Saturday, November 05, 2022

What Does 'Slamming' Mean?

Esther Solomon is editor of the English edition of Haaretz.

Follow the dialogue:


Australian Jews Exec Council: Congratulates Netanyahu, then (correctly) slams the far right Religious Zionism party who will sit in his coalition as 'populist extremist politicians with an openly racist, homophobic agenda' 'incompatible both with our religion and with Zionism'

The @ECAJewry's statement on the results of the Israeli elections, available on our website here:

12:01  4 בנוב׳ 2022



Can't wait until we slam them.

Then we'll see who can take it.



What does 'slamming' a major Diaspora Jewish community mean?



I don't know.

You used the term:

"Australian Jews Exec Council: Congratulates Netanyahu, then (correctly) slams..."


And then, silence. 


Friday, August 19, 2022

What's With the Money?

In the past, I have published multiple blog posts and a few opeds (2014) on the funding provided by the United States and connected groups to the Arab population in Judea and Samaria which specifically ignores or discriminates against Jewish residents in that same geographical area.

Some examples: here; here; here; and here. There ae many more, going back years. And they include monies for student grants, programs, events, etc.

I had the opportunity recently to engage with an aide to a member of the House Appropriations Committee and I raised the issue, pointing out, besides the discrimination, that getting the two populations to work together on non-politial onerns and interests could possibly lead to a coexistence breakthrough and ultimately, achieve the goals of the programs. My impression was that the matter wasn't seen to be all that the important and moreover, that the discrimination has been dealt with.

So I checked at the website of the Palestinian Affairs Unit which is the former East Jerusalem American Consulate under another name. The Embassy-sponsored programs are separate.

Here are the details of one such aid program, the American Palestinian Arts, Culture, and Sports Initiative. Its objectives they have defined as

the U.S.OPA-PD mission: to advance a comprehensive and lasting peace through a negotiated two-state solution [no other option exists?] to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the development of a vibrant, representative, and responsive Palestinian civil society, private sector, and governing institutions through substantive engagement with American people, institutions, ideas and ideals in order to improve American-Palestinian relations and create greater opportunities for mutually beneficial partnership and cooperation.

So, to improve "Palestinian-Israeli/Jewish residents" is outside the purview of the initiative?

What is its "Priority Region"? Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza or a combination of two or three of them. The goal, though, really is to "increase understanding and collaboration between Americans and Palestinians" only.

Eligible primary applicants for grant funding must be not-for-profit Palestinian and/or American organizations working with Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank and/or Gaza.

Another, now closed, funded program involves Journalism Capacity Building. Participants must be "Journalists, media professionals, social media professionals, journalism university students from the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem." Does that include Jewish residents of those areas? Probably not as we read that a goal of the program is to: 

"Improve writing skills for journalists in specialized fields such as gender issues, entrepreneurship and business, economics, technology, foreign policy, democracy, and human rights, environmental issues, and other issues of interest to the United States and Palestinians;" 

as well as to 

"Increase awareness and understanding of American culture, media, society, history and/or current events, as well as of shared American-Palestinian values and interests.

"Palestinians" are who exactly?

This third recent example truly highlights the point I am making: its all about 'forget about the Israelis and the Jews living amongst the Arab population of Judea and Samaria'. It is named the: U.S. Public Diplomacy Palestinian Peacebuilding Program

It is "designed to partner with Palestinian, American, and International non-profit/non-governmental to implement activities which advance the applicant’s goals and the U.S.OPA-PD mission: to advance a comprehensive and lasting peace through a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict 

The Priority Region, again, is: Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza or a combination of two or three of them

The goals are to: Promote negotiation, non-violence, social change, and civic education; Build capacity of peacebuilding institutions and organizations led by Palestinians; Advance equity with respect to race, ethnicity, religion, income, geography (!!!) 

And who are the eligible Participants and Audiences?

Palestinians in East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza. Preference will be given to Palestinian organizations when possible.

