A Land Without People

Note on Staging and Characters

The play has three acts, corresponding to historic events in 1939, 1946-47, and 1948 respectively. These acts do not have intervals and are played continuously.

There are 22 characters in the play of which 15 are historical figures. The London premiere production by Palindrome Productions in 2015 was realized through an ensemble of 5 actors (3 men, 2 women) each playing multiple roles. The size of the ensemble contributes significantly to the affect of the play. For certain scenes the date, place, and character names (as needed) are announced.

The original stage staging was in the round in order to implicate the audience in the action and so become part of the story. The actors sat on the edges of the playing space in full view of the spectators and each other. They never left the stage playing the dual role of actor of multiple parts and chorus (in the Greek sense of citizens who observe and comment on the tragic story in their midst).

A physical gestural language by the actors underscores the performance. Establishing this is important to the pace and timing of the work: the original production ran just under 90 minutes. Scenes that used full ensemble work included the House of Commons scenes, the Interact WWII Chorus, the King David Hotel explosion Act II:1. Two design elements contributed greatly to the physicality of the performance and the development of the ensemble: blank white paper was used throughout to serve as the various documents under discussion in the play. In the House of Commons each actor held papers in their hands referring to them during the debate. When the Speaker of the House called the vote, the papers were thrown in the air and remained on the floor throughout. A single table covered with papers served as a desk in Act I and Act II. In the transition to Act III it was flipped on its side revealing the UN partition map of Palestine that was used by the actors throughout the act.

Characters in order of appearance:

WEIZMANN Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952). Born Russian Empire, a British citizen from 1910 to 1948. Did scientific work for Allies in WWI. Credited with persuading Balfour to make his famous declaration; lifelong advocate for the Zionist cause; Leader of International Federation of World Jewry; first President of Israel 1949-52.

MACDONALD Malcolm MacDonald (1901-81). Scottish, Secretary of State for the Colonies, in Conservative government of Stanley Baldwin; son of late Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald.

LILLY female friend of MACDONALD in her 30s. Yorkshire accent.

SAKAKINI Khalil al-Sakakini (1878 – 1953). Palestinian, Arab-speaking Christian. Educator, poet, intellectual. Kept a journal for 40 years; supported cause of Arab awakening and independence.

HALA Hala al-Sakakini, daughter of SAKAKINI. Published some of her father’s journal after his death.

STERN Avraham Stern (1907-42). Polish, Revisionist Zionist, early member of Irgun. Poet and revolutionary. Broke with Irgun in 1940 to found Lehi group (“Stern Gang”).

COMMANDER, a senior Irgun commander.

BEN-GURION David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973). Russian-Polish, Head of Jewish Agency. Committed Zionist from an early age, became Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization; political leader responsible for bringing the state of Israel into existence. First Prime Minister of Israel, 1948-53.

SHERTOK Moshe Shertok (1894-1965). Russian. Changed name to Moshe Sharett. Zionist statesman, second Prime Minister of Israel 1953-5.

AZZAM Abd ul-Rahman Azzam (1893-1976). Egyptian. Diplomat, eloquent and aggressive defender of Arab culture and independence. First Secretary General of Arab League.

SOLDIER Older British serviceman.

BEVIN Ernest Bevin (1881-1951). English. Founder and first General Secretary of the powerful Transport and General Workers’ Union. Minister of Labour in the war-time coalition government responsible for organizing the labour force. As Foreign Secretary in post-war Labour government, he oversaw the breaking-up of the British empire.

ELIZABETH, Personal Assistant to BEVIN.
ATTLEE Clement Attlee (1883-1967). English. A reserved and modest politician who managed to lead the Labour party to a postwar landslide victory and become its longest-serving Prime Minister.

CUNNINGHAM General Sir Alan Cunningham (1887-1983), English. DistinguishedWorld War Two record. British High Commissioner, Palestine 1945-48.

HECHT Ben Hecht (1894-1964). American. Famed American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, journalist and novelist. Wrote a play to support and fundraise for the Zionist gangs fighting the British.

GEORGE, a Resident of Manchester.

YADIN Yigael Yadin (1917-84), Born Jerusalem, Palestine. Leading Haganah general; Head of Operations during Israel’s War of Independence, made many of the key decisions made during the course of that war.

DANIN Ezra Danin (1903-85). Born Jaffa, Palestine. Specialist in Arab affairs. Organized spying operations against Syria. Head of Arab section of Haganah Intelligence.

RECRUIT Young British soldier.

ZEIDAN Fahimeh Ali Moustafa Zeidan. Palestinian. Inhabitant of Deir Yassin, survivor, of the massacre there, age 11. Played by an actress through a puppet – the GHOST in the text,

LIASON Haganah Officer

Historical figures mentioned but not appearing in the play:

Menachem Begin (1913-1992). Born Russian Empire (now Belarus). Revisionist Zionist, leader of the Irgun, implacable enemy of British rule. Founder of the right-wing Likkud party, Prime Minister of Israel 1977-1983.

Count Folke Bernadotte (1895 – 1948). Swedish diplomat deputed by the UN to report on the post-partition situation in Israel/Palestine. Assassinated September 1948 by Stern gang under leadership of Yitzhak Shamir, Prime Minister of Israel 1983-4 and 1986-92.

Characters appearing in each scene:

ACT 1.2 SAKAKINI, HALA (The Arab nation)
ACT I: 3 STERN, COMMANDER, BEN- GURION (Against the British)
ACT I: 4 ACTORS, HOUSE of COMMONS (Debating White Paper)
ACT II: 2 BEVIN, CUNNINGHAM (King David Hotel briefing)
ACT II: 3 BEN-GURION (On phone)
ACT II: 4 BEVIN, ATTLEE (One last effort)
ACT II: 5 ACTORS, HOUSE of COMMONS (Palestine no longer affordable)
ACT II: 6 BEVIN, HOUSE OF COMMONS (Handing over to U.N.)
ACT II: 7 HECHT (Support the Zionist fighters!), GEORGE (Smashing Jewish shops), ELIZABETH (Phoning Manchester)
ACT II: 8 BEVIN, ELIZABETH (Jewish refugees’ violence)
ACT III: 1 YADIN, DANIN, BEN-GURION (Arabs on our land)
ACT III: 2 SOLDIER, RECRUIT (We do nothing)
ACT III: 3 BEN –GURION, YADIN, GHOST (Address to Intelligence officers)
ACT III: 4 ZEIDAN (The Deir Yassin massacre)
INTERSCENE CUNNINGHAM (Letter about massacre)
ACT III: 6 SAKAKINI, HALA (Farewell my books)
ACT III: 7 BEN-GURION (Declaration of Independence)
ACT III: 8 CUNNINGHAM, SOLDIER (Flag Lowering ceremony)
ACT III: 9 BEN-GURION, WEIZMANN (U.S. recognition)


ACT 1: Scene 1 13 May 1939, Yorkshire. The drawing room in the country house of MACDONALD who has asked WEIZMANN to visit him regarding the British Government’s upcoming White Paper concerning Palestine; near beginning of the visit.

MACDONALD Since neither your Jewish delegation nor the Arabs were willing to accept the basic/

WEIZMANN [interrupts] The reason our delegation felt unable to even begin to/

MACDONALD [holds up a hand to still the interruption] Please. Since neither of you would compromise His Majesty’s Government decided to formulate a clear and definite policy on its own. One that satisfies the terms of the Mandate for Palestine – safeguarding the civic and religious rights of all the inhabitants and placing the country under conditions that will secure self-governing institutions.

WEIZMANN Yes, and the Balfour Declaration is fundamental to the Mandate [quotes by heart] “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.”

MACDONALD That is so, and our endeavours have been exemplary. At the inception of the Mandate there were at the most around 150, 000 Jews there. Now, twenty years on, the population of Jews has reached 450, 000, a third of the entire population of Palestine. The growth of a Jewish National Home — under our guidance — has been quite a remarkable achievement and must be a source of pride to the Jewish people.

WEIZMANN But the process is not finished. Many more Jews will arrive there. Urgently need to arrive. And the National Home, such as it is, is not by any measure a self-governing independent state. It is a territory ruled by the British Mandate.

MACDONALD Precisely, and our aim is the establishment of a State no longer under the British Mandate. An independent Palestine State in which its two peoples, Arabs and Jews, share authority in government so that the essential interests of each are secured.

WEIZMANN A shared state? Shared?


WEIZMANN Sharing authority is not what Lord Balfour had in mind for the Jewish people.

MACDONALD One cannot know his mind, but frankly, and one must face the fact, the expression ‘National Home for the Jewish people’ is ambiguous.

WEIZMANN Ambiguous? [irony] The ambiguity escapes me. After more than 20 years since Balfour, we are questioning the meaning of the word ‘home’? Or is it the term ‘national’ that is difficult for you?

MACDONALD [refuses to be drawn] You hold up Balfour’s Declaration but ignore how the sentence continues [takes paper from his desk and reads with emphasis] “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

WEIZMANN [irony] Thank you. I am familiar with the rest of the Declaration.

MACDONALD But you pay no heed to it. And that’s the sticking point is. Do you seriously believe the framers of the Mandate could have intended that Palestine be converted into a Jewish State against the will of the Arab population of the country?

