Wednesday 15 August 2012

1948 and All That*, A Whimsical History

Sadly, there’s quite a deplorable ignorance about the history of Israel among the young population. (Who’s young? you may ask. Well that’s all relative. Anyone who can’t remember what a record player is is young.) Or at least, so complained a friend of mine who teaches Civics here in Israel. Of course one assumes he was bemoaning their ignorance before he taught them, not after.

So for your, and their benefit I thought I’d give a quick rundown of Zionism, and the History of the Modern State of Israel, abridged.
Of course there’s a great deal of argument over Israel, Palestine, the history of Zionism. And the facts are often very confusing (possibly because a lot of them are on the ground, apparently, where they can be trampled upon). So I’ve redrawn the history with heaps of poetic licence, based not so much on facts but more on suggestive anecdotes and the general gist.

So if you're sitting comfortably, I shall begin.

Herzl, when he first started his modeling career,
here seen  sporting the popular frock coat.
Once upon a time, back in an earlier century, there lived an emancipated European Jewish man with a long dark beard called Herzl, who was always leaning on balconies and dreaming. One day, whilst leaning on a particularly classic balcony in a town in Switzerland, it suddenly occured to him that if he really wanted something it needn’t be a dream. So he formed an organization called WIZO, and gathering together all the influential and funny sounding friends he could find, he set about establishing a home for the People of the Book. But first he needed a Book. So he wrote an almost-bestseller, called Alt Neuland, which was Prussian for the Austrian for the German for what we in English called Neverneverland, which was an allegory of displaced people and their quest for a place where they could put their hat. And so call it a home.

At the time, there was an old empire, left over from the empirical period, called the Ottoman Empire on account of all the furniture in it, and the pashas. A small part of that empire, just below a larger part, and to the right of the important part, was a land called Frankenstien (formally Uganda) where the Philistine people lived. Herzl, together with his WIZO friends, having raised an enormous sum of money at a charity ball, put a deposit on a sand dune in Palestine, and invited others (not themselves, obviously) to move in and start building condominiums. The Turks (for it was they, under the guise of the pashas and Ottomans) were incensed and in retaliation, decided to join the wrong side of World War One. When World War One (also known as The War That Was To End All Wars Until The Next One) ended, the French and the British, who were on the Right Side of the war, sliced up the Middle East with no more than a ruler, a compass, and a hand that felled a city. The French got all the bits that spoke French, or pretended to, while the British got whatever was left over, or whoever agreed to drive on the left, and that included Palestine, which became a Mandate (which is a bit like a blind date, but involves no multitasking).

So now the British ran the place. They spent most of their time painting all the letter boxes red, renaming all the roads King George Street, drinking tea, and attempting to stop the influx of Zionists (which is Hebrew for the English term ‘bloody Zionists’), who were mostly Europeans from Europe who were escaping Europe by boat as World War Two (the one after the first one) was just about to finish. One of the most famous boats at the time was the SS Exodus (named after one of the books of the bible, though no one is sure which) and which was captained by Paul Newman. At this point, some of the local Arabs (who were either Philistines themselves, or possibly Turks) also took offense, though the British assured them that whatever Florence of Arabia (an Irishman of the British Legion who rose to high rank despite wearing dresses) had promised them would be honoured, if they could just sign here and here. And initials here, thank you.

But riots broke out, and the British who tried to keep the peace by offering even more tea, were finally compelled to blame it on everybody else, and left in a huff. (Huffs were very large boats at the time). And in 1948ish or thereabouts, while the local Jewish population were busy singing and dancing in the streets (as there was no television in those days, and no heating either), a new state was declared: the State of Israel. A wise old man called Ben Gurion (formerly known as Lod) who had tufts of white hair here and here, was elected the first prime minister and his assistant was an elderly young statesman called Shimon Peres, who, no matter how often he lost elections, persevered at politics for a whole life time (some say even longer) until he left politics altogether and became President of the State.

To begin with, the young state was not only young and inexperienced, but it was also out of place, out of odds, and out of tea too. (The British had taken the last shipment when they left, together with the last carton of milk. In a bitter irony, Israelis decided that from then on they would drink tea, but not the English sort, and they wouldn’t add milk). Meanwhile, all the neighbouring states launched an attack, and fighting carried on till finally someone said stop, very possibly Ben Gurion, who would often hold cabinet meetings while standing on his head on the beach.

That was the rocky start of the State of Israel, and if I can remember any more of the factless history, I’ll tell you the rest another time.
So now we're all the wiser.
Have a wonderful day.

*With many thanks to W.C.Sellar and R.J. Yeatman.


  1. As with 1066 and All That, this should be taught in all schools... a very funny blog!

  2. This is excellent. Hilarious and vaguely authentic. At least the part about the tea

  3. Thanks Jonathan and Anonymous. I'm a great fan of '1066 and All That' and I quite enjoyed doing a take on Israel's history. Please pass on the link to others with the same wacky English humour:)