I do see that what is not eligible for funding inludes projects relating that support specific religious activities or promote only one faith/religion. But only when type of resident is what is at the basis of this all. 

No mixing. No mingling. Who knows what it might lead to?

Other programs: Advancing Palestinian Women’s Entrepreneurship ProgramMedia Literacy Training and so on like a joint dance show in Bethlehem between Palestinian and American dancers that was preceded by a joint workshop (Palestinian = no Israeli Jews).

If that is what the US wants to be, there'll be no coexistence, no empathy, no cooperation and no compromise, no solution and no peace.


UPDATE    from August 19-26, 2022

In the West Bank, Senior Official Allen will discuss U.S. support for English language teaching and meet Palestinian alumni leaders of U.S. exchange programs.  Senior Official Allen will also join the visit of a U.S. Sports Envoy and participate in their skills-building program for youth.

In Jerusalem, Senior Official Allen will visit the U.S. Embassy’s American Center Jerusalem and learn more about public diplomacy programming innovations in science, technology, education, and entrepreneurship.  She will meet with alumni of U.S. exchange programs from diverse communities, including Haredi, Arabic-speaking, Bedouin, Ethiopian, and Druze.

Senior Official Allen will also meet with counterparts in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss efforts to counter public disinformation campaigns and Holocaust distortion, as well as ways to facilitate continued U.S.-Israel academic exchanges, such as the Fulbright Program.


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

How Did Religious Autonomy Settle Into Jerusalem in 1967?

Here is from the recollection of Rephael Vardi who was at first chief of staff to Major General Herzog  who was appointed as the commander of IDF forces in the West Bank during the Six Days War and in December 1967 became commander of the West Bank and in 1974 the Coordinator of Government Operations in the administered territories.

A Supreme Moslem Council had been established by the British Administration early in the 1920s and the infamous Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini, was appointed president of the Council...After the Jordanians had annexed the West Bank in 1950, they dissolved the Supreme Moslem Council in Jerusalem. Instead they established in Amman a Ministry for Religious Affairs. This ministry was put in charge of all Arab religious matters in Jordan and in the West Bank formerlymanaged by the Supreme Moslem Council.

In 1967 the 22 local Arab leaders decided to reestablish the Supreme Moslem Council. They informed us, contrary to their earlier request, that foreigners such as ourselves, who were not Moslems (virtually heathens), could not control Moslem religious affairs, though the Jordanian law which prevailed in the West Bank obliged the military government to control and take take of all religious institutions. In addition they decided to establish an Islamic (Shari’a) religious court of appeals in Jerusalem for Jerusalem and the West Bank, and announced that hence they would nominate the justices of this court, as well as of the lower Shari’a courts in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank. The justices and other officials were employees of the Jordanian government that paid their salaries. When the Israeli administration offered to pay those salaries, they refused, contending that even salaries could not be accepted from us because we were non-Moslems. What is especially interesting to note is that only a few weeks earlier, in June, they had asked us, as the legitimate government of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, to exercise our authority according to Jordanian law and to organize and control the same religious affairs.

The Supreme Moslem Council, which still exists today, was accepted by the population in those years as the political as well as the religious leadership of Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Council led and inspired the resistance that started against the military occupation of the West Bank and the Israeli authorities in Jerusalem. Strikes started gradually in August-September 1967, and then built up to a crescendo in 1968 and 1969...

The majority of the members of the Supreme Moslem Council were secular, not religious leaders. When they started leading the resistance, we expelled some of them and restricted the movement of others. As a result the Council’s overt activities concentrated more on religious matters while their political and other anti-Israeli activities were covert...The Council, to the contrary, did recognize the authority of the military government in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and tried to involve it in matters concerning Jerusalem. The Council was consistent in its refusal to recognize the Israeli civilian authorities in Jerusalem and entirely disregarded them, but was willing to deal with the Military Government in matters concerning Jerusalem...The Council cooperated, to a certain extent and when necessary, with the Jerusalem municipality. Years later, out of necessity, they “recognized” the Prime Minister of Israel, but failed to recognize the Ministries of Interior and Religious Affairs and refused to cooperate with them.

The Supreme Moslem Council acted in religious matters with complete independence. Our policy was not to intervene because we did not want religious matters to become issues of controversy between us.


Monday, August 15, 2022

The Parker Expedition Postscript

Over a three year period, between 1909 and 1911,  Montagu Parker oversaw an excavation near, and then in, the Temple Mount.


In April 1911 they bribed the guardian of the Haram al-Sharif to let them dig in the Dome of the Rock. They were discovered and riots and disorder broke out.

But what happened to the local officials?

We know that Governor Azmey Bey was fined $25,000 for allowing a dig in oriental disguise on the Temple grounds after dark. Historians have noted that Azmey Bey included Sheikh Khalil al-Ansari, the superintendent of the Haram, in this agreement and 'An angry crowd of Muslims and Jews', "united for this one and only time in their indignation", tried to lynch Sheikh Khalil al-Ansari and the translator Hagop Makasdar in Jerusalem. Only the arrest by Ottoman soldiers saved their lives. (Al-Ansari was later executed; Makasdar, the only member of the expedition whose authorities could get hold of him, was sentenced to prison.

More in this book.

According to Ha-Herut newspaper published in Jerusalem, in its December 11, 1912 edition, there was a trial

and we know that Khalil was given a year's imprisonment, his sons, Hassan and Said were given three months imprisonment and Anoub, head of the gendarmerie, and two other security officials were sentenced to a month each. Having been incarcerated during their trial for more than that period, they were immediately released.


Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Arab Rights and Jewish Rights: Jaffa 1936

In June 1936, a significant section of Jaffa was demolished due to the need for British security forces to combat growing Arab terror.

But there was a side concern: what to do with now homeless Arabs?

Here is an academic article on the matter.

And here is a parliamentary question from December:


HC Deb 16 December 1936 vol 318 

22. Colonel WEDGWOOD asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has authorised the expenditure of £15,000 which has been assigned from Palestine revenues to build a village for the Jaffa Arabs evicted from that town; and whether anything similar is being done for the Jaffa Jews who were forced to leave Jaffa and live elsewhere?

Mr. ORMSBY-GORE The Palestine Government has been authorised to expend £15,000 on the erection of houses, for which a suitable rent will be charged, to accommodate 100 Arab families rendered homeless by the special demolitions in Jaffa undertaken by Government in the circumstances explained in my reply to a question in the House on 24th June by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallaeher). I understand that in consultation with the appropriate Jewish bodies the Palestine Government has agreed to contribute about £5,000 towards the cost of maintenance and rehabilitation of Jewish refugees in Tel-Aviv from Jaffa and elsewhere.

Colonel WEDGWOOD Seeing that the Jewish refugees from Jaffa outnumber the Arab refugees by about 20 to one, will the right hon. Gentleman make representations to the Palestine Government that the rebuilding which they are doing for Arab refugees should be paralleled by rebuilding for the Jewish refugees?

Mr. ORMSBY-GORE I do not think that I can accept the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's figures, nor can I accept his description of these particular Arabs as refugees. In the military interests, and in the interests of peace and order in Jaffa, it was decided to dynamite two lines through the town. The Royal Engineers blew up the houses, and I think the Palestine Government have the duty of rehousing these people elsewhere, as they are now doing.

Colonel WEDGWOOD Does the right hon. Gentleman not see that the Jews who were driven out of Palestine owing to the danger of assassination have exactly the same case for rehousing, with Government assistance, as the Arabs?

Mr. ORMSBY-GORE Then it would be the duty of the Government to re-house almost everybody who have been removed or have removed themselves during a period of disturbance and disorder which we all regret. I cannot commit the Government to that.

Colonel WEDGWOOD I am sorry to be persistent, but is it possible now for the Jews to go back to Jaffa with safety, or is the protection still inadequate?

