Speech of Colonel Wedgwood to UK Parliament, 24th November 1938

From discussion on Palestine in Houses of Parliament.24th November 1938

It was with despair in my heart that I listened to the speech of the Colonial Secretary this afternoon. In every sentence of that speech I read the prospect of another appeasement, of another retreat before force, and against justice. We are now to surrender Palestine. We are arranging the obsequies of British honour with great deliberation, and calling in as our judges the various Arab kingdoms, including Iraq, where already they have massacred our friends the Assyrians. We are leaving these people to decide British policy. These surrenders are going on at an accelerated pace. There were surrenders in Abyssinia, Spain, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and now there is to be one in Palestine. Tomorrow, it may be the surrender of the Protectorates of South Africa, and the day after, Northern Rhodesia. Our Colonies—everything—are being surrendered in this quest to appease people who deliberately use force in order to force the judgment of the English people.

This conference is to take place while rebellion is in full swing. I ask the Noble Earl the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is now representing the Government on the Front Bench, what are the prospects of getting the Arabs to come to this conference and getting from them any reasonable and satisfactory compromise solution while rebellion is in full force in Palestine? Every Arab who comes to the conference from Palestine—let hon. Members remember that the majority of the Arabs in Palestine want peace as much as the people of this country and the Jews in Palestine want it—but any Arab who comes to the conference will know that if he makes any concession from the rigid lines which have been adopted by the Moslem authorities, it will mean death for him when he goes home. What chance is there of any Arab accepting anything except that which he has been told to demand? Already they have sent to the Colonial Office their minimum demands. We have nothing to induce them to accept any compromise. Again, the Government will sacrifice the Jews to the violence of the Arabs.

This evening we have had an admirable suggestion for a real settlement from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I do not like the right hon. Gentleman’s proposals in detail, but I like the idea that the Government should make up their mind as to what they want before the conference meets, and not leave that conference to produce the British policy for us. What I want is that the Government, if they have this conference—and I believe it is utterly unnecessary—before peace has been secured, should know what they want first, and then tell the Arabs frankly, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping proposed, that it must be this, or we shall consider that our obligations to the Arabs are ended, that the age of placating the Arabs has ended and that our policy is the Mandate policy of building up the Jewish Home in Palestine. As long as that is the alternative to agreement, I think there may be chance of agreement, but if there is no alternative to agreement, there is no chance of getting any solution, except the complete surrender of the Mandate and our honour, and the breaking of our word to the Jewish people. The first duty of the Government is to accept the Churchill policy and no longer to sit waiting for somebody to invent the ideal policy in a compromise between two sets of people both of which are incapable of making the surrender necessary to bring about that accommodation.

Secondly, there must be law and order in Palestine before it is of any use hoping that the policy decided upon by the Government will be accepted and put into operation. The situation in Palestine during the last three years would have been ridiculous and comic had it not been so tragic. Ever since the troubles began, it has been obvious that the Government, in Palestine and here, have been so anxious to placate the insurgents that they have never taken proper action to suppress the revolt. When a similar thing happened in Cyprus, the Government at once proclaimed martial law, and suppressed the trouble within a week; they deported the troublesome people, and there has been no trouble in Cyprus since. Exactly the same thing happened in Ceylon during the War. For a short period, there was trouble between the Mohammedan and Singhalese populations; martial law was proclaimed and in a very short time order was restored. The whole trouble passed away, and there has been perfect peace between the Mohammedan and Singhalese populations ever since.

But in Palestine, no. When the Peel Commission issued its report and recommended that the re-establishment of law and order was the first thing to do, everybody believed that martial law would be proclaimed in Palestine and the matter settled. But the trouble has gone on, and all the time the civilian Government have been trying to justfy their prophesy that the suppression of the revolt was impossible, and they have been trying to justify it by not putting their hearts into the business of restoring law and order. The position has been almost comic. At the beginning of the trouble, there were 1,400 Arab police and 300 Jewish police. The Arab police have had all their arms taken from them, because they got into the habit of handing them over to the rebels. They are still paid, but they do little work. The Arab railway staff have blown up the railways, but they are still paid whether they are working with the rebels or are at home. As to the telegraph and telephone operatives, the poles are cut at night and during the day the Arabs in the rebel villages are paid to put them up again.

How can anybody expect an end to be put to a rising of this sort as long as the civil servants, paid servants of the Government, are, either by coercion or by affection, working with the rebels against the Government which pays them? As a matter of fact, during the last three months, the police have at last been taken over by the military, and are now under military control for the first time. In addition, 900 Jewish police have been enlisted and armed in order to do work that could not be done by the Arab police who were disaffected, and many thousands of Jews have been recruited into an additional service to protect the Jewish villages, railway lines, aerodromes, waterworks and pumping stations, and to do convoy work. All these people have been recruited because the Arabs were not reliable. The Arabs have been disarmed, but they are still being paid, and the Jews who have been recruited are paid a small sum. Now over 10,000 Jews have been armed, and they are doing excellent work, but certainly they are not encouraged.

