HL Deb 08 June 1921 vol 45 cc470-9

LORD SYDENHAM rose to draw attention to the situation in Palestine as exemplified by the recent riots at Jaffa, and to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether he can give any information as to the circumstances of this outbreak; whether the results of the Inquiry which has been held will be laid before Parliament: and whether the Report of General Palin's Committee, which investigated the serious disturbances of a similar character in Jerusalem at Easter of last year, can now be made public.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the facts and the circumstances of the recent very serious riots at Jaffa are at present almost unintelligible According to Zionist accounts a Jewish labour procession, proceeding along the streets, was attacked by the Jewish Communist Party, which was beaten off. Then, it is said, part of the beaten party fled to the Arab quarter, and what happened was that the fracas then took the form of a Moslem-Zionist, conflict. That account agrees generally with the telegram of the High Commissioner, who said that: "A serious affray took place between Moslems and Jews"▀×and he gave the casualties, as then known, as:—killed, 10 Arabs, 30 Jews; wounded in hospital, 37 Arabs, 142 Jews; treated and discharged, 20 Arabs and 28 Jews. I believe the actual figures were found to be considerably larger than that when investigated. On May 3 rioting was resumed, and further troops were called up, but were apparently not required. On the 4th peace was restored.

The High Commissioner explained that "it is believed the troops did not have to fire and there were no casualties among them." The fact of there being no casualties among the troops does not in the least show that the troops did not fire, and this point also remains unexplained. So far it is difficult to make head or tail of the two accounts, but there are two circumstances which may help to throw light on the unfortunate affair. On the day before the riots incendiary Bolshevist pamphlets were disseminated in Jerusalem and many other parts of Palestine. In the second place, May 1 was the Greek Easter Sunday, and one report says that a religious procession was interfered with by the Zionists. There is no information whether the report is correct or not, but the Zionist papers say that recently arrived immigrants were special objects of attack and that their headquarters were destroyed. The High Commissioner at once gave orders that all immigration was to be stopped, but he explained very shortly afterwards that this was only a temporary measure. And a Zionist telegram from Warsaw said that 500 immigrants for Palestine left on May 8, "amidst scenes of great enthusiasm," and it added, "This is our answer to Jaffa events."

It seems very desirable that we should know how this question of immigration now stands, and whether there has been any effort to make a careful selection of the persons who are allowed to go to Palestine. When I raised this Question in your Lordships' House on June 29 of last year I asked if the character and antecedents of the immigrants would be "thoroughly investigated before we became responsible for them and their actions". The noble Earl the Leader of the House then said— Our general policy is that no man or woman shall be admitted whom the country is incapable of supporting, and that indiscriminate massed immigration whether of Jews or non-Jews from Russia or other parts of the world, will most certainly not be permitted He also said, most truly, "There is a great quantity of explosive material about." Unfortunately, since that time the explosive material has accumulated considerably. I have no idea how many immigrants have actually reached Palestine, but 800 arrived in one week from the Crimea and from Trieste For the selection of these immigrants the Zionist Commission is wholly responsible, and it is a self-constituted and exotic body which, to put it mildly, has objects which are very much at variance with the views of the Palestinians themselves.

Speaking of the Palestine Mandate, at Mile End in March last, Dr. Wéizmann, the Zionist leader, said— Was it true that the Mandate gave them an opportunity of undertaking great work in Eretz Yisrael? To this question they could only answer 'Yes.' They could acquire land in Palestine; in one day they could double and treble the Jewish possessions, if they had the means. They could introduce as many people as they desired; they could develop everything they wished That is rather an ominous statement in the eyes of the rightful owners of Palestine, coming from a. leader of what is really an alien organisation. What discrimination the Zionist Commission has been exercising I do not know. But they have admitted that a large number of immigrants arrived in Palestine and went straight back. Therefore, it must be assumed, I think, that the residuum does not contain all the best elements, the elements whom one would like to see introduced into Palestine.

And yet, the noble Earl the Leader of the House told us last year that "we must be very careful about introducing the right class of immigrants, and about not introducing too many at a time." I cannot help thinking that both these very wise prescriptions have been totally disregarded. The collection of thousands of Zionists in Russia and Central Europe roust be a very great business I am told that it has been carried on by American Zionist agents provided with unlimited funds And I imagine that the Foreign Office must have reports upon this subject. One result of the introduction of too many people, not all of the right type, is the labour disturbances which started the riots at Jaffa

At the present time there are three distinct Jewish Labour Parties in Palestine, which must be rather trying in a little Arab country which is only the size of Wales The Centre Party is the largest of them, and it advocates nationalisation of the land, and a national life based upon Hebrew. That is a programme which must be abhorrent to all Palestinians, both Moslem and Christian. The Centre Party abjures the Third International but it is affiliated to the "Vienna Coalition." What the Vienna Coalition is I have not the slightest idea. Then there is the party of the Right, which is non-Socialist, but co-operates with the Centre Party on a great many occasions And then, 'as always, there is the Left wing, which is a small body, and is called the "Mopsi," from the initials of its title. It is a branch of the Third International, and it employs itself in breaking up Labour processions, and also in trying to convert the Palestinians into Bolsheviks.

It is quite certain that the "Mopsi" started the riots at Jaffa; but these riots could never have developed as they did if it had not been for the violent antagonisms which have been aroused between the rightful owners of Palestine and the incoming Zionists Before we occupied this little country there was harmony, and the Turks only kept 400 regular troops in Palestine. We appear now to require at least 8,000, for whom this country has to pay. And yet it is quite clear that the Palestine Government was very much alarmed last month, and that it was not able to avoid the serious loss of life which then took place.

Something must be very wrong in these circumstances, and I think that any one who has tried to follow proceedings in Palestine, which have been carried on under British authority, will have no difficulty in understanding the root causes of the grievous antagonisms which have, arisen in that unfortunate country. They are explained broadly in a very interesting statement made by the Arab Palestine Congress. The Arab Palestine Congress was able at length to put this statement before Mr. Churchill, though at first he refused altogether to receive an Arab deputation.

It is a long and a serious document, and if your Lordships will forgive me I will quote two small extracts from it This is one— under the Turks we governed ourselves through our representative Parliament, arid the only Turkish official in our midst was the Wali, or Mutessarrif, who had his advisory native elected Council to help him. In the majority of cases even these officials were from amongst ourselves In the Courts, too, all the Judges and members of the Bench were natives, and each one of us could work up to the highest legal position. Then they go on to say— Now all this has been changed. We have no voice or say in the government of our country. The Legal Secretary, with a few under him, are the source of our laws and legal system, in spite of the fact that the Treaty with Turkey has not yet been signed and the Mandate not ratified. The Legal Secretary and the Director of Commerce are Jews.

Yesterday I received an appeal from the President of the Haifa Moslem Committee, which says, among other things, that at Jaffa it was proved that the Jews were equipped with firearms, which the Moslems have not got. It says "excitement is prevalent all over the country in consequence of the Jewish Bolshevist seditious notices, preaching the most horrible of principles and the lowest of morals." It says that "the spirit of revenge is smouldering in their hearts and the public feeling is in a state of upheaval, the forbearance of the people having been overtaxed and overburdened by new enactments quite detrimental to the rights of the native population, and favourable only to the Zionist colonisation." This is probably a small body, but I think it reflects a great deal of public opinion in Palestine at the present moment.

My information all goes to show that there is a rapid acquisition of power by the Zionist elements in Palestine. As your Lordships know—because it has been already mentioned in this House—we have enforced a third official language on the people, a language which only a tiny fraction of them spoke before our occupation. And the effect of that is to make the people who speak that language indispensable in a great many posts, and the Jews are therefore obtaining more and more hold on the Departments of the Government. The streets of Jerusalem and elsewhere are now named in three languages, and I am told that the size of the Hewbrew lettering is far greater than that of the other two languages. I have seen a telegram form in which the Arabic superscription is reduced to almost illegible dimensions, while the Hebrew characters stand out broad and three or four times the size Your Lordships are aware that though a great deal of Hebrew appears in evidence in Palestine, the language at the back of it is in great part Yiddish, because, of course, the mass of these immigrants speak no Hebrew whatever. And, of course, your Lordships are aware that Yiddish is German, and we are therefore using British bayonets to impose a German dialect upon the people, as an official language, against the will of the people themselves.

I have been told that a large number of notables have been bound over to keep the peace for one year, though they had committed no offence whatever. Being ignorant of the law, I should have thought that was illegal. I am told that a Christian at Nazareth who refused to be bound over was sent to prison. The Arab Congress Committee state that Jews employed on public works such as roads are paid much more than the natives of the country for doing the same class of work. I hope that the Government will cause inquiry to be made as to whether those statements are true or not. From letters of British residents in Jerusalem I gather that a sort of terror prevails, that it is regarded as dangerous to speak against Zionism, that the Post is not trusted and that people (as I know they do) try to get their letters out of the country by other means.

