HC Deb 06 February 1947 vol 432 cc1976-80
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Creech Jones)

Notwithstanding the release by the terrorists of Judge Windham and Major Collins on 28th and 29th January respectively, there has been increasing tension throughout Palestine, although I am glad to say that there has so far been no report of any fresh terrorist outrages. There has been no further development as regards the case of Dov Groner, though I take this opportunity to deny most emphatically that the Palestine Government have been in any way connected with pressure being put on him to appeal. There have been threats of renewed activities by terrorist organisations such as the taking of further hostages if the death sentence is carried out.

Meanwhile, the Palestine authorities, as the House will be aware, have been endeavouring to secure the co-operation of the Jewish community in Palestine in measures necessary to prevent terrorism. The Jewish community refuse to assist in this preventive requirement and to co-operate with the Administration by giving information. The Chief Secretary to the Government of Palestine on 3rd February, addressed to Mrs. Meyerson and to Mr. David Remez, chairman of the Vaad Leumi, a letter which has been described as an ultimatum, but which is really no more than a request for an answer to a specific question. The letter refers to the refusal of the Agency and the Jewish community to co-operate with the authorities, invites their attention to the extreme gravity of the situation created by these refusals, and asks the Agency and the Vaad Leumi to state categorically at once whether they are "prepared within seven days publicly to call upon the Jewish community to lend their aid to the Government by co-operating with the police and the armed forces in locating and bringing to justice the members of the terrorist groups."

So far as I am aware, no formal reply has yet been made to this letter, though the prospects of co-operation in this respect are not encouraging. I should add that the demand made by the Chief Secretary to the Jewish community to lend their aid to the Government by co-operating with the forces of order in locating terrorists and bringing them to justice is no more than a demand to give that minimum co-operation to the authorities which all communities offer as a matter of course, in order that the framework of society may be maintained. The Jewish community is merely urged to help prevent the perpetuation of practices universally regarded as criminal and of which their spokesmen have repeatedly expressed their abhorrence.

I turn now to other developments. The authorities have no desire to impose military repression on Palestine, but the terrorist organisations have themselves stated that there will be further outrages and that they will "turn Palestine into a blood bath" if the sentence against Groner is carried out. In the light of past experience and in these circumstances, the Administration has been obliged to take all necessary precautions for the safety of the British community in Palestine, while as far as possible avoiding any action which might cause the situation still further to deteriorate. As has already been an- nounced in another place, the authorities have decided to evacuate British women and children and certain other British civilians, in order that the Government and the armed forces may not be hampered in their task of maintaining order. Civil administration will be maintained as far as possible on normal lines, and such limitations as are placed on the movements and activities of civilians will be the minimum which circumstances demand. The evacuation is in progress and the first parties have already arrived in the United Kingdom. The military and civil authorities have done everything in their power to reduce the inevitable inconvenience caused to the civilians concerned to a minimum, and the Palestine authorities and His Majesty's Government express their deep regret that it should have been necessary to add to the already heavy burdens of the members of the Administration, police and other services.

Arrangements are in train for the accommodation of evacuees in London, and the Palestine authorities and His Majesty's Government are much indebted to the Women's Voluntary Services for the help they are affording in the arrangements for the reception and welfare of the various parties as they arrive. No Government officer is being evacuated, except some women teachers. Members of religious orders, missionaries, doctors and nurses are remaining and carrying on as far as possible with their normal work. There have been some protests from the commercial community, but cases of commercial personnel are being individually considered by the authorities and agreement reached with the heads of the business houses concerned.

The arrangements being made for the concentration of necessary civilian personnel within specially defined cantonments in various areas in Palestine must also cause great disturbance and hardship to those members of the Arab and Jewish communities who have seen their homes and properties requisitioned. I can only express my regret that it should have been necessary to take these measures. The steps so far taken are necessary if effective military action has later to be carried out. Meantime, the civil administration carries on, and the civil courts continue to function. I must make clear that it is not the Palestine authorities or His Majesty's Government who are trying to bring conflict into Palestine, or to use the present situation as a justification for limiting civil liberty. Our sole endeavour is to maintain peace and good order in Palestine.

Mr. Oliver Stanley

I wish to ask one question with regard to the position of representatives of the Press. Have they been ordered to leave, or is the position now that they are at liberty to remain in Palestine, of course at their own risk?

Mr. Creech Jones

The position is that they are at liberty to stay at their own risk.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Is it true that the Jewish community in Palestine has offered to root out terror by the use of its own institutions which, so far, it is not entitled to use; and does the administration in Palestine now propose to avail itself of that offer, which goes far beyond the request made by the Administration?

Mr. Creech Jones

The Jewish community now have the opportunity of declaring to the Government what steps they are prepared to take to deal with terrorism.

Mr. Pickthorn

Might I ask two questions? First, what other Jewish organisations or societies have been consulted besides the Jewish Agency, in the formal sense; and, second, with regard to the Jewish Agency itself, was it not recognised as a public body to advise and cooperate, and ought it not now, therefore, to have recognition withdrawn?

Mr. Creech Jones

With regard to the second question, it is true that, under the Mandate, there are certain obligations to offer all assistance and co-operate with the Administration. The request has now been made to the Jewish Agency to declare what is its attitude in regard to rooting out terrorism. In regard to the first question, I am not clear whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to Jewish organisations in Palestine or in Britain. If in Palestine, it was not only the Agency but also the Jewish National Council, which, I gather, is representative of all sections of Jewish opinion in Palestine.

Earl Winterton

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions arising out of his statement? First, whether he will look into the statements, which may not, of course, be correct, that some of the unfortunate people who have been evacu- ated from Palestine had very terrible experiences on the journey; and will he make it clear, as it was not made clear in his statement, whether the Government take responsibility for finding accommodation for these people, many of whom have no homes to go to, or whether they are leaving this responsibility to voluntary organisations? Do the Government give any undertaking that they will provide accommodation?

Mr. Creech Jones

Steps have been taken by the Government, and I believe that satisfactory hotel accommodation has been found, and everything possible that can be done will be done to assist these unfortunate people. In regard to the second question, it is quite true that there have been difficulties on the journey over. These arose chiefly because of the weather, and we hope that these difficulties will be removed as quickly as possible.

Mr. Janner

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware of the fact that the Jewish Agency is the body designated to assist the Mandatory Power in facilitating the immigration of Jewish people into Palestine; and is he aware that there is no power vested either in the Jewish Agency or the Jewish community—other than that of informing—which can be exercised at the present time? In these circumstances, will he vest some real power in the Jewish Agency in Palestine, so that they may be of assistance in this matter?

Mr. Creech Jones

I am not concerned at the moment to invest new powers in the Jewish Agency. What we are doing is to ask if the Jewish community will cooperate with us in stopping criminal practices.

Mr. Boothby

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when he expects the Government will be able to agree upon a constructive policy of any kind?

Mr. Gallacher

I want to ask the Minister if it is really considered feasible to ask any people to turn against their own kin, when they have no responsibility whatever for the situation which exists and the trouble that has taken place?