We were told the other day that although martial law has not been proclaimed, something practically as good is in existence, and that the relations between the military and the civil Government are so perfect that all is well. I do not think any of the soldiers actually employed in Palestine would endorse that statement. I want to give the House two examples of how the present system completely fails to put down the trouble. The other day the Arabs massacred women and children in Tiberias, and shortly afterwards the Jews in Tiberias presented to the military in charge in Galilee a scheme by which they would have arms, so that they would be able to act as watchmen during the night and if there was trouble, signal for help from the troops nearby. That scheme was approved by the general officer in command, who wrote to say that he thought it was an excellent scheme and that it would materially assist if they had this liaison between the danger point and the troops. The military authorities passed the scheme on to the civilian headquarters, where it was turned down. The civilian headquarters said, “No, we cannot issue more rifles to the Jews.” This was in a place where a band of murderers had been let loose for three hours and had destroyed the Government offices and killed men, women and children. The military authorities wrote saying that they were very sorry, but the civilian government would not issue any arms and suggesting that the Jews in Tiberias should organise a force armed with cudgels and whistles, so that they could, at any rate, summon help when necessary. I do not know what response has been made to that proposal, but I suppose that there are people armed with cudgels and whistles now engaged in trying to protect Tiberias against people armed with rifles. There is an example of how martial law would help because under martial law it would not be in the power of the civilian government to withhold from Tiberias protection against a repetition of an event which shocked the whole House with horror a short time ago.

I give another example of the difference between what the military want and what the Colonial Office is prepared to allow. This is what occurred in a place now called Isdud, the Biblical name of which was Ashdod. It was one of the cities of the Philistines. A Jewish planter there had extensive orange plantations. An unwise man, he employed Arab labour, which is, of course, cheaper than Jewish labour. The plantations were prosperous and there were large packing houses and sorting houses. In the course of time as the Arab bands grew stronger, they forced the workers on the plantation to leave their jobs just as they did in Jericho and elsewhere. Arabs who were perfectly willing to work and earn their living were forced by terrorism to leave their jobs. I believe that some of the Arabs who remained at work in the potash works were actually tried by court-martial in Jericho, taken to the hills and shot. Under that pressure it is extremely difficult for any Arab to remain at his job.

In this case the whole Arab staff went and the property was left under an Arab police guard. The owner of the plantation immediately applied to the Jewish trade unions for workers, as it was a time when irrigation was very necessary. The trade unions offered to send down people provided they could have the usual supply of arms in order to protect the colony. Somehow or other, permission to take arms down to this place to protect these people was unaccountably delayed. Letter after letter, and interview after interview, followed, and finally headquarters in Jerusalem agreed that they might have the necessary weapons for their protection. Unfortunately, the night before the permit was issued, an Arab band, probably suitably informed, came down and wrecked the place and destroyed £20,000 worth of property. I ask the Government whether that man whose property was destroyed as a result of that delay in allowing arms to be supplied has any just claim for compensation against the British Government. There is a case of the civilian administration working directly against the wishes of the military administration, and, by their delay, causing more destruction and indefinite prolongation of this rebellion.

Very often in these Debates on Palestine it strikes me that we are looking at the question from an inverted point of view. There is an amount of hypocrisy and almost of humbug about our treatment of it, which strikes me as appalling. What does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster think would have happened in Kenya had there been a rising of natives against settlers. Suppose that settlers had been killed, their houses burned, railway lines broken up and civil officials murdered. Suppose that had gone on for three years. Can we conceive the Government then calling a conference of insurgent Kikuyu or Masai to sit round a table to discuss terms of settlement. Suppose that these Jews who have been putting up such a fight against great odds had been Englishmen. Think of what the attitude of this House and this country would have been towards a Government which continued to pay the people who were killing Englishmen but refused to pay the Englishmen who were trying to restore law and order. We have got so much into the habit of imagining that the Jews are an inferior race of creatures, that it does not strike us as horrible that the British Govern-merit should be suffering this state of affairs in Palestine to continue and that they should not put forth their utmost efforts, and use every weapon they have to end it.

