Tag Archives: Palestine

Correspondence between Ethel Mannin and Christopher Walker (EUL MS 452)

Ethel Edith Mannin (1900-84) was a prolific writer of novels and travel memoirs (many of which we have in our Hypatia collection), as well as a committed Socialist and political activist. She became interested in Palestine during period of the British Mandate, and was a staunch opponent of the Israeli occupation after 1948. Christopher Walker (1942-2017) was working in Sotheby’s department of historical and literary manuscripts when he came into contact with Mannin in the late 1960s through their shared interest in the Palestinian cause. They developed a strong friendship and corresponded regularly for several years, with their letters focussing primarily on Palestinian issues and the politics of the Middle East, Mannin sharing with the young historian her knowledge of people and places built up over decades of travel and political activism. We recently acquired a box of these letters, which have now been catalogued and make for fascinating reading, both for the insights into Mannin’s personality and relationship with Walker, and for what they reveal about Palestinian networks of resistance and communication during this period.

Portrait of Ethel Mannin

Mannin was born in Clapham in 1900, the eldest of three children of Robert Mannin, a postal worker, and a farmer’s daughter named Edith Gray. She began writing stories as a young girl, and was first published in The Lady’s Companion at the age of ten. When she left school she began working as a typist for Charles Higham’s advertising agency, and was soon promoted to copywriter and editor, as well as producing a monthly magazine called The Pelican in which she published her own articles and stories. In 1919 she married John Porteous, a manager at Higham’s thirty years her senior, and her only child Jean was born shortly after. They separated ten years later by which time Mannin had developed a deep interest in child care and education, especially in the progressive theories of A.S. Neill. She wrote several books on the topic, both novels and non-fiction. Indeed, this was the formula for her prolific output – to travel somewhere or research a subject, and then use the material as the basis for at least two books, one a non-fiction study and the other a novel.

Some of Ethel Mannin’s novels in our Hypatia collection

By the time her marriage broke up she had published seven novels or anthologies, as well as numerous short stories, and was able to buy a house for herself and Jean: Oak Cottage, on Burghley Road in Wimbledon. Inside the ‘cottage’ was painted in riotous colours with a zig-zag patterned gramophone, reflecting Mannin’s modern personality and the zeitgeist of the Jazz Age. Her frank opinions on sexual education and women’s rights, as well as her affairs with celebrities such as W.B. Yeats and Bertrand Russell, earned her something of a reputation – and when she published the first of several volumes of autobiographical memoirs, Confessions and Impressions, in 1930, it proved a best-seller: it was reprinted fifty times over the next six years, and then republished in paperback by Penguin in 1937.

Ethel Mannin’s memoirs and travel writings in our Hypatia collection

If images of the Twenties suggest something of the frivolous ‘flapper’, it should be noted that Mannin was intensely interested in the political developments of the time and her writings took an increasingly strong left-wing bent by the early 1930s.  Although initially a supporter of the Labour party, she became disenchanted with the failure of Ramsay Macdonald’s government to help the unemployed, and in 1933 she joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1933, becoming a frequent contributor to their newspaper, the New Leader. During the Spanish Civil War she was a committed supporter of the POUM (in Spanish, ‘Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista’, or ‘Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification’), with which George Orwell fought in Catalonia. Upon his return, Orwell became a good friend of Mannin’s, as well as her second husband, the Quaker pacifist Reginald Reynolds (1905-58), whom she married in 1938.  She dedicated Women and the Revolution (1938) to her friend Emma Goldman, a Russian-born anarchist who was deeply involved in the struggle against Fascism in Spain, and who provided the inspiration for Mannin’s novel Red Rose (1941).

Mannin’s engagement with Palestine also began in the 1930s, when Reynolds worked with Dr Izzat Tannous at the Arab Information Office in London. (Reynolds wrote about how he got involved in Palestine in his memoir My Life and Crimes, published in 1956.) Tannous, a Palestinian Christian who had qualified as a doctor in Lebanon, had been involved in the Arab nationalist movement during the Mandate period and would later be a founding member of the PLO in 1964. During the 1940s he had worked hard on negotiations with the British government to prevent the partition of Palestine. At first this was only part of her wider campaigning against imperialism, which included her collaborations with black activists such as C.L.R James and George Padmore during the 1930s, and her postwar protests against the British government’s oppression of Kenyan nationalists. However, her support for the Palestinian cause became a personal one following her visits to the Middle East in the early 1960s.

During her travels through Iraq and Kuwait, she met General Abd al-Karim Qasim, who had led the 1958 coup that ended the monarchy in Iraq.  She formed a favourable impression of the General, who would be executed during the 1963 Ba’athist Coup, and made him a key character in her novel The Midnight Street (1969). There are photos of Mannin and Qasim together in her travelogue A Lance for the Arabs: A Middle East Journey (1963), which also recounts her sympathetic friendships with a number of Iraqi liberals such as student leader Khalid Ahmed Zaki. The novel that emerged from this visit, The Road to Beersheba (1963), she envisaged as a pro-Palestinian counterpoint to the international bestseller Exodus (1958), written by Leon Uris and presenting a heroic version of the founding of the state of Israel. In The Lovely Land (1965) and the chapter ‘Making a film with the Arabs’ in Stories from my Life (1973) she tells of the King of Jordan’s efforts to have the book adapted into a film. Although this plan eventually fell through, it was translated into Arabic, serialised on ‘Voice of the Arabs’ radio station and published in a Jordanian newspaper.

Excerpt of a letter from Ethel Mannin

The Road to Beersheba tells the story of the Mansour family, who are violently evicted from their home in Lydda by Haganah militia in 1948 and forced into exile in Jordan. The young son Anton eventually comes to England where he meets other family members and Palestinian exiles. Some of their interactions – such as the scene where Anton’s mother tries to explain to a shopkeeper that her flowers ‘from Israel’ are actually from occupied Palestine – reflect arguments that were being made around the same time by Christopher Walker’s relative Lady Diana Richmond, an early member of CAABU and active campaigner for the Palestinian cause. Mannin’s letters contain numerous references to the Richmonds, as well as Michael Adams and other CAABU members, although she was critical of the organisation for its moderate stance regarding the State of Israel. (Mannin’s own views provide some intriguing insights into the tensions between left-wing politics, pacifism, pragmatic diplomacy and support for various revolutionary movements.) Other novels that focussed on the Palestine were The Night and its Homing (1966) – a sequel to The Road to Beersheba – and Bitter Babylon (1968).

