LONDON - Before the invention of television and for nearly 100 years, newspapers reigned supreme in world media. The British media, although covering a multitude of places under the Crowns' rule, paid special attention to Palestine.
In honor of Israel's 60th Independence Day and courtesy of the British National Library, Yedioth Ahronoth takes a look at the media coverage of some of the pivotal events preceding the founding of the State of Israel – as reported by the British media in the first half of the 20th century.
The British National Library holds the largest newspaper catalog in the world, including 25,000 copies of printed papers and microfiche clippings of reports dating back to 1513.
Looking through the enormous collection, one has no choice but to realize that history, as the saying goes, may very well repeat itself – to some extent.
And so our journey begins:
1929: The August riots
On Friday, August 23, 1929 an Arab riot broke out in Jerusalem. As things turned for the worst, bands of Arab rioters swarmed onto Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Hebron and began ravaging homes and stores.
The news quickly traveled to London and on August 24, the evening edition of the Manchester Guardian reported of "street fights in Jerusalem." According to the report, among the casualties was "Hebrew newspaper editor Itamar Ben-Avi, a German journalist and Zionist leader Wolfgang von Weisl." The report counts 12 dead and 107 wounded.
It was only on August 26 that the British media began reporting of "Arab attacks in Palestine" overtly blaming the Arabs for the riots and citing 66 fatalities, including a British immigration officer. Two oxford students were severely wounded as were several American ones, said the report. British forces were diverted form Egypt and Malta to the riot zone, making their way by land, sea and air.
Further browsing revealed a show of solidarity with the Jewish communities around the world, with the mass protests in Warsaw – then the biggest Jewish community in the world – getting most of the headlines.
1936: Rioting in Palestine
Seven years after the rioting in Jerusalem the Guardian began reporting on what would become the great Arab revolt in Palestine: "Rioting in Palestine, 10 dead and many injured in clashes in Jaffa," read its April 20 headline.
A day before. Jaffa Arabs went on a rampage in Tel Aviv, killing nine Jews and wounding 45. On April 21, London reported that the riots broke out in retaliation for the killing of two Arabs – an act of retaliation itself, this time for the Nablus killing of a Jewish immigrant from Greece. Jewish protestors marched from Tel Aviv to Jaffa after the funeral, and in the following day rumors told of Arabs killed by the protestors. The great Arab revolt was underway.
The report then assured the British public of their government's immediate attempt to curb the escalating situation. Three days after their onset, London's headlines reported of a "calm in Jaffa". The fine print, however, reported of high tensions between "the enemies in Tel Aviv and Jaffa," and of a growing Arab strike across Palestine. The revolt lasted until 1939.
1937: Introducing the Partition Plan
In August of 1936 the British parliament charged a special commission of inquiry with the task of finding a solution to the great Arab revolt.
On July 7 1937, the commission rendered its ruling, calling for the partition of the land between Jews and Arabs. "Partition Plan set out in detail", read the newspapers' headlines on July 8, "Financial aid to new Arab state; British Mandate for holy cities enclave." The said Arab state was supposed to include territories in Jordan with the British enclave stretching to the outskirts of Tel Aviv.
July 9 carried the somewhat expected repots: The Arab community rejected the plan, citing the Jews were given "most of the fertile land"; while "Zionist leaders" called the plan "a betrayal." The British asked both sides to "study the plan further."
1938: Gateway to Palestine
The Arab revolt forced the British to build a new port in Tel Aviv – since Jews no longer dared enter the existing one in Jaffa.
On Tuesday, February 24, 1938 the London Times declares "Gateway to Jewish national home – Tel Aviv port opened." The report details how a day before, "despite heavy rain, the British high commissioner was greeted by a great crowed," who came to see him open the new port's gates with a golden key. "The Zionists," reported the Times, "Can now say they have a Jewish gateway to the Jewish national home."
"The new harbor facilities can handle up to 1,200 tons of goods a day and the hope is that the harbor will export two million cases of citrus fruits this season."
