What is the most British thing ever?

In an attempt to rein in the increasingly unruly Jewish community the late 1930s and 1940s in Mandatory Palestine, the British authorities would, from time to time, round up the entire Jewish leadership—my maternal grandfather among them—and hold them in administrative detention in a large camp in the valley of Latrun, about halfway between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv.

My mother, who was a pre-teen at the time, recalls the knock on the door in the middle of the night. Her father would open the door, to find a sergeant and two privates, standing there:

‘Good evening, sir. Are you [scans his clipboard] Dr. Benjamin Lubotzky?’

When my grandfather said yes, the sergeant (usually in a Cockney accent), would say:

‘Sorry to trouble you, sir, but you’re under arrest…’

They would then give him ten minutes to collect his toothbrush and some clothes, and take him away. My grandmother, ever poised, would sometimes offer them tea while they waited, which they would sometimes accept.

As my mother later recalled in her autobiography—

Physically, this was the easiest imprisonment that any of them experienced under British rule. They were accommodated in spacious wooden barracks, free to move within the camp during the day, could set up facilities for playing tennis and had a separate hut for a club, complete with radio and gramophone. The kibbutzim sent them crates of fruit and they were even allowed wine. In fact, they all grew plump and suntanned while they were there. The hardship lay in the separation from family and friends, in the enforced idleness and inability to act, and in the uncertainty as to how much time they would remain there.

The British rule was not always so benign, but such examples of civility greatly mitigated the resentment felt by the Jewish community towards the British for restricting Jewish immigration and other efforts towards independence, and meant that violent insurrection was limited to minority groups such as the Irgun and Lehi (a.k.a. ‘Stern Gang’).

(Originally written in reply to a question at Quora.com)

1 thought on “What is the most British thing ever?

  1. A fascinating story Jonathan. I didn’t realize this camp existed. My knowledge of Latrun comes from the book 1948 where Latrun was the site of a major battle at the time. It’s always nice to broaden my perspective.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.