Front cover of Ethel Mannin's novel The Road to Beersheba

 

The letters to Walker begin in January 1968, with Mannin contacting him in response to a letter regarding Palestine he had written in The Times. She discussed her novels with him, often sending him copies of her own books and recommending the writings of some of her Palestinian friends. The letters contain many references to – and critical comments about – what was being published on Palestine, both in terms of articles and letters in the press, as well as books. She also comments on the quality of speakers at CAABU meetings, goings on at the Jordanian Embassy (to which she was occasionally invited for receptions) as well as the activities of various friends from Jordan and Palestine who came to her house for dinner. They are peppered with lively comments about people she had met in Palestine, Beirut, Iraq, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East, many of whom had become close friends and long-term correspondents. These references could be gossipy, affectionate, full of respect or savagely critical, but she provided Walker with personal introductions to many of her contacts in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan, which would prove invaluable when the young historian travelled there in the summer of 1969. She also drew vivid pen portraits of many of those in the UK who were involved in media or academic work relating to Palestine, some of whom she met at Committee meetings or public lectures. Names mentioned in her letters include her longstanding friend Rev. Eric Bishop (1891-1980), an ‘old Palestinian hand’ and member of the Church Missionary Society who held Arabic services in London, Musa Alami, Basil Aql, Moshe Menuhin, Musa Mazzawi, Rouhi Khatib – former Mayor of Jerusalem – Suleiman Mousa, Desmond Stewart, Anthony Nutting, Christopher Mayhew, Manuela Sykes, Elizabeth Collard, John Reddaway, Peter Mansfield, John Richmond and Michael Adams, Faris Glubb and his father John Bagot Glubb, Ismael Shammout, Izzat Tannous, Basil Ennab,  Jordanian Ambassador Anwar Bey Nuseibeh, Adel Jarrah (Charge d’Affaires at the Kuwait Embassy), Dr. Anis Sayegh and Fayez Sayegh, Egyptian artist Youssef Francis, Fareed Jafri, and Soraya ‘Tutu’ Antonius, with whom she danced ‘the twist’ in Beirut in 1962. (Soraya was the daughter of Lebanese intellectual and Arab nationalist George Antonius, author of The Arab Awakening (1938). There are letters from both Soraya [‘Thurayya’, hence ‘Tutu’] and her mother Katy Antonius in the Richmond archive, EUL MS 115.)

A sample excerpt from one of Mannin’s typed letters, often annotated with additional lines typed around the edges

By this time she was of course almost seventy years old, and admitted frankly to Walker that she found social activities a tiresome chore and really wanted peace to work on her writing, for which she relied in order to make a living. In a letter of 19 September 1970 she told Walker that by the time of her 70th birthday she hoped ‘to bring her annual income up to that of a dustman.’

Over the next few years she managed to finish off various autobiographical writings, some of them charting her travels around England, including England at Large (1970),   Free Pass to Nowhere (1970), My Cat Sammy (1971), England My Adventure (1972) and Stories from My Life (1973), as well as what would be her final novel with a Middle East setting – Mission to Beirut (1973), about the murder of a diplomat. She revealed in a letter of 27 January 1972 that the plot was inspired by the ‘inside story’ of the assassination of Jordanian Prime Minister Wasfi Tal a few weeks earlier. As she had not visited Beirut since 1962 she asked Walker to fill her in on some of the recent changes to the city, so that she could ensure the details were all authentic.

In September 1974 she sold Oak Cottage and moved to Overhill, a house in Brook Lane, Shaldon, near Teignmouth in Devon, to be with her daughter. (Jean had married Leslie Faulks, who developed cancer around 1970; they had a daughter named Catherine.) Mannin had a sister in Exeter but they seem to have had little contact. Around this time she and Walker appear to have lost touch, with their letters ceasing in 1976.  In their 1972 correspondence they discussed the work he was beginning on writing a book about Armenia, a task that would take him the next eight years. Armenia: survival of a nation was finally published by Croom Helm in 1980. In the meantime, Mannin had finished her final book, an autobiographical memoir entitled Sunset over Dartmoor (1977) which contains two chapters about the Middle East: Chapter 13 ‘Some reflections on Palestine’ and Chapter 14 ‘The Time of My Life’, which recounts highlights and thoughts about her travels to Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and Syria between 1962 and 1966. Her letters to Walker have a similar valedictory feel at this time, as she reflects upon her retirement, how she was no longer in touch with any of her Middle East contacts, and her feelings about her fifty years of involvement in the Palestinian struggle. ‘Being now 80,’ she wrote, ‘I will hardly live to see Palestine liberated – but YOU may, and probably will. Drink a toast to me then, and to all the old campaigners…’

Mannin died four years after her last letter to Walker, who continued to study and lecture on the subject of Armenia. His research on the role of religion in the Ottoman Empire developed into a more comprehensive analysis of the relationship between Islam and the West, which provided the focus for various talks and publications in the 2000s.  His Islam and the West: A Dissonant Harmony of Civilizations (Stroud: Sutton, 2005) refuted the ‘clash of civilisations’ narrative that had grown popular around this time, arguing instead that much of the current tension was a result of the west having forgotten its long history of interaction with the Islamic east, the richness of their intellectual and commercial exchanges over many centuries, and the mutual respect and tolerance that had characterised these relationships. He died in 2017, without having seen the liberation of Palestine.