1946: The King David Hotel bombing
On July 22, 1946, the Jewish resistance group the Irgun bombed the British military headquarters, which was located in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
Dozens were killed and hundreds wounded. The attack was deemed one of the most ferocious ever committed by Jews. The shock which enveloped the UK naturally found its way to newspaper headlines, but was still somewhat muted. The Manchester Guardian referred to the perpetrators as "Jewish terrorists" only in the midst of the report, estimating the death toll at 90 and analyzing the way in which the attack was carried out.
It was only in the newspaper editions of July 24 that the Irgun's statement, blaming the British for failing to adhere to the communiqué warning against the attack, thus bringing the bloodbath on themselves, was published.
1947: Exodus docks ainPalestine
The story of the immigrant ship Exodus received mass coverage on Saturday, July 19 1947. The British point of view was spread across most newspapers, with the Manchester Guardian describing in detail the "fight of the Jewish immigrants."
The report referred to the ship by its given name, "President Warfield," adding that Exodus was the nicknamed given to it by its passengers; and going into a rather dreary account of the fight the immigrants had with the British troops who bordered it, saying the immigrants threw "cans, bottles smoke bombs and anything else they could get their hands on," on the troops.
1947: The UN accepts the Partition Plan
On Saturday, November 29 1947, The Manchester Guardian informed its readers of an "unexpected delay in the UN vote on Palestine." The French, explained the reports, are trying to reach some sort of a last-minute treaty between the Arabs and Jews, but unlike the French, "the United Kingdome remains neutral."
Tensions in the Jewish settlement are rising, says the Guardian, "as more than 80,000 Hagana soldiers patrol the border and will keep guard of secluded settlements during the night."
December 1st's edition of the newspaper, laconically informed the readers of "UN accepts partition", adding that the "Arabs will not accept the UN's decision."
Unlike the headline, the report went into a heartfelt description of the vote: "It seemed like every Jew in the world was represented in the cramped press gallery… when in came time for France to vote, you could hear everyone hold their breath; then we heard the laryngeal 'Yes' from and everyone began cheering, leading the assembly's president, Dr. Aranha angrily instruct the public to 'immediately stop this disruption of proceedings.'"
The paper goes on to offer it readers reports describing November 30th's celebrations in Tel Aviv and the "gatherings" which have began in the Arab townships.
On December 3, the London Times reported on Arab riots in Jerusalem and the fact that British forces are now forced to escort Jews across the city in order to protect them. The Times further reports of a "Jewish journalist stabbed" and the Hagana's deployment on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.
1948: British Mandate of Palestine ends
On Saturday, May 15 1948, the London Times informed its readers that "the British Mandate in Palestine has ended at midnight. Several hours earlier, the national Jewish council announced the establishment of the Jewish state in Israel. The council will act as the temporary government and Mr. David Ben Gurion will act as prime minister."
The London Times goes on to report the Egyptian forces "have been given the order to march on Palestine." The same report also tells of the surrender of Gush Etzion to Arab rioters: "Police sources report that over 195 Jews were killed, but that number has yet to be confirmed."
The next few weeks saw the Times report of the Arab attacks on the Jewish settlement. May 17's headline reported of the bombing of Tel Aviv and the Egyptian army crossing into Gaza. A small notation also reported of the appointment of 73-year-old Chaim Azriel Weizmann as Israel's first president.
1948: British troops leave Israel
On June 30 1948 that last of the British forces sailed back to the United Kingdom. On July 1, The London Times reported on the handover of control of the Haifa port to the Jews.
"The British flag was taken down at 12:43 pm, marking the end of 25 years of British control of Palestine. Two minutes after that, General Macmillan, the last British soldier in Palestine boarded the HMS Phoebe and ordered it on its way."
According to the report, Hagana men and Jewish officials immediately took over the facilities. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion then led an official ceremony in which the Israeli flag was raised over the port.