Among of the highlights of this narrative are the eccentric yet little-known characters who emerge in the colonial space between an enlarging Palestine and a declining British mandate. One of these figures is Orde Wingate, a British Army officer who had led a group of Arab irregulars to battle in Sudan. He arrived in Jerusalem in 1938 and began to train the Special Night Squads, collections of Jewish commandos who employed guerrilla warfare on their Arab adversaries. Wingate’s services were short-lived after Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain issued the White Paper of 1939, limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine and proposing an Arab homeland without creating a Jewish state.
Captain Monty Parker, a veteran of the Boer War and descendant of English aristocracy, is another one of Montefiore’s great finds. Convinced that he could unearth the Ark of the Covenant in a cave south of the Temple Mount, Parker raised money worldwide for his fruitless endeavor. His contentious excavations culminated in a hasty seaborne retreat. At his heels were angry Arab mobs, under the impression that Parker was fleeing to Europe in possession of the Holy Grail. Bertha Spafford, a founder of the evangelical American Colony, noted that, “the Parker fiasco came nearer to causing anti-Christian massacre than anything that happened during our long residence in Jerusalem.”