This collection of correspondence supplements other letters from Mannin that we hold in our collections, including those among the papers of Henry Williamson (EUL MS 43) and Malcolm Elwin (EUL MS 423). It also complements other Middle East archives – Christopher Walker’s uncle was Sir John Richmond, and there are numerous references to CAABU and mutual acquaintances in both the Richmond archive (EUL MS 115) and the papers of Michael Adams (EUL MS 241). We have over thirty of Mannin’s novels in the Hypatia Collection too, and the letters between her and Walker could make for a fascinating research project for anyone seeking to explore Mannin’s views and activities supporting Palestinian resistance, the relationship between her literary work and political engagement, British networks of pro- and anti-Zionist advocacy, the interaction between British leftwing politics and support for Palestine (a topic that continues to provoke contentious discussion within the Labour Party) or simply to gain a greater knowledge of the literary and academic circles of the period. Catalogue entries for the correspondence can be found here.

Further Reading

By Ethel Mannin –

Middle East novels:

The Road to Beersheba (London: Hutchinson, 1963)

Bitter Babylon (London: Hutchinson, 1968)

The Midnight Street (London: Hutchinson, 1969)

Mission to Beirut (London: Hutchinson, 1973)

Travel writing:

Moroccan Mosaic (London: Jarrolds, 1953)

A Lance for the Arabs: A Middle East Journey (London: Hutchinson, 1963)

Aspects of Egypt (London: Hutchinson, 1964)

The Lovely Land. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (London: Hutchinson, 1965)

 

By Christopher Walker –

The Armenians (Minority Rights Group Report No.32, 1975), co-authored with Professor David Marshall Lang

Armenia: The Survival of a Nation (Croom Helm, 1980)

Armenia and Karabagh: the struggle for unity (Minority Rights Group, 1991) – editor

Oliver Baldwin: A Life of Dissent (London: Arcadia, 2003)

Visions of Ararat: writings on Armenia (Continuum, 2005)

Islam and the West: A Dissonant Harmony of Civilizations (Stroud: Sutton, 2005)

‘Friends or Foes? The Islamic East and the West’, History Today Volume: 57:3 (Mar 2007) pp.50-7

Other

Sarah Graham Brown, ‘A Lance for the Arabs: Ethel Mannin’, The Middle East No.125 (March 1985) p.62.

Ahmed Al Rawi, ‘The post-colonial novels of Desmond Stewart and Ethel Mannin’, Contemporary Arab Affairs Vol.9:4 (2016) pp.552-64.

Caroline Rooney, ‘The First nakba Novel? on Standing with Palestine,’
Interventions. International Journey of Postcolonial Studies, Vol. 20:1 (2018) pp.80-99.

Christopher J. Walker, Armenia: the survival of a nation (London: Croom Helm, 1980)

Rebecca Jinks, The Uncompromising Facts Of History: Christopher J. Walker’s Writings On Armenia (2021)

Philipp Winkler, ‘Che Guevara of the Middle East’: Remembering Khalid Ahmad Zaki’s Revolutionary Struggle in Iraq’s Southern Marshes’, in The Arab Lefts: Histories and Legacies, 1950s–1970s (Edinburgh University Press, 2020) pp.207-221. [Article on Mannin’s friend, whose death is referred to several times in her letters to Walker.]

 

Brothers in Arms: the papers of Nabih and Adil Al-Azmah (EUL MS 215)

The Al-Azmah papers are unusual amongst our collections in that they document the political careers of two brothers, both of whom – in related and overlapping spheres of activity – played a major role in the development of Arab nationalism in the Middle East. Although much of their lives were spent in their native Syria, the Al-Azmah brothers were active across Palestine, Transjordan and Egypt, were involved in training the ikhwahn troops of King Ibn Saud, and also held important political positions in the Syrian government during the eras of the French mandate as well as postwar independence.

Nabih and Adil were was born in Damascus to Abdel Aziz Al-Azmah, and belonged to a distinguished Damascene family who traced their origins back several centuries to Hasan Bey al-Azma, a Turkmen military leader who had settled in Syria. Many family members attained prominent positions in Syria as merchants, landowners, administrators, military and political leaders, as well as in the arts and sciences. These include Nabih and Adil’s uncles, Zaki, Taher and Yusuf Al-Azma, who were all respected army officers, Bashir al-Azma (1910–1992), who was briefly Prime Minister of Syria in 1962, Malak al-Azma, a successful banker whose son Professor Aziz al-Azma, donated the papers of his grandfather and great-uncle Adil and Nabih to the University of Exeter.

 

نبية العظمة   Nabih Al-Azmeh (1886-1972)

Nabih was educated at the Al-Rashdiya Military School in the Yalbugha Mosque in the Al-Bahsa neighborhood of Damascus before travelling to Yemen at the age of twelve where his father had been appointed as an administrator in the Hodeidah district. After returning from Yemen, he joined the Istanbul Military Academy in 1905, graduating two years later with the rank of lieutenant. During the First World War he fought with the Ottoman forces, taking part in the attack on the Suez Canal in 1915 as well as the campaign in Palestine.

Following the defeat of the Ottoman forces at the end of the war, the British took control of Palestine, Iraq and Transjordan, while France took over Syria in 1920. King Faisal was appointed head of the Arab Kingdom of Syria in March 1920 and during his short reign Nabih Al-Azmah served as director of police in Aleppo, while his uncle Yusuf Al-Azmah was Minister for War. However, in April 1920 the League of Nations gave France a mandate over Syria. A few Syrians were prepared to accept French rule, but the majority were strongly opposed to the idea and Yusuf Al-Azmah was one of the foremost advocates of armed resistance. When the French invaded with a force comprising several thousand troops, supported by tanks, artillery and aircraft, Yusuf died a heroic death in the Battle of Maysalun in July 1920. The Arab government in Syria was dissolved and King Faisal was expelled from Syria, although the following year the British had him installed as King of Iraq, an office he fulfilled until his death in 1933.

