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Norman Bentwich, 1883-1971, a Tribute

Helen Bentwich

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Norman Bentwich, 1883-1971* HELEN BENTWICH Norman often said that if he had his life over again, he would choose to be an archaeologist. He had a deep interest in the past, and in the history, not only of our own people but of all peoples and nations. At the same time?which is rare?he was intensely aware of the world in which he lived, and greatly concerned for the betterment of mankind everywhere. 'Human rights' were almost a passion with him, decades before the Declaration of the United Nations. I remember his efforts, just before the last war, to obtain the release of a small number of prisoners in China, and this at a time when his work on behalf of the victims of Nazi persecution led him to travel, sometimes at risk of personal danger, to Germany and Austria. He never knew fear, and was as reck? less in Palestine, after he was shot by an Arab in 1929, as he was in London, running in and out of the traffic. I once saw him knocked down by a car in Fitzjohn's Avenue; as soon as he had picked himself up, he apologised to the woman driver for causing her inconvenience. For he was invariably courteous. Constant Traveller My happiest memories of him are as a traveller. He enjoyed even the dreariest waits at airports, where he would wander among the milling crowds, seeking friends or acquaint? ances. He seldom failed to find someone he knew, or, by a chance remark, to make fresh friends. Together we travelled to forty-two countries, and he went to a few more alone. He always travelled with the least amount of luxury, generally making his way by public transport to the airport. He made less fuss about his frequent visits to Israel or Germany, or his occasional trips to Ethiopia and America, than most men of his age made about travelling to Brighton. He disliked luxury, or the spending of charitable funds unnecessarily. He preferred his travels to be purposeful: they were mainly made on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in the cause of the refugees, or, latterly, as the Chairman of the United Restitution Office. Not for him the relaxation of lying on sunny beaches; a quick dip in the sea, be it in the Mediterranean, or the English Channel at Sandwich, where we had acquired a cottage?which I still own?at the time of the Richborough Camp for refugees, before the last war. When I could persuade him actually to take a holiday abroad, to Iran, or Russia, to Morocco, Spain, and Portugal, and when I drove him across Europe from Greece to Holland, he always managed to find some Jewish contact, even if it meant wandering round the shops until he saw one with a Jewish name, when he would boldly walk in and announce himself as a fellow-Jew. Concern for Falashas Towards the end of his life, he was deeply concerned about the Jewish tribe in Ethiopia, the Falashas. Nothing was too much trouble for him where they were concerned. At the age of 87 he regretfully decided that, though he could be driven across incredibly difficult tracks in a Land Rover to visit their villages, he was too old to undertake the arduous journey to the Sudan border to see the land allotted to them by the Emperor. Despite his travels, he found time to write some forty books and innumerable articles on an incredibly wide range of subjects for monthly and weekly journals, besides a constant flow of letters to The Times. But above all, his greatest love was Palestine (later Israel). From his home background he had early acquired a passionate belief in Zionism. This led him to abandon a promising career at the Bar, in England, to accept an appointment in Egypt, the country nearest to Palestine. While there, in 1915, he volun? teered for the Camel Transport Corps: two * See the references to Professor and Mrs. Bentwich in the Preface to this volume (p. xi). 191</page><page sequence="2">192 Helen Bentwich till he retired at the age of 68, on a part-time basis. When he retired, he devoted much of his time to the British Friends of the Hebrew University, a fund-raising and propaganda organisation. He was never an 'orthodox' Zionist, believing for many years in the binational State, and having a deep sympathy with, and under? standing of, the Arabs. And, once the State of Israel came into being, he did all he could to foster that understanding. He would have liked the remark, made recently by a Jewish car-driver to a non-Jewish friend of ours: 'Bentwich was the man who loved both Jews and Arabs.' Norman was perennially young. 'Youth is not a time of life, it is a state of mind. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.' This quotation, from an American writer, was found in his desk after he died, and epitomises Norman's life. To have been his companion for fifty-five years was a constant adventure, a perennial renewing of youth. years later, with the rank of Major, his dream became reality. He was in Palestine, and soon transferred from his camels?even for them he had acquired a curious affection?to undertake legal work for the British, then the occupying Power. Later, he became the Attorney-General under the Mandatory Government, a post which he held until 1931, when, to his distress, the British Colonial Office decided to dismiss him (as a matter of principle, he refused to resign) because it was declared that a Jewish Attorney-General was no longer acceptable to the Arabs. The establishment of a Hebrew University in Jerusalem was one of his earliest dreams. He was present when the foundation stone of the University was laid, on Mount Scopus, almost as soon as Jerusalem was conquered by the British. Throughout his years in the Govern? ment, he was a governor of the University, and an ardent propagandist for the collection of funds. In 1932, he was appointed Burton Professor at the University, the subject being the International Law of Peace, later just International Relations. He held this post,</page></plain_text>