Relatively speaking, a pretty benign system of rule

The Ottoman Arab provinces in 1915

The Ottoman Arab provinces in 1915, from a UN publication on the origins and evolution of the Palestine problem (click image for link)

Hadara Lazar is an Israeli novelist and journalist, who has occasionally turned her hand to historical non-fiction. In 1990 she published a book in Hebrew made up of interviews with Jewish, British, and Arab people who had lived in Palestine in the final years of the British mandate. This book has now been translated in English under the title Out of Palestine: the making of modern Israel, though its original Hebrew title (The Mandatorians: The Land of Israel 1940–1948) probably gives a more accurate idea of what the book is about. Avishai Margalit, emeritus professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was a child in Jerusalem in those years, and he’s just published a thoughtful article in the New York Review of Books that’s partly a review of Lazar’s book and partly an assessment of the whole British mandate period, informed by his own childhood memories. You can read it here. He concludes that the mandate itself was “relatively speaking, a pretty benign system of rule”—though that doesn’t mean he lets anyone of the hook for the situation it created.

Coincidentally, at around the same time as the English translation of the first book belatedly appeared, Hadara Lazar published another history book on the same subject in Hebrew, Shisha Yechidim [Six Singular Individuals]. This is made up of portraits of six individuals who were active in Palestine in the years of the mandate, two of them Arabs, two British, and two Jews. Not speaking or reading Hebrew, I’ll have to wait for an English translation (hopefully not twenty years this time), but in the meantime there’s a short review of both books by Itamar Rabinovich, professor of Middle Eastern history at Tel Aviv University.

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