Following the death of his uncle and the French take-over of Syria, Nabih Al-Azmah left Syria and remained in exile for the next two decades. He moved first to the Druze city of as-Suwaydā’ in southwestern Syria, close to the border with Jordan, and then took up a role as advisor to King Faisal’s brother, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, the Emir of Jordan. He later moved to Egypt where he worked with King Abdul Aziz in establishing and training the Ikhwan forces in the Saudi army. During the 1930s he was active in Palestine, beginning with the Islamic Conference in Jerusalem December 1931, which had been organised by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni (1895–1974) and Indian Pan-Islamist Shawkat ‘Ali (1873–1938) and reflected the growing interest of Muslims in Palestine and the threat of Zionism – a topic explored in depth in the archive of Abd al-Fattah Al-Awaisi (EUL MS 216). Nabih Al-Azmah became close to the Grand Mufti (who was also a friend of Ernest Tatham Richmond) and there are photographs of them together during this period.

Cover of a pamphlet published by the Hizb al-Istiqlal al-Arabi (Arab Independence party) in 1932 EUL MS 215/7/6

In 1932 he helped establish Palestine’s first political party, Hizb al-Istiqlal, modelled in part on the Syrian nationalist party Hizb al-Istiqlal al-‘Arabi to which he belonged. The following year he was appointed director of the first Arab Exhibition, held in Jerusalem, and he continued in this role for the second Exhibition in 1934.

Al-Azmah also participated in the Great Revolt of 1936-39, a nationalist uprising by Palestinian Arabs against the British administration of the Palestine Mandate. He became head of the ‘Committee for the Defense of Palestine’, providing support and assistance between the mujahideen in Syria and those in Palestine. As head of the Syrian Palestine Defence Committee he attended the General Arab Congress at Bludan in 1937, which strove to strengthen Pan-Arab feeling in the region in support of Palestine.

Letter from Fawzi al-Qawuqji , Commander of the Society for the Defense of Palestine. EUL MS 215/10/1

Like al-Husayni, Al-Azmah’s opposition to the British and the French led him to consider supporting the Nazis during the Second World War, on the basis of ‘my enemy’s enemy must be my friend’, but unlike some other Arab nationalists he remained very wary of such an alliance; after some initial contact with Axis forces, he withdrew all ties. When the Allied forces arrived in Syria in 1941 he was forced once more to go into exile. He refused to go to Berlin, however, unlike his brother Adil who took refuge in the German capital with the Iraqi Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani. After the war Nabih returned to Syria where he was appointed Minister for Defence in the new independent government of Saadallah Al-Jabri. This only lasted for a brief period, after which he held the position of Chairman of the National Party until his retirement in the early 1950s. He died in 1972.

Conference pamphlet published by the League of Nationalist Action. EUL MS 215/7/6

  عادل العظمة   Adil Al-Azmeh (1888-1952)

Portrait of Adil Al-zmah, from a newspaper report on his death EUL MS 215/6/2

Adil did not share his older brother’s military background, but he was equally active in his work for Arab nationalism. He graduated from the Royal Academy in Istanbul and practised for some time as a lawyer in the early 1920s before joining Nabih in Transjordan, where he campaigned against Jewish immigration into Palestine. Following the failure of the Great Revolt he was one of many Arab nationalists, led by the Grand Mufti, who took refuge in Iraq and supported the pro-German coup d’etat in March 1941. He lived in Iraq in the early 1940s and participated in similar political activities to his brother, including a spell spent in Iraq in the early 1940s. After independence, he occupied various posts of government, including Governor of Latakia (1944-46?) – during which time he played a role in the arrest and execution of Sulayman al-Murshid – Governor of Aleppo (1946-49) and Minister of the Interior. The archive contains copies of his diaries for the years between 1946 and 1948 (EUL MS 115/1/11-14), providing a fascinating glimpse into his political and administrative duties. He died in Beirut in 1952.

EUL MS 215/5/4

Cover of a booklet published by the Governorate of Aleppo in 1947, with an image showing the city’s famous Bab al-Faraj Clock Tower and – in the distance – the 13th century citadel. EUL MS 215/5/4

Although these papers are all photocopies – the original documents are held in Damascus, with the Saudi papers now housed at the Darat al-Malik Ábd al-Áziz in Riyadh – they provide a wealth of information on topics such early Arab nationalism, political networks in the Levant, the activities of Islamic movements in Palestine, and the history of Syria during the transition from the French Mandate to independence. The documents include political correspondence with Arab leaders and key figures such as Fawzi Al-Qawuqji, Hashim al-Atassi, Husni al-Za’im, Fakhri el-Nashashibi, Rashid Rida, Mohamed Ali Ettaher, Asad Daghir, Wajih Al-Haffar, Dr Abd al-Rahman al-Kayyali, Muhammad ‘Izzat Darwazeh and others, state papers, political manifestoes and conference booklets for various political parties, as well as campaign material directed against the French administration in Syria and the British administration in Palestine. There are four indexes to the papers (EUL MS 215/6/4, 215/8/8, 215/11/3 and 215/12/13, which should probably be the starting point for researchers seeking to work with the collection.

The catalogue entries for the Al-Azmah papers can be consulted here

 

 

The El-Awaisi archive (EUL MS 284) and the Muslim Brotherhood

Those familiar with the Muslim Brotherhood will likely associate the organisation with Egypt, the place of its origin and the centre of its activities for much of its 90-years of existence. Founded by Hasan al-Banna in Ismailia in NE Egypt in 1928 – in part as a response to the dissolution of the Islamic Caliphate in 1924 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire – the Muslim Brotherhood was one of many small Islamic groups dissatisfied with the secular character of Egyptian society and the continuing occupation by British forces under the liberal monarchy of King Fuad I. By the late 1930s, however, it had over half a million members in Egypt alone and over the following decades would gradually become a powerful force of influence across the Arab world – despite a series of government prohibitions and crackdowns that saw thousands of its members imprisoned or executed.

A transnational movement rather than a political party, the Muslim Brotherhood was never in a position of power until the 2011 uprising that followed the ‘Arab Spring’. The thirty-year Presidency of Hosni Mubarak has been analysed in detail by Nazih Ayubi and many papers in the Ayubi archive offer insights into Egyptian life, society and economy during this period, but human rights abuses and corruption under Mubarak were the focus of the political demonstrations that took place in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the spring of 2011, leading to Mubarak’s resignation and the first ever democratic election in Egypt’s history. The new president, Mohammed Morsi, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. A year later, he was deposed in a coup led by General Sisi – who became the new president – and Morsi was imprisoned in jail in Cairo, where he died in June 2019.