WEIZMANN No of course not. But you emphasize a mere qualification, a condition to be satisfied – nothing more. It doesn’t affect the British Government’s promise to bring about a Jewish state.

MACDONALD No, it is not a mere qualification. It is the very heart of the problem – present from the very beginning.


MACDONALD In the Zionist demand for a land that had no people for a people without a land.

WEIZMANN A neat formula. But I cannot recall having urged it.

MACDONALD Perhaps it was your Mister Herzl, but no matter, I wish with all my heart that Palestine were an empty land so that its borders were the only limits set to your extraordinary and devoted people building a National Home. But Palestine was not empty. Already in Balfour’s time there was a population peacefully living in it of some 600,000 Arabs, whose ancestors had worked the land undisturbed for countless generations.

WEIZMANN Peacefully? Have you not just finished a three-year war to quell their rebellion? A revolt — it must be said — Jews helped your forces to put down.

MACDONALD A revolt – it must be said — stoked by resentment and anger at being overwhelmed by the influx of European Jews. An influx we, in service to you, had allowed to enter Palestine.

WEIZMANN That ‘influx’ of Jewish immigrants dug dams, ploughed rock-strewn fields, planted fruit trees and irrigated the land. And what did the Arabs do? Raided our farms, attacked our settlements. The Arabs could not forgive the Jews for making ‘their’ desert bloom.

MACDONALD Perhaps so. But in any case, the Mandate obliges us to ” to facilitate immigration under suitable conditions”. This was subsequently spelled out in the White Paper of 1922 to mean that immigration was not to exceed the economic capacity of the country to absorb new arrivals.

WEIZMANN But this is well known since 1931, emphasized by your father in a House of Commons letter to me stating His Majesty’s Government policy with utmost clarity: economic capacity was to be the sole criterion for limiting immigration into Palestine.

MACDONALD Yes, but there is nothing in the Mandate requiring his majesty’s government to facilitate the immigration of Jews into Palestine subject only to consideration of the country’s economic economic capacity.

WEIZMANN What does ‘sole’ mean if not ‘only’? You are insulting my intelligence.

MACDONALD It is simple. Does unlimited immigration have an adverse economic effect? Does unlimited immigration have a damaging effect on the political situation of the country? In either circumstance it should clearly be restricted. Surely you grasp that.

WEIZMANN What I grasp is your assertion that immigration is damaging. This is simply false. As you yourself have recognized we/

MACDONALD [Cuts him off] Doctor Weizmann, let us not beat about the bush. You cannot be unaware of the fears of the Arab population, the fear that the influx of European Jews will completely dominate them. It has been the source of quarrels, acts of violence and much bitterness between Arabs and Jews.

WEIZMANN They exaggerate their fears.

MACDONALD We cannot stand by. We have a legal and moral responsibility.

WEIZMANN [mounting anger] You propose to curtail Jewish immigration?

MACDONALD Indeed. Jewish immigration into Palestine in the next five years will be such that the Jewish population remains approximately one third of the total population of the country.

WEIZMANN [can’t believe what he’s hearing] The Jewish people are to be a permanent minority; our National Home to be a ghetto. You can’t possibly/

MACDONALD To this end, for the next five years a yearly quota of ten thousand Jewish immigrants will be allowed. After five years no further Jewish immigration will be permitted unless the Arabs of Palestine are prepared to acquiesce in it. Moreover/

WEIZMANN I cannot believe this. What you propose is callously indifferent to a vast scene of human suffering taking place at this very moment. The pogroms against the Jews in Poland are increasing. Throughout Germany and Austria Jews are being persecuted – hounded from their homes, robbed, beaten up and murdered with impunity, their shops smashed and looted by organized Nazi mobs who kick to death anybody trying to stop them. They are desperate. No country will accept them.

MACDONALD His Majesty’s Government recognizes the plight of the refugees and agrees to admit twenty-five thousand of them, provided the High Commissioner is satisfied that adequate provision for their maintenance is ensured.

WEIZMANN [sarcasm] How very thoughtful. I’m sure the remaining hundreds of thousands will understand. At least Hitler doesn’t hide his brutality behind a semblance of legal and moral bunk. Sir, you have betrayed the Jewish people.

MACDONALD No! We have betrayed neither Jews nor Arabs. We are attempting to honour our obligations to both peoples

WEIZMANN You have reneged on Balfour’s promise and you are handing the Jews of Palestine over to their Arab enemies and assassins. Your behavior is monstrous and shameful.

MACDONALD I am aware that there are Jews who have been calling me a coward and a hypocrite, but you have no cause to speak to me like that.

WEIZMANN I have never called you a coward.

MACDONALD [stung] And we have never practiced hypocrisy upon you. Mistakes in policy perhaps. But the Jews have made many of their own mistakes in the past.

WEIZMANN Certainly we have. Our chief mistake it seems is that we exist at all.

MACDONALD Nonsense. The problem / is that

WEIZMANN [cuts him off] When will this … this … this British law come to pass?

MACDONALD Next week there will then be a two-day debate in the House of Commons and a vote. If the Government gains a majority it will become law.

WEIZMANN The House of Commons has distinguished members of Parliament – Herbert Morrison, Churchill, Julian Amery, Josiah Wedgewood, many others — who will oppose their country’s betrayal of her long-standing commitment to the Jewish people. [shouts] And this appalling action of yours will be seen for what it is. [exits]

MACDONALD is left standing, sunk in thought in the middle of the room.


LILLY enters.

LILLY Your visitor has gone I see. Didn’t stay for tea?

MACDONALD I’m afraid Dr. Weizmann was in no mood for tea.

LILLY Is he Jewish.

MACDONALD He is. But a Zionist. They’re different. God help us. Relentless. Single-minded. Fixated on their future. The whole world narrowed to the one single-minded mission: a national home for the Jewish people in their ancient, never-forgotten land.

LILLY A noble cause?

MACDONALD No matter who gets in the way?

LILLY I must say he looked quite benign when he arrived, gazing at the portrait of your father, but when he left I saw him shaking his fist at the house. What on earth did you say to the poor man that made him do that?

MACDONALD [wearily] You don’t really want to know.

LILLY Actually I do. Why was he was so angry?

MACDONALD I had to inform him we intend to impose a strict quota on the number of Jewish refugees allowed into Palestine. He was outraged. Accused me of betraying the Jewish people, breaking the promise of the Balfour Declaration.

LILLY Sounds serious. Have you? Broken the promise.

MACDONALD No, we have not. Over the years we’ve allowed several hundred thousand Jews to settle and make a Jewish homeland for themselves in Palestine. And at the same time having to deal with the Arab population living there. He also accused me of being a callous hypocrite regarding the plight of the Jewish refugees from Germany.

LILLY Well, what’s happened to them is pretty awful. First they were kicked out of government jobs, then the ’35 Nuremberg laws made them into non-citizens, and last year Kristallnacht — attacks and looting of their property across Germany.

MACDONALD [surprised] You’re very knowledgeable about German Jews.

LILLY I’m doing a piece on them.

MACDONALD For the Yorkshire Post? I thought you covered local news.

LILLY I do. Leeds has a big Jewish community and some of the refugees we allowed in have relatives there. I’ve been doing background and interviewing the arrivals. What they’ve been through is horrendous, Nobody seems to want them.

MACDONALD Well, we’ve accepted several thousands, so has France, Belgium, Holland. But there are hundreds of thousands of them. The Zionists want them to go to Palestine. But we can’t allow that. That’s what made our visitor so angry.

LILLY Why can’t you allow it?

MACDONALD The Arabs in Palestine are already being overwhelmed by Jewish Immigration. We have an obligation to protect them.

LILLY But couldn’t you find a way?

MACDONALD. No. There would be bloodshed. They’re angry enough about the Jews we’ve already let in. We had to offer the Arabs leaders something.

LILLY I don’t follow.

MACDONALD [becoming impatient] Look, it’s a question of national interest. What we do not need in the Middle East right now is antagonizing our Arab allies. Italy has territorial ambitions in north Africa: Mussolini is broadcasting anti-British propaganda in Arabic to countries we have treaties with. And we know that two Arab leaders are known admirers of Herr Hitler. So …

LILLY So you had to placate them.

MACDONALD Exactly. We promised to freeze the ratio of Jews to Arabs at its present level.

LILLY No wonder your Jewish gentleman was so angry. I feel sorry for him. And for all the Jews out there. If nobody will have them they ought at least to have their own country to go to.

MACDONALD Don’t you start.

ACT 1: 2 1939, Jerusalem house of Khalil al-Sakakini.

SAKAKINI [late at night, writing in a blue book. It is his diary. He closes it and stands up.]

I am right. I’ve been right from the beginning. I didn’t trust their assurances of peace and cooperation. Zionist lies. Saw them for what they were. And I said it. Wrote it. Exactly twenty years ago I wrote it. [searches among his books but fails to find what he’s searching for, is distressed].

HALA enters.

HALA Baba. Baba what’s the matter?

SAKAKINI My old journals, I can’t find them.

HALA You put them with all your history books when we moved.

SAKAKINI Of course. [retrieves a blue book from under a pile, opens it, finds what he wants and reads] “If you want to kill a nation – conquer its land and tear out its tongue”. Yes. I could see it even then. And now? Is there hope for the Arab nation?

