Thursday, June 05, 2008

RFK in Palestine

Robert F. Kennedy, the 40th anniversary of whose assasination we will mark soon, was once a 22 year old reporter for the Boston Post. In 1948 he visited Palestine. Here are his reports of the situation as he saw them. The most striking thing about RFK's accounts is how different in tone and detail they are from the remade history to which we have been accustomed. The Jewish fanaticism; the Arab hatred and suspicion; British duplicity. All are in these old, nearly forgotten dispatches which should speak for themselves.

I have no intention of summarizing the dispatches. They are best read in the original at the link. But I will remark that the events RFK describes happened in the immediate aftermath of World War 2. The shadow of those dark events spread itself over everything. Expectations among both Jews and Arabs for a reward from Britain for their support of Empire causes. The desperation of men recently escaped from the the clutches of the concentration camp. It was a tour through a cauldron of hatreds that only the aftermath of a disintegrating empire could bring. And the British empire was disintegrating. Maybe, having been disillusioned by the hatred and duplicity all around him, RFK was struck by a strange mood of wistfulness. He inserts this strange monologue into his narrative seemingly out of the blue.

Having been out of the United States for more than two months at this time of writing, I notice myself more and more conscious of the great heritage and birthright to which we as United States citizens are heirs and which we have the duty to preserve. A force motivating my writing this paper is that I believe we have failed in this duty or are in great jeopardy of doing so. The failure is due chiefly to our inability to get the true facts of the policy in which we are partners in Palestine.

It was a time before the incessant din of propaganda has since convinced Americans that evil was exclusively Made in the USA. History that is ostensibly written to enlighten is often in practice written to deceive. The most common use of history is to make us misremember the past. What we believe happened, as well as what we believed about RFK may have nothing to do with how things were. Reading his contemporaneous reports is like visiting a country we never knew existed and meeting a man who died twice; once at the hands of Sirhan Sirhan and again by the knife of popular culture. Twenty years after Kennedy left Palestine, Palestine came to him in a Los Angeles hotel.

The Belmont Club is supported largely by donations from its readers.


Blogger Eric said...

Elsewhere at the same JCPA website hosting the RFK dispatches is a monograph by Maj.Gen.(res.) Yaakov Amidror, entitled "Winning Counterinsurgency War: The Israeli Experience". Although it's a slight diversion from the immediate topic, it appears highly relevant to a number of past Belmont Club posts.

6/05/2008 05:38:00 AM  
Blogger Elmondohummus said...

At risk of digression, since you bring up old descriptions of Palestine before the founding of Israel, I think it's noteworthy to also read Martha Gellhorn's Atlantic Monthly article from 1961, reprinted in NeoNeocon's blog a few years ago:

"The Palestinians: the more things change, the more they....."

In the light of Kennedy's dispatches regarding the British and Arab attitudes towards them, this section stands out:

"Gellhorn speaks to the camp leader there and has one of the first of what she calls “Mad Hatter conversations”:

(quoting that Arab camp leader) “... England protected the Jews. An Arab was arrested if he carried a pistol only to defend himself, but Jews could go through the streets in tanks and nothing happened to them. Also, England told the Arab states to attack Israel.”"

Stark contrast to the tale in Kennedy's work about the Arab who aided a bomber and was questioned by the British. But it's funny how the times change, but the rhetoric stays the same.

6/05/2008 12:09:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...


Westhawk Gates to shoot down Air Force brass

In less than an hour and a half, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to announce the forced resignations of Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff General Michael Moseley. According to the cited NBC story, Secretary Gates asked Secretary Wynne to replace General Moseley. Wynne refused so Gates fired them both.

U.S. Air Force leadership fired after nuclear issue Reuters

6/05/2008 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

Sometime ago I read Fire In the NIght I forget the author and the book is buried in a box getting ready for a move.

Anyway, the book is the biography of Orde Wingate. Orde was stationed in Palestine prior WWII and was appalled by the attitude his fellow officers held towards the Jewish settlers, which was one of near open hostility.

Orde trained a number of kibutz dwellers in how to defend themselves and how to take the fight to the enemy. This Wiki entry on Orde seems to jibe with my recollection of the book.

Some of the same points made by Bobby were made years before by Orde.

6/05/2008 07:28:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Meislin said...

Christopher Sykes (son of Mark Sykes) wrote a very engaging biography of Wingate.

6/06/2008 12:40:00 AM  

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