The role played by the Muslim Brotherhood in Morsi’s rise and fall is a topic that will continue to be debated for many years, and it will be interesting to see what insights Victor Willi forthcoming book The Fourth Ordeal: A History of the Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, 1968-2018 (Cambridge University Press) has to offer. The Muslim Brotherhood’s activities outside of Egypt have perhaps received less scrutiny, which is what makes Abd al-Fattah M. El-Awaisi’s study, The Muslim Brothers and the Palestine Question 1928-1947 (London: Tauris, 1998) so fascinating.

Some items from the El-Awaisi archive

El-Awaisi was born in Palestine, in the Gaza Strip, and after studying at Kuwait University came to Exeter to pursue a Ph.D under the supervision of Michael Adams. His thesis, entitled The Muslim Brothers and the Palestine Question, 1936-1947, was successfully submitted in January 1986, after which he took up an academic post at the University of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied territory of Palestine. He was head of the history department when he was deported by the Israelis in 1992, a traumatic experience that caused him a great deal of suffering and ill-health in addition to separating him from his family. Professor El-Awaisi was later reunited with his wife and children, and held academic posts in Malaysia and Turkey. In 2001 he became the first Principal of the Al-Maktoum Institute in Dundee, where he co-wrote Time for Change: Report on the Future of the Study of Islam and Muslims in Universities and Colleges in Multicultural Britain (2006) with Professor Malory Nye, who succeded him as Principal in 2008. In recent years he was been committed to a new interdisciplinary field designated ‘Islamicjerusalem [sic] Studies’, which aims at exploring an Islamic understanding of the Holy Land through theology, history, geography, architecture and archaeology.

El-Awaisi’s recent work is, arguably, rooted in the research undertaken forty years earlier for his PhD thesis, which examined in detail the Muslim Brotherhood’s belief that Palestine occupied a position of unique significance within Islam, and the ways in which their engagement with this issue played out through three successive phases: that of propaganda, military preparations and armed conflict.

Tapes of Abu Zant with one of El-Awaisi’s index cards

Under Hasan al-Banna, the Brothers began with the fundamental concept of Islamic umma [أمة] which emphasises that all Muslims belong to a ‘spiritual nation’ which transcends geographic boundaries and racial distinction. At first, they adopted a principled and respectful stance towards non-Muslims, both Christians and Jews, as People of the Book, but this changed in response to the Zionist movement and its demands upon Palestine. Believing that Palestine occupied a special place within the Islamic umma and that all Muslims had a sacred duty to defend the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the Muslim Brotherhood took an increasingly hostile stance towards Judaism, including the distribution of ugly anti-Semitic material. The Brothers’ commitment to fighting in Palestine was based on a fusion of the concepts of umma and jihad [جهاد‎ ], so that the defence of Palestine was seen both as a nationalist and a religious cause. At this time however, British policy was aimed at keeping Egypt isolated from the Arab world, with the consequence that Egyptian politicians were much more concerned with domestic issues and showed little interest in Palestine. Even as late as 1931, there was little support in Egypt for Pan-Muslim movements, which is why the Muslim Brotherhood had to devote so much energy to propaganda in its early years.

As El-Awaisi’s thesis reveals, one of Hasan al-Banna’s first actions (in 1927) was to send a message of support to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husayni – who was, incidentally, a good friend of Ernest Richmond. The Brotherhood’s first activity outside Egypt was in Palestine in 1935, when a delegation of Brothers travelled to Jerusalem to visit al-Husayni before meeting others sympathetic to their aims in Damascus. After returning, their offices in Cairo became a centre for the Palestinian resistance movement, and over the next decade they would take an increasingly active role in military operations within Palestine.

EUL MS 284

El-Awaisi’s account of this history was based on a wide range of Arabic sources from Egypt, Jordan and Palestine, both published and unpublished, as well as records from the Foreign Office. During the 1980s he also travelled to Geneva, Cairo and Palestine to conduct interviews with twelve former members of the Brotherhood, contemporaries of Hasan al-Banna who had been involved in the Palestinian resistance. These interviews were recorded and now form part of the El-Awaisi archive of almost 230 cassette tapes. In addition to the interviews, there are recordings of Islamic and Palestinian songs, a conference on Iran held by the Muslim Institute in London, lectures by Shaykh Fu’ad al-Rifai and Shaykh Ahmad al-Qattan, sermons by Palestinian cleric and militant Abu Anas on ‘Jarimat al-Watan al-Badil’ [‘The Crime of the Alternative Homeland proposal’], and over fifty tapes of the radical Jordanian MP and Muslim Brother Shaykh Abd al-Munim Abu Zant. The value of this audio archive extends far beyond the parameters of El-Awaisi’s PhD research, and will be of relevance for anyone researching the wider history of radical Islam. In addition to a card listing of the tapes’ contents, there are five boxes of index cards – written chiefly in Arabic – providing a subject index to El-Awaisi’s research materials, including book and periodical references. The tapes are in the process of being digitised, although this is a time-consuming practice that will take several months.

The aims, strategies and activities of the Muslim Brotherhood remain a highly contentious issue. Despite long-standing support from Qatar and Turkey, the Brotherhood has been designated a terrorist organisation by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, and during 2019 Donald Trump called for the USA to do likewise. Although it officially renounced violence in the 1970s, the Brotherhood’s theocratic ideology can be seen to underpin the agendas of militant groups such as Hamas, al-Qa’eda and ISIS – even if the relationship between these groups ranges from, at best, informal collaboration to outright mutual condemnation – with the writings of Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) playing a significant role in the development of Islamic fundamentalism. Even if the fullness of their commitment to democracy is debatable, the Brotherhood’s emphasis on social transformation, electoral participation and charitable work for the sick and the poor indicates that they may have much to offer as a nonviolent alternative to more extreme forms of Islamism.

