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Satirical Semite: A Messy Mandate

My people were imperialists, took a land that was not ours, and rewrote the maps. I unreservedly apologize for being British.
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January 18, 2024
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The critics were correct after all. I am from a nation of oppressors. We colonized Palestine. My people were imperialists, took a land that was not ours, and rewrote the maps. I unreservedly apologize for being British.

Being British and Jewish means that I have to apologize to myself for colonizing and oppressing myself, although rather than having an equally split identity, this level of internal conflict sounds 100% Jewish.

Of course, being British and Jewish means that I have to apologize to myself for colonizing and oppressing myself, although rather than having an equally split identity, this level of internal conflict sounds one hundred percent Jewish.

I first became aware of the inner conflict when visiting the Akko prison in Northern Israel. There was a plaque commemorating where the British army had captured Palestinian soldiers from the Irgun and Lehi, and hanged four Jews in April 1947. One of them, Dov Gruner, said that the British Army and Administration were “criminal organizations.” Bizarrely this kind of thing never made it onto the educational syllabus during all my years of English schooling.

The British rule of Israel was a royal mess. As we know, there was never a country called Palestine, but there was a region of that name that was run by the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire from around 1550 until World War 1, after which the League of Nations awarded the area to the British Empire under the League’s “mandate” system. The Sykes-Picot Agreement was drawn up in 1917 between British politician Sir Mark Sykes and French diplomat François Georges-Picot. Their agreement gave Britain control of what is now southern Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and southern Iraq, while giving the French control of Lebanon and Syria. The subsequent Balfour Declaration suggested that part of Britain’s possession would become a “National Jewish Home.” What could possibly go wrong?

The question should be, “what could possibly go right?” Sykes is also credited with designing a flag for the local Arabs who came from Egypt, Israel and Transjordan, which became the modern Palestinian flag. In other words, the great symbol of modern Palestinian nationalism was designed by a bloke in London.

In the end, the British couldn’t handle the local territory disputes, so Lord Peel (also in London) drew up the 1937 Partition Plan, which awarded 80% of the land to Arabs and 20% to the Jews. It failed because the Arabs wanted 100%. Silly folks. Any good gambler knows when to leave the table and cash in your chips. They didn’t.

The Arabs turned down other offers for their own state in 1947, 1967, 1994, 2000, 2001, 2005 and 2007, and the offer for an independent state is still on the table. They really should attend a Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting and quit the river-to-sea gambling habit. Unless they want the land from the mouth of London’s River Thames to the North Sea, in which case they are welcome to it.

Today I vacillate between shame and pride. Shame in light of the antisemitic BBC who still won’t call Hamas terrorists, and pride that they once allowed me a decade’s broadcasting of Torah teachings to the nation on BBC Radio 2’s “Pause for Thought” slot. I feel shame when I consider London’s pro-Palestinian marches, and pride regarding the British government sending warships to the Eastern Mediterranean. Another destroyer ship, the HMS Diamond (the “HMS” stands for “His Majesty’s Ship”), was patrolling the Red Sea to secure shipping lanes, and just shot down a missile targeting merchant ships. It was the first sea-to-air missile shot by the Royal Navy since the First Gulf War in 1991. Good work, chaps.

There’s also pride over King Charles’ unreserved support of Jews, and I won’t even mention our national shame for his Montecito-dwelling American daughter-in-law.

The irony is that Britain never colonized Israel. The League of Nations’ mandate system was specifically designed to prevent colonization, and a way to help “develop the territory for the benefit of its native people” as a short-term solution, which is why Britain ran the Palestine mandate for only 24 years, seven months and 16 days (to be specific). Although it was messy, problematic and mistakes were made, the mandate came to an end and the British left the region.

Identities can be confusing, since we are made of multiple parts that can sometimes contradict each other. Nevertheless, I am still proud to be a British Jew, and will still fly the flag for King and country.


Marcus J Freed is an actor, writer, educator and founder of the Jewish Filmmakers Network. He will be leading a “Filmmakers Against Anti-Semitism” event at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. www.marcusjfreed.comwww.freedthinking.com and on social @marcusjfreed.

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