1949: The Beginning of the End of Empire (and a Harbinger of Dischord for Decades to Come)
I’m not a historian but I do feel I am living history… with much of it yet to happen.
“Living History” is the title of a book by the late Chaim Herzog, the 6th President of Israel. More about him later.
1949 was a significant year for me because it was the year I was born. It was also a landmark year in world affairs. In 1949, there was a cessation of hostilities between the Arab League armies and the new state of Israel. The 1949 ceasefire armistice line was agreed. This became known as the Green Line, which traces a line from north to south dividing historic Palestine.
Jordan became the custodian of the eastern part, known as the West Bank ( because it is the West Bank of the Jordan river). The old city of Jerusalem – the sacred place for the three monotheistic religions also remained in the East. (This was a sweetheart deal agreed between David Ben Gurion and King Abdullah).
The 750,000 Palestinians who had been driven from their homes and villages had very little say in the matter. They and their descendants were destined to become refugees in camps in the West Bank and surrounding countries, and now number more than three million.
1949: India, Pakistan and the Departure of the Raj
1949 also saw the partition of India into two states: the Muslim State of Pakistan, and a Hindu state, India, after a bitter struggle, horrible loss of life, and the departure of the Raj, the British rule of India.
My friend’s rather, Alban Henry was a soldier in India in the last days of the Raj, and was told that he would be transferring to Palestine after India.
Fortunately for him, the British decided to quit Palestine before he was sent here and so he certainly avoided some very bitter fighting between the British forces and the newly formed unified Israeli Army. This army, which is now known as the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), was made up of the Haganah (Palmach), Irgun, and Stern Gang groups who were at the time, described in the International press as “Jewish terrorist” militias.
1949: Irish Independence, and the Division of Ireland
1949 also saw the recognition Irish independence by the British government as passed in an act of the British Parliament called the Westminster Act – another part of which also recognized Canada as a politically independent nation.
My parents lived through the the trauma of the Black and Tans – the dregs of the British army – sent to Ireland following 1916 Easter Rising, to crush any semblance of resistance to British rule.
The real British army (including 40,000 Irish) were engaged in the slaughter that was WW1 in the trenches of France. They lived through the bitter struggle for Irish Independence in the years following the 1916 Easter Rising.
My father was a member of the revolutionary forces known as The Volunteers, allied with the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the IRA, and fronted by the political party Sinn Fein. Because of the brutal way in which the 1916 Rising was crushed and the leaders executed by firing squad, there was no going back – from that point onward the country was destined to become independent in one way or another.
Unfortunately, following the war of independence, Ireland descended into a civil war over the “Treaty” – the partial independence agreed with Britain, with 26 counties becoming the Irish Free State and 6 northern Counties remaining part of the United Kingdom.
This division of Ireland defined politics in the Republic of Ireland for generations and was the direct cause of the “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, which has cost thousands of lives.
Not wanting to take sides in the Civil War, my father decided to leave for the United States rather than see his comrades fight each other. He remained there until 1929, when he returned to Ireland and married my mother – his childhood sweetheart.
Isaac Herzog: An Irish Connection
I recently contacted Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Israeli labor party, in the current Israeli Government. I wanted to meet him because, as I explained to him, we have something in common – we are both the sons of Irishmen who supported Irish independence.
In fact, Isaac’s grandfather, also named Isaac (in Hebrew Yitzhak) was the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, and in the 1920’s and 1930’s was a supporter of Sinn Fein and the IRA, which at that time, were declared terrorist organizations, by both the British and the new Irish Free State Government. My own “terrorist” father told me the Rabbi was fluent in the Irish Language – but I don’t know if that’s true.
It’s ironic to reflect that if Rabi Yitzhak Herzog was in Israel today he might be a supporter of a free and independent Palestine! But it is probably more likely that he and his son Chaim Herzog saw the struggle in Ireland to be parallel with the struggle for a homeland for the Jews in historic Palestine, as promised by the British Government and the League of Nations.
In any event, Chaim Herzog, the Irish born son of the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, would go on to be a general and the Sixth President of Israel – and his son, Isaac Herzog, is now the current leader of the opposition in Israel.
A Man of Peace
I believe that Isaac Herzog is a man of peace – He is a quiet and dignified man. I think he is a decent man who at this time is silenced by the extreme right wing members of the current government upon whom Benjamin Netanyahu depends for his political existence.
As Gideon Levy said in his talk to us last Saturday at the Kairos Palestine Conference : “it’s ironic that Benjamin Netanyahu looks like a liberal in the current Israeli government, compared to some in his cabinet”.
Isaac does not speak out – what would be the point? He would be devoured by the wolves and picked apart by the hawks.
That said, as the Irish saying goes “at times, he has run with the hare, and hunted with the hounds” – his record has often been hawkish as well as dove-ish.
Isaac’s office came back to me with a polite reply regretting that they did not have time, at this time, to meet me, but would welcome me on my next visit to Israel (which I look forward to).
Comparisons Between Ireland and Palestine
My father didn’t talk much about the armed struggle for Irish independence that he took part in, and neither did my mother, but I think what upset them more than anything else was that he was ex communicated by the Catholic Church along with all of the other “rebels” – members of the IRA and the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
This meant that he was excluded from the sacraments – a fearsome thing for devout Catholics- banned from receiving the Holy Eucharist or even the Last Rites –in other words, condemned to Hell.
So now I find myself in Palestine doing what I can to bring about peace with justice for the all the people in Palestinian and Israel. But what is peace?
For Israelis, I think that peace means the right to live in the peaceful enjoyment of their own land within its (yet to be) defined borders.
For the Palestinians, it is the kind of peace, freedom and independence that Ireland achieved and has allowed them to take their place among the nations of the world.
Ireland’s peace has allowed her to become a prosperous nation, respectful of civil and human rights, participating in the UN and world affairs and giving generous aid too many good causes around the world. For a small nation, it punches well above its weight.
I hope that at some time in the future with the change of tide and time we will see Isaac Herzog in a position of leadership and power. I believe that this would be a major step towards peace with Justice in the Holy Land.
I wish him well and hope in fact that I can meet him eventually and shake his hand – the same hand that held the hand of the sixth President of Israel – and in turn, the hand that held the hand of the chief Rabbi of Ireland who stood for Independence, justice and self-determination for the Irish people!
I think of my father is smiling as he looks down on us today saying isn’t it funny what comes around goes around. All we have to do is wait.
Appendix 1: Correspondence with Issac Herzog
Good Morning Isaac,
I’m am visiting from Canada meeting with groups and individuals in what I am calling the “Peace is Possible Project” In particular I am meeting and writing about groups from different cultures/religions, who have come together and Despite the challenges have created something – might be small like a neighbourhood group or kindergarten or big like Neve Shalom ( I visited there in 2013) . We have a distant connection in fact – my father knew your grandfather and attended Irish League of Nations Local Committees together – I’m Irish by birth and education and immigrated to Canada in 1975. I’m not a journalist or a writer – just a Canadian Quaker who longs to see a peaceful resolution of the I/P conflict. I will be in Jerusalem this Thursday and Friday and on those 2 days most weeks between now and year end. I would greatly appreciate meeting you for a cup of coffee and a chat.
Halifax Canada / Visitor to the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem
Nice to hear from you.
Shirly Heller my assistant will be in touch with you for a possible meeting.
נשלח מה-iPad שלי
The Promise of The British Government — which also included a Promise ” it being clearly understood “ to the indigenous inhabitants at the time the Palestinians