Friday, September 04, 2009

My Book Review of "Major Farran's Hat"

Not yet up online, Here's the link

but my book review of "Major Farran's Hat" is in the print edition of the Jerusalem Post Weekly Magazine today.

Here's the version I submitted (some slight editorial alterations were made):

Cesarani, David
Murder, Scandal and Britain's War Against Jewish Terrorism 1945-1948
William Heinmann, London, 2009
20 Pounds Sterling

Exceptionally Good; Exceptionally Bad

By Yisrael Medad

The outlines of the story David Cesarani unfolds are not complicated. On May 6, 1947, teenager Alexander ("Haim") Rubovitz approached a rendezvous with Yael, his liason in the Lechi underground, with a packet of leaflets to be distributed. He never arrived. He was snatched by a special counter-terrorist unit recently formed by the British command of the Palestine Police Force, presumably taken to Wadi Kelt, tortured and killed by blows to his head with a rock. The killer was Roy Farran whose hat was found at the kidnapping scene, Ussishkin Street. His crime, which made world headlines, was covered up and he gained an acquittal at his court martial. Lechi took revenge by sending him a book bomb the following year that was opened at the Farran household outside Wolverhampton by his younger brother who was killed. Farran died in 2006 denying his role and never revealing where the body was buried.

Major Roy Farran was a commando, imperial soldier, buccaneer and adventurer. He was brave, flamboyant, swashbuckling and assuredly heroic.

He was also a philandering lady's man, a frequently inebriated lout, at times a ill-disciplined commander and, most horrifically, a cold-blooded torturer and a killer of a defenseless sixteen-year old. He was exceptionally good and he was exceptionally bad.

David Cesarani has written a wonderful book, riveting, persuasive, based on (lucky for him) newly released 60-year old archival material as well as a wealth of other books, documents and newspaper reports that were disconnected and lost. He zeroes in on his subject and leaves the reader without a doubt of the guilt of Farran. Nevertheless, he inexplicably gets dates wrong, leaves unfortunate typos uncorrected, fails to include crucial and readily available archival material, skips over important subject matter, seems to be uncomfortable with Hebrew sources and has a nasty habit of using '[sic]' pedantically ad nauseum. He is exceptionally good and he is exceptionally bad.

A Research Professor could and should do better than to allow silly items to slip through a book loaded down with references to Public Record Office papers, books, academic papers, stashed-away memoirs and personal correspondence of British officials and soldiers. He writes, p. 96, that Rubovitz was tied to a tree but his source, the Hadingham Report, does not include this fanciful situation. He refers to the activities of Rabbi Baruch Korff, pp. 149-151, but fails to acknowledge Korff's own 1953 book, "Flight from Fear" which reproduces hundreds of documents on the period which, incidentally, can be found on an internet site. He suggests that Chaim Weizmann (p. 14) 1Z 2led no party of his ownS when, in truth, he was the head of the General Zionist faction. On p. 185, he records the day of the UN Partition resolution approval as being November 28 when it was the 29th. He records the date, p. 57, of an Irgun attack in Tel Aviv when flamethrowers were used to set alight parked vehicles as January 7, 1947 when it was January 3. Was Lechi actually "delighted" (p. 23) to assassinate British Mandatory officials and security personnel? Any other spelling of Alexander Rubowitz's name, despite the fact that it being of European origin and in Hebrew phonetics could be spelled a number of ways, Cesarani tirelessly and annoyingly appends a [sic] to it perhaps a dozen times.

But worse is his interpretive prose. It is here that Cesarani injects an unsubstantiated political and ideological backdrop to the unfolding events in Mandate Palestine, one that is highly subjective and biased.

Cesarani, after misleading the reader into thinking the land of Israel was empty ("forced dispersion of the Jews and depopulation of the land"), asserts that "since the 1880s Jews had started emigrating to Palestine from countries where they suffered discrimination and persecution" (p. 11). That formula is historically false and reads like it was lifted from some Arab propagandistic manual. In every single century since 135 CE and the failure of Bar Kochba s revolt, Jews returned to the Land of Israel in small and larger numbers and the continuum of a Jewish presence despite the conquests and persecution in the Holy Land is a fact. To credit British involvement in restoring to the Jews their national homeland in such a limited fashion does a disservice to Lord Shaftesbury, Laurence Oliphant and a major social-religious movement of the 19th century with masses of adherents not to mention previous support in Holland or Ezra Stiles in the United States. The British Government discussed Jewish restoration in 1840 and in 1818, President John Adams wrote, "I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation" .

Even the position of Zionism s international legal justification is faulted by Cesarani. Cesarani skips over the February 1919 Versailles War Conference to which draft proposals were made including "The High Contracting Parties recognize the historic title of the Jewish people to Palestine and the right of Jews to reconstitute in Palestine their National Home" and which detailed the historic title of Jews to their land. So, too, he eliminates the January 1919 Faisal-Weizmann Agreement.

Returning to the Rubovitz affair, Cesarani could have done more investigating the historical record and providing his readers with a more comprehensive work. What was the identity of "X" who passed on a detailed letter, p. 8, to the Rubovitz family on what happened to their son? Why was Franciscan monk Eugene Hoade, the Roman Catholic chaplain to the Palestine Police Force, not even mentioned by Cesarani? He might have hidden Farran during his second escape and even help dispose of the body. Why does he fail to mention the Acre Prison breakout on May 4, 1947, two days prior to Rubovitz s kidnapping, as a possible motive for the perverse wrath of Farran and his fellow policemen? What happened to the members of the ‘Q Squads other than Farran and were they contacted to elicit further information? Why did the most senior British government officials who knew the truth keep mum for decades? Was Rubovitz s snatch truly coincidental or had there been a tip-off about his whereabouts as he had been under Hagana surveillance for over a year? And was Rubovitz the sole victim of a snatch-torture-murder scenario or were there additional victims as Farran himself claimed in an intelligence document I have read?

At the present, a detective, Steve Rambam, is seeking information on the whereabouts of the remains of Alexander Rubovitz. If he is successful, then the sorry tale will truly be brought to closure and with it, perhaps further details of the comprehensive historical record.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice book review in the JP magazine today of book on Farran-Rubovitz. I
am pretty sure I told you the story about my talk with Ceasarani about
his book on _______, and how unimpressed I was when he told me he used ________'s correspondence and papers as his base, but, for example, failed to check with the families of ___________ or _________ regarding ________'s ongoing relation to them, did not even know that ____________ had
children and that there were archives to be checked here. Same type of sloppy research.