Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

“For 9 months she fought in the Turkish army, up Beersheba way”

Came across this magificent snippet in an edited volume of the letters of Helen Bentwich, from her time in Palestine at the end of World War One and during the British Mandate. It describes a woman for whom a friend in Cairo asked her to try to find work:

24.2.1919: She is a woman from Jaffa, an Orthodox Christian, who, during the [First World] War, was starving. Her husband went away to fight, and she was left with her child alone. So she put on men’s clothes, and went out as a porter. But the Turks took her for a man, and conscripted her, & for 9 months she fought in the Turkish army, up Beersheba way, right in all the fighting. After we [the British] came, she came to Jerusalem, & her husband died. The Syrian & Palestine Relief ladies gave her work as their door-keeper, but she would wear her soldier’s trousers and tarboosh, as she is very proud of having been a soldier. So these dear ladies were horrified & turned her away. Since then, she has been cleaning boots outside the Jaffa Gate. Her child is in a convent. She looks full of life & interest & is willing to do any sort of work – from washing or scrubbing to carpentering or driving a car.

Helen Bentwich was, at this time, the young wife of Norman Bentwich, a leading Zionist who served as Legal Secretary and then Attorney-General in the British Mandate administration in Palestine. He was also a professor at the Hebrew University and a senior jurist in Britain. After their return from Palestine in 1931 Helen, who was rather less enthusiastic about Zionism, focused on social work and on her role as a Labour Party activist in London politics.

[Tidings from Zion: Helen Bentwich’s Letters from Jerusalem, 1919-1931. Edited by Jenifer Glynn. London: IB Tauris, 2000]

One comment on ““For 9 months she fought in the Turkish army, up Beersheba way”

  1. barleybooks
    August 25, 2014

    Wonderful story!

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