Mr. ORMSBY-GORE I hope that when we know what the policy of the future is to be, when we have the report 2438of the Royal Commission and the whole Palestine question is cleared up, it may be possible for Jews and Arabs to live as they have up to this year in friendly accord in Jaffa.



Saturday, July 16, 2022

Jabotinsky in Jerusalem


In Jabotinsky’s Footsteps in Jerusalem

In Jerusalem Magazine, Jerusalem Post, July 15, 2022

Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky both visited and resided in Jerusalem during four all-too brief periods of his short life. 

Jabotinsky, a leader of prewar Russian Zionism, founder of the Jewish Legion of World War I as well as Jerusalem’s Hagana in 1920, member of the Zionist Executive, creator of the Revisionist wing of Zionism and “father” of the Irgun, highlighted Jerusalem in a few of his poems. He was in the country at the end of 1908 for just a few months as part of his Zionist promotion work in the Ottoman Empire but his autobiography does not mention the city. Between March 1918 and July 1920, he was an officer in the Jewish Legion and then a member of the Zionist Commission and lived in the city. He briefly visited the city in 1926 

In October 1928, he arrived, in his mind, as an immigrant. However, at the very end of December 1929, he left for a speaking tour in South Africa and the British Mandate authorities exploited his absence and banned him from forever returning citing an ‘incendiary’ speech he made in Tel Aviv. In honor of his 82nd yahrtzeit anniversary, I suggest a list of locations linked to his activities in Jerusalem from which one can create an itinerary for a walk in his footsteps.


Jabotinsky arrived in the then Palestine from Egypt in the last week of March 1918. Most of his fellow soldiers of the Jewish Legion, eventually to comprise three battalions of the Royal Fusiliers, arrived only in early June. He visited Jerusalem once on Zionist business in April to confer with members of the Zionist Commission, headed by Chaim Weizmann. By June 10, the troops were on the way to the front lines opposite the Ottoman and German forces between Shiloh and Abuein in the Lower Samarian Hills. Between June 20 and July 7, he was again in Jerusalem, possibly at the Allenby Barracks, Hebron Road (1), continuing the campaign to persuade local volunteers to enlist in the Legion.

On July 24, 1918, he participated in the symbolic cornerstone-laying ceremony of the the Hebrew University (2) at John Gray-Hill’s Mount Scopus mansion. For the next two weeks he was invalidated with an infected knee after cutting it on barbed wire at Abuein. The second half of August he was in Cairo and returned to Jerusalem in the second week of September. From September 13 he was in the battle for the Jordan River ford at Umm esh-Shert.

By the summer of 1919, he had been dismissed from the army for criticizing the political orientation of the military government and in August, his wife Yohanna and son Eri arrived from London to reunite in Jerusalem. After a short stay at the Amdursky Hotel just inside Jaffa Gate (3) they began residence in the Levy Building located at the corner of today’s Shimon Ben-Shetah and Ben-Sira Streets off of Shlomzion HaMalka (4). On one of their walks about the city, they ascended to the Temple Mount and managed to gain entrance to the Dome of the Rock (5). Jabotinsky and his son even walked all the way to Motza one day. After the great snowfall of February 15, Jabotinsky and his wife trudged to the American Colony (6) neighborhood to assist the Ettinger family. It was at this house, as commander of the Hagana in the city, that he was arrested for the illegal possession of arms on April 7, 1920.

Jabotinsky worked at the Zionist Commission office, rented from the Hughes Hotel situated at the top floor at 17 Jaffa Street, one of the two Armenian Buildings (7). He contributed articles to the Ha'aretz newspaper whose logo he helped create. Together with Gad Frumkin, he prepared a lecture series for the training of new lawyers. One of the lecturers was Yaakov De Haan. He was also a guest at Dr. Helene Kagan's home at 64 HaNeviim Street (8).

