The British Empire Library

Pasha of Jerusalem: Memoirs of a District Commissioner Under the British Mandate

by Edward Keith-Roach

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by C.W. Squire (Colonial Administration, Nigeria 1953-1959, H.M. Ambassador to Israel 1984-1988; also British Army service in Palestine 1948)
Edward Keith Roach's memoirs span the generations from his late Victorian childhood to the middle of the Second World War. His father was a Double First in Mathematics from Cambridge. He himself was one of 12 children and had to find a job at 17. His career took him to places which read like a roll call of that forgotten subject. Imperial History - Bombay, Karachi, Cairo, Khartoum, the Sudan and finally, in his mid thirties, Jerusalem.

These evocative and personal memoirs contain revealing glimpses of the expatriate social scene. Port Sudan (expatriate population six people) boasted two clubs - the Red Sea Club for seniors and the Port Sudan Club for others. When serving as the sole British official in the Province of Darfur he regularly wore a black tie and white shirt for his solitary dinner on Sundays as a matter of self-discipline. The isolation and the 'prickly heat' side of life without electricity of his early years will be familiar to many who served in outposts of Empire even in the post-war period. No greater contrast could be imagined with the weekly soirees he and his wife gave in Jerusalem at which all communities and professions mingled regularly with visiting personalities.

The focus of this book is Palestine in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the growth of nationalism in Europe and the Middle East. Dramatic and tragic events are recounted from the viewpoint of a senior administrator with direct responsibility for order and good government. They include the disturbances at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem on the Day of Atonement in 1928, and the Arab revolt of 1938 during which over 800 people (more than half of them Arab) were killed.

Keith-Roach knew everybody who was anybody in Palestine. As a good district officer he also knew countless nobodies whose lives were being transformed by the modernisation programmes of the Mandatory Power and the impact of Jewish immigration. The British administration reformed every aspect of central and local government, introduced a modern system of law, developed agriculture and industrial infrastructure, promoted maternity clinics and other public health projects and initiated moral development (before the word was known).

The political failures of the Mandate period have been well chronicled. As the Mandate recedes into history, one may hope that the constructive side, exemplified in Keith-Roach's life and work, will be given its due.

British Empire Book
Edward Keith-Roach
The Radcliffe Press


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