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Absolutely Fascinating: Robert F. Kennedy Reporting from Israel, 1948

At the age of 22, in 1948, Robert F. Kennedy filed dispatches from Israel for the Boston Post, a long-defunct newspaper. Lenny Ben-David has found them and begun a blog featuring them. They are, it must be said, remarkable. Kennedy wrote very well, it turns out, and the pieces offer a vivid portrait of a moment in time. Of the Palestinian Arabs, he writes,, “They are willing to let the Jews remain as peaceful citizens subject to the rule of the Arab majority just as the Arabs are doing in such great number in Egypt and the Levant states, but they are determined that a separate Jewish state will be attacked and attacked until it is finally cut out like an unhealthy abscess.”

And of the Jews of Palestine:

Under the supposition that, at the finish of the mandate, this was to be their national state, [the Jews] went to work. They set up laboratories where world-famous scientists could study and analyze soils and crops. The combination of arduous labor and almost unlimited funds from the United States changed what was once arid desert into flourishing orange groves. Soils had to be washed of salt, day after day, year after year, before crops could be planted. One can see this work going on in lesser or more advanced stages wherever there are Jewish settlements in Palestine. From a small village of a few thousand inhabitants, Tel Aviv has grown into a most impressive modern metropolis of over 200,000. They have truly done much with what all agree was very little.

The Jews point with pride to the fact that over 500,000 Arabs in the 12 years between 1932 and 1944, came into Palestine to take advantage of living conditions existing in no other Arab state. This is the only country in the Near and Middle East where an Arab middle class is in existence.The Jews point out that they have always taken a passive part in the frequent revolutions that have racked the country, because of the understanding that they would eventually be set free from British mandateship. They wished to do nothing to impair this expected action. During the second World War they sent numerous volunteer Jewish brigades which fought commendably with the British in Italy. In addition to that, many Palestinian Jews fought as volunteers with Allied troops throughout the world and still others were dropped by parachute into German-held territory as espionage agents. They were perhaps doing no more than their duty, but they did their duty well.

The Jews feel that promise after promise to them has been broken. They can quote freely, for example, from speech after speech of Labor Party leaders in the election campaign prior to the victory of the Labor Party in England, to attest to the fact that one need not even refer back to the controversial Balfour declaration to learn Britain’s attitude and promises toward a Jews state was to be one of the first acts of the Labor government if it were put into power.

Given the anti-Semitic views of Kennedy’s father Joseph, RFK’s independent cast of thought at so young an age is especially noteworthy.


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