Using archival sources is a valuable step towards engaging with a complex and challenging debate such as this, as it encourages the enquiry to go beyond general abstractions (such as ‘The Clash of Civilisation’ trope) and examine primary sources that record the actual words, written and spoken, of individuals at a specific time and place. This is particularly important for anyone studying the Muslim Brotherhood and its various affiliate networks, which have often evolved in different ways according to regional and local contexts, and the political realities of the moment. In addition to the El-Awaisi archive – which has been catalogued here – there are sub-sections of the Ayubi papers dealing specifically with political Islam, Egypt and militant Islamic movements in the Middle East (EUL MS 129/1/2 and EUL MS 129/1/3, see records here) and also a small folder of manuscript notes in the Richmond papers on the 1966 trial in Egypt of Sayyid Qutb and other members of the Muslim Brotherhood (EUL MS 115/41/1, see here.)

‘Palestine dominates their life’: The Papers of Sir John and Lady Diana Richmond

After retiring from a successful diplomatic career in 1966, Sir John Richmond (1909-90) and his wife Diana (1914-97) settled in Durham, where he had accepted a lectureship in Modern Near East History at the University’s School of Oriental Studies. Following the Six-Day War in June 1967, the Richmonds became increasingly concerned at the suffering of Palestinians living in the occupied territories and the strong media bias prevalent at that time. They were instrumental in founding the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) – along with Michael Adams – and over the next few years devoted themselves to campaigning on behalf of Palestinians.

The extent of this work is evident from the Richmond papers deposited at the University of Exeter’s Special Collections Department, which have now been catalogued and are available for researchers. There are 38 boxes of papers, including correspondence with authors, editors, journalists, diplomats, scholars and activists, folders of press-cuttings, periodicals and pamphlets from the 1920s through to the 1980s, CAABU reports, minutes and newsletters, as well as a wealth of religious ephemera relating to the Richmonds’ work with the CAABU Religious Affairs Group (CRAG) and their interest in inter-religious dialogue. They were both converts to Roman Catholicism and monitored carefully the coverage of Middle Eastern topics – especially the situation in Palestine – in the Catholic press.

Sir John and Lady Diana Richmond at their home in Durham, from a 1979 newspaper article that reported on how ‘Palestine dominated their life’.

The Richmonds’ love for Palestine, as well their attitude towards the Israeli settlement there, owed much to the life and work of Sir John’s father, eminent architect Ernest Tatham Richmond (1874-1955), who had first gone out to the region in 1895 to help prepare illustrations of an ancient temple. An Arabic speaker, he was entrusted with restoration work on Cairo’s mosques and other commissions in both Egypt and Palestine, and at the end of the First World War he obtained an appointment in the British Mandatory Government in Palestine. Although he resigned in 1924 due to his unease about the strongly pro-Zionist policy of his colleagues, Ernest Richmond returned to returned to Jerusalem in 1927 to take up a strictly non-political appointment as Director of the Department of Antiquities, which he held for the next ten years. Among the Richmond papers are several pamphlets and offprints of Ernest Richmond’s scholarly work, and he was referred to frequently in the correspondence and writings of both Sir John and Lady Diana Richmond.

Scrapbook of presscuttings compiled by E.T. Richmond : ‘Palestine, December 1947: some newspaper cuttings describing the events that immediately followed UNO’s decision to partition the country.’ EUL MS 115/25

His son John first visited Palestine as a schoolboy in 1923 and duly followed in his father’s footsteps, learning Arabic, studying antiquities in the Holy Land and taking part in archaeological excavations. During this time his parents became involved with the Ditchling community of Catholic artists and craftsmen, as well as the Dominican priest-scholars of the École Biblique in Jerusalem. Ernest Richmond was received into the Catholic Church in 1924, his wife Margaret in 1928, with John Richmond following soon after while he was a student at Oxford. After a variety of other archaeological expeditions in the Jordan Valley and elsewhere between 1931 and 1936, he joined HM Office of Works, and he was in this position when he married Diana Galbraith on 2 February 1939. Although she had been brought up a Presbyterian, she converted to Catholicism around the time of their marriage.

An offprint of one of Ernest Richmond’s articles, this one offering a strong criticism of the British Mandate and its mistreatment of the Arab population and their grievances. EUL MS 115/25

During the Second World War John Richmond served as an Army Intelligence Officer in Palestine, Syria and Iraq, where his knowledge of Arabic proved invaluable. At the end of July 1946 the Richmonds, with their two young twin daughters, moved to Jerusalem where John had obtained a post as Conservator of Ancient Monuments – with responsibility for the preservation of historic buildings – at the Palestine Museum where his father had worked. This was the time when the British Mandate in Palestine was coming to an end. According to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Britain was committed to providing a ‘national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine, but they had also made similar promises to the Arabs in return for military and political support during the First World War. The British were therefore faced with an impossible situation, unable to honour the promises they had made, and increasingly unable to maintain order as Zionist paramilitary groups took up arms to protest against the British refusal to admit Jewish immigrants. The murder of British soldiers, policemen and government officials became a regular occurrence, the most notorious incident being the blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946, with the death of over 90 people.

Excerpt from a letter from Diana Richmond to a nun from The Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, 14 July 1975. EUL MS 115/13/1

This occurred ten days before the Richmonds arrived in the city. As an Arabic speaker like his father, John Richmond developed friendships with local Palestinians and their daughters began attending a convent day school run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion at Katamon, just outside city. However, with the political situation growing increasingly unstable, it became clear that their hopes of settling in Jerusalem and raising their family here would be impossible. Less than a year after their arrival in Palestine, John Richmond was transferred to the British embassy in Baghdad. The British government announced in September 1947 that the Mandate for Palestine would end at midnight on 14 May 1948 and turned to the United Nations for help in finding a solution. After the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the adoption of the Partition Plan for Palestine, fighting broke out between Arab and Jewish communities. Over the next few months this would escalate into full-blown war, as the military forces of neighbouring Arab countries responded to the declaration of the new state of Israel on 15 May 1948.

