Snapshotsof German-Jewish History and Culture
Rocky Roads, Exotic Birds and a Scent of Jaffa Oranges. The Palestine Pavilion Handbook and Tourist Guide (1924)
In 1924 the British Empire Exhibition, hosted by the British government, attempted to promote Britain’s ties with its colonies by means of an exhibition of their national industries at the Empire Stadium in Wembley. The Palestine Pavilion focused on Mandate Palestine, a region previously under the control of the former Ottoman Empire and placed under British mandate by the League of Nations in 1920. The booklet about the Pavilion was compiled by The Palestine Pavilion Organisation Committee under the patronage of Sir Herbert Louis Samuel, first High Commissioner for Palestine. Sir Herbert Louis Samuel was the first Jewish politician, after Benjamin Disraeli, to lead a major British political party (Liberal Party), and to serve as Home Secretary. His introduction to the handbook points to the complex political situation the British faced in Mandate Palestine. In his text, great emphasis was placed on the British administration’s activities being seen to uphold the population’s religious freedoms and civil rights.
The Pamphlet fulfilled several functions beyond navigating the exhibition which was hosted in a spectacular, orientalist pavilion. A vibrant watercolour painting of the building adorns the booklet’s cover. The publication features a multi-layered insight into Mandate Palestine in the 1920s and was tailored to the expectations of a British audience. It showcases, for example, the British army’s military achievements in WWI in Ottoman Palestine alongside the impact Britain’s subsequent presence had on infrastructural and economic development in the region. The handbook also presents the variety of opportunities for business relations with the Mandate through a wide range of often intricately illustrated adverts that take up over 20 pages of the 118-page guidebook. Among them for example an advertisement for Mrs Helena Kelly’s Palestine Arts & Crafts, a London store, that was even frequented by H.M. the Queen. Kelly’s advert dwells on contemporary orientalist ideas and images of Arab culture that were popular in the early 20th Century: it shows the silhouette of a caravan with packed dromedaries led by a male, turbaned figure riding a donkey. Other businesses in this section feature banks, Anglo-Jewish newspapers, diverse manufacturers, and adverts that promote the export of wine and fruit. One particularly remarkable advert in the latter section is a tribute to the Jaffa Orange.
Over half of the booklet serves as a detailed tourist guide for the ‘modern’ traveller. It illustrates the diversity of the region and declares that Mandate Palestine’s ‘doors are wide open to pilgrims and travellers from around the world’ (p. 21). Promising the prospective visitor to Mandate Palestine a rewarding journey and a unique experience, the booklet explores a wide range of itineraries including Biblical sites as well as places epitomising the rapid development of the region in the 1920s. The emerging city of Tel Aviv and modern Kibbutzim are presented alongside picturesque views of Mediterranean ports such as Jaffa. Guides to birdwatching, insights into local folklore and information about the British battlefields of 1917/18 speak to different touristic interests. Photographs of sites like the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock bring together the most famous religious sites of Mandate Palestine. All this imagery evokes the promise of adventure, a prevailing sense of antiquity and a unique experience of the Middle East. It also conveys a very specific, British governmental perspective that is indicative of the United Kingdom’s political intentions in Mandate Palestine in the 1920s.
This uniquely British booklet, which is part the LBI London Pamphlet Collection, was collected by Robert Weltsch, one of the leading Zionist voices in Weimar Germany. It shows the keen interest a central figure in the German Zionist movement had in British perspectives on Palestine.
With many thanks to Dr Svenja Bethke, Dr Joseph Cronin, and Dr Suzanne Schneider for their advice on this snapshot.
Postcard: Courtesy of the Lowcountry Digital Library and Special Collections at the College of Charleston Libraries.
The Palestine Pavilion Handbook and Tourist Guide (1924) is part of the collection of historical pamphlets within the Leo Baeck Institute London’s specialist library on German-Jewish history and culture, which can be accessed via the library at Queen Mary University of London.
- Kobi Cohen-Hattab, The attraction of Palestine: Tourism in the years 1850-1948, in: Journal of Historical Geography, 27, 2 (2001), 166-177.
- Tom Segev, One Palestine Complete. Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate (London: Abacus, 2014).
- A.J. Sherman, Mandate Days. British Lives in Palestine 1918-1948 (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1998).
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