I have been told, I think correctly, that the general officer commanding in Palestine to-day says he could finish this business in three weeks if he had a free hand, but apparently there is no more sign of it being finished to-day than there was six months ago. It is still dawdling along and the Government hope, by calling together the Mufti and other rebels who have been at the back of this rising, and getting them to sit round a table, we may induce them to compromise with the people whose kin they have been massacring. It is outrageous and ridiculous. Let us understand what these gangsters are. They are a small proportion of people who are paid to do this work, or who are stimulated to do it by propaganda, coming mostly from Germany. A man who came from Germany the other day told me that in Berlin any number of Arabs are being specially trained by Germans to carry out this sort of work in Palestine. The people of Palestine as a whole, the unfortunate villagers, are being blackmailed and coerced to send a certain number of young men from each village to these bands. They know that the young men are likely to be killed, but they are forced by terror to do it Think of the people in Jaffa where all trade is dead. They are starving in the streets of Jaffa, all because the British Government have not the courage to put down a lot of gangsters who are doing this work in order to injure the British Empire, and without caring a jot for nationalism or the interests of their own country.

That is what you have to face. You have only to read the German Press day by day, and listen to Goebbels over the wireless to realise what they think in Germany about what is going on and how they are enjoying this “death of the British Empire,” this senility which is creeping over Great Britain. Our troops in Palestine, who are well able to do the job, are hamstrung and held back by a pusillanimous Government who dare not offend a Government like the Iraq Government—a Government which, only four years ago, massacred our friends in spite of our protests and is very largely now coerced by and in the hands of Germany. Who will be at the back of this round table conference? Who will really dictate terms to the Arabs? The German Government. Whether you get in the Mufti or not, the people who will dictate the terms will not be those who are suffering from this “unrest,” as they call it in Palestine. It will not be the victims, either Arabs or Jews, but people outside who have a vested interest in trouble. As it goes on year after year, you get to this point, that the looting bands and the murder bands also acquire a vested interest in their jobs. It has been said to me that the Thirty Years’ War would never have ended had the troops engaged in it decided the issue, because actually they had acquired a vested interest in murdering people at the public expense. In the same way, the gangsters in Palestine have a vested interest in their tyranny over the people and in what they can get from the Arab notables, some of whom have fled, and some of whom are still being blackmailed. They have a source of income in this terrorism and blackmail and no trouble about it. But we treat them all like perfect gentlemen. They can hide their rifles and appear to be peaceful villagers, and nothing happens.

There you have the situation in Palestine to-day. The trouble is not being suppressed, but a conference is to be called to encourage the people who have made the trouble, and behind that conference is a foreign Power only anxious to deal a deadly blow at the British Empire. The Government are considering whether they should not surrender to this bare-faced threat, instead of restoring our honour and prestige by putting an end to the trouble. Everyone knows that it could be ended at once if we threw open the doors of Palestine and let in the Jews. There is no doubt about it. There are 10,000 armed Jews now doing work there, which has won the admiration of the British soldier. There could be 20,000 to-morrow. Throw open the doors of Palestine, and it will not be the Jews who will be massacred but the gangsters who will be exterminated. If we find a place for the Jews who have been expelled from Germany, if we find a place for them in, say, British Guiana—which is perilously close to Devil’s Island where they sent Dreyfus—if we find the money to establish them, we may put down £20,000, £30,000 or £50,000, but what will happen? Countries like Poland and Rumania, where they have exactly the same problem as the Germans, where they have a large number of what they call “surplus Jews,” will see that if they only start German methods against those Jews, England will kindly relieve them of the responsibility.

More and more countries will follow that example, and where is it to end? You put 20,000 Jews into some alien country and dump them down among a people who are far more numerous than they are—a people with whom they will compete and whose brains they will probably improve, and what will be the result? In 50 or 100 years’ time you will have the same problem over again. “This wretched, alien people, a minority in a strange country—kick them out, murder them again, and send them somewhere else.” Do you think there is a Jew in the world who will back schemes of this sort, even if it is in Tanganyika? They have had enough of it. The Jews will go to Palestine. If they do not go there with your consent, they will go there without your consent. They are going home at last. They have had enough of this. They know perfectly well that for any man who reaches Palestine to-day there must be work there, but if not, he can starve among his friends there instead of being starved and bludgeoned to death by his enemies. They like work, if they can get it, and I believe that wherever there is land there is an opportunity for work. But if they cannot get work, let them starve. It is better for a Jew to starve in Palestine, in his home, than to be killed at Sachsenhausen, or Dachau, or some of those foul torture places to which they are being sent at the present time. The only way out is Palestine.

There is some talk about 10,000 children going out there, but it is not of them that I am thinking. It is of the wives of the men in Dachau, in these concentration camps, that I am thinking. What about them, not knowing from one day to another whether their husbands have not been brutally beaten to death, with their bank accounts closed by the Government, not daring to show themselves in the streets, not daring to go into any public place, starving in their little flats as long as they are allowed to have a flat, with no chance of getting any money or food. Now we have the British Government refusing them visas to come into this country, even though people are prepared, as I am prepared and as every Member of this House would be prepared, to look after them. We are told by the Noble Lord that if we got these people here, it would rouse anti-Semitism in the country. I know my countrymen a good deal better than does the Noble Lord if he thinks they are not appalled by these things.

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