In late 1919, Jabotinsky was asked by Weizmann, who returned to the country in mid-October after a year's absence, to assume responsibility for a self-defense unit for Jerusalem's Jews. The anti-Zionist rhetoric of the Arabs was becoming more shrill and alarming. On Balfour Day, November 2, 1918, Jewish school pupils and adults had been assaulted by an Arab crowd protesting at Jaffa Gate (8) and led by the city's mayor.  Already, in January 1919, Jabotinsky had written to his wife, “The Arabs draw encouragement from the fact that the British do not uphold their promises; the situation is bound to end up like Kishinev.” 

On the evening of March 8, 1920, Jabotinsky addressed thousands of Jerusalemites who gathered in front of the Bet HaAm, then located in the area between today's Jaffa and Nevi'im Streets just below Davidka Square, now a parking lot (9), commemorating Yosef Trumpeldor and his seven comrades who fell at the battle of Tel Chai. Trumpeldor had assisted Jabotinsky in February 1915, when both were in Egypt, to persuade General John G. Maxwell, commander of the British forces in Egypt, to raise what became the Zion Mule Corps that later that year fought at Gallipoli with distinction.

At the beginning of 1920, two demonstrations of Arabs protesting Zionism and promoting the reunification of Palestine with Syria under Faisal took place. The first, on February 27, was a march along today's Sultan Suleiman Street (10) and the second was on March 8 at the Jaffa Gate (8). Jabotinsky had by then been holding drilling exercises and strategy instruction drilling daily behind the Lemel School (11) on Yeshayahu Street. On March 27, he marched 600 men from the school to the slopes of Mount Scopus (12) to perform field maneuvers in clear view of the British, and the Arabs. 

Nevertheless, the Arabs launched their violent attacks on April 4 during the Nebi Mussa festivities. Jabotinsky hurried to the Bachelors' Dormitory of the Betzalel School students, still standing in the yard behind 6 Hillel Street (13), to assign them and others to planned positions across the city.

Jabotinsky was arrested at his apartment on April 7, briefly detained at the Kishleh (14) then held at the Central Prison in the Russian Compound (15) for eight days as Prisoner #127 and, after a brief military trial, was incarcerated with another nineteen Hagana volunteers in Acre Prison. They were released some three months later and Jabotinsky subsequently left for England, disappointed with the policies of the British Military Administrations and the Zionist Commission as well. In January 1923, he resigned from his membership in the World Zionist Executive.  


On October 3, 1926, Jabotinsky returned to Mandate Palestine, arriving at Jaffa Port, intent upon mobilizing for his recently-founded opposition Revisionist Party. His public appearance in Jerusalem was on Tuesday, October 19 at the Maccabi sports field, today, the site of Pomerantz House off of Magen Ha'Elef Street near Eretz Hafetz Street in the Shmuel HaNavi neighborhood (16), where he delivered an address beginning just after 4:30 PM. Incidentally, the Hebrew University refused to permit him to appear on its grounds and he protested to Norman Benwitch that he was being boycotted. The Palestine Bulletin reported that “An extraordinary spirit of enthusiasm pervaded the Jerusalem public yesterday afternoon when Vladimir Jabotinsky…delivered a striking address on the situation in Palestine. All classes of the Jewish population were represented…six thousand people forming an audience that Rose…and accorded him a rousing ovation.” Jabotinsky, writing to his wife in Paris, claimed only 4,000 were present.

Later that evening, at 10 p.m., a banquet was given in his honor in the New Central Hotel. The newspaper described his speech as “a brilliant piece of oratory, comprising a personal confession of the speaker's attitude in Zionism and a deep analysis of the situation in Zionism and Jewish character.” The hotel, belonging to the Amdursky Family, was located at the corner of today’s Ben-Yehuda and Ben-Hillel Streets (17). On November 3 he was back in Jerusalem briefly for two days to obtain visas from various consulates and sailed on November 16 back to Europe.


