Wednesday 17 May 2023

A Grim Template.

Witnesses To A Massacre? The New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance served in Sinai and Palestine in the latter years of the First World War. What connection, if any, did it have to the bloody events at Surafend? Major Alexander M. Trotter (the author’s grandfather) is seated on the right in the second row.

I DON’T BELIEVE my grandfather participated in the Surafend Massacre, but it’s possible he treated some of the wounded. He was definitely “in theatre” at the time. That is to say he was in Palestine. Riding with the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance and the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade alongside the Australian Light Horse. The latter two entities were up to their bloody armpits in the Surafend Massacre, but for the most part the attack was led by ordinary rank-and-file troopers – not their officers. Which is not to say that their officers didn’t look the other way when their men descended upon the little Palestinian village to avenge their mate, Trooper Lesley Lowry, tragically murdered by a Palestinian thief on 9 December 1918 – just 28 days after the war officially came to an end.

Certainly New Zealand and Australian officers remained steadfastly tight-lipped in the faces of the investigation team sent by a furious General Edmund Allenby. The British commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force demanded the identities of the troopers involved in the killing of 30 Palestinian civilians. Denied even a single name, Allenby vented his spleen on the New Zealand and Australian perpetrators. He did not mince his words:

“I was proud of you as brave soldiers but now I am ashamed of you as cold-blooded murderers.”

Allenby’s words came close to provoking a mutiny among the Australian and New Zealand troops, and he was soon forced to retract them.

The Jewish settlers of Rishon LeZion, a Zionist settlement not far from Surafend could not understand what all the fuss was about. Even in 1918 (some might say especially in 1918, barely a year since the Balfour Declaration promising the Jews a homeland in Palestine) there was no love lost between Jew and Arab.

The inhabitants of Rishon LeZion had, however, erected a memorial to the New Zealanders who had fallen twelve months earlier in the Battle of Ayun Kara. The shrewd Zionists of Rishon LeZion understood both the vital importance of freeing Palestine from Ottoman Control and how critical it was that the British Empire become the Holy Land’s new overlord. And they never forgot the New Zealanders. For many years after the First World War, the leaders of Rishon LeZion would send a Christmas message to New Zealand newspapers:

[T]he memory of the New Zealand and Australian troops, Anzac, remains carved in our hearts. You won the highest praise for your splendid valour right throughout the campaign and no less than your valour in battle was your chivalry to the people of the country.

Not a sentiment the villagers of Surafend were likely to endorse, but the Zionists of Rishon LeZion understood that the State of Israel they were so determined to build would always be in need of friends.

How disturbing it would be to discover that the destruction of Surafend by the New Zealanders and Australians in 1918 served as a grim template for what the Palestinians call the “Nakba” – those terrible days in 1948 and 1949 when Jewish militias fell upon the towns and villages of Palestinian Arabs and drove more than half-a-million of their inhabitants into exile. Without these mass expulsions – this ethnic cleansing – the State of Israel could not have been securely established.

Terror has its uses. In spite of his fury at the Surafend Massacre, General Allenby soon found it expedient to employ the New Zealand Mounted Rifles and the Australian Light Horse in quelling the anti-imperialist uprisings that erupted across British-occupied Egypt in March-April of 1919. The mere prospect of receiving a visit from the General’s Surafend “murderers” was usually sufficient to quieten-down any ungrateful and unruly wards of the King-Emperor.

Did my grandfather, a country doctor for 40 years in Herbert, North Otago, listening to news bulletins on the radio receiver he’d built himself, ever recall those long ago events? He must have known about Surafend – especially after Allenby’s outburst. His copy of Lieutenant-Colonel C. Guy Powles The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine is sitting on my desk as I write these words. The “disturbance” at Surafend is described. When he heard about the bitter events of May 1948, did he recall their deadly precursor of December 1918?

What were his feelings when he read those Christmas messages from Rishon LeZion in the Otago Daily Times?

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star of Friday, 12 May 2023.


Shane McDowall said...

Israel exists because of the Holocaust.

The Palestinians are paying a heavy price for the crimes of the Germans.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