HALA [doesn’t know what to say] I’m not . . . .

SAKAKINI Go to bed. It’s late.

HALA exits

“Tear out its tongue “. . . [deep, bitter sarcasm] I say this to you Ben-Gurion: we are the guests and you are the masters of the house. We will do everything to please you. You are, after all, God’s chosen people.

[flicks through book] Twenty years [muses]. Then, another future seemed possible. Not so many Jews.

I believed, I agitated for the Arab nation to rise again, be renewed, become in time an advanced nation. I was their educator. I insisted schools must instruct in Arabic – Bil Araby — not Turkish. They must fill pupils with determination and self-reliance. And pride. Proud to be part of the Arab nation. Confident in who they are [quotes] “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, if …” [breaks off]. Ah, Kipling. The British with their literature [touches several books] Dickens, Shakespeare – their books are dear to me. An educated, sophisticated nation.

But it is the British who are responsible for our fate. The British let them in. Hundreds of thousands of them: taking over, overwhelming us with their money and business brains. We protested, but of course the Jews were favoured every time. And then hordes flooding in from Germany. What could we do? A general strike: we rebelled against our condition, against the Jews. [with pride] I wrote the anthem for the rebellion. The British crushed us ruthlessly.

I say two nations have fooled the world – the Jews and the British. Not so the Germans. Their eyes are wide open about the Jews. If the British go to war against Germany and are defeated then perhaps Hitler might help us rid our land of the Jewish invaders.

ACT 1: 3 August 31, 1939 Tel Aviv. AVRAHAM STERN, and Irgun COMMANDER.

STERN And I’m telling you the time is now. At this very moment nearly 20,000 Jewish volunteers are being armed and trained for us by the Polish military. They will land at night near Tel Aviv under my command. When the British wake we will be entering Jerusalem.

COMMANDER This is a crazy scheme. Basically, you’re asking Irgun to support a foreign army.

STERN Not crazy — brilliant. The last thing they’d expect. And the intelligence is on our side. We know how the British operate, where they’re deployed, how they’ll respond.

COMMANDER I don’t like it. You expect my men to hold off the British while you get to Jerusalem with your Poles?

STERN You won’t be holding anybody off, you’ll be attacking their bases the moment we land, destroying communications, laying mines on their exit routes. When they leave camp you ambush them. After that you lay low and wait for the next move.

COMMANDER [satisfied]. Alright. Suppose it works. You and your Polish army get to Jerusalem. Then what?

STERN We will be in possession of the country’s capital. The British will have to destroy the entire city to defeat us. Can you imagine? Destroy Jerusalem! Nobody in the world would let them bomb the Holy City. That’s the brilliance of it.

Furious knocking at the door.

STERN [alarmed] You said this was secure.

COMMANDER It is. [looks through peephole] I don’t believe it, it’s Ben-Gurion.

STERN What the hell does he want. [COMMANDER lets BEN-GURION in]

BEN-GURION [looks at them] I can see you haven’t heard. The news?


BEN-GURION Hitler has invaded Poland.

They’re both stunned, silent. COMMANDER is first to recover.

COMMANDER What does this mean for us?

BEN-GURION The British will declare war on Germany and we will aid them.

STERN Not so. The British are our enemy. Why should we stop fighting them because of Hitler and Poland.

BEN-GURION Fight the British when they’re fighting Hitler. Are you mad? We fight with them against our common enemy.

STERN [to BEN-GURION] ‘We’? You do not speak for me, for us. We – Irgun – will fight them.

COMMANDER [to STERN] No, not my men. A lot of them are from Germany. They detest Hitler. Why would they help him by fighting the British.

STERN So we do nothing – is that it. We let the British get away with their treacherous White Paper and abandon the fight to liberate our land from them. Only a fool thinks they’ll give it to us.

BEN-GURION No, we do not abandon our struggle. We fight the British as if the White Paper didn’t exist. And fight the White Paper as if Hitler didn’t exist.

STERN Ugh! What does that mean? [sarcasm] Oh I see. We take orders from the British and then immediately disobey them.

BEN-GURION It means: despite the British laws in their White Paper we bring here hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from Germany and now Poland. It means, we expand our settlements and occupy more land. It means: we stockpile weapons, materiel. It means: we make like good allies but hold our fire, prepare for when the British defeat the Nazis. Then we fight them and take this country.

STERN ‘Then’. Life is now. And what if the British do not defeat Hitler. What happens to your then?

BEN-GURION Enough! It has been decided. Irgun will join with Haganah. That is the end of it. [looks at COMMANDER and exits]

COMMANDER shrugs at STERN and exits.

STERN [shouting after them] We don’t need you. I’m finished with Irgun. I’ll form a new group. We’ll fight the British from below, in the dark, we fight them how Michael Collins fought them: And like the Narodnaya Volya group battled the Czar, we’ll assassinate their political leaders.

And we’ll forge allies of our own. The Germans, the Italians. The enemy of my enemy. They will be our friends. We can offer Hitler and Mussolini support, intelligence from behind the British lines. And sabotage … .

ACT 1: 4 The House of Commons, May 22-23, 1939

Actor: Speaker of the House
SPEAKER Two-thirty, the 22nd day of May, 1939. The House thanks the Secretary of State for the Colonies for his admirable presentation of the White Paper, Command number 6019. Members will now engage in debate.

Actor: Mr. Winston Churchill, member for Epping
CHURCHILL There is much in this White Paper which is alien to the spirit of the Balfour Declaration, but I will select the one point upon which there is plainly a breach and repudiation of that Declaration — the provision that Jewish immigration can be stopped in five years’ time by the decision of an Arab majority. That is a plain breach of a solemn obligation.

[unidentified shouts] Hear! Hear! Monstrous! Not so. An outright betrayal.
To whom was the pledge of the Balfour Declaration made? It was not made to the Jews of Palestine, but to that vast, unhappy mass of scattered, persecuted, wandering Jews whose intense, unchanging, unconquerable desire has been for a National Home. They were the people outside, not the people in. That is the pledge which was given, and that we are now asked to break.
[background] Hear, hear.
On page 11 of the White Paper, is said “After the period of five years no further Jewish immigration will be permitted unless the Arabs of Palestine are prepared to acquiesce in it”. Which is only another way of saying that it will be on sufferance. There is the abandonment of the Balfour Declaration; the end of the vision, of the hope, of the dream. there is the crux, the breach, and we must have an answer to it.
Actor: Sir Thomas Inskip, Secretary of State for the Dominions, member for Fareham. INSKIP In the White Paper of 1922, you will find these words: “’National Home’ means that the Jews should come to Palestine in order to help develop the country to the advantage of all its inhabitants.” I find it difficult to imagine a more complete exposition of the view for which I stand, that the position of the Jews in this land of theirs, as it once was, has to be related to the rights held and owned by the Arab population
CHURCHILL That, Sir, is the breach.
INSKIP The right honourable Gentleman says that that is the breach, but I say that it is not a breach, because there is not a single word in the Mandate to compel us indefinitely to prolong the immigration of Jews. Those who assert otherwise are, I suggest, writing it into the Mandate. Nor is there a word in the Mandate to support the theory that we were to contemplate the establishment of a Jewish State.

Actor: Anthony Crossley, member for Stretford
CROSSLEY The right honourable gentleman has presented the cause of the Jews. I conceive it as my task today to deploy the Arab case in this Debate.

Actor: Herbert Morrison, member for Hackney South
MORRISON On that, it is often said that the Labour party has some unfriendliness towards the Arabs. That is not so. We wish them well. If at any time we were able to help the working people of the Arab countries to organise themselves in trade unions and lift their status .[interruption]

Actor: Captain Alan Graham, member for Wirral
GRAHAM May I point out to the right honourable Gentleman that two-thirds of the Arab race are nomads and that therefore they are not naturally suited to trades unionism.

[a wave of background laughter].

CROSSLEY If the honourable gentlemen will allow me to continue. There are no Arab Members of Parliament; no Arab constituents to bring influence upon their Members of Parliament; no Arab control of newspapers in this country. It is impossible almost to get a pro-Arab letter in the “Times.” There are in the City no Arab financial houses. In short, who will support the Arabs and advance their point of view?
[Background shouts] “The Colonial Secretary”. “He supports them”.
[responding] No. He has advanced a compromise point of view that does at least show some – though not sufficient — regard for truth and honesty to the Arabs. But, regardless of that, I must ask: is it true the Jews are returning to the native land they occupied in Biblical times? To the part of the territory ruled over by the Kings of Judah and Israel? If my honourable friend will read his history he will find that, with the exception of King David for 10 years and with the exception of Judas Maccabeas, no King of Judah or Israel ruled any portion of the coast.
Moreover, they are not the same people. There are different kinds of Jews. There are the Bagdadi Jews, who have lived in the utmost harmony with the Arabs, who are descended from people who left Palestine in the days of the captivity. People who sat down and wept by the waters of Babylon but after a time ceased weeping and did not return. Then there are the Sephardi Jews, of whom a very good example was Disraeli, one of the finest Prime Ministers this country has ever had. They came via Spain, Portugal and Italy. None of them are Zionists. Then there is the Ashkenazi Jew/ [the rest of his speech is drowned out.]

Actor: Mr James de Rothschild, member for Isle of Ely
ROTHSCHILD If, for ethnological reasons, the honourable Gentleman says that the people who are returning to Palestine now are not the same Jews as used to be there 1,500 years ago, let me tell him this: for the last 1,500 years these people, their parents, their grandparents, their ancestors, have prayed for the return of themselves and their children to the land which they revered. Surely, that is a sufficient claim.

CROSSLEY The right honourable gentleman refuses to take the point. The oft-repeated Jewish prayers he speaks of are no claim upon the Arabs.
ROTHSCHILD I ask the member for Stretford: What prospect is there to-day, and what prospect will there be in 10 years’ time, that the Arab State will protect and maintain the Jewish National Home? And who are they? We know for a fact that two of their recent delegation left immediately for Berlin afterwards. Does the right honourable gentleman think they have more respect for treaties than their German paymasters?
SPEAKER Order, order.

Actor: Col Ralph Glyn, member for Abingdon
GLYN As always, we come to the vexed question of a homeland. Lord Balfour felt — and I feel— that what we should do is to work for the Jews to have a spiritual National Home, a sort of Vatican City, where they can have extended universities and a new Temple of the Covenant; where they can enshrine that wonderful history and traditional belief in custom which has kept them together, scattered as they are over the face of the earth. The world cannot afford to lose Jewish art and culture. Why can we not preserve that without doing any harm to the Arab?

Actor: Colonel Josiah Wedgwood member for Newcastle-under-Lyme
WEDGWOOD Surely we must realise that the White Paper proposal put before us to-day is a belated example of the policy of appeasement. The country and the Government have dropped the policy of appeasement as regards the Axis of Mussolini and Hitler.

[background shouts] Yes! Not before time.
Actor: Philip Noel-Baker, member for Derby
NOEL-BAKER What is happening every day in Germany under Dr. Goebbels’ devilish decrees—no homes, no work, no hope, brutality and starvation for half a million Jews. And when these Jews try to escape and go to Palestine, they are what this Government call “illegal immigrants.” The Secretary of State’s proposition is a euphemism for giving way to lawless force. In the hope of getting peace, he would do a Munich on the Jews.
SPEAKER Day 2 of the debate.
WEDGWOOD Are we to practice appeasement again? I shall do my best to prevent it, and I hope everybody else here will do so. They are to be forbidden to buy land. I urge them to disobey. I hope the Jews will do as the crofters did in Scotland and as the Irish did on the land from which they were legally evicted—stand fast. Whatever the law may be about keeping out immigrants, every Jew will feel justified in doing everything he can to break that law.

Actor: Lieutenant-Colonel Leopold Amery, member for Birmingham Sparkbrook
AMERY The right honorable member is to be commended. The Jews are no longer a passive nation. They have drawn the breath of freedom and if this odious law passes they will fight.

Actor: The Reverend Dr. James Little, member for Down
LITTLE In truth, in Palestine, we are dealing with people of two races who have different ideals, and in Ireland the same difficulty existed. The proposal before us will drive the two peoples farther and farther apart. I stand here and say — to my deep sorrow — it happened in Ireland. I can foresee the very same thing happening between the Arabs and the Jews. The House is being asked to set up a witches’ cauldron in Palestine.

INSKIP. I do not for an instant accept the comparison. You have the Jews under the goad of savage persecution, and you have the Arabs in possession, dominant with their kith and kin in the greater part of the Arab Peninsula. How are we to satisfy the hopes, and how are we to allay the fears, of each? I can only say that if Palestine is the citadel of Jewish hopes, it is the native land of a large Arab population, and their reconciliation is the substance of the White Paper.

Actor: Speaker of the House
SPEAKER Members will now cast their votes.
[Actors slowly exit. There is a pause]

SPEAKER, enters with a slip of paper and reads out result
SPEAKER Ayes: two hundred sixty-eight, Nays: one hundred and seventy-nine. Abstentions: one hundred and ten. The bill is passed by a majority for the government of eighty-nine.


The Second World War 1939 – 1945

Estimated military and civilian up to 80 million.

Estimated military and civilian death in the European Theatre of war 46 million.

Among these were two-thirds the population of European Jews, exterminated by the Nazi regime and its collaborators in death camps. [music overlaps with the text].

Actors perform the song “Bei Mir Bist Du Sheyn” which is abruptly cut dead.


All scenes of ACT II take place in the Whitehall office of BEVIN.

ACT II: 1 May 1, 1946. ELIZABETH is working at her desk. BEVIN enters.

BEVIN [goes behind his own desk] Has Washington come back to us?

ELIZABETH Yes, early this morning. It’s not good, I’m afraid. President Truman refused to delay. They’ve gone ahead and published the committee’s recommendation.

BEVIN [smashes hand on his desk and explodes into a rage] Who do they think they are? Insufferable! Sheer bloody arrogance. All I asked Truman for was he hold publication until after we’ve had joint discussions [shouts angrily]. So much for an Anglo-American Commission. Easy for him to give in to the Zionists. Costs him nothing. Everybody knows Truman doesn’t want any more Jews in New York, so he’s happy for them go to Palestine. Well, they bloody well won’t get their way.

ELIZABETH [slightly taken aback by BEVIN’S vehemence] But isn’t it only a recommendation that/


SHERTOK Moshe Shertok. I represent the Yishuv as Head of the Political department of the Jewish Agency. In relation to the present question concerning the fate of European Jews, I state to the Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry that the right to return to Palestine was never, and is not today, considered by Jews to depend in any way on Arab consent.
End Interscene

BEVIN Does Truman have any idea what will happen if we do what he’s pushing and allow 100, 000 Jewish refugees into Palestine. The Arabs won’t stand for it. Why should they? Do the Zionists want a civil war?

ELIZABETH [calming things down] But surely it is only a recommendation.

BEVIN Yes, of course and we’ll refuse it. We have the mandate for Palestine not the Americans. It’s we who are responsible to Arabs as well as Jews in that country. They know our policy adheres to the 1939 White Paper. Pressure from an American-dominated committee isn’t going to change it.


SAKAKINI Khalik al-Sakakini. I am a Christian Palestinian, appointed by the British to be in charge of the education of the Palestinian population. I say this to this Anglo-American Commission, that the existing domination of the Arab population by the Jews is already intolerable. Immigration into Palestine of thousands more European Jews will doom my task and crush the hopes of the Arab people.

End interscene

BEVIN Yes, we have a sworn responsibility for the Jews in the country but not to the thousands of them outside it. Our situation in Palestine is bad enough already with daily attacks from Zionist terrorists who refuse our governance. More immigration will increase their number. No! The recommendation is grossly irresponsible.

ELIZABETH Will that be the PM’s reaction, then?

BEVIN Oh – Clem won’t stand for it any more than I will. The recommendation makes no mention of the caveat. What could be be more explicit — neither Jews nor Arabs are to be dominant. No, no, the whole cabinet will be behind us. [looks at watch] Where is he?

ELIZABETH He’s held up at the Treasury. We’re to expect a message from him

AZZAM Abd ul-Rahman Azzam. I speak as the Secretary General of the Arab League. The Zionist, the new Jew, pretends to have a civilizing mission: to bring progress to a backward, degenerate race. The Arabs stand and say No! We are a living, vitally strong nation. We are in our renaissance. We have a heritage of civilized and spiritual life. We are not going to allow ourselves to be controlled either by great nations or small nations or [pause] so-called dispersed nations. That is what I say to this Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry.
End Interscene

BEVIN We can start drafting a response. [ELIZABETH takes notes] We make our rejection of the recommendation crystal clear. We let their State Department know what we think of unilateral announcements. And [starts getting angry again] as for their behavior [stops].

ELIZABETH [waits with pen in the air] Their behaviour?

BEVIN [thinks and reformulates] We hold it is an act of unparalleled irresponsibility to suggest such a thing when British soldiers are being routinely killed by Jewish terrorists.

ELIZABETH Is that it?

BEVIN More or less. And make a note to reiterate Government policy that no unscheduled immigration is to take place under any circumstances.


BEN-GURION David Ben-Gurion. I represent the Yishuv as the President of the Jewish Agency. I have this to tell the Anglo-American Commission: Palestine is, and will always remain, our country. We are not here on sufferance. We are not here on the strength of the Balfour Declaration. We are not here by virtue of the British Mandate. We are here of right.
End of Interscene

BEVIN [Reading note from Attlee] “Truman won’t budge”. Of course he won’t. “So we restructure the mandate and get the Americans to persuade European countries to shoulder some of the refugee problem.” Hmmmm.

ELIZABETH Is that possible?

BEVIN [shrugs and continues reading] “Treasury’s response is simple: If the Americans wish to press Zionist claims and lecture Britain on its responsibilities, then they must help foot the bill: transporting, housing, maintaining the immigrants, suppressing terrorism, and every other cost along the way.”

ELIZABETH Will you be drafting that now?

BEVIN Later. Footing the bill. They won’t like it but they’ll probably go along with it. Americans. They’re bullies and I don’t trust them.

ELIZABETH They did help us beat Hitler.

BEVIN Yes, yes. And now they want to run the show.

[Sound effect of huge explosion]

ACT II: 2 July 23, 1946. Bevin’s Office. BEVIN is shaking hands with CUNNINGHAM.

