HC Deb 28 January 1947 vol 432 cc772-6
Mr. Oliver Stanley

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has any statement to make about the recent outrages in Palestine.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Creech Jones)

I have so far received only summary reports, and in spite of my prompt efforts to obtain the completest information, the fuller report which is expected from the High Commissioner, has not yet reached me. It appears, however, that at 5.10 p.m. on 26th January a British civilian, Major H. A. I. Collins, was abducted by terrorists from his flat in Jerusalem. He is believed to be seriously injured. At 12.35 P.m. yesterday, in Tel Aviv, Judge Ralph Windham was abducted by eight armed Jews as he was leaving the District Court. So far as is known he was not injured. The car used in this abduction was later found abandoned at Ramat Gan. Extensive military searches following these abductions have, according to the latest report in my hands, so far yielded no results.

The question of the evacuation of women and children and the concentration of British civil personnel is under active consideration.

It is believed that these abductions may be prompted by the desire to take hostages against the execution of Dov Gruner, a Jewish terrorist under sentence of death following conviction by a military court and confirmation by the General Officer Commanding. Yesterday afternoon intimation was received that an application for special leave to appeal to the Privy Council on behalf of Dov Gruner was being lodged. The General Officer Commanding accordingly was obliged to grant a delay.

Immediately following the kidnapping of Judge Windham, the High Commissioner summoned Mrs. Meyerson, Mr. Rokach and Mr. Kaplan, leaders of the Jewish community, and gave them an ultimatum that unless Judge Windham and Major Collins were produced unharmed within 48 hours, he proposed to withdraw all civil administration and facilities from Tel Aviv, Petah Tikvah and the Ramat Gan area, which would be cordoned off and be placed under the orders of a military commander.

I know with what detestation the House will have learned of these latest criminal outrages. The abduction of a judge from his own court must arouse a special sense of horror, for such a crime is an attack on the very foundations of society, and of civil government.

His Majesty's Government have recently brought into review the whole problem of terrorism in Palestine, and, in consultation with the High Commissioner and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, have issued a strong directive intended to ensure the application of more effective military and police measures for dealing with the situation. Vigorous searches have already been undertaken in certain areas, and the military and the police have actively cooperated. An appeal has also been made to all responsible elements among the Jews to give their full cooperation with the Administration in rooting out this evil. The suppression of terrorism demands the active participation of the whole Jewish community and also a direct cooperation by the Jewish Agency which, I regret, has not been forthcoming to the extent essential for preventing these acts of terrorism. His Majesty's Government will continue to give their unreserved support to the Palestine civil and military authorities in applying all possible measures for bringing a speedy end to these despicable evils.

I make one more solemn appeal to the leaders of the community and to each individual Jew to recognise the end to which such crimes must lead, and to prove that they have the will and the power to maintain the ordinary decencies of civilised life and the essential conditions tor the continuance of civil government. I warn the Jews in Palestine, and those who condone such brutalities, that the course recently taken by events must lead to the placing of the country under full military control with all that that implies.

Meanwhile, His Majesty's Government, at the Conference resumed in London this week, are making every possible effort to reach a final and permanent settlement of the Palestine problem.

Mr. Stanley

In view of the deep concern that is felt about this matter on all sides of the House, will the right hon. Gentleman keep the House in touch with developments, and particularly with the result of the expiration of the ultimatum? Secondly, in view of the fact that it is obvious, while the lives of these people are in danger, that hon. Members are in great difficulty, either in putting questions or making suggestions, would the right hon. Gentleman be prepared, if it should be so desired, to afford an opportunity for discussion upon this matter when the risk to people's lives would no longer be involved?

Mr. Creech Jones

In answer to the first question, certainly I will keep the House fully informed of developments. With regard to the second question, I am, of course, not in a position to determine the Business of the House, but I am quite certain that my right hon. Friend will give very careful consideration to a proposal of that kind.

Mr. Churchill

I am not quite sure whether the right hon. Gentleman did' not suggest that the death sentence upon this Jew had been respited on account of the hostages which had been taken by the Jewish terrorists. If that were so, I should like to ask: Is it not a very serious thing to turn aside from the normal path of justice because of threats of murder by terrorists launched against hostages whom they have taken?

Mr. Creech Jones

There has been no turning aside from the normal process of justice. It is a respite order which must come into operation when a request for an appeal to be heard before the Privy Council has been made.

Mr. Churchill

There has been no departure from the normal procedure as a result of terrorist activities?

Mr. Creech Jones

No, Sir.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether the judges in Palestine are sitting as usual for the administration of their judicial duties, and, if so, are they not given special protection in the particular circumstances existing there? If they are not given that protection, how can they possibly discharge their judicial functions?

Mr. Creech Jones

They are discharging their judicial functions, and I have called for a report as to the situation.

Mr. Thurtle

May I ask my right hon. Friend what was the point in the proclamation about the two abducted persons being delivered unharmed, in View of the fact that he has said that at least one of them was seriously injured?

Mr. Creech Jones

Obviously, the appeal was couched in such a way as to secure the greatest safeguard for the two men who had been taken away. It is adesigned to prevent further harm befalling them.

Sir Patrick Hannon

Has the right hon. Gentleman made an appeal to the Jewish people in this country, to whom this country has been so tolerant for generations, to exercise their influence to bring to an end this deplorable situation' in Palestine?

Mr. Creech Jones

Yes, we have represented the situation to responsible Jews, not only in Palestine, but in this country.

Mr. Lipson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that British Jews, realising the dangerous situation which has been created by these outrages both in Palestine and in this country, will welcome the firmer attitude that is being taken today, and will hope that the measures which the authorities are taking will prove successful? Can he say if the authorities on the spot have now been given a free hand to deal with terrorism, and orders to see that it is made to cease?

Mr. Creech Jones

The directive is couched in the fullest possible terms, and I think that both the civil and military authorities are fully alive to the necessity of adopting every practical method for suppressing this evil.

Mr. Usborne

Before the conditional ultimatum was issued, was it known that Major Collins was harmed, and that, therefore, the conditional clause could not be fulfilled?

Mr. Creech Jones

Yes, it was known that, before Major Collins was abducted, he had suffered some harm.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there is satisfactory representation in Palestine, at the moment, of the Press of the United States?

Mr. Creech Jones

I should imagine so.

Mr. Gallacher

May I ask the Minister —while all of us in this House deplore the taking of these hostages—whether those who have any influence at all with the Jews here or in Palestine have appealed to them to give them up? At the same time, I would like to ask the Minister if it is not the case that the situation has continually deteriorated, and that an intensification of harsher measures has not deterred but worsened the situation, and would it not be better to try some other method of solving the situation in Palestine?

Mr. Pickthorn

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman said about making an appeal to the Zionists in Palestine, has there been consideration of withdrawing recognition of the Jewish Agency?

Mr. Creech Jones

The Jewish Agency is, of course, mentioned in the Mandate, but that point has been considered by His Majesty's Government.