Friday, October 13, 2017

Matthew Kraig Kelly's "The Crime of Nationalism"

Matthew Kraig Kelly is a historian of the modern Middle East. He has served as a visiting professor at Occidental College and the University of California, Los Angeles, and his work has been published in the Journal of Palestine Studies, Middle East Critique, and other academic journals.

Here Kelly dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, The Crime of Nationalism: Britain, Palestine, and Nation-Building on the Fringe of Empire:
My book concerns the Palestinian Great Revolt of 1936-39, which was an Arab uprising against British policy in Palestine. By 1936, the British had been facilitating open ended Jewish immigration into Palestine for about two decades, with the stated intent of establishing a “Jewish National Home.” The Arabs had resisted this plan to no avail. This led to frustration, and finally to rebellion.

My telling of this story does not feature a protagonist or "lead" per se. For the film, we might therefore toggle between three different perspectives -- British, Palestinian, and Zionist -- attempting to render each as sympathetically as possible. And we might select three personalities as the anchors for each of these perspectives.

For the British, a good character would be Arthur Wauchope, the high commissioner for Palestine in 1936. Wauchope had been appointed high commissioner in 1931, at the age of 57. An enthusiastic civilian administrator, he had spent most of his adult life in the military, where he had proven himself a physically courageous man. His experience in the Middle East dated back to the First World War, when he commanded a British brigade in Iraq and was wounded in battle. There is little doubt that he regarded the British presence and mission in Palestine as appropriate, and yet he struggled to find the appropriate strategy for dealing with the Arab rebellion. He resorted to violent repression, but did so ambivalently, aware that doing so risked alienating Palestine's Arabs and thus exacerbating the rebellion. I believe that Ewan McGregor would do an excellent job of bringing Wauchope's inner struggle to the screen.

For the Palestinians, a good character would be `Abd al-Rahim al-Hajj Muhammad, who would become the most respected rebel commander in the course of the revolt. Abu Kamal, as he was also known, was a grain merchant from Tulkarm. He fought in the Turkish army in the First World War, and took up arms against the British in 1936. As my book demonstrates, the British authorities tended to regard the rebels as mere thugs, but they made an exception for Abu Kamal, whom they knew to be a man of unimpeachable character. Abu Kamal was a compelling figure: fearless, intelligent, and morally scrupulous. In this sense, he was an exemplar of the national quality of the Arab rebellion, which both the British and the Zionists were determined to deny. When the British tracked him down and killed him in March 1939, at Sanur (in Samaria), it dealt a mortal blow to the rebellion. Adding to the drama of this event, Abu Kamal had just received formal recognition as leader of the rebellion from the Central War Committee in Damascus, which had previously withheld such recognition on account of his unwillingness to follow instructions he regarded as foolish or immoral. I believe Saleh Bakri would be an excellent choice for this role.

For the Zionists, a good – and perhaps obvious -- character would be David Ben Gurion. Ben Gurion was the chair of the executives of both the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, and a towering figure in the Zionist milieu. He would eventually become the first prime minister of Israel. As a character, he would be a good choice because of his sophistication. Ben Gurion was politically shrewd and an excellent strategist. He also had a good deal of sympathy for his Palestinian opponents, including many of the rebels. By the time this movie is actually made, Joaquin Phoenix won’t be that far from the age Ben Gurion was in 1936 (50), so I’d like to cast him in the role.
Learn more about The Crime of Nationalism at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue