Not all good historians are necessarily good writers. In the blurb of this book, we read that Tom Segev's work is "considered the cornerstone of Israel's so-called 'new historiography'". The advantage of Segev's book One Palestine, Complete is not only that it sheds new light on the history of the British Mandate in Palestine but that it is an example of how good history can also make good reading. Though it is not without its faults, this book is recommended for anyone who appreciates an original and thought-provoking treatment of an important subject by a talented writer.
The Mandate was ratified by the League of Nations in April 25, 1920 and ended with the lowering of the Union Jack in Jerusalem on May 14, 1948. Segev's account of nearly thirty years of turbulent relations between British, Arabs and Jews, culminating in the establishment of the state of Israel, ends there. But as he so often does, he adds what can be called "the human element", quoting, as he puts it, "a somewhat absurd postscript" from the diary of British mandatory official Captain James Pollock, who writes: "A very sad day...the Jews have proclaimed their independent state."

Tabor in Jerusalem

In his distinctive style as a historian, Tom Segev writes no less about people, be they British, Arab or Jewish from all walks of life, than about the large local, regional and international themes which dominated the period. In this he is well served by a number of contemporary diaries, like Pollock's. So who was Pollock? He arrived in Palestine in the winter of 1917, shortly after General Allenby captured Jerusalem. The Captain was wont to have his photo taken, like Lawrence of Arabia, wearing an Arab headdress. Segev enjoys describing the idiosyncracies of the British colonial service where Pollock served as assistant military governor of Ramallah, living in Jerusalem in a large stone house in the Street of the Prophets.
The house "was named Tabor, after the mountain in the Galilee. James Pollock and his wife, Margaret, had the name printed on their stationery, as if the house was their family estate." The Pollock home had a cook, a valet, a housemaid and a nurse for their child, prompting the Captain to write home to his mother that "it was very similar to any English home", what with the dinner parties for other members of the small British community and their going out horse riding in the afternoon. Tom Segev thinks that "the British colonial service did well by them: They often lived far better in Jerusalem than they ever could have lived at home." Some may dismiss this as inessential gossip, others will take note of it as relevant social history: As this reviewer sees it, the reader of Segev-style history only stands to gain from the frequent addition of the human dimension to the chronological discourse.
Pollock aside, the serious question arising from a study of the Mandate is; to whom was the mandatory administration more favorable, the Arabs or the Jews? Segev's answer is clear - the Jews. It must be remembered that the preamble of the Mandate stated that its purpose was to put into effect the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917 which referred, among other things, to the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine while safeguarding the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities. The Mandate also spoke (vaguely and perhaps deliberately so) of the development of self-governing institutions. Tom Segev believes that after World War I, "the mandatory system was designed to give colonialism a cleaner more modern look. The Allied powers refrained from dividing up the conqueror's spoils as in the past; rather, they invited themselves to serve as "trustees" for backward peoples, with the ostensible purpose of preparing themselves for independence." In reality this was "merely a reworking of colonial rule."

Jews and "International Power"

