Friday, October 31, 2008

Tuesday 6th January 1942

The following morning when we arrived at the Egged Bus Station, we were told that the services to Jerusalem had been stopped, owing to the snow drifts. Yes, snow in Palestine! Apparently it happens every twenty years or so. We decided to remain in Tel Aviv until the road was clear. It rained miserably all that day.

In the afternoon we went to a matinee; one of the two major films was Elizabeth Bergner in “Stolen Life.” Years old but remarkably good. We had a comfortable front balcony box which cost 86 mills altogether. Compare this with the 400 mills for two back balcony seats for “Gone With the Wind”! Meals in Tel Aviv were indifferent and expensive. An evening snack of coffee and cakes cost us 170 mills for instance. It was difficult to find a really decent restaurant. I still retain my horror of kosher meat and garlic.

We spent the night at St. Andrews Hotel, an establishment run by a kindly but strict and brisk British lady. (“What a landlady she'd make,” I told Jack, comparing her with some I'd known.) This evening we went to a concert given by the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. The audience (slightly intelligentsia) was of the type that one might see at a similar function in England, except that there was a sprinkling of soldiers. Of course I knew nothing about music and had never been to a symphony concert before. It was rather impressive and delightful although the only piece I knew was the last they played – Ravel's “Bolero.”

Mass music! There were 52 musicians on the stage, including 22 violinists. Ah! The fiddles! And the magnificent playing of the Bluthner Grand! There were 16 weird wind instruments and lord knows what else but the fiddles and the Bluthner dominated everything. For “Bolero” they altered the orchestra. There was a harp; no piano. Another drummer and several more violins, making the total of instruments – 57.

I don't think “Bolero” is music really. It's barbaric rhythm. It started quietly; a softly played drum, a gentle wind instrument – a fife maybe – and the occasional twang of a 'cello string. And minute by minute it swelled. First the violinists plucked their strings, then in fours, and sixes they took their bows. The harp player was crouching there tearing the strings savagely; and the monotonous tempo held, thudding on towards it's clashing climax. It made me grin; made the hair prickle on my scalp. Something by one Beethoven gave me goose-flesh also but I'm unfortunately too ignorant of music to describe that. But I remember how the pianist struck me then – alive when the piano was rippling out notes; motionless, reposeful yet breathing quickly, when the Bluthner was silent. Also I remember the conductor. He didn't just wave a baton. He coaxed and pleaded and threatened the notes into being, with his gestures.

The following morning, the roads were clear of snow and we came here, to Jerusalem.
A lovely morning, cold but sunny. We were snug in the bus as it dashed along the excellent main road between green and brown fields, citrus groves and olive trees. I dozed off and awoke amid much excited movement and chatter from the Jews onboard. We were high in the mountains now and Aussies were laughingly throwing snowballs at the bus as it passed. There was white snow all around, on the slopes above and in the valleys below. Snow! I thought I'd never see that again until after the war.

We arrived in Jerusalem at about noontime. The streets were more or less clear of snow, here. It lay in heaps in the gutters however and one still found it on the less frequented pavements. There was no accommodation at the YMCA so we eventually decided to spend the night at a wog place, with the high sounding name “Hotel Majestic.” The proprietor, a rum-looking old boy wearing a fez and trousers all ready for the birth of the Prophet, first showed us to a windowless cell but this discouraged us, so we eventually were given a three-bedded room. There was a stump of candle; no electric light. “They'll sacrifice us, badin,” I said sorrowfully, “Carnivorous heathens...”

Fairly late at night we arrived back at the hotel. In the hall, a dark skinned young man and the proprietor were crouching over the ashes in a brazier. This appeared to be the only heating in the place, although the puddles on the pavement were freezing outside. Jack went to bed, whilst I entered into conversation with the dark young man. He said he was an Albanian, not an Arab – although he had been talking fluent-sounding Arabic when I joined them. I told him that I didn't like Jews and eventually got his views on the Palestine problem. He dwelt on the injustice of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 but admitted that Churchill was a good man, like a lion. “But unfortunately, one flower does not make a spring.”

