to lectures and concerts, or down the road to the co-operative individual village where we learned to love and admire people from all over the world who had come to do a good job—and
were doing it well—or to find a refuge and were happy in their shelter. Bit by bit, unarmed Arabs began to shy over to our farm, asking for work and a place in the barn to sleep, for they were hungry and dared not return to their villages if they worked for Jews. I got to know them, and we became friends.
Then, on a visit to Haifa with my friend Sophie Udin, a Winnipeg girl who had come to Palestine for a year, I met the handsomest and most charming man I had ever seen. He was 29 and his name was Jaap Rar-David. We had every dance together that evening on an open air pavilion reaching out into the Mediterranean. Three days later we were engaged; in another few weeks, married.
In May, 1939, on the Jewish festival of Shvouth, Sophie, my sister, and I went to Kfar Vitkin, a smallholders’ co-operative village populated by American immigrants on land redeemed by the Zionists of Canada. We had come to attend a convention of Jewish youth from Anglo-Saxon countries. There were about 60 of us from all parts of Palestine and at this convention we argued the pros and cons of the Peel Commission Report which advocated partition for Palestine.
Emanuel Labes, a Harvard student who had come on a scholarship to study at the American School of Oriental Research and had so fallen in love with Palestine that he decided to remain as a teamster on a farm, pointed out a sane line of reasoning. Our nationalism was based on historic and political conceptions, while Arab philosophy was a religious one. Their respect was for princes, pashas, sheiks and effendis— especially the feudal effendis who dictated their lives. We would have representative government. The Arab still veiled or enslaved his women; ours were the most emancipated in all the world. The Arab used oxen and asses to scratch the surface of the soil; we were tractor fanatics. The Arabs were romanticists, leisurely, colorful. We were realists, ambitious and impatient, and how drab and ordinary. In short, he said, we were aliens to each other. Therefore partition was a logical answer.
The “Black Paper”
But even while we discussed it, hopes of a partition we could accept were wiped out by the British White Paper of 1939, whose overriding purpose we Jews believe was to appease the Arabs with a war on the horizon. It was a terrible blow. It allowed for
75.000 more Jews to come to Palestine at the rate of 1,500 a month. Then immigration would cease. Jews would be doomed forever to be a minority in Palestine. Moreover, land sales to the Jews were to be disallowed in 95% of the country’s territory!
Labor members in the House of Commons rose to cry out against the White Paper, declaring that if they ever got into power they would refuse to carry out its terms. Churchill called it a second Munich. The League of Nations refused to ratify the paper. The Jews have always held it to be an illegal Black Paper. I regarded it— and still do—as a betrayal.
We vowed at Kfar Vitkin, as Jews votved all over Palestine and all over the world, that we would fight the White Paper, that we uwuld bring to Palestine Jews who needed succor, that we would buy land everywhere in the country where Arabs were willing to sell and settle our people upon it. We began at once to organize illegal immigration from Germany.
Then came the war. Jewry registered
150.000 fit young men and women who wished to serve, my husband and I
among them. Our offer was ignored. Our stunned conclusion was that the British had decided it would not do to enlist Jews so long as the Arabs were unwilling to join up also. Unable to serve in uniform, and being a former Britisher (I had lost my Canadian nationality by marrying a Dutchman), I was taken on the staff of the Middle East Staff College in Haifa, where we lived. There, as private secretary to the brigadier commandant, I worked with men like Generals Dorman-Smith and De Guingand who did so much in the war: but had also to suffer the remarks of a Cockney private who kept saying that “the Jews were scared to fight.”
Rise of the Terrorists
In November, 1940, 1,800 Jews who had escaped from Germany arrived on two tramp schooners. As the war was already on they could not be sent back and so they were transferred to the SS Patria for deportation to a British dependency. The passengers, rather than leave Palestine, blew up their ship in the port. I heard the explosion at the college on Mount Carmel, looked out of the window and saw the ship keel over. Two hundred refugees lost their lives. While the bodies were still being recovered, another refugee ship arrived, with 1,650 men, women and children on board. The refugees were dragged out by force, taken to Athlith, a nearby settlement, and then shipped off to the Island of Mauritius where they remained for six years to come back to Palestine broken in health and spirit.
Soon after, a cattle boat, the Struma, carrying 796 passengers—250 of whom were women and 70 children who had escaped from Romania and Bulgaria —arrived an utter wreck at Istanbul, en route to Palestine. The Turks were prepared to allow them to land if the Palestine Government would let them enter. The Government would not agree and the ship was sent back. It blew up on a mine off the coast of Turkey. All but 10 perished.
