MANDATE DAYS by A.J. Sherman

MANDATE DAYS

British Lives in Palestine, 1918-1948
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Sherman (Island Refuge: Britain and Refugees from the Third Reich, not reviewed) is uniquely positioned to write on the British experience of Palestine: Born in Jerusalem under the mandate, he is a lawyer and historian. Rarely has the story of the mandate period in Palestine been told from the point of view of its caretakers, the British. Sherman uses diaries, letters, and interviews to recount the reactions of British subjects who found themselves working and living in what was then Palestine during the 30 years of British rule. From the outset, Whitehall naively tried to appease irreconcilable forces. The picture of the occupiers that emerges from the first half of this book makes it clear why: The British men and women quoted by Sherman project an air of earnest good intentions, leavened by a condescension to both Jew and Arab that often borders on (and sometimes lapses into) racism. The lasting impression of English life in 1920s Palestine is of a backwater in which the colonialists struggle to maintain a semblance of old-country habits from fox hunting (jackals, actually) to Gilbert and Sullivan. But with the '30s and the beginning of mass immigration of Jews into Palestine, tensions burst into violence repeatedly. And the aftermath of WW II brings the bloody, messy end of the mandate. The first half of this book suffers from the repetitive nature of daily life in an insular community, but the final two chapters, which take the story from 1939 to the end in 1948, make grimly compelling reading. Sherman writes elegantly himself, and many of his sources are insightful, particularly Sir Henry Gurney, the last high commissioner, in selections from his diaries. The casual distaste that many of the British display for the Jews (and, to a lesser extent, the Arabs) will discomfit many, but this is a readable version of the battle for Israeli independence from a perspective that will be unfamiliar to most Americans.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-500-25116-9
Page count: 264pp
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1997