He had no doubt that the Jews would eventually get complete control in Palestine, after the war. “They are so powerful in America and England,” he said.
“But surely England would not wish to antagonise the whole Arab world, like that? Do we not value the friendship of Egypt, for instance?”
“You have already lost the friendship of Egypt,” he said at once. “A handful of Pashas is not Egypt. A question of money, you see.”

Yes, he felt sure the troubles would come again to Palestine. “Why did they cease, after the start of the war?” I asked. (I'd always thought this was through the good-will of the Arabs and a gesture against the Axis.)
“My friend, they ceased before the war. You see, they went too far; England sent in more and more troops... there are ten thousand orphans in Palestine... Then recently, things have improved slightly. There were Jewish land restrictions in 1940...”
“Ah yes I remember. There was rioting in Rehovat”
“... But all the same, we are tired of England's politics. The Arabs begin to wonder if Germany would also betray them, or would they receive better treatment from the Germans. We say that England never keeps her promises and never will.”

(I noticed that he said, “We” sometimes instead of “They”, although he had said he was not an Arab.)

“I hear that the Mufti, is now in Berlin,” I remarked. “Yes,” he said, “I think we are disappointed in the Mufti. He has not acted in the way that a patriot would be expected to act.”
I told him of the Libyan Arabs hatred for the Italians and I pointed out that in this war thousands of English soldiers were coming to Palestine, most of whom, disliking the Jews, were sympathetic towards the Arabs.
“Yes,” he admitted, “The Arabs have grown to like the English a little more lately. They have been good for trade, although of course, the Jews have benefited far more. This friendliness is a good thing, too,” he added, “After the war they will go home and be citizens again.”
“... And remember...”
“... And have a vote...”

But I knew in my heart that the votes of the Middle East Force would not be enough to right the wrong.

“You see, the Arabs will never learn,” he went on, “The Jews have done much good in Palestine. They have system. Because of the Jews, we now have the best doctors in the world, here in Palestine. And have you heard the Palestine Symphony Orchestra? It is one of the finest in the world.” He dwelt on Jewish efficiency and Arab muddling. The bus service was one example. The Arab bus would depart when a few passengers had turned up, when the driver thought it time to be going. The Jewish bus service worked to a strict timetable. “And the Arabs see all these things but they will never learn.”

“And you think the solution of the Jewish problem lies in a Jewish state?”
“That is the only way, my friend. And Palestine, I fear, will be that state.”

What indiscreet extracts from an astonishing conversation between English soldier and Arab sympathiser! Anyhow, I'd had my finger a little nearer the Arab pulse, and he'd found that many Englishmen since Lawrence (Ah! We trusted him! And he was sincere in his promises. We think he died a disappointed man”) had interest and sympathy for the Arabs.

In the early hours I awoke. The Arab proprietor was coming stealthily into the room, carrying a candle. He was followed by a foreign-looking soldier. “Here they come, to murder us in our beds,” I thought gloomily. Then it occurred to me that the swarthy soldier might be a prospective occupant for the third bed, so I fell asleep again. When Jack awoke me, at about 9 o'clock, the third bed was empty but seemed to have been slept in.

This morning Jack and I left the town by bus and strolled, in snow and winter sunshine, around the Mount of Olives; the trees in the Garden of Gethsemane were laden down with snow.
Snow and winter sunshine!

Jack took me to the Russian Church of Mary Magdalene, “to examine the architecture” Whilst we were doing this, the door swung open, and an old women beckoned us inside. We obeyed. The door swung to at our backs. Delightful aroma of incense! A service was in progress; sweet chants. A group of young black-clad figures were singing; they wore tall, black conical hats. The priest wore strange coloured vestments. In the dim shadows behind him was something... it looked absurdly like a Christmas tree.
Perhaps it was; we later realised that this was their Christmas Day.


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