BEVIN High Commissioner Cunningham, thank you for coming at such short notice. King David Hotel. Appalling. I find it hard to comprehend. I have only the barest information [consults paper] 91 dead — 28 of them British citizens, 41 Arabs, 17 Palestinian Jews, and a few others. And 46 injured, some seriously. Do we know who was behind it?

CUNNINGHAM The Irgun gang has claimed responsibility.

BEVIN These gangs. What’s their connection to the Haganah?

CUNNINGHAM The Jewish Agency denies any. The Haganah routinely disclaims responsibility for any of the gangs’ operations, but they appear to know about them beforehand. And do nothing to stop them.

BEVIN Why can’t our forces eliminate them?

CUNNINGHAM They’re too deep underground with secure networks in the Jewish population. The Irgun have attacked British interests before but nothing like this.

BEVIN And the other lot, the Stern gang. They’re the ones who kidnapped 2 British officers last month?

CUNNINGHAM Yes, as hostages against two of theirs we‘d captured. They’ve issued a declaration of war and said the British have no alternative but to fight them. They’re smaller than Irgun, but a hard, totally ruthless bunch.

BEVIN Who is this Stern?

CUNNINGHAM Avraham Stern. Was in Irgun but broke with them in ’39 when they agreed not to fight us during the war. We shot him in ‘42. But his disciples made him a martyr and continued his mission. They assassinated High Commissioner Lord Moyne in Cairo in ‘44.

BEVIN But the King David: why did Irgun blow up the secretariat, the civilian part, and not go after the military wing?

CUNNINGHAM Seems it was retaliation for last month’s arrest of the Agency leaders. The evidence we took away was in the secretariat, so they blew up that entire wing. They say they issued warnings 15 minutes and 10 minutes beforehand.

BEVIN Then why wasn’t the building evacuated?

CUNNINGHAM Not clear. Telephone switchboard girls say they get bomb warnings all the time. We’re still investigating. In any event they got in through the basement. Bunch of them in a lorry drove up, dressed like Arab workers. One of them was seen wheeling in milk churns.

BEVIN Milk churns?

CUNNINGHAM Filled with dynamite. Two of them escaped into the Old Jewish Quarter — we hit one. Dead when we found him. The other one is being interrogated.

BEVIN Who was in charge there?

CUNNINGHAM General Barker. Solid man, first rate record on the job. Did the right thing. Immediately imposed a shoot-to-kill curfew, house-to-house search of Tel Aviv.


CUNNINGHAM Though, I must say, he’s given to making unfortunate public pronouncements.

BEVIN Oh, in what way?

CUNNINGHAM. He decreed all fraternizing between British troops and Palestine Jews to cease. Ordered a total ban on patronizing Jewish shops which, he claimed, [consults a file he’s been holding] “will punish the race by striking at their pockets, show our contempt for them”.

BEVIN Unnecessary, the last thing we need and distasteful after what happened to them.


ACT II: 3 Tel Aviv Ben-Gurion

[phone rings] Ben-Gurion. [pauses] Yes, it was an Irgun initiative and you’re right, I did agree – in principle – to the their project for King David Hotel. But that was before I’d been given any details. [listens]

No, it was to be a demonstration against the British limits on immigration, destroying their records, embarrassing them, not a mass killing. Not blowing up a whole side of the building. What Begin has done has resulted in mass deaths and casualties – Jewish, British, Arab. That is not what was wanted. [listens]

Of course, when the plan emerged I asked Begin to suspend the operation. But he refused. Point blank. The British will make us suffer because of this. Curfews, house-to-house searches, mass arrests and detentions [slams down phone]. Irgun!

ACT II: 4 September-October 1946. Bevin’s office

BEVIN [on phone] Yes, but I’ll need it very soon. [hangs up] India! Hindus and Muslims. Slaughtering each other. [groans] The ghastly ferocity and religious hatred of it. Millions dead. You would think/

Bevin’s thoughts broken by phone ringing. He picks it up.

BEVIN Bevin. [pauses] . So what was the outcome? [listens] That doesn’t surprise me. And the Jews? [listens] Complete separation from the Arabs, withdrawal of British involvement? [snorts] Preposterous. And the Americans – did they side with the Zionists? [listens] I see, alright, I’ll ask Clem. [hangs up]

ATTLEE [enters agitated] There’s absolutely no dealing with the man. [to BEVIN] He sent me an advance copy of the speech he was about to give. I was horrified. I asked him to postpone delivering it. At least to give us time to discuss it. He didn’t reply and gave the speech anyway.

BEVIN [immediately] Was it an address to Congress?

ATTLEE No, Nothing like that, thank heavens. Apparently the speech is a customary event – every year on the eve of their religious holiday the American president greets the country’s Jews.

BEVIN Just the Jews?

ATTLEE It’s before their special day. Yom Kippur.

BEVIN [appears unsure]

ATTLEE The Day of Atonement: they fast and atone for their sins. It’s a different date each year – like Easter. That’s presumably why he couldn’t postpone the speech. [BEVIN ignores this last remark].

BEVIN I didn’t know they went in for fasting. What did Truman actually say?

ATTLEE He endorsed the partition solution as the only one. Said America recognized the plight of the Jewish refugees was tragic; a grave problem. Only solved by “substantial immigration” into Palestine.

BEVIN Of course not into America where they’d rather go [blows up] It’s the Jewish vote. If he doesn’t pander to the Zionists his Republican opponent – who is it: Dewey? – will.

ATTLEE Yes, Dewey.

BEVIN The thing’s a disgrace. I cannot conduct the international affairs of this country if my problems are the subject of their local elections. [shakes his head] How much more of this cursed immigration business must we endure?

ATTLEE [placating BEVIN] Look, I think we’re all weary of it and I know you’ve shouldered the burden. But one more effort. We bring both parties to London. The Arabs will agree to come. The Jews will need convincing, so we’ll offer to suspend all searches of Jewish villages, release the Jewish Agency leaders we interned in July, and various other moves, including replacing General Barker by somebody who isn’t an anathema to them.

BEVIN What will be on the table?

ATTLEE Still to be worked out, but in essence it would be Jewish and Arab districts — cantons — organized around the present settlements.

BEVIN But within a single overarching state?

ATTLEE Eventually. But initially under a British High Commissioner to allow the parties to agree on forms of self-government, official languages, and so on.

BEVIN [disbelieving] Cantons. Switzerland in the Middle East? [laughs]

ATTLEE Come now. I don’t for a moment think it will be easy, but we’ve run out of alternatives. It’s a last effort. If it doesn’t work then we’ve done all we can.

BEVIN If it doesn’t work we give it up.

ACT II: 5 January 1947, House of Commons.

Actor: Mr. Winston Churchill, member for Epping

CHURCHILL We are a country in severe financial straits. Our reserves are near depleted. The need to renew this war-shattered land could not be more urgent. We can no longer afford 40 million pounds a year to maintain an army of 100,000 troops safeguarding Palestine. I ask the Secretary for the Colonies: How long are we to stay there. And stay there for what?

Background shouts “Our obligations”, “Not any longer”, “Get out now”

CHURCHILL It is said there will be a civil war if we go. I think it very likely, but is that a reason for us to stay?

Background shouts “No”, “Yes it is”

I say we should not stay. Did we propose to stay in India? No, we did not. The responsibility for stopping civil war in Palestine ought to be borne by the United Nations and not by this overburdened country.

Background shouts “Shame”, “Sheer abrogation”, “Hear, hear”.

ACT II: 6 February 1947, House of Commons

BEVIN I surely do not need to explain to this House that the Mandate has proved to be unworkable in practice, and that the obligations undertaken by this government to the two communities in Palestine have been shown to be irreconcilable.

Background murmuring.

In light of this, we have therefore reached the conclusion that the only course now open to us is to submit the problem to the judgment of the United Nations.

Background chatter.

We intend to place before them an historical account of the way His Majesty’s Government have discharged their trust over the 25 years of our mandate. We shall ask the United Nations to consider our report, and to recommend a settlement of the problem. We do not intend ourselves to recommend any particular solution.

Finally, I must ask this House for patience. The United Nation General Council will not meet until September.

Background shouts “Pathetic”, “ A disgrace”, “Why not this a year ago?”

ACT II: 7: New York, Manchester, London 1947

May 14, 1947. Letter to New York Post
BEN HECHT May 14, 1947. From Ben Hecht: Letter to New York Post [Paper and pencil, writes.] Brave Hebrew fighters! The Jews of America such as myself stand with you in your battle against the British betrayers and invaders of the Jewish Homeland. We know the score. We’re aware the British pulled the UN trick because they saw the world starting to cheer those struggling against them. They figured the sound of respectable Jewish gabble before a world court would drown out Hebrew guns in Palestine. Well it hasn’t and it won’t.

Every time you brave fighters blow up a British arsenal, or wreck a British jail, or send a British railroad train sky high, or rob a British bank, or let go with your guns and bombs at the British enemy, the Jews of America make a little holiday in their hearts. You are our champions, the feather we Jews wear in our hats.

