BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Mandates’ Unveils Horrors of Palestine’s al-Bassa Village

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Eid Haddad was born into a tapestry of stories that outlined his heritage – vivid vignettes of his parents’ adolescent years, resilience, and heart-rending struggle in al-Bassa, a Palestinian village. Recalling a bygone time when the British forces exerted their influence with rigid tenacity, they recounted the atrocities they were forced to witness as children in 1938: men ruthlessly assaulted, neighbors callously gunned down, and the entire village reeling under a facade of “punitive measures” exercised by the imperial troops.

Striving to share these riveting tales and cast light on this overlooked piece of history, Eid Haddad has given his account to the newest BBC Radio 4 series, ‘The Mandates.’ Scheduled to air this Tuesday afternoon, the series delves into the complex dynamics that led to the British and French control of the Middle East, with explorations based on testimonies from historians, survivors, and their descendants.

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Recollecting his childhood in Lebanon alongside the harrowing memory of his family being displaced from their homeland, Eid Haddad provided a grim window into the tumultuous aftermath of the European power intervention in the Middle East. His personal history echoes the story of many others in the region, as sectarian upheaval flamed in response to British and French rule.

One contributor to the series underlined the essence of these accounts – the history of the mandates is so fundamental that it effectively acts as a mirror image of the present. During the First World War, the Britons began promising sovereignty over large tracts of territory to aspiring independent Arab nations, while also presenting a vibrant Palestine as a potential homeland for the then-fledgling Zionist movement.

In the ensuing melee of policy reversals, brutal crackdowns on uprisings, and missed migratory promises, Britain and France precariously retained control of nations that were lurching towards their respective destinies.

While the French mandate separated Lebanon from Syria to establish a strategic pivot, new boundaries were imposed, aspirations were suppressed, and ethnic and religious divisions were stoked to ensure control.

Everything changed post World War II when both powers retreated. The Britons knew that their absence would transform the territorial grit into a full-blown war. The hope-filled air buzzed with the declaration of the State of Israel and anticipation of an Arab invasion.

Eid Haddad’s parents fled their village, al-Bassa amidst the smoky chaos. The 1948 conflict saw a massive exodus of Palestinians – at least 750,000 of them forced into neighbouring Lebanon.

French rule had planted the seeds of a sectarian divide between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon. With the influx of Palestinian refugees, the delicate balance crumbled, culminating in a crippling civil war. As a Palestinian Christian, Eid Haddad lost his 16-year-old brother to the violence. Catholic ultranationalists had gunned him down with other Palestinian refugees near Beirut in 1975.

Today, Eid Haddad grapples with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, an enduring legacy of his traumatic past. He reminisces about his parents, who witnessed significant horrors during the British crackdown in al-Bassa, and his father’s near miss with brutal interrogations at the hands of the British troops, thanks to the quick thinking of a fellow villager.

His parents’ homeland has remained a distant dream. From his current residence in Europe, he contemplates the void. “It feels like a big piece of myself is missing. I feel just like an island in an ocean which is totally foreign to me,” he reflects. Meanwhile, the atrocity in al-Bassa, purported to have claimed over 30 lives, remains unrecognized by the UK government. The echoes of history persist, shaping and reshaping countless lives like that of Eid Haddad.