Extracts of Let Us Do Evil
(From Chapter 11 - The Man in the Middle)
His Excellency, Sir Harold MacMichael, His Majesty’s High Commissioner in Palestine and Jessica’s new boss would sometimes confide to family and friends, “The trouble is, I’m piggy in the middle here and you know how both sides feel about pork.”
As Sir Harold was fond of reminding his staff, the policy of His Majesty’s government in Palestine was neither pro-Arab nor pro-Zionist. It was pro-British. And you couldn’t get a pint into a half-pint pot. Even if things were as bad for the Jews in Nazi occupied Europe as the Jewish Agency here made out there simply wasn't enough room in Palestine to give them all a home. The old Zionist slogan, “a land without a people for a people without a land” was rot. Agriculturally, Palestine could hardly support its own Arabs and they showed no inclination to leave.
To which an old chum, passing through Jerusalem after years spent governing some undiscriminating carnivores in the South Seas, had once observed, “Well, at least the buggers won’t be having you for dinner then Harry.”
It was 8.15 am and the High Commissioner was in his shirt sleeves at the back of Government House feeding his hens before starting work. Much to the disgust of his Aide de Camp, Major Nicholl, who was cavalry and could be tetchy about form, he and Lady MacMichael had started to keep chickens. It was their domestic contribution to the war effort. What was a little stench and feathers about the place when you could get your own fresh eggs every morning? An example to all the Mandate’s increasingly urbanised citizens of the virtues of self sufficiency.
There were also sheep. Fat tailed creatures imported from Transjordan that had become particularly partial to the delphiniums. The gardener’s boy was always stoning them away from these blue borders. Another problem was that his daughters were getting rather fond of them and he had the feeling there was going to be a dickens of a fuss when the time came to have them slaughtered though the head gardener had volunteered to do the job any time he liked. Most Arab men, even in the towns, could still cut a sheep’s throat if they only did it once a year at the Eid feast. He suspected they regarded it as good practise for dealing with those other warm-blooded mammals that went about on two legs.
Sir Harold’s flock were prevented from straying by the double wired perimeter fence that had been strung around the great white house and its grounds seven years before when the Arabs started their revolt over the amount of Jewish immigration the British were permitting. Now the fence remained as a defence against Jewish terrorists who thought the British had not permitted enough. Three months ago some of them had planted a bomb next to the wire. It had exploded while he and his family were having dinner with Major Nicholl and young Hermione whose unlikely knowledge of shorthand had got her a job as his personal secretary when her husband Lord Ranfurly, a junior officer in the yeomanry, had been captured in the desert.
Nicholl had rushed out into the night with drawn revolver. But the bomb had probably been intended as no more than a gesture. It was part of their riposte for the loss of the Struma, a crippled Danube cattle boat crammed with eight hundred or so Rumanian Jewish refugees all desperate for Palestine and cast adrift by the Turks on a freezing Black Sea where it mysteriously exploded. For 71 days it had languished in Istanbul with broken engines while, at his urging, London pleaded with Ankara not to permit any more vessels carrying illegal immigrants to pass through the Bosphorus and onto Palestine. Eventually the Turks had simply towed it back into the Black Sea and left it to its fate. Of course, nobody wanted it to end like that. But the camp at Athlit was still full of illegals from the last ship that they had allowed to disembark at Haifa. They were supposed to go on to Mauritius and be interned there for the duration of the war but the ships that might have taken them were being lost on the Malta run.