The Haganah had declared that they would fight the war as though there were no White Paper and they would fight the White Paper as though there were no war. After the Struma sinking two terrorist organizations came into being, breakaways from Haganah— the Irgun Zvai Leumi and the less scrupulous Stern Gang.
Few terrorists are known even to their closest friends. I have known only one. She was a nurse, a mild, kindly and efficient person to whom I gave a note of introduction to a high immigration officer. She was asking entry into Palestine for her aged parents. She was shouted at by the official about illegal immigration. Her parents were eventually sent to Poland ánd gassed. When she heard that, she told me that she had made up her mind to join the terrorists. She did not choose the larger terrorist organization, Irgun. She picked the Stern Gang.
Meanwhile, the British, who had used the Haganah to help quench an Arab rebellion, began to round up its members for illegal possession of arms. I remember how shocked I was when eight staff members, including the principal, of the Ben Shemen Children’s Refugee School, which is in the heart of an Arab district and had been repeatedly attacked, were sentenced to terms of three to seven years’ imprisonment though no one questioned the purpose of those arms which were acknowledged to be weapons of selfdefense.
Then 43 of Orde Wingate’s lads were sentenced in a mass trial to terms of 10 years to life imprisonment on a
similar charge. Though the Jews were doing everything in their power for the war effort, including the giving of 30,000 of their youth—all volunteers who had finally been allowed to join —to the Allied cause, they were treated as potential enemies and everything was done, vainly, to encourage Arab co-operation in the war. In Palestine and Syria many Arabs spoke openly and joyously of Rommel’s imminent triumph at Alamein.
The Police Turn on Us
A number of Haganah men were then let out of prison for special dangerous jobs in Iraq, Syria and Libya, and about 50 were dropped by parachute behind the enemy lines in Europe to do espionage. One of those who never returned was Chana Senesch, who had gone to school in the Canadian Hadassah Agricultural School at Nahalal. She was a poetess. When she was caught, Chana refused to divulge a single British secret though she and her mother were tortured for weeks on end. The last person to see Chana did not recognize her, for all her teeth had been knocked out and she could hardly talk, her face was so swollen. I remember Chana as a girl of unusually fine and sensitive features.
No sooner was Rommel defeated than the Haganah was again being tracked. The first large-scale police operation was at Ramat Hakovesh, the collective settlement next to my dad’s farm. The British went at the settlers in search of “secret” arms which everyone knew existed, and had to exist, if the settlers wished to survive. The settlers sat down, lay down before tanks, and had to be carried off as dead weight to be searched. Before the day was out thousands of Jews came from all nearby settlements to help Ramat Hakovesh. Two were killed and several wounded.
I knew the two lads who had been killed. I believe that, had not a child been stirring in my womb, I might then have become a terrorist.
After that the police and soldiers got tougher and tougher. The dissident organizations grew stronger and stronger. The usual character of this was that, although the Haganah was the main object of British suspicion, it was the Irgun and Stern Gang which retaliated on the British. The Irgun blew up government offices—always warning the inhabitants in time to clear out— until such tactics became too dangerous and might have meant their own capture. The Stern Gang went in chiefly for assassinations; they killed Lord Moyne in Cairo and policemen who were suspected of being antiJewish and informers. Official Zionism outlawed the terrorists, and the Haga-
nah issued a barrage of propaganda against them and often got rough.
We lived in Haifa all during this midwar period. When I went to hospital to have my baby, sirens screeched and the walls shook from the thud of German air raids. A week after my daughter was born I was back at the Staff College to work because I was needed. My husband took suddenly seriously ill and when he recovered I had a breakdown. After my recovery we moved to Jerusalem where, soon after, I became personal assistant to the secretary of the War Supply Board, and also resumed my newspaper work —with the Palestine Post—because there was such a shortage of staff everywhere that manpower laws had to be introduced to keep people in the factories to produce war material instead of joining the forces to fight.
Our offices were in the King David Hotel. It was in this office, where I worked up to VE-Day, that much of my faith in British decency was restored. Ours was a war department, and my chief, Julius Jacobs, a British Jew, was admired by all his colleagues. My heart was in my work and secret papers passed through my hands. Arab, Jew and Englishman worked in happy unison here. Sometimes, however, I had to deal with papers that boded dark for the Jewish future. Sir Harold MacMichael, who was at that time High Commissioner for Palestine, was in my mind anti-Jewish and pro-Arab. But Lord Gort, who succeeded him, had an open mind; he began to win the hearts of all of Palestine’s people and might have accomplished much had he not died an untimely death of cancer. I can still see his handwriting before me: con-
sidered, clear and questioning.
