In the spring of 1970 I was invited by the University of Leeds’ student’s union to participate in a seminar dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. This kind of seminars was common at the time. Shortly after the 67′ war there was an Israeli invasion to the “Karameh” refugee camp in Jordan, and on the Suez Canal the War of Attrition between Israel and Egypt had begun. In England, many students wanted to understand why does the war between Israel and the Arab world continue despite the Israeli victory in the 1967 war, and why don’t both sides reach an agreement after such an impressive victory.
When I got off the train at Leeds two students were waiting for me. I approached them and introduced myself. They told me they were waiting for another speaker – Lord Caradon. I was surprised.
Lord Caradon (whose original name was Hugh Foot) was the British representative to the United Nations who formulated decision 242 of the Security Council, accepted by the UN on 26.11.1967 as an outline for solving the problems created by the 1967 war. This decision called upon Israel to retreat from the territories occupied during the war in exchange for a peace treaty with the Arab nations. An agreement along those lines brought respite in the relations between Israel and Egypt in 1977 and with Arafat in 1993. If signed in 1967 it would have spared us the Yom Kippur War (October War), the Intifada, and the Palestinian armed struggle. The decision did not call for a retreat from all occupied territories and did not mention the Palestinians.
I have heard about Hugh Foot before and I knew that during the British mandate he served in Palestine during the 30′s as district commissioner of the Nablus district. This was mentioned to me by his son, Paul Foot, who was a well known journalist in London, and a member of a British left-wing organization founded by Igal Glickstein, born in Zikhron Ya’aqov. Paul was a known figure in the extra-parliamentarian circles in England. I was surprised the British representative to the UN can find the time to speak to students. After a while a tall man appeared, with a solid body and thick eyebrows, and said “I am Paul Foot’s father”. That humor dispersed the tension between us. We shook hands and went to the students’ car. It was a tiny “Mini Minor” with especially tight back seats. I turned to Foot, who had big stature and said “I’ll sit in the back and you in the front”. He firmly objected. “No way” he said. “You come from the region we are about to discuss and you are the guest of honor. I insist you sit on the front seat”. I tried to refuse, but in vain. He was adamant that I sit in the spacious front seat and he squeeze into the back. Along the way I asked him about his opinion of Abba Eban, the Israeli representative to the UN. His answer was “he does Israel more harm than good”. That surprised me because in Israel Abba Eban had a reputation of a UN star, it turned out that reality was very different. I recalled an acquaintance who went to hear a speech by Eban at “Beit Ha’am” at Tel Aviv in 1952. When he returned from the speech I asked him what exactly did Eban say, and he replied “Brilliant man, he talked for two hours and said nothing”.
It was meant as a compliment. Seems that at the UN they thought differently. When we reached the University of Leeds we got out of the car and stretched. We were standing on a hill with the Campus before us. The sun appeared momentarily between the clouds and a piece of blue sky was seen for a moment. Lord Caradon stretched and blurted out:
“What a beautiful world” and after a moment he added: “and only human beings ruin it”.
When I heard that I started respecting him. It was not an expression Abba Eban would use.
The gathering was attended by about a thousand students. I don’t remember what Hugh Foot had said. I said the conflict between Israel and the Arab world is not between Jews and Arabs or between Islam and Judaism. Those have lived in comradeship and peace for hundreds of years and there is no reason for a conflict between them. The cause of the conflict is the Zionist settlement which operated since 1900 to found a Jewish state in a land where most of the residents are Arabs. Zionism has taken lands and independence from the Arab majority and that is the reason for the conflict. And it will end only by compromise between Israel and the Palestinians…
The audience was surprised because the attendees have never heard of the Palestinians. An Israeli student in the audience interrupted and called out:
“You do not represent the public opinion in Israel. How many Israelis agree with you?” I answered him: “You are right. I must make clear my opinion contradicts that of most Israelis, who claim there is no Palestinian people with whom a compromise should be reached. And you, do you believe a Palestinian people exists or not?” I offered him the microphone, but he left without answering.
Foot turned to me and said: “It has been a while since I’ve heard such clear words about the conflict in Palestine”.
When I came for a summer vacation in Israel Haim Hanegbi told me the following story: after the Israeli victory in the 1967 war the Foreign Affairs ministry invited Lord Caradon for a visit in Israel. The ministry wanted to show the British UN representative Israel’s liberal treatment of the population in the occupied territories, the Gaza strip and the west bank, to induce Britain to assume a position supportive of Israel, who took much pride in the “enlightened occupation”. Lord Caradon accepted and came for a visit. The foreign ministry provided him with a car and a driver. Most of the visit he was driven according to the foreign ministry’s orders, but on the last day he told the driver “Today I’ll tell you where to go”. He directed the driver to Nablus, and from there to a nearby Palestinian village. In the village he leaded him to a certain house. When they reached the house, he left the car, went to the door and knocked. As the door opened he asked for the name of the owner. Having been told the name he said:
“In 1938 I was the District Commissioner of the Nablus district. The Palestinians rebelled against Britain and a member of your family participated in an attack on a British police station. I was the judge who sentenced him and I gave an order to blow up this house. I am sorry for it and I have come to ask for your forgiveness”.
I don’t know if they forgave him. However I know no Israeli governor ever asked forgiveness of a Palestinian family for giving an order to blow up their house. I wasn’t surprised to hear of Hugh Foot’s behavior because it matched my impression of him at the gathering in Leeds. Though he surprised me once more. When I met at Jerusalem in 1997 a delegation sent by the British organization “Medical Aid for Palestine”. This organization gathers donations, medical equipment and volunteer medical staff in order to support the Palestinian health services. The organization was headed by Lord Gilmour, who served for a while as the minister of defense in the Thatcher’s cabinet. When I met Lord Gilmour in Jerusalem I asked him how was Lord Caradon doing. Gilmour was surprised: “Didn’t you hear he has died?” I apologized that I did not. He added “So you haven’t heard about his last request”, “Regretfully not”, I answered.
Lord Gilmour added “He asked to be buried wrapped in the Palestinian flag”.
Until this very day I wonder why the last request of the British representative to the UN, who served in important government positions in Britain, was for his coffin to descend to the grave wrapped in the Palestinian flag.