The people seen in this picture are the parents of Eid Hadad.
He was a teenager in 1938, when he witnessed from close quarters the presence of British rule in the Palestinian territories.
Talking about his parents’ experiences, Eid Hadad says, “They saw how British troops would come before their eyes and attack people. My father once told me how a man was hit on the head with a wooden hammer, which is traditionally used to pound meat.”
Referring to another incident, Hadad says, “Once a man and his son were shot from behind while they were drying tobacco leaves. At that time, similar anarchy was being seen all around.
Eid Hadad’s parents lived in the Palestinian village of Al-Bassa, which was classified as a collective punishment by the British Army.
The British Army called such action ‘punitive measures’. Under this, if any rebel group attacked the army, the entire village was punished for it.
Pain spilled over into BBC Radio 4’s special series
Eid Haddad shared many such stories of injustice and exploitation in the new series ‘The Mandate’ broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
This special BBC series explores Britain and France’s control of the Middle East a century ago, echoes of which are still heard across the region today.
For this series, the BBC team spoke to many historians and experts to understand what the situation was like in today’s Israel, Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria during colonial rule.
We also talked to women and men who were directly affected by that situation. The sting of those incidents is also recorded in the memories of their next generations.
Eid Hadad is one of such affected people. I met Haddad last year, when I was reporting on a major demand made by Palestine.
Palestine demanded that Britain apologize for alleged war crimes committed during its occupation from 1917 to 1948.
This time when we spoke to Eid Hadad, he was at his home in Denmark.
In a phone conversation, he recalled his childhood days in Lebanon when his family had to leave the country due to bloodshed and turmoil.
Like Hadad’s parents, everyone we interviewed for this series had a disintegrated early life.
That was the period of British and French rule, in which conflict and communal turmoil persisted in the entire region for years.
That period of turmoil and oppression
Hadad’s childhood memories also include a period when European powers stopped interfering in the Middle East, but the entire region struggled with violence and instability for decades.
During the interview, one historian even said that the ‘history of mandate’ in the Middle East is so basic that it appears to be the history of the present here.
When Britain invaded and occupied the collapsing Ottoman Empire during the First World War, it turned to powers that believed in ‘self-determination’.
Britain then made tall promises regarding a large area. Especially from the Arab people, who were demanding the independence of the entire region.
Along with this, Britain also made promises to the Jews, who were demanding permanent residence of Jews in Palestine.
Britain and France consolidated their control over the region through the so-called mandate given to them by the newly formed League of Nations.
Needless to say, this was an institution which was dominated by the two monarchical powers Britain and France.
Due to Britain’s policies in the Palestinian areas, the national movement first divided into two factions and then started on the path of conflict with each other.
This was in the last years of the 1930s, when Britain was successful in crushing the Arab Revolt.
However, the British army later had to face a rebellion by the Zionist militia. During this period, Britain had changed many of its policies.
This also included the immigration policy regarding Europe. Contrary to its promise, Britain started sending back refugee boats carrying Holocaust survivors.
These people had already fled Nazi-occupied Europe.
Israeli historian Tom Segev says, “Britain had no idea how to manage these things.”
When France tried the British ‘Divide and Rule’ policy
On the other hand, France separated Lebanon from Syria on the basis of its mandate power.
The objective was to acquire a strategically important coastline for itself.
Thus, in the early 1920s, France drew new boundaries throughout the region. This was before the Arab Revolt, which was brutally crushed.
As historian James Barr explains, “France divided territories on religious and racial lines. You can call it – this was a condemnable policy of ‘divide and rule’.
A few years after the Second World War, Britain and France withdrew from the Middle East.
However, Britain was well aware that after their departure, local conflicts in areas like Palestine had turned into regional wars.
Because by then Israel had been declared as a country.
Eid Hadad’s parents had to flee their village al-Bassasa after Jewish paramilitaries destroyed the entire village.
In the conflict of 1947-48, about seven and a half lakh Palestinians either had to flee or were forcibly evicted from their homes. Palestinians still call it Nakba or Qayamat.
Birth and childhood in a Lebanese refugee camp
Eid Hadad was born into a family that had fled Palestine and were forced to live in a refugee camp in neighboring Lebanon.
The effect of the increase in Palestinian refugees in Lebanon was that the harmony that had been established between Christians and Muslims after French rule became unstable.
This became worse after the establishment of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). This armed group of Palestinians was continuously attacking Israel.
However, there were still influential officers in the country who were in favor of a ‘Pan Arab Alliance’ with Syria and Egypt.
Because this was the alliance which was strengthened with the rebellion against the mandate given to the European countries. Lebanon further fell into sectarian civil war.
Eid Hadad, a Palestinian Christian, describes how his 16-year-old brother was shot dead by a group of Lebanese Christian extremists.
This group of extremists used to target refugees from Palestine. In 1975, the same group attacked the refugee camp in Beirut.
Hadad also narrowly escaped a massacre this year. He somehow saved himself from the attackers by hiding in a wardrobe.
Hadad saw with his own eyes how brutally and humiliatingly the extremists treated the people in that attack.
Hadad explains how he became a victim of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to those events from childhood to adolescence.
Haddad says, “I think my parents also suffered from similar disorders because they must have seen many such incidents since childhood. Imagine what my father must have gone through when the British army was about to take him for strict interrogation.
Neither father returned home nor Eid Hadad
Haddad tells how during the operation on Al-Bassa in 1938, the British army used to separate women from detained men. His father was a teenager then. To save him, a villager dressed him as a girl.
According to Hadad, “They tied a scarf on my father’s head and made him wear a girl’s dress.” In this way they saved my father from the torture of the British army.
However, the British government never acknowledged the atrocities committed in Al-Bassa. It is believed that more than 30 people were killed in the incidents that took place here.
Along with this, Hadad also explains why he has not returned to his country from Europe till date.
He says, “I always feel that a big part of my existence is missing. I feel like an island in the sea, which still seems like a foreign country to me.