Postcard showing Israeli soldiers by the Suez Canal. EUL MS 115/8/13

During the Richmonds’ subsequent diplomatic postings they continued to visit Palestine and correspond with friends and colleagues in the region, as well as keeping themselves well-informed about developments in both the Arab and Israeli positions. It is fair to say, though, that their support for the Palestinians’ cause and their opposition to Zionism was rooted in the experiences described above, namely the influence of Ernest Richmond and their affection for the land and people they had known prior to 1947. In dozens of her letters, Diana Richmond referred back to her knowledge of this period and the Richmonds’ sense of having a ‘two generation link with Palestine and its peoples’. The strongly personal motives of their later activism gives the archive a fascinating resonance.

A large proportion of the papers relates to the Richmonds’ prolific correspondence with newspaper editors, journalists and representatives of the BBC concerning their coverage of the Middle East and – in particular – Israel’s occupation of Palestine. They monitored the media closely and were quick to challenge anything that they regarded as factual errors, suggestio falsi, biased omissions or misrepresentation. In the days before e-mails, these letters were usually drafted by hand and then typed up; more often than not, they received a personal response, ranging from apologies to defensive counter-arguments and – sometimes – an irritable backlash. Correspondents include William Rees-Mogg, Tom Burns (editor of The Tablet), Gerard Noel (editor of The Catholic Herald), Katy and Soraya Antonius, Dr Israel Shahak, Uri Davis, Dan Gillon, Solly Sachs, Cardinal Heenan, Bishop Ian Ramsey, Sir John Glubb, Norman St John Stevas, Fr. Thomas Corbishley SJ, Herbert McCabe OP, Fr. Henry Wansbrough OSB, Judith Maro, Michael Adams, Mgr. Bruce Kent (CND), Christopher Hollis, Christopher Walker, Stephen Spender, E.H. Gombrich,  Bernard Palmer (editor of The Church Times), US Ambassador Kingman Brewster, Menahem Begin, Laurence Olivier, Mark Braham, Rev. Marcus Braybrooke, various diplomats and Foreign Office officials, as well as MPs such as Christopher Mayhew, Jo Grimond, Roy Jenkins and James Callaghan, Dennis Walters, Andrew Faulds, Jeremy Thorpe and PM Edward Heath.

A page from the Koran, from a pamphlet in the Richmond collection. EUL MS 115/34

Their correspondence related not just to the media but to other activities such as CAABU work, public meetings and lectures, all of which were aimed at raising awareness of the situation in Palestine, encouraging dialogue between the different factions, and promoting a deeper understanding of Islam and the Arab world. Scholars interested in the development of contemporary Islamophobia might be interested in the Richmonds’ efforts to combat the ignorance and hostility shown towards Islam during this period, and what these papers reveal about the cultural positions and attitudes held by those in the media, political and religious circles. The Richmonds were also involved in supporting a range of charitable organisations and activities in the Middle East, such as the Spafford Children’s Hospital in Jerusalem, Musa Alami’s Arab Development Society, UNIPAL and the Friends of Bir Zeit University. They supported the inter-religious dialogue movement Jews-Christians-Muslims (JCM) as well as the British Algerian Society, the Anglo-Arab Association and a number of short-lived or lesser-known groups and publications active in these fields.  They were particularly interested in human rights and collected a large amount of documentary material on conditions in the occupied territories, including reports from prisons and interrogation centres, and material on how the conflict affected Palestinian women and children.

Another significant strand that runs through the Richmond papers and remains of cutting relevance today is the debate over the boundaries between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, particularly in the political sphere where critics of Israeli policy and supporters of the Palestinian cause have often been accused of holding anti-Semitic views. The Richmonds tried to adhere to a definition of Zionism as ‘the political movement arising out of Theodor Herzl’s book, Der Judenstaat, and finding its political expression in part through the series of Zionist congresses’, and were keen to emphasise that their use of the terms ‘pro-’ or ‘anti-Zionist’ could only ever be a political judgment, based on exclusively political criteria. They corresponded with a number of Jewish writers and campaigners, including several non-Zionist Jews, and were at pains to develop a more nuanced debate about the distinctions between sympathy for the Israeli people and criticism of the injustices brought about by Israeli government policy. Unfortunately, they also attracted interest from individuals and organisations who were genuinely anti-Semitic, such as the eccentric but deeply unpleasant National Cleansing Crusade. Anyone with such views received short shrift from the Richmonds, with their communications either unanswered or dismissed with a terse postcard reply, and any material they sent placed in sealed envelopes marked ‘Anti-Semitic Filth.’

A letter from Emile Marmorstein to John Richmond. EUL MS 115/5/12

In addition to the correspondence and writings of the Richmonds themselves – the latter of which include typed articles, talks, memoirs, translations and verse – the collection holds a large amount of secondary material relating to the history of Palestine and political activism, from the 1920s through to the 1980s. These include scholarly papers and offprints from academic journals, as well as a wide selection of more radical publications such as home-made ‘zines’ and student papers that reflect the artwork and graphic design of the underground counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s: a reminder that the Richmonds’ daughter Sophie worked as secretary for the Sex Pistols and helped design some of their iconic artwork.

Just some of the wide range of periodicals and pamphlets and other literature held in the Richmond collection

It is sometimes forgotten now that pro-Palestinian activism in Britain was not a phenomenon that took off in the 1980s, but it actually had a much longer tradition. An examination of the Richmond papers will help researchers gain a better understanding of these activities and their place within the literary, religious and political culture of late 20th century Britain.

The online catalogue of the Richmond papers can be explored here.

The Road to Emmaus: the papers of Michael Adams (1920-2005) – EUL MS 241

‘I have never met a journalist who isn’t biased about practically anything and, since they aren’t Daleks, this probably shows through in their copy. The idea that a journalist should be unbiased is a curious one. The best ones are very biased indeed.’

