Industry, Invention, and Indolence: A British Major’s View of Palestine in 1929 (Daphne Anson)
Edward William Polson Newman, born in Glasgow in 1887, was a politically right-wing author whose works included The Middle East (1926) and a biography of Masaryk (1960). On 5 November 1929 the Portsmouth Evening News, the local daily newspaper of Britain’s premier naval port, carried the following article by him (described as Major E.W. Polson Newman) which Elder’s readers may not find uninteresting. It appeared under the title “How the Jew and the Arab Fail to Coalesce”. Since, given his reference to Shylock, Newman seems hardly what we might consider a “philosemite,” I think his evident sympathy for Zionist enterprise is all the more significant.
Wrote Polson Newman:
‘The despatch of another battleship to Palestine waters draws attention once more to the extraordinary conditions in which Arabs and Jews are huddled together in different parts of the Holy Land. The two peoples are at present “at daggers drawn” with one another, and yet they are in many cases next-door neighbours.
Although in the principal towns such as Jerusalem and Haifa, there are definite Jewish and Arab quarters, these sections of the towns are so mixed up with one another that often Jews are living on one side of the street and Arabs on the other. While the Jewish houses are mostly European in character with the addition of a good supply of Oriental dirt, smell and rubbish, the Arab dwellings are primitive in the extreme when once the door is passed. The Jewish men are industrious, and are usually to be found working at some trade or other, while their womenfolk make fairly good housewives. The Arab men, in spite of their great physical strength, are experts at doing nothing, and are usually to be seen sitting outside on stools, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, while their wives are shut up in the seclusion of the “harem”.
Some of the Jewish houses I have visited could not be distinguished from superior European villas, and the family life was just the same as that of a French, German, or Polish middle-class house. But, when you penetrate into the Jewish quarters of the “Old City” of Jerusalem, you find living reproductions of Shylock wandering about the narrow, cobbled alleyways and dodging in and out of queer-looking doorways leading to dingy and sordid apartments. These quarters are full of little courtyards out of which open dark passages. On either side are the doors of dirty little rooms, in which aged Jews with long beards and side curls pore over the pages of the “Sacred Law” and lament over the misfortunes of the people of Israel in the Holy Land. These are the Orthodox Jews, who suffered severely in the recent riots, although the Arabs have no ground of complaint against them and are chiefly hostile to the Zionist immigrants.
An Arab house is quite unlike anything seen in Europe. It is built entirely of stone, inside and out, and the atmosphere of homeliness finds no place at all. While the women, of course, have their own quarters allotted to them, the men live for the most part in one room. The centre of the apartment is entirely free of furniture, but the walls are lined with a row of sofas and chairs, stretching right around the room. For hours and hours, sometimes for the whole day, the men of the family sit drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and possibly talking politics.
The sanitary arrangements are most primitive, if they exist at all, and the few baths that are visible are usually full of corn for the chicken. Formal meals are serious affairs – much too serious for conversation. The most important part of an Arab house is the exterior, but this love of outward appearance is a characteristic of the entire East. I have visited the most palatial-looking villas whose interiors were almost like pigsties.
The greatest contrast between the Arab and Jewish homes is found in the country districts, where the Zionist agricultural settlements are often within a few hundred feet of Arab villages that might have been built two thousand years ago. On the one hand there is, perhaps, a Zionist cooperative settlement run on up-to-date lines, where Jews from all parts of Eastern Europe live in one community and farm the land. They have a common kitchen, take their meals together, provide collectively for their needs, and arrange their plans of work by mutual agreement. The profits are shared in equal proportion and no one can earn more than his fellow workers. Household work is pooled among the women, whether they are married or not, and this, together with the communal kitchen, enables them to devote their energies to the dairy, the poultry farm, or agricultural work in general. During the working day even the babies are herded together under the care of one mother.
The neighbouring Arab village is a very different affair. Square stone houses, in parts nearly as old as time, form a receptacle for a mass of human beings, camels, donkeys, pariah dogs, and chicken, and vermin of all kinds. Whole families live packed together in these terrible hovels, while the customs and mode of life have changed little since the days of Abraham.
Thus, the latest agricultural methods are employed at the end of a piece of land, while the other is cultivated according to the ways of the ancient Canaanites. In the former, water is pumped by hydraulic machinery; in the latter it is carried in great jars balanced on women’s heads.’
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