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Palestine

Volume 437: debated on Wednesday 7 May 1947

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Terrorism (Preventive Measures)

23 and 25.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies (1) whether, in view of the continuance of terrorist outrages in Palestine, more vigorous and sustained operations against terrorists will now be undertaken, including the placing and keeping under martial law of all Jewish towns and settlements;

(2) whether, in order to impress upon the Jewish population of Palestine the necessity for its full co-operation in the suppression of terrorism, collective fines will in future be levied and prominent citizens taken as hostages in localities in which outrages are perpetrated.

The maintenance of good order in Palestine depends very largely on the co-operation of the people with the administration and the discharge of the normal requirements of citizenship. In present circumstances, the administration is obliged to carry a difficult and onerous responsibility. It is for the High Commissioner to consider, in consultation with the military authorities, and in the light of events, whether the situation calls for the introduction of military administration in any particular area. The authorities are tackling this problem of terrorism with the greatest resolution and with the most appropriate methods within the capacity of the available resources.

Collective fines have not, so far, been levied on any groups deemed collectively responsible for terrorism. As I mentioned in reply to a question on 30th April by the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers), the question of possible steps to recover the cost of damage done in terrorist outrages is now under consideration, and I cannot, at this stage, add to my reply of 30th April to the hon. Member for Orpington.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these are two separate Questions, and that his answer gave very little information? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that the intermittent operation of martial law which has so far been exercised in Palestine, is far from being effective, that the strain on the troops is very serious indeed, and is being given expression to by the troops, and will the right hon. Gentleman go into this matter much more fully than he has done at present and give a free hand to the local commander to knock out terrorism?

All I can say is that the High Commissioner is charged with the responsibility of order in Palestine; he is working in the fullest co-operation with the military authorities; there are no hindrances put in the way of either the High Commissioner or the military authorities by London, and so their decisions are made in the light of the local situation.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether any new action will be taken as a result of the incident at Acre gaol, which has brought British prestige very low?

I shall be replying later to a Question concerning that outrage. I have caused very special inquiries to be made, and will be considering what further action can be taken.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the system of hostages advocated by the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) was used without success by the Nazis during the war, and will he also bear in mind that vicarious punishment is completely foreign to the traditions of British justice?

When my right hon. Friend is considering these matters, will he please bear in mind that the towns and villages referred to played a very active part, with the Allies, in the course of the war, and will he see that the innocent in Palestine who are doing their share in attempting to stop terrorism will not be prejudiced by such measures as may be taken to put down the terrorists?

Obviously, all these points will be taken into consideration, but I am not in a position to make a statement with regard to collective fines.

24.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies how many convictions of terrorism have been recorded in Palestine in the 12 months ended 30th April, 1947; how many death sentences have been passed; and in how many cases the death sentence has been carried out.

Ninety-seven Jewish terrorists were sentenced by military courts to terms of imprisonment, and z8 to sentences of death. There were no convictions by civil courts. Of the Jewish terrorists sentenced to death, two committed suicide while awaiting execution, and four were executed.

Was not this leniency very misplaced, and cannot the persistence of outrage and murder be attributed, to some extent, to the leniency with which offenders and murderers have been dealt with?

Could the right hon. Gentleman say how many of the 97 terrorists sentenced to imprisonment have since escaped?

I am not in a position to say, but I am trying to get that information.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that all these lamentable events will never be fully eradicated, and law and order will never be restored in Palestine, until His Majesty's Government announce and introduce a constructive political policy, and that it is impossible for the Government to impose order merely by force without any policy of any kind?

Police (Amenities)

31.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies what extra amenities he has provided for the Palestine Police during the last six months, in view of their especially arduous conditions of service.

The Palestine Government are most anxious to increase to the greatest possible extent the amenities available to the Force, whose present task, as my hon. Friend points out, is particularly arduous. During recent months their facilities for recreation and entertainment have been increased, and further expansion of these facilities is being actively pursued. I will, with my hon. Friend's permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a statement giving details of these measures.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that until a fortnight ago the chief welfare officer of the Palestine Police had to beg or borrow sports equipment from the Army; and would he see that this is provided by his own Department?