– Terry Pratchett, reviewing Publish it Not… The Middle East Cover-Up (London: Longman, 1975) by Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew MP in The Bath and West Evening Chronicle, 30 August 1975. (EUL MS 241/5/2)

Michael Adams’ career as a journalist spanned almost six decades, during which he established a reputation not only as an expert on the Middle East but also a passionate campaigner on behalf of the Palestinian people living in the Israeli-occupied territories. He was well aware of the potential conflict between these two aspects of his work and his papers offer valuable insights into the internal and external workings of the media. How does a journalist balance personal beliefs against the need to present an equivocal view of events for his audience? How do newspapers and broadcasters balance their desire for editorial independence with their reliance on financial sponsorship and advertisers with their own agendas and vested interests? How can we learn to navigate the complex relationship between media representation, human experience and political reality?

These are issues with which Adams had to wrestle over many years, and which cost him a great deal of personal pain and sacrifice. Like many critics of Israeli policy, he was accused of anti-Semitism and became embroiled in an unpleasant lawsuit trying to defend himself. During a period when sympathy in the UK lay almost entirely in favour with Israel and in opposition to its Arab neighbours, Adam’s reporting upset many and strained his relationship with his editor at The Guardian, Alastair Hetherington. How these events and tensions played out over the years is documented in detail, through correspondence from different parties, personal notes, typed reports and presscuttings.

Although Adams’ name is closely associated with the subject of Israel-Palestine relations, he travelled widely through the Arab world and wrote about many other regions during his long career

Born in Addis Ababa, Adams was educated at Sedbergh School before going up to Oxford, although his time at university was interrupted by wartime service in the RAF. He was shot down and captured in 1940 and spent most of the war in Luchenwald POW camp near Berlin; we have two early typescripts – Solitude and Adventures with Robert Browning – about his experiences as a POW, written in Oxford just after the war (EUL MS 241/5/1). Having obtained his MA in 1948, Adams began working as a BBC scriptwriter, and travelled in Greece, Turkey and American before his appointment as Middle East correspondent for The Guardian in 1956. As Adams admitted in the introduction to his first book, Suez and After (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958): ‘No one could report events in the Middle East for long without becoming to some extent involved in them. Where principles are in conflict, and prejudices heartfelt, only a saint or a cynic could retain his detachment, and I am neither.’

His involvement in these events was deepened in 1967 after the BBC sent him to make a series of radio programmes gauging what Arabs thought and felt about the situation after the Six-Day War. This work took him through the occupied territories of Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank, and while his meetings with Palestinian people inspired his book Chaos or rebirth: the Arab outlook (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1968), the visit had a profound effect on his own views. Disturbed not only by the brutal treatment of Palestinian families that he witnessed, but also by the failure of British and American media to report on these matters, he committed himself fully to addressing what he perceived to be a biased misrepresentation of the situation in the Middle East.

Three photographs of Imwas (Emmaus), taken in (top to bottom) 1948, 1958 and 1968.
EUL MS 241/5/3

One of the events that moved him deeply at this time was the Israeli demolition of three villages (including Imwas, long identified as the biblical ‘Emmaus’) between Jerusalem and Ramla. We have an entire file documenting Adams’ research into the destruction of Imwas, including photographs, maps and letters from former residents of the village (EUL MS 241/5/3). Adams’ persistence in publicising these events led to further difficulties with his editor at The Guardian, who refused to publish the article – it appeared instead in The Sunday Times.

CAABU

In 1967 Adams was one of the co-founders of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), which aimed at countering some of the widespread ignorance and prejudice about the Arab World. Among Adams’ papers are some of the original documents relating to the founding of CAABU as well as records of some of the meetings, events, lectures and exhibitions organised during its early years.  (EUL MS 241/3) Adams found another platform for his mission to promote a greater understanding of the Arab world when he became the first editor of the magazine Middle East International (MEI) in 1971. The archive holds copies of many of his MEI editorials and articles.

Remaining frustrated by the difficulties faced by those who wished to publish opinions that might be deemed critical of Zionism and favourable to the Arab states, Adams teamed up with Christopher Mayhew, a Labour MP and Foreign Office official, to write Publish it Not… The Middle East Cover-Up (London: Longman, 1975) which presented evidence of systematic media bias in western coverage of matters relating to Israel and Palestine. The book also offered some practical solutions for the future of the peace process – something that Adams continued to think about and actively seek for the rest of his life.

Black September

Perhaps the most striking instance of Adams’ direct involvement in Middle Eastern affairs was the role he played in negotiating the release of hostages following the hijacking of five passenger jets during the Jordanian civil war of September 1970 – a period of bloody warfare known as ‘Black September’ when the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the more radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) tried to wrestle control of Jordan out of the hands of King Hussein and give greater autonomy of the majority Palestinian population. The hijackings were carried out by the PFLP almost simultaneously, and after one plane was surrendered in London and other blown up in Cairo, the remaining three were flown to Dawsons Field, an airstrip near Zarka in Jordan. Most of the passengers were released, but around fifty Israelis and Americans were detained. Given the chaotic situation and the lack of trust on all sides, negotiations for the release of the hostages proved difficult and Adams flew out to help on behalf of CAABU.

He landed in Amman, the capital of Jordan, where he met Walid Khaled, brother of the imprisoned hijacker Leila Khaled. Subsequent events are recorded in a 52-page diary transcript, which details his meetings with representatives of the PFLP, Jordanian military and British and Dutch ambassadors, as well as the escalating fighting in Amman, the destruction of the planes and the release of various Arab prisoners from European jails – including Leila Khaled – in exchange for the hostages (EUL MS 241/2/1). In addition to Adams’ account there are copies of various communications between the Foreign Office, the UK Ambassador to Jordan and other officials involved in the negotiations (EUL MS 241/2/2).

Some of Adams’ correspondence, including images of Bethlehem sent as Christmas greetings. EUL MS 241/2/5

Any assessment of Adams’ achievements as a journalist and campaigner must rest primarily upon the quality of his research and writing, and our collections contains copies of scores of his articles in both typescript and published versions, in addition to his working notes, diaries, photographs, maps and letters. The collections would be well worth exploring for anyone seeking to understand better the recent history of the Middle East – in particular, the relationship between Israel and Palestine – as well as the role and responsibilities of the media in educating the public and influencing political opinion. The online catalogue can be explored here.