All I can say is that I'm glad my dad was in the Navy – because the closest he came to wanting the massacre someone was after he'd helped liberate a Japanese POW camp – something he never really recovered from with regards to his feelings towards the Japanese. And I'm glad both my grandfathers were in France, one in the artillery – we had to yell at him a lot – and one digging underground because he was a miner of some sort. Neither of them felt the need to massacre anyone.
But I got my father's old photograph albums out the other day because I thought my son should know what his grandad went through. God help us they're full of comments about wogs. I doubt if he thought it was even insulting. I don't know if he was educated to think that English people were superior, he was barely educated at all, but I think it probably soaked in due to all the banal nationalism that was circulating at the time. He got over it eventually, particularly after he came to New Zealand and had to work with brown people only to find that they were human beings.
But when you dehumanise people like that and like the Israelis do to the Palestinians it's a lot easier to kill them. I was active on the old Huffington post years ago, and jousted regularly with Zionists. They all referred to the Palestinians as "Pals" or "Palis" both of which I regarded as demeaning diminutives. Similar to what the nutcases on MSN usually use instead of Maori when they want to make racist comments – "Mri" – someone came out and asked one of them why they did it the other day and they said they'd be censored otherwise.
Oh well, I was I think instrumental in getting that stopped at least temporarily, because I wrote to the Huffington post moderators and said if I started referring to Israelis with demeaning diminutives, I'd probably be censored or banned. So why should they get away with it.
I find myself in a strange situation of agreeing with Shane McDowell again, which I do reasonably often these days it seems. It would have been perhaps more just if the Jews at the end of World War II had been given a piece of Germany. Certainly a lot cheaper in the long run.

Kit Slater said...

“…those terrible days in 1948 and 1949 when Jewish militias fell upon the towns and villages of Palestinian Arabs and drove more than half-a-million of their inhabitants into exile.”

Well, not quite. Not even close. ‘Nakba’ is a fraud to delude latent anti-Semites into active anti-Israel BDS activity. The vast majority of the Arab exodus from Israel was voluntary, and the result of orders by the Arab leadership, The Arab Higher Committee, with the intention of destroying Israel and Jews in preparation for their return. "The radio stations of the Arab regimes kept repeating to us: 'Get away from the battle lines. It's a matter of ten days or two weeks at the most, and we'll bring you back to Ein-Kerem [near Jerusalem].' Palestine Media Watch describes the contemporary Arab commentary. Israel held its land against Arab aggressors and closed its borders. Violence committed by Zionists were matched or exceeded by Arabs (not to mention events in Pakistan and India, a thousand times worse). It was never ‘Palestinian land’, it was formerly Ottoman, and the property lost was dwarfed by that lost by a greater number of Jews when they were expelled from the Arab world.

Along with UNWRA, this is perhaps the most egregious manifestation of moral hypocrisy, ideological manipulation, historical perversion and eleemosynary corruption in centuries. If exceeded, it is only by other Arab nations’ treatment of Palestinians.

Journalist David Collier puts it proportion here:

sumsuch said...

We're complicate in conquest. Just by being here. Shit, my Great Uncle Robert died in Palestine, one of the last cavalry charges, Coming to NZ in 1908 the family were googoo over horses -- grandma loved them -- so Uncle Robert brought a horse to the transports like all our horse troops.

sumsuch said...

Jeez, Chris, our grandparents' generation reaches back. In the same area.

Granddad was born in 1888. Made a seargent, on his Presbyterian leadership probably. Sicked out of the war very early. One branch of the family says a heart condition, another branch, more careful about reality, rather than CV shit, says shell shock. Regular holidays from his duties says a lot.

sumsuch said...

GS, you're my ideal of a gent.

That you're so rare, even among NZ 'Left' talkers, says a lot.

You share your quality with Sanders and Reich.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The vast majority of the Arab exodus from Israel was voluntary, and the result of orders by the Arab leadership, The Arab Higher Committee, with the intention of destroying Israel and Jews in preparation for their return. "

Pure Hasbara. Various independent bodies have researched this and found that the evidence overwhelmingly shows that Palestinians were forced out, left because of threats of violence, or simply wanted to get out of the way of the fighting. Perhaps 5% left because of Arab radio stations urging them to. The ethnic cleansing started even before Israel was declared an independent state.

"Thereafter, the U.S. State Department kept regular tabs on the numbers and conditions of Palestinians fleeing the area. When the first U.S. representative to Israel, James G. McDonald, repeated Israeli claims that Palestinians fled as a result of the invasion of Arab armies, it was Secretary of State George Marshall who set him straight. Marshall reminded the representative that the “Arab refugee problem … began before outbreak of Arab-Israeli hostilities. A significant portion of Arab refugees fled from their homes owing to Jewish occupation of Haifa on April 21-22 and to Jewish armed attack against Jaffa April 25.”

Kit Slater said...

Odd how the extreme Left advocates for decolonisation and the rights of indigenous people, unless those indigenous people happen to be Jews and the colonisers Muslims. And the Left denies being anti-Semitic? They’re mindlessly supporting the Arabs’ Judenfrei doctrine. Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, says, “If they all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.” Hamas and Hezbollah will take great comfort from Kiwis support for their hatred of Jews, since “Killing Jews is worship that draws us closer to Allah.” After all, as Hitler’s pal the Jerusalem mufti Hajj Amin Husseini asserts, "the Koran says, 'You will find that the Jews are the worst enemies of the Moslems.' There are also considerable similarities between Islamic principles and those of National Socialism." And the extreme Left, too.