August 1947, Kitchen in Manchester house. [Sound: broken glass windows.]
GEORGE [Excited, reading newspaper]. Would you believe it. A riot. Hundreds of people smashing Jew shop windows. Here in Manchester! Whoa, why wasn’t I there. Mind you, could have been risky. I mean they’re not all Jewish shops. [reads] “Do not attack these premises. We’re British”. Well, that would have sorted it.

Can’t say I’m surprised. Stringing two British police sergeants up from a tree. What did the Jews expect? A bunch of flowers? Two of our blokes. Innocent coppers minding their own business. Hanging there like animals. Disgusting. No, I‘m not surprised. Shop windows and a bit of looting. Got off lightly, didn’t they.

August 1947, Phone home to Manchester from London.
ELIZABETH [On phone] Mum? It’s me, Elizabeth. [listens] No, no, there’s nothing wrong. I’m fine. I just wanted to talk. About what happened in Manchester. It’s all over the papers. Jewish shops [listens]. And near where we live. [listens]

I did see the picture. Those two police sargeants. Was on the front page of the Daily Express. But I felt sick looking at it. [listens] Of course I know, Cheetham Hill, I had friends from school from there. You remember. Anyway, what was it like? [listens]

What? Dad went down there. I can’t believe it – dad smashing windows. Why? That’s awful [listens]. Thank goodness for that. Even so, just watching, he could’ve got injured just being in the crowd. Or got arrested. The news called it a ‘riot’. But what were the police doing while all this was going on? [listens]

HECHT Unfortunately, a small percentage of American Jews are not with us; which includes practically all the important ‘respectable’ and influential ones, all the heads of organizations the American newspapers call “the Jewish leaders”. They cannot be relied upon. Every time you throw a punch at the British betrayers these ‘respectable’ Jews have a conniption fit.

GEORGE Funny, how the Jews always manage to have stuff in their shops. For their own kind of course. Black market during the war. It’s like rationing doesn’t apply to them. You can’t blame people for grabbing a bit of stuff, can you.

I don’t imagine the forces of law and order were all that bothered. Turned a blind eye I shouldn’t wonder. Some of the coppers I know would have been cheering them on, looting and all.

ELIZABETH “Can’t blame them for ‘standing by’?” Mum! Are you serious? It was nasty and violent and criminal. It’s the police’s job to protect people. [listens]

No, Mum, they’re not all the same. The ones who did that were a terrorist gang in Palestine — nothing to do with the Jews in Manchester. [listens] Yes, that’s what I’m saying — they’re not the same kind of people.

HECHT Tens of thousands of people across America have witnessed our pageant of solidarity with your cause. Here in New York I have written a play, A Flag is Born. Every night it packs houses bringing money and support for you. Already we have purchased a ship, named {proudly] the SS Ben Hecht. Not two months ago it proudly sailed to Palestine with 900 desperate Jewish refugees. How did the British greet them? As criminals. Shipping every last one of them to detention camps in Cyprus.

But we are not disheartened, that is only the beginning. We are raising millions for your struggle to free yourself from the British. The vast majority of American Jews are with you, our support, our aid, our money are on their way to you.

GEORGE And [ slapping the paper] says they’d booby trapped the bodies. Some poor bugger blown up trying to cut them down. Hateful bastards. I could see my way to smashing a few of their shops.

[reads] “Reports indicate that a Zionist gang responsible for previous terrorist attacks in Palestine has claimed responsibility”. Zionists? Terrorists? They’re Jews right? What have we done to them? [spits] Jews!

[Text and movement montage; overlapping text]

HECHT British betrayers. Brave Hebrew fighters! American Jews are with you!! Our pageant of solidarity!

GEORGE Innocent coppers! Black market. Jew shop windows. Booby trapped the bodies!

ELIZABETH Smashing windows! A riot. A terrorist gang. They’re not the same kind of people.

[Sound: Broken windows.]

ACT II: 8 September 1947, Bevin’s office

BEVIN [on phone, listening] Yes, that’s what I hear. The Jews have got wind of a draft proposal and Weizmann’s in Washington right now petitioning Truman to get it altered. [listens] But it’s out of our hands now. [hangs up]. [to ELIZABETH] Where were we?

ELIZABETH The Hecht business. The Home office has blocked any film bearing his name. And Truman has ordered a stop to his activities.

BEVIN Good. Shouldn’t have been allowed in the first place. What else do you have for me?

ELIZABETH A Report from United Nations Special Committee On Palestine.

BEVIN [groans] Oh, give me the gist?

ELIZABETH [scanning and summarizing document] Growing wave of anti-Semitism among American soldiers guarding Displaced Person camps. The team inspected camps in Munich, Vienna, Hamburg, Berlin. Found inmates uncontrollable. One American soldier killed, many badly beaten. Soldiers appear to be on the edge of an uprising. [scans paper] To prevent further violence American and British members of the team recommend DPs be allowed to immigrate to Palestine.

BEVIN The Americans are always pushing. Throwing their weight about. [wearily] Alright, draft a note: Absolutely no change in H.M. Government policy. Immigration only up to the numbers that can be safely accommodated, as previously decided on, etc. The Jews!

ELIZABETH [taken aback] But the people in the Displaced Person camps are desperate. What the Nazis did ….. The Jews have had unspeakable things done to them.

BEVIN Yes, they have, but I was thinking of the other Jews. The Zionists. All that hatred and violence against us. King David Hotel business. And dynamiting a crowded Officers’ mess. Then last month those two sergeants hanged. Despicable. And it’s still going on. Will go on until we leave.

ELIZABETH [concerned] If the Zionists do something cruel like that again, the hanging I mean, do you think there’ll be more Jewish shops smashed? Like in Manchester?

BEVIN No. I don’t recognize the British people in that kind of behavior. But times are hard. We’ve had a freezing winter, constant power cuts, shortages and queues for everything, food still rationed. People are suffering, they’re hungry and fed up. The Jews can get hold of food, they say, and before you know it shop windows get smashed. In a month the whole thing will be forgotten.


BEVIN I’m not saying there aren’t plenty in this country who don’t like Jews. That’s their right. It’s not written anywhere you have to like them.

ELIZABETH And there are some who hate them.

BEVIN No doubt. But as a people we English don’t persecute Jews, or deprive them of their rights, or round them up, or – God forbid — conduct murderous pogroms against them. [gets back to business] Didn’t you say there was another Palestine item?

ELIZABETH Yes, about a refugee ship in Hamburg.

BEVIN [instantly] Is this to do with the Exodus?

ELIZABETH [scans paper] Er — Yes.

BEVIN [resignedly] Go on.

ELIZABETH The ship was the Runnymead Park with 1485 refugees on board transshipped from the Exodus. The passengers refused to disembark and were shouting ‘Nazis’ at the British authorities. The military used fire hoses and truncheons to rout resisters below decks. 24 Jews and 3 British soldiers were injured. After screening they will be sent back to DP camps in Germany.

BEVIN Dear God. Will it never ever end.

ELIZABETH [hesitant] And there’s a news report.

BEVIN [prompting] Yes?

ELIZABETH [pauses, then reads] “German police in Hamburg put down a demonstration by 1300 Jewish Displaced Persons from the Bergen-Belsen camp. They were supporting the refugees from the ship [starts to choke up] and had hanged an effigy of British Foreign secretary Ernest Bevin.” Oh, I am sorry. [edge of tears] How awful.

BEVIN My dear, please don’t be upset on my account. Better an effigy of me by desperate people than the slur, anti-Semite, leveled at me by those who should know better.

ELIZABETH But you are surely not anything of the kind. Why do they say that?

BEVIN Because in all my dealings with them I refused to treat the Jews as a special people whose rights trumped everybody else’s.

ELIZABETH Do you mean as the chosen race?

BEVIN You could say that. They regard the Arab occupants of Palestine as an inferior race and insist they’re the rightful occupants of the land God gave to them. They want unlimited immigration which will produce a brutal civil war with many dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. I have refused and still refuse to be midwife to such an event.

ELIZABETH So does that make you an anti-Semite?

BEVIN In Zionist logic if you’re not with them, if you don’t further their mission, then you’re obstructing it. If you’re not pro-Semitic, you’re an anti-Semite. I was not pro-Semitic in my dealings with them.

ELIZABETH I’ve met other people, not just Zionists, who think like that.

BEVIN I don’t doubt it. But the Zionists seem to have made a special study of it.


ACT III: 1 December 1947, Meeting room, Tel Aviv. A large copy of the UN partition map of Palestine is visible.

YADIN [gesturing to map] Totally unworkable. Tel Aviv-Jerusalem road is in territory assigned to the Arabs? Without convoys our people there will starve. The main roads from Beersheba to Haifa [indicating on map] are in territory assigned to Arabs. We need to secure them and create buffer zones.

DANIN Buffer zones? Why? The Arabs refused the partition. Why should we take notice of what’s assigned to them. By right it’s all ours from the Mediterranean to the Jordan — not 56% [contemptuous gesture at map].

BEN GURION [to DANIN] Ezra, please, now is not the time. The immediate situation is inside our territory. 40% of the population in the areas allocated to us are Arabs. Jaffa completely Arab, Haifa mixed. And all these Arab villages [sweeps across the map.] We are talking of hundreds of thousands of Arabs. Their presence cannot be tolerated.

DANIN Obviously not. A potential fifth column of Arabs in our midst. Ideally there should be none whatsoever. Otherwise how is it a Jewish State.