Returning to Jerusalem, for what he hoped would be for good, on October 10, 1928, he assumed the editorship of the Doar HaYom daily at the end of December, whose editorial offices were at the bottom of HaSolel Street (18) and lived in the Even Yisrael neighborhood (19). And the telephone number was 45.

He shared rooms with an Orthodox man and recalled that during that time, strictly kept kashrut and Shabbat restrictions in respect of his flat mate. For income, he was first manager, then Vice-President of the Board of Directors of the Judea Insurance Company branch in Palestine whose offices were on Jaffa Road off Ben-Yehuda Street (20). His Post Office Box number was 828.

After some six weeks abroad in Vienna, Paris and London, he was back in Jerusalem by the beginning of February 1929. On July 22, he was on a boat, traveling, as many other Zionist personalities in Palestine to the Zionist congress in Zurich and was not in the country during the August riots. He stayed in Paris until returning to Palestine in the first week of December. On the 25th of that month, he sailed for Egypt and that was the last time he set foot in Eretz-Yisrael alive as in his absence, the High Commissioner cancelled his residency rights.

Map credit: Yair Assaf-Shapira


Monday, June 06, 2022

When Siegfried Sassoon was in Palestine at the Same Time as Jabotinsky

Siegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967) was a scion to the wealthy India Jewish merchant family on his father's side with his mother being Anglican, of the Thornycroft farmers whose progeny had turned to becoming sculptors, painters and engineers. He grew up in rural Kent yet his father abandoned the family before Siegfried was five. His education was at Cambridge although he did not formally finish. He played sports, wrote poetry and developed into a homosexual.

He enthusiastically enlisted in the army when war was delcared but his war peorty became predominately critical with biting satire. While convalescing from a wound received at the Arras batle, he came in close contact with a pacifist circle and a protest of his was read out in Parliament in late July 1917 and published in The Times the following day.

And then, he returned to service and

In November 1917, Sassoon was passed fit for service. He was sent to Ireland where he served until February 1918 and was then transferred to Palestine as part of General Allenby’s army. He hated it there and described Jerusalem as ‘not a very holy-looking place’ and referred to the natives as ‘Hebrews’. His vague Jewish connections through his father meant nothing to him. After three months in Palestine, Sassoon returned to the Western Front. 

Sassoon arrived in Palestine on 12 March 1918, some 3 months after Jerusalem had surrendered to Allenby. Sassoon’s unit, the 25th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was stationed north of Ramalleh, near the Jerusalem–Nablus road; by the time Sassoon reached Palestine the unit was engaged in holding the recently-secured line.

According to Siegfried Sassoon and Palestine, these lines:

On the rock-strewn hills I heard

The anger of guns that shook

Echoes along the glen.

In my heart was the song of a bird,

And the sorrowless tale of the brook,

And scorn for the deeds of men.

were written in Palestine, where he was posted for a little over a month in the spring of 1918. 

The details:

On a warm and pleasant morning in March 1918, Sassoon arrived in Gaza on a cattle truck. He had traveled all night with 12 other officers (of the 25th Royal Welch Fusiliers) from base camp in Kantara, Egypt, and was relieved to escape the ragtime tunes and tiresome ribaldry of the mess. From Gaza, whose “fine hills” reminded him of Scotland, he proceeded through almond orchards and olive trees to Ludd, the railhead where soldiers and war supplies arrived and departed. Ludd’s proper name was al-Ludd, an Arabic name because it was then a Palestinian town full of Arabs...

...From al-Ludd, Sassoon and company continued to their final destination — a hilltop village with “dusky, narrow” streets eight miles northwest of Jerusalem. Captured from “Johnny Turk” barely two months earlier and turned into the division headquarters, it was called Ramallah. There was no sound of artillery here, noted Sassoon, and the silent landscape, “hoary in the twilight,” seemed infused with a sad, lonesome air. Few knew then that the document birthing its violent future had already been written....

