Page last updated at 03:35 GMT, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 04:35 UK

A Briton's view of Israel's creation

Arnold Hadwin, back to the camera, in 1948
Arnold Hadwin surveys boats at Haifa, 1948

As a 19-year-old, British journalist Arnold Hadwin witnessed the creation of Israel 60 years ago. He recounts his memories during those historic days.

The state of Israel came into being at midnight on 14 May, 1948.

The sun rose on a brilliant May morning in Haifa. Palestine had just ceased to exist - to be replaced by the new state of Israel. But as a young Royal Marine, with the thankless task of keeping the warring communities apart through these historic events, it felt curiously mundane - just another day.

But not for Michaela, one of the local Jewish girls, working as a clerk in the Port Pass offices of 40 Commando Royal Marines. With visible emotion, she handed me a stamped envelope. It was a first-day cover.

"It's finally happened," she said, a lump in her throat.

On that first day of the State of Israel, I was conscious of the emotion-filled atmosphere, but more preoccupied with the life-and-death struggle to come
Arnold Hadwin

The six stamps on the envelope bore the word Israel.

It was no longer a metaphysical concept or part of a prayer "next year in Jerusalem".

It was now a land of people, homes and enterprise. Blood-shedding and tears there had been aplenty, with more to come.

The state of Israel had become a reality at midnight. Yet eight hours later, Michaela was still in foreign territory: a British enclave in the port of Haifa, which was all that remained of the Palestine Mandate.

I was a 19-year-old member of the Intelligence Section of 40 Commando RM, on National Service in what we used to call the Holy Land.

From war to peacekeeping

I had been trained to perfection in the arts of war, but now had to learn new tricks about keeping the peace - caught up more in politics than essentially military matters.

Arnold Hadwin in 1948
From cub reporter to Royal Marine

My unit remained in Haifa until the end of June. We were the last to leave Palestine, witnesses to the birth-pangs of Israel and the bloody aftermath of this uneasy United Nations compromise.

On that first day of the State of Israel, I was conscious of the emotion-filled atmosphere, but more preoccupied with the life-and-death struggle to come.

The Royal Marines had arrived in the Holy Land in January, 1948.

A small advance party of 40 Commando disembarked from HMS Cheviot to secure Haifa Port in case there was to be a fighting withdrawal at the end of the Mandate.

I could not believe my luck. I had been a cub reporter on The Northern Echo before being called up for my National Service. I was now a reporter with a note book, pencil and Sten gun. I discovered that people talk freely when you are carrying a Sten.

Our tour of duty in Haifa was a reporter's dream. There were enough incidents every day - bombings, shootings, killings, and mayhem of all descriptions - to fill half a dozen newspapers, and no news editor to say I was still wet behind the ears.

Z Day

It was exciting as a reporter, but as a Royal Marine caught up in a complex life-and-death struggle, with the deeply entrenched hatred of the warring sides ever present, it was often disturbing and distasteful.

Arnold Hadwin
Arnold Hadwin experienced difficulties in peacekeeping
I quickly realised that we had not been trained for peace-keeping, and spent the next 30 years trying to persuade military authorities to re-write the training manuals to address the realities of late 20th Century soldiering.

We just had to play it by ear.

Peace-keeping is not an easy task.

Each side is quick to distrust the peace-makers; each side will accuse them of favouring the other; each side is sceptical about talk of even-handedness. But amid the tensions and tedium of our role there were many memorable moments.

After Israel came into being, and the Jews were in full control of Haifa, I attended my first symphony concert - albeit against orders as we were not allowed into public buildings unless duty demanded it.

I listened spellbound to Mendelssohn's violin concerto while trying desperately to hide the Sten gun on my knee with a green beret.

The final evacuation - named Z Day - was set for 30 June.

Our commanding officer led three cheers and we took our last look at the beauty of Mt Carmel - each with our own thoughts.

I had been witness to a moment in history which has cast a long shadow. Sixty years on, the peace we were trying to keep seems as elusive as ever.

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific