Monday, November 21, 2022

Guest post from Paul M.

John and Leila

The most effective army Israel faced in its 1948 war of independence was the Arab Legion of Transjordan. There’s a reason for that: It was not just armed and trained by Britain, it was led by British officers as well, commanded by Lt. General Sir John Bagot Glubb, affectionately known by the Ottoman honorific Glubb Pasha.

Glubb was a career soldier, a much-decorated British officer from 1915 until 1956, through two world wars and the assault on the new Jewish state. He was much-honored too, with an alphabet behind his name: KCB, CMG, DSO, OBE, MC, KStJ & KPM.

If, in the fighting world, you wanted to find Lt. General Sir John Bagot Glubb’s diametric opposite, you might be tempted to choose Leila Khaled, member of the Marxist-Leninist PFLP, serial airplane hijacker, pin-up for terrorism groupies everywhere.

And, surprisingly, you might be wrong. They’re less different than you would imagine.

In 1973 Leila Khaled wrote her autobiography, called “My People Shall Live.” (I expect there will be a second volume someday, “Your People Should Die,” but I digress.) Who supplied the foreword? John Bagot Glubb. I had always assumed Lt. General Glubb was simply a good soldier, following orders to serve his country by serving his country’s client, but it seems it was more personal than that.

The first thing to strike you about Glubb’s foreword is how naive it is. He simply takes her words at face value. Everything else written on Palestine is “prejudiced, if not pure propaganda,” full of “half-truths,” “distortions” and “intentional deception.” Khaled, by contrast, is “refreshing” because her position is so clear. The things she has to say are “simple facts.” Perhaps we should give him credit for at least acknowledging that she’s not impartial but there’s almost nothing to show that he has any opinion of his own on the morality of her refreshingly clear position or its consequences.

He does, though, eventually find a flaw. Her politics are “oversimplified” to the point of paranoia and her rejection of anyone who doesn’t embrace violence makes it hard for her sympathizers to help her. As you read this, you can’t help but feel his personal sense of unfair treatment. Perhaps it pulled at the quarter-century-old scar of his dismissal by King Abdullah.

What begins by seeming like amorality, a disinterest in Khaled’s choices, veers into something else soon enough. Before the end of the first page Glubb presents the conclusion of his moral thinking. Violence begets violence, but Palestinian violence is their “only means of recovering their country and their freedom.” Wait, wasn’t that what the Jews were doing?. He quotes Khaled,”As a Palestinian, I had to believe in the gun as an embodiment of my humanity,”without comment except to note that she’s a bit down on anyone who thinks otherwise. Even so, he wants us to know that she cried when John Kennedy was shot. When he turns to the Jews, it’s different: Jewish violence is inherited from the Nazis. 

Now we know where to place him. We’ve heard that one before.

Her contempt for non-violence and political difference notwithstanding, Glubb simply takes Khaled at her word when she says Jews and Arabs will be equals in the democratic Palestinian state she and her friends are going to create. The real problem is the Jews won’t allow it. They “desire to have an all-Jewish state.” Like the one we see today, presumably.

Glubb ends by solemnly informing us that “It is easy for us, who have never been the victims of foreign conquest ... to denounce with vehemence the crimes of the evicted Palestinians.” That’s some chutzpah from a son and servant of the empire on which the sun never set. It’s world-class chutzpah when we remember that Transjordan’s purpose in invading on May 15th 1948 was not to free the Palestinian Arabs—who could have had their freedom for the asking but chose war instead—but to annex the land to itself. Abdullah had said as much to Jews and Arabs alike(1).

In his own memoirs, Glubb wrote that he came to love the Arabs(2). That must have been British understatement, because what shines through this foreword is not just love but infatuation. This is the Glubb Pasha who led his army into the Old City of Jerusalem and who had ultimate responsibility for the emptying, looting & burning of the Jewish Quarter. Some people (not me, obviously) can say much in a few words. Glubb was accidentally one of those. It’s hard not to wonder how many others among the British military and functionaries, in Mandatory Palestine and back in London, felt the way he did.

1) Howard Sachar, “A History of Israel” 2007, p.321–322

2) John Bagot Glubb, “A Soldier with the Arabs” 1957, p.5

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