HC Deb 12 November 1928 vol 222 cc471-3
16. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he is aware that the Moslems in Jerusalem are erecting masonry constructions on top of the Wailing Wall; why this is being permitted by His Majesty's Government in Palestine, especially in view of the action taken by the authorities in Jerusalem to enforce the removal of temporary screens placed by Jewish devotees against the wall as infringing the status quo; and if he will give instructions that the status quo is to be preserved and that this new construction on this ancient wall should be forbidden?


The matter to which the hon. and gallant Member refers is engaging my close consideration, and I propose to take the highest legal advice open to me before coming to any definite decision.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Has the right hon. Gentleman in the meantime taken any steps to inform the Administration of Palestine of the very deep feelings that have been aroused by the alleged action of the police in this case, and by the attitude of His Majesty's Government to the Moslems in allowing this building?


The Administration of Palestine is very well aware of the state of feeling in Palestine, and the question whether this building is a violation of the status quo is the very question on which I wish to make quite sure before I come to a decision.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that under the Turkish Government this kind of thing was never permitted, and that this is an entirely new departure?

17. Mr. FENBY

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that on 24th September last, being the Jewish Day of Atonement, British police, acting on the instructions of the deputy district commissioner for Jerusalem, broke through the Jewish worshippers at the Kotel Maaravi, generally known as the Wailing Wall, and forcibly removed a portable screen which had been placed there on the previous evening in connection with the Atonement services; and what steps it is proposed to take with a view to enabling Jewish worshippers to conduct their devotions without molestation at this holy place?


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether, in view of the action of certain Jews, the Government will take steps to make their intention clear of protecting the Wailing Wall at Jerusalem from acts of aggression, and so remove the cause of what may become a dangerous agitation?


I intend within the next few days to lay before the House a White Paper on the subject of the recent incident at the "Wailing Wall." That paper will deal fully with the events which led up to the intervention of the Police, the position of His Majesty's Government and the Government of Palestine and the steps which have been taken with a view to minimising the risk of the occurrence of a similar incident in future. I do not wish to anticipate what will be said in the White Paper, nor could I do so satisfactorily within the narrow limits of Question and Answer. But I think it necessary to make one or two points clear. In the first place I would explain that the concern of His Majesty's Government and the Palestine Government in this matter is to maintain the satus quo as between Jews and Moslems in strict accordance with Article 13 of the Mandate, and such action as was taken by their representatives on this occasion was solely directed to preserving this delicate equilibrium. At the same time His Majesty's Government deeply deplore the shock which was caused to large numbers of worshippers on a day so holy to Jews. The hon. Member for Darwen is, I think unnecessarily apprehensive on behalf of the Moslems. While it is not contested that those responsible for the arrangement for the conduct of the service at the Wall, acting in defiance of Government instructions, introduced certain innovations involving a departure from the established practice and thus disturbing the status quo I am in a position to give him an absolute assurance that no question as to the ownership of the Wall has been raised by the Jews and that they have no intention of asking for anything inconsistent with the inviolability of the Moslem Holy Places, which is unreservedly acknowledged.

I am satisfied that the question at issue is one which could best be settled by friendly agreement between the two parties and I trust that as excitement on the subject dies down such a settlement, which would be most welcome to His Majesty's Government, will he reached. I need hardly say that His Majesty's Government would be most willing to use their good offices to that end.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

Will the White Paper contain any report of the alleged action of the police, and the alleged brutality that took place among the worshippers?


I think that the hon. and gallant Member will find that the White Paper gives a very full account.


asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether any rioting has occurred in Jerusalem; if so, how many arrests have been made; and what sentences have been given?


No, Sir; there has been no rioting in Jerusalem.


Has the Government received evidence of the widespread feeling existing among a large proportion of the Moslem population?


Yes, there is considerable excitement among all sections of the population.


Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the status quo will be maintained?