Concerning Britain's reasons for issuing the Balfour Declaration, which the Mandate was meant to implement, one should note Segev's conviction that, in general, the Gentile world believed that "the Jewish race" exercised something that Lloyd George referred to in his memoirs as "world-wide influence and capability." Lord Robert Cecil, British undersecretary at the Foreign Office in the last years of World War I said: "I do not think it is easy to exaggerate the international power of the Jews." As for Balfour himself, Segev considers that "always in the background was his evaluation of Jewish power" and he quotes Balfour's statement in Parliament in 1922 that "Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land." Chaim Weizmann, the veteran Zionist leader who was to become Israel's first President tended to encourage such thinking for his own purposes. (This had some odd ramifications, for example, in the widespread anti-Semitic accusation that "the Jews" were behind the Bolshevik revolution).
Chaim Weizmann, with whom the Balfour Declaration is often personally associated, and rightly so, was an outright Anglophile. However, support for his pro-British stance by the Jews in Palestine progressively decreased in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.
Norman Rose, in his "Chaim Weizmann - a Biography" (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London 1986), writes that, "one cynic noted that the process of whittling down the Balfour Declaration (November 2) began on November 3, 1917. Weizmann, in his darker moments would have concurred." This is in the spirit of Zionist-oriented historians who claim that, between the two World Wars, British support for the Balfour Declaration was gradually eroded, culminating in the 1939 White Paper that was seen as finally surrendering to "Arab pressure."
Subsequently, the statement by General Barker, commander of the British forces in Palestine following the blowing up in the summer of 1946 of a wing of Jerusalem's prestigious King David Hotel by Jewish terrorist groups Etzel and Lechi, was widely quoted. Barker wrote to his troops that they should avoid mixing with the Jewish population and "the Jews had to learn just how much the British despised them and the best way to punish them was by striking at their pockets, which the race particularly disliked." Segev goes on to quote from a later letter by Barker to his lover in which he spoke of the Jews as "damned race" and "loathsome people." This is said to show the existence of an alliance between anti-Zionists and anti-Semites.

The Mentality of the Rulers

Nevertheless, Tom Segev is at pains to point out that even when facing the terrorism of the Jewish Etzel and Lechi groups, the British "never acted against the Jews with the determination and harshness that characterized their suppression of the (1936-39) Arab rebellion." He attributes this to "a powerful (British) sense of moral limitation on harsh behavior toward Jews" and refers to the sympathy with which many British soldiers viewed Jewish suffering at the hands of the Nazis. In his overall evaluation of the Mandate period, Tom Segev appears to me to have little in common with those historians who would have us believe that the State of Israel arose in 1948 in spite of the Mandate.
Contrary to such perceptions, Segev thinks that in their colonial heyday, the British did much for the country, and particularly for the Jews, while getting little in return. Even if, as a colonial power, their reasons for coming cannot have been only philanthropic, Segev quotes one British official as saying that, in the early days of British rule "Palestine for most of us was an emotion rather than a reality." By 1947, Britain was no longer Great and their waning strength forced them to leave India, which was of course the jewel in the empire's crown, never mind Palestine. Segev records, for example, that even at the last moment, before finally leaving Palestine in the summer of 1948, the British evacuation plan "left responsibility for Jewish population centers in British hands almost to the last minute, thus impeding Arab war plans." Segev thinks that their mentality as rulers, and not sympathy with the Zionist movement, moved the British officials to take into account that after they left, somebody had to continue running the courts and the trains. The author closes this section of his book with the remark that, "How the administration would have acted had the Arabs also had a government-in-waiting remains an open question."


This brings us to what is incomplete in One Palestine, Complete. While the book is sub-titled "Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate", unfortunately the Arab part of the story is a relatively minor theme compared to the Jewish part. A 1922 British census recorded a population of 661,000 Arabs and 64,000 Jews in Palestine (more than 10 to one); Segev himself writes that "at the beginning of the 1930s, Jews were about 17 percent of the population; by the mid-1940s, they were 30 percent - almost half a million." In other words, Palestine under the Mandate always had an Arab majority, overwhelming in the 1920s and still considerable in the 1940s. This is not reflected in the book, as one can see from a superficial glance at the Index, where there are over 200 Jewish names compared to less than 50 Arabs (with the number of British being somewhere between the two).
It is often said, and truly so, that history is usually written by the victors, but one feels that in his historical approach, this can in no way apply to Tom Segev or to his book. Perhaps the reasons for the glaring lack of symmetry have something to do with the historical sources available to the writer. Whatever the explanation, the fact remains that in this work the Arab-Palestinian narrative is far weaker than the Jewish-Israeli narrative and this must be regarded as a regrettable flaw in an otherwise worthwhile book. Another prominent "new historian", Ilan Pappe, quoted Lord Acton writing in the 1906 edition of the Cambridge Modern History that, "our Waterloo must be one that satisfies French and English." It seems that we in Israel/Palestine aren't yet able to heed such good advice.