The British Empire Library

The Reckoning: How the Killing of One Man Changed the Fate of the Promised Land

by Patrick Bishop

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Edward Home (Honorary President of the British Palestine Police Association)
Those interested in Britain's involvement in the Middle East following World War One until 1948, must find this book difficult to put down. Patrick Bishop, a skilled story teller has threaded his way though a tangled web of British, Arab as well as Jewish aspirations at the end of which there was to be just one winner. That being the birth of the State of Israel. Soon after taking office, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin El Husseini, stated when speaking of the Jews, "These people want our land". He proved to be correct but was immediately labelled as a trouble maker. A few years later Zeev Jabotinsky, an extreme right wing Zionist said, "Nobody is going to give us what we want, so we must take it". He too turned out to be correct, but did not live to enjoy the fruits of victory. Britain's main tool for keeping law and order was the Palestine Police. But there was a young Jewish man who felt the Zionist cause was not advancing fast enough. He was in a hurry. His name was Avraham Stern. Leader of an organisation called Lehi, or the fighters for the Freedom of Israel, which soon became dubbed - The Stern Gang.

Most of Stern's activities took place in Tel Aviv where he hid from the police at various addresses regarded as "safe houses". The head of the CID was Assistant Superintendent Geoffrey Morton, already the holder of the British Empire Medal (BEM) in 1937 and the Colonial Police Medal for Gallantry 1938. This highly experienced police officer found himself the leading figure in the intense effort to catch Stern. Bishop takes the reader through a maze of detail which brings out the character of both men. The Hunter and the Hunted. Morton was strict and sometimes taciturn, but never unapproachable to his men. In fact when off duty he was a devoted family man, living with his wife, Alice, in police quarters in the town. He faced a fanatic, who had no compunction to kill when the need arose. When the gang needed money they robbed a bank and if Jews got in the way, they were murdered in the street. He assassinated Jewish police officers whom he regarded as traitors. Never mind a war in which Britain needed all the help it could get to overcome Nazi / Jew-hating Germany. Stern felt the greater need was to establish a Jewish state now. An attitude that upset official Jewish thinking at the time. So Stern had few friends while, as Bishop points out the search became relentless.

Throughout the period of the hunt, for that Is what the book is about, the police come out of it well. But Bishop quotes his mind and does not hold back punches, there being some enigmatic situations not entirely satisfactorily explained, and doubtless if the officers were still alive a useful interview would have been helpful.

But finally Stern was trapped and Morton met his quarry for the first time. It was a short interview because Stern was shot while attempting to escape. Morton was cleared following an enquiry while several years afterwards Morton won damages following two cases of libel concerning the nature of Stern's death. But in death he had some sort of revenge. Martyrdom. His gang actually got bigger and its activities became more bold. In due time one of its lieutenants, Shamir, became Prime Minister of Israel.

The book is a good read, as they say. Morton - the good policeman - did his job. Stern - the man with few friends - acquired in death a place in Israel's long list of those who helped found the State of Israel.

British Empire Book
Patrick Bishop
William Collins


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