BEN GURION Ideally, yes. But we’re dealing with realities. What are you suggesting, Ezra, we imprison them all?

DANIN No, get rid of them. They’re on our land. Let them go join people of their own race [gestures to outside of map] The Arabs are not short of land out there.

BEN GURION Yes, but they need to be made to leave. Made to see they’re not welcome. They must fear for their lives.

DANIN Yes. How?

YADIN Haganah will conduct incursions — surprise ‘security operations’ — into selected villages, searching for infiltrators, members of banned organizations, weapons, you name it. Hostile elements will be killed. The objective is to produce fear, to let them know we are in control here now.

DANIN Producing fear is easy. There are many things we can do.


DANIN Destroy their buses and lorries carrying agricultural products. Sink fishing boats. Block raw materials from reaching their factories. I could organize this. Of course they’ll riot. Smash windows. Maybe attack some people. But they’d get the message.

BEN GURION Hmmm. [pause] But no, that would make a lot of noise and attract attention. The business has to be seen as a routine security operation with minimum publicity. This is essential. [to YADIN] Having to apologize for dynamiting a few miserable Arab houses in the middle of the night – after Haganah had categorically denied it — is not something I want to do ever again.

YADIN Look, the New York Times reporter was persistent, wouldn’t leave it alone. He had solid evidence our troops were involved against the village. The operation was originally approved and then a cancellation order was sent but the commander for the northern Palmach. He says he didn’t get it in time.

DANIN Why are we so worried about American reporters. What happened up there got results. The Arabs in the North are now terrified. Isn’t that what we’re talking about?

BEN GURION [doesn’t contradict DANIN] Yes, it is. But I repeat, we need to keep foreign reporters away from our operations.

ACT III: 2 March 1948, British military outpost in Northern Palestine. RECRUIT is looking through binoculars out a high window, SOLDIER is reading a newspaper]

RECRUIT So what are we supposed to do?

SOLDIER Nothing. The orders are simple. Are they attacking us? No. Are they destroying our lines of communication? No. Then we stay put and keep watch. Which my old son is what you seem to be doing. [gets back to newspaper]

RECRUIT Two trucks packed with troops, rear one with a mounted machine gun. An armoured vehicle – 2 of them [pauses] They’re surrounding the place. [to SOLDIER] Looks serious. What do you reckon?

SOLDIER I reckon they mean business: occupy the village, separate the men, shoot a few, blow a few houses up and put the frighteners on who’s left. There’ll be a lot of terrified Arabs running into the hills.

Intermittent gunfire, RECRUIT with binoculars again.

RECRUIT You’re dead right. They just put two of them against the wall and shot them. Point blank. What’s going on?

SOLDIER I wouldn’t know. Maybe they were hiding a gun, some old rifle left over from the war I wouldn’t wonder.

RECRUIT I didn’t see no gun.

SOLDIER Could be punishment – Arabs gave them the lip.
Who knows. Maybe the Jew farm down the road wants the land. Maybe the site is a military asset. Doesn’t really matter. The Jews hate the Arabs, they know we’re going, and they can’t wait to get rid of ‘em. Can’t say I’m a fan of the Arabs myself. [pause] Or the Jews.

Sound of explosions, RECRUIT binoculars again.

RECRUIT Jesus. They’re throwing grenades into the mosque. Can they do that – blow up a mosque ? [pause] There are bodies in the entrance.

SOLDIER [Trying to read newspaper] Give it a rest will you. You can stop your watch now, soldier.

RECRUIT climbs down from window

RECRUIT [a bit shaken] First time I’ve seen anything like that. Shooting civilians. The bodies lying there.

SOLDIER You get used to it. Bodies. Body parts. Saw enough of those. I was stationed in Jerusalem when the Jews bombed the King David Hotel. We had to go in what was left of the place and bring out the bodies.

RECRUIT Why go and blow up a hotel.

SOLDIER British HQ. Overthrow British rule. Zionist gangs. Ruthless bastards been fighting and murdering our lot since the war ended. They don’t give up. Well, the fuckers have finally done it. [shouts] We’re leaving.

RECRUIT And now it’s the Arabs – the Jews are getting rid of

SOLDIER Looks like it. I don’t like to think what those gangs will do if they’re let loose on the Arabs.

ACT III: 3 March, 1948 Tel Aviv, a meeting hall. YADIN is about to address a large military audience.

BEN-GURION This is a general briefing, the fate of captives is for platoon commanders not intelligence. The question shouldn’t arise.

YADIN Yes, but suppose it does. What’s the policy? What do we do with them?

BEN-GURION What do we do with them? [grimaces, makes dismissive flicking gesture as his answer] Go now, address the officers. [exits]

YADIN You are all aware we have reached a crucial stage. As intelligence and liason officers you need to understand the rationale of this campaign. In the 3 months since the partition, our policy towards the inhabitants of Arab villages has been one of retaliation and reprisals. Some have fled but the majority continue to
occupy our land. They cannot be allowed to remain.

Audience sounds of agreement.

GHOST enters; she is a young girl played by an actress with a child puppet. Sound of Oud music underscores her entrance.

If we are to secure a Jewish state, more decisive measures are called for. We need to take the initiative. To go on the offensive.

Supporting cheers from audience. GHOST observes the audience, she seems to be listening to what YADIN is saying.

All Arab villages will be surrounded and searched. Resistors will be eliminated and the inhabitants expelled beyond our borders. Villages with strategic value are to be destroyed outright. Modifications of this approach will be used in Arab urban communities such as Jaffa and mixed ones like Haifa.

All brigades will be involved. Detailed instructions on how these operations are to be executed at platoon and company levels will be passed down from Brigade commanders. They will depend on local conditions. Your job is to make your surveillance reports on individuals and villages available, as and when required.

Know that the British have no interest in coming to the Arabs’ defence. Experimental raids on villages under their noses, while they watched, elicited nil response.

Last: newspaper chatter of our ‘annihilation’ at the hands of vast Arab armies, of a ‘second holocaust’ in the making, etc. Hysteria. Nonsense. But use it – the fight is for our survival, our homeland. But first we must clear the land of Arabs. [Yadin shakes Ben-Gurion’s hand with a sense of triumph.]

Audience erupts: clapping, shouts of support and enthusiasm

GHOST stays on stage. Her presence continues into the next.

ACT III: 4 April 12, 1948. Jerusalem Hospital. Fahimeh ZEIDAN, revealed to be the GHOST. At first, her voice is flat, with no affect. Her speech is underscored with Oud music.

ZEIDAN The whole village was asleep. Hundreds of Jews with heavy guns and bombs started attacking us. The men in the village with pistols tried to stop them. The Jews blew them up. The Mukhtar said it was a mistake. The Haganah was friendly to the village and signed a paper. He went to ask help from the British. But it was no good.

The Jews sprayed bullets into the houses. Shouting and laughing.

They took us out one after the other. [long pause] They shot an old man. And when one of his daughters cried she was shot too. They stabbed a woman with a baby in her. [long pause] Then they called my brother Muhammad and shot him in front of us. [long pause] My mother bent down to touch him. She was still breastfeeding my little sister Hudra. [long pause] Then they shot her too.

In the afternoon the Jews were stealing and robbing the houses. They took chickens, and wireless sets, and gold. They were fighting over it. Then they rounded up people into trucks and took them to the next village. They shot the young boys and told the old ones “Go to King Abdullah – he’ll take you!”

In the evening they searched the village for men and shot them dead. Then two trucks came and we were taken through the village of Gival Shaul. The Jews in the street laughed and pointed. And spat at us.

Later they drove us out to the main road and made us get out. The men formed a circle around us and the Jewish girls stripped us naked. They took our rings and earrings. When we were naked they took pictures of us. They told us to get dressed and left us there.

When it was quiet I went down the hill to Ayn Karam. I saw women from the village under a fig tree. They had no shoes and their clothes were torn open. [long pause] I could not look at them.

I was dizzy and fell down.

She drops to the floor, actress catches her as she falls and slowly carries her off stage. The ensemble focus on her exit.

ACT III: 5 April 1948, Tel Aviv apartment of Ben-Gurion. BEN-GURION is pacing, agitated. LIASON enters. He knows this isn’t going to be pleasant.

BEN GURION [angry] Deir Yassin! Tell me how the clearing of an Arab village, a routine operation Haganah has carried out many times, turned into a massacre?

LIASON Haganah didn’t handle this directly.

BEN GURION ‘directly’?

LIASON Haganah had an existing pact with Deir Yassin. The village was cooperative and officially designated by them as friendly to our settlements. So Haganah decided to keep in the background and assign the operation.

BEN-GURION Assign? Assign to whom?

LIASON Irgun and Stern.

BEN-GURION [disbelieving] They joined forces?

LIASON They agreed to attack the village from different directions.

BEN GURION Bad decision, waste of resources, unnecessary killing of women and children. And then parading captured Arabs through the streets in triumph. Whose triumph was that?

LIASON The Irgun.

BEN GURION And who authorized this ‘assignment’? I’m the chairman of the Executive Committee – I was not informed. The Committee will want a report from the officer who made the decision. And Haganah is to reprimand the Irgun commander who paraded the prisoners. Officially. I will issue a public statement and apology to that effect. Is that clear?