Following is the statement:

  • (a) Extra amenities provided during the past six months are as follow:
  • (i) Extension of use of Force transport for recreational purposes.
  • (ii) Increase in the issue of Sunday newspapers in conjunction with the Army Sunday Newspapers Scheme.
  • (iii) Extension to British Section of the Force of right of entry to all Army Kinema Corporation cinemas.
  • (iv) Provision of additional furniture fox recreation rooms of Palestine Police.
  • (v) Provision of additional radio sets from Army Welfare sources and by purchase.
  • (vi) Grant for improvements in outdoor amenities, e.g., game shooting, bathing and other sports.
  • (vii) A police mobile cinema to be used for outlying stations.
  • (vii) Use of police horses for recreation.
  • (b) Further measures under active consideration include:
  • (i) Scheme for short leaves in neighbouring territories, e.g., Cyprus, Trans-Jordan, Syria, Lebanon.
  • (ii) Scheme for local leave for British other ranks within Palestine.
  • (iii) Assistance from Combined Services Entertainments Unit in provision of live entertainment for British Police.
  • (iv) Provision of additional mobile cinematographs.
  • (v) General all round improvements in the Forces' recreation rooms.
  • (vi) Purchase of yachts for a police sailing club.
  • (vii) Book and magazine drive.
  • (viii) Intensification of games campaign
  • Acre Gaol Attack

    42.

    asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement on the attack by terrorists on the gaol at Acre and the escape of prisoners.

    At half-past four in the afternoon of 4th May a party of armed Jews, some of whom were wearing British military uniforms, arrived in British military transport in the market place at Acre. Simultaneously with their arrival explosions occurred in the town and firing broke out in various localities. Four main explosions occurred in the vicinity of the old Turkish baths which abut on the prison, and as a result one wall surrounding the exercise ground was breached. This attack took place at the time when the prisoners were at exercise, and numbers of Arab and Jewish prisoners escaped through the breach in the wall. At the same time grenades were thrown by the attackers into the criminal lunatic section of the prison, wounding several inmates, and automatic small arms fire was directed at the prison from various points.

    The attackers were engaged by police and troops, both in Acre town itself and in the vicinity. Immediately after the attack military and police patrols were organised, and one of these, a party of paratroops, having been fired on by a number of Jews, returned fire and inflicted five casualties, one of which was fatal. This was a Jew dressed as a captain in the Royal Engineers. Troops also intercepted two vehicles carrying Jews north of the town. After a brief engagement 12 Jews were captured, two of whom were dead and three wounded. One of the dead Jews was dressed in the uniform of a captain in the Royal Army Service Corps. Another dead Jew dressed in British military uniform was found in an Army truck abandoned on the outskirts of the city. After the attack, roads in the vicinity of Acre town were found to be mined. Six soldiers travelling in a military truck were wounded by one of these mines. Other casualties during the attack on police and prison personnel were limited to one officer slightly injured and a British constable seriously wounded in the leg.

    In the action immediately following the attack, 14 Jewish prisoners were recaptured, of whom four were dead and six injured: of the Arab prisoners, 12 were recaptured, of whom one was dead and two injured. Extensive operations have continued for the recapture of the escaped prisoners, and further details are still coming in. My latest report on 6th May states that 29 Jews and 214 Arabs were still at liberty. The fullest investigations into the circumstances of this occurrence are being made.

    Is not the Minister going to give a better explanation than that, of what is surely a unique occurrence in British Colonial history, when a heavily guarded place like a gaol in a country with a garrison of 100,000 men can apparently be attacked with impunity?

    I said in the latter part of my reply that I have called for a full report on the whole incident. I have provided the House with the information which, up to yesterday, had come to hand.

    In view of the very deep public concern about this incident, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the results of the inquiry will he made available to the House, and that we shall have an adequate opportunity subsequently for debate?

    I certainly will see that the information that comes to hand is available to the House. With regard to the facilities for debate that, of course, is not a matter for me, but for the Leader of the House.

    Was the guarding of Acre Gaol the responsibility of the Palestine Police or of the military? What were the orders regarding the arming of the sentries?

    I shall have to await further information from the Palestine authorities. I have asked for more information. I have given the information which has come to hand so far.