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Friday, June 06, 2008

The Kennedy that loved Israel

Forty years ago this week, on the first Gregorian calendar anniversary of the Six Day War's outbreak, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated by a 'Palestinian' from Jordan named Sirhan Sirhan. I can still remember my parents waking me up the next morning turning on the television and seeing Frank Mankewicz, Kennedy's press secretary, standing on the roof of a car in the parking lot of a Los Angeles hospital describing the wounds from which Kennedy would later die. I will never forget that week - on Friday of that same week a boy in my class was hit by a car and killed. I was in 6th grade.

But twenty years earlier, just before the British Mandate came to an end, Bobby Kennedy came to Israel (then known as Palestine) as a special correspondent for the Boston Post, a paper whose name I recognize but which I don't really remember. His dispatches were published sixty years ago this week. This week, the Jerusalem Post published excerpts of the dispatches Bobby (pictured above near the King David Hotel in Jerusalem) wrote from Jerusalem and which were published in full by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. What's amazing about it is that Kennedy's father was one of the biggest anti-Semites in America, but that didn't rub off on Bobby. I'm going to give you one small excerpt to whet your appetites and then you must go and read the whole thing.
The British government, in its attitude towards the Jewish population in Palestine, has given ample credence to the suspicion that they are firmly against the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

When I was in Cairo shortly after the blowing up of the Jewish Agency [March 11, 1948] I talked to a man who held a high position in the Arab League. He had just returned from Palestine where he had, among other things, interviewed and arranged transportation to Trans-Jordan for the Arab responsible for that Jewish disaster. This Arab told him that after the explosion, upon reaching the British post which separated the Jewish section from a small neutral zone set up in the middle of Jerusalem, he was questioned by the British officers in charge. He quite freely admitted what he had done and was given immediate passage with the remark, "Nice going."


Just before I arrived in Palestine there was the notorious story of the foundry outside of Tel Aviv. It was situated in a highly contested area and the British accused the Jews of using it as a sniper post for the Jaffa-Jerusalem road. One day the British moved in, stripping the Jews of all arms and ordered them to clear out within 10 minutes. The British had scarcely departed when a group of armed Arabs moved in, killing or wounding all the occupants. The British government was most abject in its apologies.

I came in contact personally, however, with evidence that demonstrated clearly the British bitterness toward the Jews. I have ridden in Jewish armored car convoys which the British have stopped to inspect for arms. As always, there were members of the Haganah aboard and they quickly broke down their small arms, passing the pieces among the occupants to conceal them so as to prevent confiscation. Satisfied that none existed, the convoy supposedly unarmed was allowed to pass into Arab territory. If the arms had been found and confiscated and the Arabs had attacked, there would have been but a remote chance of survival for any of the occupants. There have been many not as fortunate as we.


When I was in Tel Aviv the Jews informed the British government that 600 Iraqi troops were going to cross into Palestine from Trans-Jordan by the Allenby Bridge on a certain date and requested the British to take appropriate action to prevent this passage. The troops crossed unmolested. It is impossible for the British to patrol the whole Palestinian border to prevent illegal crossings but such flagrant violations should certainly have led to some sort of action.

Five weeks ago I saw several thousand non-Palestinian Arab troops in Palestine, including many of the famed British-trained and equipped Arab legionnaires of King Abdullah [of Trans-Jordan]. There were also soldiers from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Trans-Jordan, and they were all proudly pointed out to me by a spokesman of the Arab higher committee. He warned me against walking too extensively through Arab districts as most of the inhabitants there were now foreign troops. Every Arab to whom I talked spoke of thousands of soldiers massed in the "terrible triangle of Nablus-Tulkarem-Jenin" and of hundreds that were pouring in daily.

When I was in Lebanon and asked a dean at the American University at Beirut if many students were leaving for the fight in Palestine he shrugged and said, "Not now - the quota has been oversubscribed." When journeying by car from Jerusalem to Amman I passed many truckloads of armed Arabs and even then Jericho was alive with Arab troops. There is no question that it was taken over by the Arabs for an armed camp long before May 15.
A word about the picture at the top. According to the caption it's at the corner of Agron Street, which is a couple of blocks from the King David Hotel and was a border checkpoint from 1948-67. But I believe that the caption is wrong and that the picture was taken one block up towards the King David from Agron Street in the street in front of what is now the David's Citadel Hotel.

Anyway, read the whole thing. It's sad how the British nearly thwarted this country's coming into existence, isn't it? And purely out of hatred of Jews.


At 4:17 PM, Blogger Stuart said...

I never had any use for the Kennedys. But this post has increased my respect for one of them.

The Brits haven't changed. They're just more polite about it today. They did everything they could to thwart Israel's establishment and existence in the early days.

In one of Sharon's biographies, he was quoted as saying that in '48 one of the Arab units he fought was commanded by Brit officers.

At 6:00 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Ca plus change, plus c'est la meme chose. The more things, change, the more they remain the same. Israel owes the world no favors.

At 6:24 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I found this the most noteworthy part of RFK's excerpts:

The Jews point with pride to the fact that over 500,000 Arabs, in the 12 years between 1932 and 1944, came into Palestine to take advantage of living conditions existing in no other Arab state. This is the only country in the Near and Middle East where an Arab middle class is in existence.

This flies in the face of those who disparage Joan Peters' "From Time Immemorial" as being politically motivated propaganda. And, since it was written before the "refugee" problem, it tends to support Peters' thesis that the majority of those who fled were latecomers with virtually no real ties to the land.

Shabbat Shalom

At 7:05 PM, Blogger Thud said...

Again you confuse the British establishment with the British people.My fatehr was a British soldier who brought me up with a deep respect for Israel...something that I have carried with me my entire life.No people deserve to be tarred with the same brush, Israeli or British.I mix and work with many different people everyday and have not heard any anti Jewish or israeli comments...something that cannot be said about thier attitude to terrorists and Islam.millions of democratic voting americans are prepared tyo vote for obama...no frfiend of Israel despite his protestations...does that mean america is anti Israeli...Israel needs all the friends it can get...inmcluding brits like myself that support Israel by lobbying our M.P's and also contribute to charities involving the IDF.

At 7:07 PM, Blogger Thud said...

Sorry about spelling mistakes!

At 10:39 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


Peters' book is full of unbiased evidence like that. In fact, much of it is based on the Peel commission
report, which was a British government commission that did its work in 1936-37.


Don't worry. No one is blaming you. We all know that 'official' Britain is very different than the ordinary people.


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