LIASON Perfectly. [exits]

BEN-GURION [hands CUNNINGHAM a paper] High Commissioner Cunningham, My apologies.


CUNNINGHAM is reading the last paragraph of a letter.

CUNNINGHAM Finally, one should remember, that even though our own policy over the past two years has avoided reprisals against innocent Jews, we have never escaped the vociferous and hysterical accusations of the Jews that we were a people who were prone to brutal reprisals.

Now they themselves have come out with reprisals of a nature which would not even have crossed the mind of any soldier here, and which are an offence to civilization. [pauses, nods, then signs the letter]

End Interscene.

WEIZMANN Deir Yassin. What on God’s earth happened. Indiscriminate killing of pregnant women, babies. Rape? Parading captives through the streets. Our people laughing and spitting on them. What the Nazis did to the Jews in Berlin? The world’s newspapers are full of it. It looks bad for us. What has it come to?

BEN GURION It has come to what it needed to come to. What was planned. You know that. We are clearing the land of Arabs. There are hundreds of such villages. There are bound to be incidents. The business at Deir Yassin was unfortunate. A telegram of apology has been sent to King Abdullah. These things happen. [shrugs dismissively] But enough. [pause] Washington – what did you find out there?

WEIZMANN The Americans are having second thoughts.

BEN GURION What do you mean — about the partition? How can that be? Nothing’s changed.

WEIZMANN They don’t like what they see here.

BEN GURION What did they expect. That we’d let the Arabs occupy our land.

WEIZMANN Not just that — there’s oil. Powerful interests in the State Department are against us. They’re urging it was a mistake to have backed us when it’s the Arabs who own the oil fields. Truman is listening to them. They want to undo the partition and replace it with a United Nations trusteeship. A Swedish diplomat, Count Bernadotte, is being sent here to investigate.

BEN GURION A trusteeship? Never. How do we handle it?

WEIZMANN We subvert it. Establish facts on the ground. Make any going back, any undoing impossible. Occupy and secure territory. The English have a saying ‘Possession is nine tenths of the law’.

BEN GURION Then this Count Bernadotte must learn the truth of that piece of British wisdom when he gets here.

ACT III: 6 April 1948, Jerusalem. House of Khalil al-Sakakini

SAKAKINI is packing books into a box. His daughter HALA enters.

HALA Baba , Baba. What are you doing? We have to leave.

SAKAKINI I cannot leave without my books. [continues packing]

HALA Father, are you mad. The Jews are on the edge of Katamon.

Sound of machine gun fire in distance.

We have to leave now. We cannot take books to Egypt with us. Please.

An explosion in the distance.

Stop this. Come. We have to go. Now.

SAKAKINI Goodbye my books! Farewell to the house of wisdom, the temple of philosophy, the scientific institute, the literary academy!

How much midnight oil did I burn with you, reading and writing in the silence of the night while the people slept — farewell my books.

I do not know what will become of you after we leave. Will you be looted? Burned? Will you be transferred with due respect, to a public or private library?

Or will you find your way to the grocer, your pages wrapping onions?

[They exit]

ACT III: 7 May 14, 1948 Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Two moments on the day in two different cities: simultaneous scenes.

In Tel Aviv Ben-Gurion sits a desk and reads the declaration that is broadcast on the radio. Crackling sound of period radio broadcast in background.
BEN-GURION The land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they created a culture of universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.
Exiled, the Jewish people kept alive throughout the centuries the dream of returning to the land of their fathers. Early in this century many came. They reclaimed the wilderness, revived their ancient language, built cities and villages and established a civilized, ever-growing community.
In Jerusalem British soldiers retire the Union Jack as the declaration means the end of their colonial oversight. Four British soldiers rise—slowly at this point and stand at attention.
On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a Resolution for the establishment of an independent Jewish State in Palestine, and called upon the inhabitants of the country to take such steps as may be necessary on their part to put the plan into effect.
The soldiers move in slow motion to the two Union Jacks.
The resolution recognizes right of the Jewish people to establish their independent State, the right like all other nations to be its own sovereign State.
Accordingly we, the members of the National Council, representing the Jewish people in Palestine and the Zionist movement of the world:
Hereby declare the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called ISRAEL.
The soldiers reach the Union Jacks, stand at attention and salute. While a bugle sounds the “Retreat Call”, the soldiers take down the flags and slowly fold them while Ben-Gurion continues.
Our call goes out to the Jewish people all over the world. We ask them to rally to our side and to stand by us in the great struggle for the fulfillment of the dream of generations.
The sound of artillery guns firing three times follows the flags removal. Soldiers’ movement has a ritual quality throughout this scene.
With trust in Almighty God, we set our hand to this Declaration, at this Session of the Provisional State Council, in the city of Tel Aviv, on this Sabbath eve, the fifth day of Iyar, five thousand seven hundred and eight, the fourteenth day of May, 1948.
The music and noise of gun firing spills over into next scene.

ACT III: Scene 8 Jerusalem, May 14, 1948. WEIZMANN and BEN-GURION.

WEIZMANN But I thought I knew them. Worked with them in the war – gave then a whole new acetate process; taught for years at Manchester University, knew Churchill, Balfour, Lloyd George. Became a British citizen! [shakes his head]

BEN-GURION And then 1939 – the knife in the ribs.

GHOST enters during the following speech.

WEIZMANN The outright treachery of that White Paper. [Getting agitated, slowly tears a large piece of white paper into shreds] And they can have their citizenship. The mandate! How I came to loath that very word. [patronizing English manner] “But Dr. Weizmann you seem not to understand, the mandate obliges us to respect both peoples in Palestine. The rights of both. You have spoken as if the country were empty.”

BEN-GURION Stupid accusation — as if we’d ever denied that there were Arabs here. But rights?

WEIZMANN As if. No! Not a land without people. We spoke always of Palestine as a land without a people. The Arabs on our land are not, were not, never will be a people. They have no history, no memory, no identity, no customs, no traditions no practices, no beliefs that bind them to each other as a people. No culture. What are they?

BEN-GURION Peasants with their camels and donkeys, working land belonging to rich Effendi somewhere in Turkey. Fellahin who’ve been here for generations? And that makes it their land? Our claim goes back to Moses. They had to go. They needed to be made unwelcome. That made them angry. I’d be angry. You’d be angry.

WEIZMANN Of course. But it’s not the same for them [makes a dismissive gesture]. They have no history. In a generation they’ll have forgotten their anger.

BEN-GURION We did what was necessary to do. And we should feel upset about it? Guilty? Huh! What we’ve done to the Arabs is a flea bite, a scratch compared to what ‘s been done to the Jews.

WEIZMANN It would insult those who died in the death camps to compare them. In all of human history over thousands of years who has suffered as we have. [agitated].

BEN-GURION [diverts him] Yes, my friend, but this year, now. today, we’re rejoicing, we are an independent state They’re dancing in the streets out there.

WEIZMANN A state yet to be internationally recognized.

BEN-GURION Come on, you know very well many nations will recognize us.

WEIZMANN But only one counts: America. And that’s in the balance.

BEN-GURION Is it really uncertain?

WEIZMANN Yes, it is. Truman has Rusk advising him saying we’re too friendly with the Soviet block, he has Marshall in one ear and I forget who in the other telling him The Arabs own the oil: it’s a policy mistake to recognize an independent Jewish state. I wrote to him appealing to our shared moral sense.

BEN-GURION When will we know?

WEIZMANN I don’t know. Soon perhaps – he has an evening press conference.

BEN-GURION And he’ll address it?

WEIZMANN It’ll be the first question put to him.

BEN-GURION Well, all we can do now is to wait for the/ [doorbell interrupts him, he is handed a piece of paper.] Thank you. A cable from Washington. [declaims] The government of the United States of America grants de facto recognition to the newly declared State of Israel. May 14, 6.10 pm. Washington!

WEIZMANN [moved] Thank you, thank you. God Bless you, President Truman.

BEN-GURION You did it, your appeal to him worked.

WEIZMANN Maybe. But it is an election year and Jews vote.

BEN-GURION fetches a bottle of Champagne, uncorks it and pours. They clink glasses.

BEN-GURION At midnight, not two hours ago, the British lifted their blockade. Ships with thousands of machine guns and field weapons can now unload. More ships with tanks, airplanes and materiel from Czechoslovakia, France, from [waves his hand] are on their way. There is help from America. We are more powerful than the Arabs imagine. We will win this war. I feel it in my bones. And then, when we’ve driven off the threat, you will be made president. [he toasts] To Chaim Weizmann, first president of the new nation State of Israel!

WEIZMANN And you, you will organize the political parties, hold democratic elections, and be elected Prime Minister. [toasts] To David Ben-Gurion, first Prime Minister of the State of Israel!

They drink.

BEN-GURION At midnight the Arabs declared war on us.

[GHOST enters]

WEIZMANN [Gives a large Jewish shrug] So? We fight them. [exits]

Sounds of a street party flood in. The singing of Hatikvah is heard. He stares up at the sky and shouts.

BEN-GURION Tomorrow, the sixth day of Iyar, 5708 [pauses] May 15th, 1948. The war begins.


The GHOST remains.


Copyright Brian Rotman

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