“Little Human Rats”
In July, 1944, the Red Cross arranged the exchange of a hundred enemy aliens in Palestine for a similar number of Jews in the concentration camps in Germany. The Germans released, for this exchange, a group of Dutch Jews—all aged, infirm or babies. When my husband, who is a native of Holland, saw the list, he came home and told me that there two baby sisters, one aged 10 months and the other two and a half years who, he felt sure, were the children of an old school friend. We determined to have those* babies and waited with great excitement for our two new wards. The newcomers were, moreover, to have a new baby sister in about a month.
I had seen Arab children who were born and brought up in the street and were as untamed as animals. But I had never seen the wartime concentration camp refugees until the nurse, sobbing herself, brought in a clothesbasket in which two little human rats lay. They were the color of grey paste. They had huge eyes and swollen bellies and their arms, legs and ribs were spindles. I did a thing I have never before or since done. I wailed. These were the children of a chartered accountant and a university-educated mother.
Rachel, the elder, had tuberculosis. She remembered her mother and would cling to me crying, “Mama, mama.” Hadassah screamed when she received the first bath of her life—but she soon learned to splash, to grow healthy and even fat and saucy.
After the war the parents, who had changed their names and hiding places no fewer than 17 times in two years, came to Palestine and took their babies from us. It took almost a year to get permission for their entry, though I had what was known as “pull,” and indeed without it they would never
have been able to get here. We returned the plump and happy babies to their parents, with tears on all sides. The kiddies prattled in Hebrew and had no idea at all about race theories and yellow badges.
The Arabs turned tail when the British won the war. The arrogance of the day of Alamein was gone; they no longer robbed and shot the British wounded on the trains. They were cowed—sorry to have been rooting for the wrong side, ready to obey.
The British Labor Party declared, as they had consistently declared for years, that they would scrap the White Paper, that the gates of Palestine would be opened to Jewish immigration and that they would support the Jewish National Home.
The day of victory of the Labor Party was a great day for cherished hopes. Everyone in Palestine, it seemed, had only one surviving relative left in Europe. At last they would be saved. Our soldiers would bring them back home. We would plow the land again, turn our industry from mine making into utensil manufacturing, build new settlements, plan big housing schemes. It would be so nice. Thank God. Thank God.
Suddenly British troops from Germany began to pour into Palestine. Then Ernest Bevin made a speech which made us see red. The Palestine problem would not be dealt with summarily. An Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry would look into the whole Zionist case afresh. The AngloAmerican Committee came; it traveled to the neighboring Arab states, to London, to Washington, and to Belsen. This body recommended that immigration of 100,000 refugees be allowed at once and continue thereafter and that the laws outlawing sale of land to Jews be repealed.
Mr. Attlee then announced that the recommendations would not be implemented unless the Jews disarmed. Unless we Jews wanted to be slaughtered overnight by the Arabs, we could not give up our arms. In protest, we blew up seven important bridges over the Jordan in one night. Had the Haganah not done so I have no doubt that thousands would have become terrorists.
The Illegal Immigrants
Some of us could not bear the intolerable tension and terrorism grew throughout 1946. Then we began to bring more and more of our immigrants. The boats were rotten, for we had to buy what could be had for smuggling our people home. Flying the Jewish flag, with thousands of beating hearts packed into the boats, children, women in labor, youths, old people, the ships came from every port on the Mediterranean, the passengers from every war area, every concentration camp of Europe, they came day after day, consistently, determinedly. Our people walked across Europe to reach these ships, stole across frontiers, tantalized by the sad hulks which to them were Liberty ships, Mayflowers. The vessels bore great Jewish names like Chana Senech and Henrietta Szold, and great British names like Orde Wingate or Josiah Wedgwood. The ships came in at night and the Haganah rowed out to carry the passengers down, huddle them in trucks into welcoming Jewish homes where they were fed, rested and clothed and then rehabilitated with friends or family or new friends in Palestine.
And we began to set up fresh settlements, in Upper Galilee, amid stones that needed breaking with bulldozers, in the Negev, where the desert was made to blossom as the rose. Our
Jewish Brigade was disbanded. Some of its members had changed clothes and places and identity numbers with our refugees in the camps so that a few thousand more could get to the Promised Land. They were not alone in these acts of mercy. I have heard of Canadian, American and British troops who did the same for these people. One of my best friends in Palestine is a relative of Field Marshal Montgomery who saw the camps and did so much rescue work in helping illegal immigrants to Palestine that her name is known and revered among thousands.
