Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Christian painter who could not see the light in Palestine

Holman Hunt appears to have been blind to the divisions within Jewish society

By Robert Fisk

".....For old Hunt – and by God, he looked old with his huge fluffy white beard in his 83rd year – turns out to have been a committed secular Zionist. By dying in 1910, he missed out on the First World War and the joy of Lloyd George when British, Canadian and other empire troops entered Jerusalem in 1917. "How thrilling was their (singing?) entry into Palestine!" Hunt's widow Edith – sister of his first wife Fanny who died in Italy en route to the Holy Land – trilled. "Will the Jews return think you? How the 'Master' would have rejoiced. I think he does."

Hunt would have rejoiced three decades later. He and his rather mad Canadian friend, Henry Wentworth Monk, were among those Christians who thought that a Jewish homeland could be established in Palestine and that their "return" would inaugurate a thousand years of peace on earth. Both men would have regarded themselves as Christian Zionists of the spiritual rather than imperialist kind.....Long before Lawrence of Arabia was born, Hunt was agitating for a British intervention in Ottoman Palestine......

It gets worse. In a letter to the Daily Chronicle, Hunt explained that he wanted the Turks out of Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state to "the full extent of the promised land as indicated to Moses. Only it need not stop there, for ultimately adjacent country might also come under the sway of the Jews". The existing Arab population – which dwarfed the original Jewish inhabitants in the 1850s – had no ambition to be landowners, Hunt decided so could not be called dispossessed by new settlers; the Arabs would remain as labourers, the "hewers of wood and drawers of water" of the Book of Joshua.....

But in Palestine, as one reviewer put it in Canada, "he seems to have regarded the Arabs as transients who would gladly step aside".

True, Hunt blathered on a lot about world peace, blissfully unaware of the conflicts which would consume his painted Palestine. I fear it all puts The Light of the World into a different context....."

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