Welcome to part two of The Nanny Diaries: Edith Beadle in Mandatory Palestine. My name is Heather Stracey and I am the Collections, Archives & Local Studies Officer for The Amelia.
Part one of this podcast focused on Edith’s relationship with her employers, the Hudsons. Now we will be examining the political situation in late-1920s Palestine, as well as what Edith witnessed whilst in Jerusalem at this time, and her views on the situation that she found herself in.
Edith and the Hudsons moved to Jerusalem in 1925. This was a volatile time in the region and coincided with the beginning of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The roots of this conflict can be traced back centuries but are today largely attributed to the rise of both Arab and Jewish nationalisms (otherwise known as Zionism) towards the end of the nineteenth century.
The Israel-Palestine conflict arose in part from conflicting claims to the land that was then known as British Mandatory Palestine. Today we know it as Israel. The Jewish people regarded this land as their ancestral homeland, while the Arab population regarded the territory as historically and currently a part of the Pan-Arab block.
Edith used her letters to update her parents on the state of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In August 1929 she attempts to explain to them what she perceives to be the causes of The Buraq Uprising. Her letter reads: ‘It’s between the Arabs and the Jews who always have hated each other, and they have been wrangling over the Wailing Wall for ages. You see the Jews always go there but the Muslims claim it and they are really Arabs so this year they said the Jews were not to come for the big annual wail because it came at the same time as one of the Muslim fiestas, that is what we are told was the cause of the trouble at the start’.
To give you a bit of context: The Buraq Uprising, also known as the 1929 Arab Riots in Palestine or the 1929 Massacres, refers to a series of demonstrations and riots that took place in late August 1929 when a long-running dispute between the Arabs and Jews, over access to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, escalated to violence. At least 133 Jews and 116 Arabs were killed, 241 Jews and 232 Arabs were injured. The Uprising lasted six days, between the 23 and 29 August 1929.
On 31 August 1929, Edith informed her family that she had heard gunfire close to the Hudson’s home. She wrote ‘last night it was very bad round here[. T]he firing was terrific out back[,] and my stomach kept heaving […] I’m so scared of stray bullets coming in the windows’. This account provides interesting insight into how Edith perceived the conflict around her. To Edith conflict of this sort would have been totally alien. Her life in Tunbridge Wells would have been incredibly sheltered by comparison. So, finding herself amid a civil war would have been jarring to say the least.
On 7 September 1929, Edith wrote ‘I think the troops being here keep the rioters quiet […] Yesterday […] the Jews day […] for going to the Wailing Wall [,] troops and machine guns were stationed at every entrance to the Old City and there was no trouble at all’.
Edith then talks about the thousands of British troops and police that were stationed in Palestine at this time. They patrolled the streets and were ordered to prevent any rioting and violence as best they could. For example, on 29 August 1929, Edith wrote ‘Mr Hudson says there are about 5,000 troops in Palestine as we had more up from Cairo and also from Malta, but they are scattered all over the place’.
Being a young lady, in her thirties far away from home, Edith surrounded herself with fellow ex-patriots which also included members of the British Police. Edith joined the British branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) shortly after she arrived in Jerusalem. Most of the members of the YWCA were British nannies, like Edith. Edith became very close friends with these women. The YWCA hosted many social gatherings such as dinner parties, dances and picnics – most of which the British Police were invited to. Conversely, the British Police invited members of the YWCA to events such as concerts. On 5 January 1928, the British Police summoned Edith to attend an event at St. George’s Library, ‘for the purpose of an Evening’s Entertainment’. Edith mockingly responded, ‘although I am not aware of committing any offence necessitating disciplinary action at the hands of the Police, I am prepared to present myself at St. George’s Library at the hour and on the date named in your summons’. These social gatherings led to many of Edith’s nurse friends marrying members of the British Police. Edith however, never married.
There had been a formal British Police presence in Palestine ever since Britain seized the territory from the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. In 1917 Britain had issued the Balfour Declaration which angered many Arab Palestinians. It called for the creation of an internationally recognised Jewish homeland within their borders. Six weeks later Britain placed Palestine under military rule, with British Mandatory Palestine officially forming in 1920.
Britain’s commitment to oversee the creation of the new Jewish state was controversial to say the least. Arab Palestinians felt cheated. The British had promised them their own state in return for their support against the Ottomans, long before the Balfour Declaration was decreed. It is often argued that this ‘betrayal’ of Arab Palestinian trust explains the deep-seated, sometimes violent, resistance to British rule by the Arab population of Palestine. It also helps us to understand why the Jewish community are so often described as ‘welcoming’ by comparison.
Interestingly, Edith contradicts this claim stating that the British were hated by Jews and Arabs alike. On 25 September 1929 she wrote ‘I don’t think there [are] any friendly feeling[s] towards the English from any of [the] people out here, for the Jews hate us for letting this happen the Arabs hate us like poison for stopping them killing the Jews, and they are all hankering for the British to clear out’.
It appears that the British troops felt the same way as Edith, as they were worried about Jewish and Arab aggressors targeting British colonies in Jerusalem. In September 1929 Edith wrote ‘preparations have been made for all the English women and children to be housed together if necessary, but they did not make any direct attack on the English at all thank goodness’. Edith need not have worried however. Whilst the British presence in Palestine undeniably inflamed the tensions between Jews and Arabs they were very rarely on the receiving end of any violence.
The British Mandate over Palestine has long since ended, but the Israel-Palestine conflict continues to shatter and touch lives to this day. Edith’s letters provide valuable insight into an often-underreported view of the conflict.