Irgun and the Stern Gang embarked on another wave of terrorism. It was about that time that I met my old friend Eatell on a Jerusalem street. He was wearing the scarlet of a senior police officer, having long since passed the rank of mere corporal. We talked for a minute and then he suddenly blurted out: “If you ever need me,
1 mean really need me, don’t forget to call me.” I could not make him out. Did he think I was a terrorist or something, to be in need of the police?
But Eatell knew better than I. A few days later Jewish sections of Jerusalem were fine-combed; thousands and thousands were imprisoned collectively for days— without charge or cause, we felt.
Death for the Innocent
Any man could be put into prison for days or weeks or months—for anything or nothing—by any soldier or policeman. That my husband was not taken with most other men under 60 was because we lived in a mixed Arab and Jewish quarter. He was so ill at the time, moreover, that we were not even allowed to make his bed. Had he been treated like most other Jews, he would not have survived. Things like this depended on the British officer in charge. Sometimes the greatest consideration was shown by men who had no taste for such a job.
Jewish terrorists continued to kill innocent British soldiers. They looked upon Britishers in uniform as the enemy army against whom they were fighting. Jewish public opinion was against the terrorists, at one time reaching a pitch where there was actual threat of civil war among our people. Though most of us could understand the despair that drove the terrorists, we were adamant against their means of fighting.
Then the terrorists made a big bid for popularity. They planted explosives in the King David Hotel and warned the occupants of the impending explosion. Had the army headquarters and secretariat staffs cleared out of the building with no resultant deaths, and the building been wrecked, as the terrorists had planned, it would have proved to be a great moral and operational triumph for them. But the secretariat thought it was a raid on secret files and refused to leave the building. The terrorists’ ghastly gamble failed. Ninety-one persons lost their lives. The world was shocked and we in Palestine were horrified. The gruesome affair was a personal disaster to me. My beloved boss was killed. 1 packed his private papers and grieved that a lifetime of loyal service had ended so tragically. I knew almost everyone who had perished or was wounded.
The Government then took fierce measures. It put the city of Tel Aviv and large sections of Jewish areas— about a third of the Jewish population in Palestine—behind barbed wire under martial law. People were not allowed out of their homes for days, they were cut off from all communication, telephone, telegraph and post. Schools
were improvised in each apartment house and later in each neighborhood. Searches were not resisted. Before it was over the soldiers were fraternizing with the citizens. The troops had acted with commendable restraint, except for odd occasions when police or a few soldiers took matters into their own hands. The ordinary citizen did not hold the policeman or soldier to blame for the work he was ordered to do in carrying out an impossible policy.
Then the evictions began. Whole sections of Jerusalem, in the very heart of the city near the police headquarters which had been thrice bombed by the terrorists, were taken over by the military to form the Jerusalem Fortress. This was the beginning of a policy which finally led to dividing the city into security zones, all fenced in with barbed wire.
Just before the zoning, we moved into a house at the edge of town that looked over mountains to horizons beyond. We were cut off for over a week at a time on many occasions, often running out of food until we learned to put in emergency stocks. When our road was impassable because of road blocks or Arab gangs waiting to get us, and we asked for a security zone pass for our bus (an Arab bus is allowed to ply in the zone), the district commissioner refused with the suggestion that we leave our suburb for good, as we would be forced to do so one day in any case!
Searches and more searches. We had
weeks and weeks on end of curfew. Alarm sirens wailed and screeched. Shots and explosions were our daily fare. The Arabs were unusually quiet —awed by the terrific blows which the terrorists inflicted and the chagrin and impotency of the Government which could do nothing but wire itself in and yell at the Jews because it was, they said, in our power to stop the terrorists. The Government on the one hand punished us all as terrorists, and then expected us to co-operate with the police as informers against the terror.
The ships continued to come. They came so persistently and so often that the British had to build new camps. The refugees were not docile. They could not bear to be behind barbed wire. One British commandant resigned in protest against the conditions in the camps. Each batch released was received with uncontrolled emotion. We were fighting our battle in Palestine for them and for those behind them still waiting so desperately in Europe for the rotten ships.
Conditions generally got worse and worse. Our leaders were arrested, then released. One ship was wrecked off a Greek island and the sailors of a British vessel gallantly rescued the survivors. For some time after that we felt more kindly toward the British. But the terrorists were still growing.
This is the first of two parts. Next issue Mrs. Bar-David tells of home life in no man’s land. ★