Jabotinsky, with his 38th Royal Fusieliers were stationed just north at Abuein. 

Sassoon was perhaps the most widely read soldier-poet in England, famous for poems that attacked the country’s incompetent, rum-flushed generals and described in pitiless detail the plight of millions of soldiers stuck in the “plastering slime” of rat-infested trenches. He was even more notorious for bravely protesting the prolongation of the war in a statement that was read out in the House of Commons on July 30, 1917, and published in The Times...

The 31-year-old Sassoon thus arrived in Palestine flushed with celebrity and notoriety. Palestine, he knew, was a “warm-climate sideshow,” and he smarted at the thought of being shunted to guard duty. By the time he arrived, the three Gaza wars had been fought and Jerusalem stormed and won from the Turks by the famous General Edmund Allenby, who, out of respect, dismounted and entered the holy city on foot. Since the action now was mostly defensive — safeguarding the Suez Canal and the oil deposits of the Persian Gulf — Sassoon spent most of his time mending roads littered with the stinking corpses of camels and trampled to “liquid mud” by ambulances and long lines of gray donkeys loaded with army blankets. It was dull, plodding work. He consoled himself by reading War and Peace, but his heavy cold and the incessant rain only worsened his mood. What he did not foresee was how deeply he would fall in love with the natural beauty of Palestine, and how loath he would be to return to the soul-deadening trenches of France when the “ghastly news” arrived that the Germans had broken through Arras.

Slowly, the landscape revealed itself to him, “and what had seemed a cruel, desolate, unhappy region, was now full of a shy and lovely austerity.” Sassoon’s diary — which has just been published online for the first time by the Cambridge University Library — ripples with mentions of wildflowers and croaking frogs, “rocks older than Jerusalem,” and young green wheat against the reddish, stony slopes. He watched the gurgling brown wadis of Ramallah and the fig trees turn into a “green mist.” He wandered the hills bird-watching, counted over 50 different species, and was thrilled when a bulbul gave him “a charming fantasia on the flute.” One day he saw a gazelle trot quietly away and envied it: “a free creature.” An Arab gardener introduced him to “ascadinias” (loquat), and he tramped through “a tangle of huge golden daisies — knee-deep and solid gold, as if Midas had been walking there.” On one serene ramble outside Ramallah he wrote, “I escaped from the war completely for four hours.”

The “anger of guns” he refers to in the sonnet quoted above, which he titled “In Palestine,” was more distant soundtrack than immediate menace. Fashioned after Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality,” its first stanza tells of thyme-scented hills and rills going their way. It may not be one of his best poems, but it fuses his prewar melodic pastoral style with his bitter contempt of war. Before the war, Sassoon had been, in his own description, “a brainless fox-hunter,” who played cricket and self-published his mediocre poetry. It was the horrors of the Somme that gouged the treacle from his verse and honed him into a fine poet. Though he faced no direct fighting in Palestine, everywhere around him was the grim business of war. “C’est la guerre — in an Old Testament environment,” he noted drily.

...In Sassoon’s scorching parable, Adam stands in for the cynical old politicians who watch their young kill one another. Described as “a brown old vulture in the rain,” Adam ponders over the character of his two sons. He admires Cain, who is “Hungry and fierce with deeds of huge desire,” and despises Abel, “soft and fair — / A lover with disaster in his face.” Adam even justifies Cain’s murdering his own brother because even murder is more tolerable than weakness: “Afraid to fight; was murder more disgrace?” In the end, murder only begets murder, and the vulture finds both his “lovely sons were dead.” What makes this poem a moral grenade is its self-awareness. Sassoon knew that there were bits of Cain and Abel tussling inside him. At the start of the war, he had been a soldier filled with bloodlust, and made quite a reputation for himself for his revenge killings of Germans. But he had also sickened of the slaughter and campaigned for it to stop. In Sassoon’s case, Abel finally won, but the current war, with its far more ancient and complex metabolism, is inevitably stamped with the mark of Cain.