The new Draft Land Law, of which I have a copy, contains a particularly ominous clause, Clause 8, which permits the High Commissioner—who is now called the "Prince of Israel"—to sell or mortgage any amount of land to any corporation. That completely verifies the truth of the statement of Dr. Weizmann which I quoted. The fact is that Palestinians feel that the Zionist grip is rapidly closing upon them, and they are helpless because they know that the British Army stands behind it. The effects in many directions are most marked. A Christian and a Moslem were killed at Haifa in some little disturbance of which we were never told. It was agreed that they should have a joint funeral, and the Mufti went into the Greek church and the Greek priest went into the mosque— an occurrence which I should think is absolutely unique in the country which saw the Crusades. At the least it shows how closely Moslems and Christians have been thrown together in face of what they regard, and I think rightly regard, as a common danger. From Bethlehem about half the population of 14,000, mostly Christians, have been driven from their national home by the fear of what is coming in the future, and have emigrated to South America. From the neighbouring village of Bethjala 600 persons have gone. This is no justification whatever for rioting, but it ought to make the Government consider whither we are being led in a country which was most easy to govern after our occupation if a powerful foreign organisation had not intervened between us and the people.

A recent Zionist writer says that "the Jewish race is one of the ablest, the most modern in spirit and the most powerful in the world." That is quite trite, and certainly no race at the present time is exercising so much influence in the great affairs of the world. But that is not a sufficient reason for filling up Palestine with foreign people and then handing the country over to them to govern, which is what seems to be the policy of the Government, though it has never vet been openly avowed.

May I remind your Lordships of the Declaration published throughout Palestine by General Allenby in November, 1918 That Declaration was drawn up by the British Government and the French Government in common, and those two Powers said that their objects in carrying the war into Asia were these— To ensure the complete and final emancipation of all these peoples so long oppressed by the Turks; to establish national Governments and administrations which derive their authority from the initiative and the freewill of the people themselves, and to assure, by their support and practical aid, the normal working of such Governments and administrations as the people themselves have adopted That statement is absolutely incompatible with the declaration of Mr. Balfour, and it seems as if this important matter had been handled by a diarchy working in water-tight compartments

How have we fulfilled this pledge, this solemn pledge, to the people of Palestine? We have set up a Zionist autocracy without consulting the people, and against their known wishes. Under the Mandate we have given power to a foreign organisation, which may be dominated, for all we know, from Frankfort, or from London, or from New York, to admit immigrants as it pleases and to exercise certain privileged economic rights, all of which your Lordships will see in the Mandate. That is the root cause of all the trouble in Palestine, and of the greater trouble which I must warn the Government will come, and will not be confined to the frontiers of that country.

We cannot tolerate the killing or robbing of Jews or Moslems or Christians, and we must provide any military force that is necessary to secure the lives of all the people in Palestine and to keep order. But so long as we permit Bolsheviks to be introduced into Palestine we must accept the responsibility for anything they may do or say. It is well to remember that theJewish Chroniclein April, 1919, incautiously alluded to the fact— That the ideals of Bolshevism at many points are consonant with the finest ideals of Judaism. It would be easy to multiply such quotations. Last week the Bolshevist Government announced that it had adopted anew flag. This flag bears the emblem of the five-pointed red star which for centuries has been the emblem of Zionism, and we know that under the red five-pointed star all the appalling atrocities which have been committed in Russia were carried out.

At the present time it is almost impossible to find out the truth about anything, and it is particularly difficult to find out the truth about Palestine. Therefore, I beg His Majesty's Government to give us full and accurate information as to what is going on in that country, and I hope the House will agree that the result of the Inquiry which is now taking place as to the riots at Jaffa ought to be made public as soon as it is available. The Report on the riots which occurred at Easter last year at Jerusalem, in which it is known that the Jews alone used firearms and that no one else had anything of the kind, would have thrown very munch-needed light upon the situation in Palestine and would have conveyed a warning which is unhappily absent. But when I asked for that Report, the noble Earl the Leader of the House said that the matter was stillsub judiceThat stage has long since passed, and if those Re-ports are now withheld it will be very difficult to believe that there is not sonic sinister influence at work trying to suppress them. I beg to ask the Question which I have placed upon the Paper.

THE LORD CHANCELLOR

My Lords, in the course of his interesting and very conscientious examination of the conditions in Palestine, the noble Lord has travelled over a considerably wider area than is indicated in the actual terms of his Question, and he will forgive me if, while noting the other considerations which were present to his mind, I cannot take the responsibility of attempting to answer them. The Commission of Inquiry which has been appointed to inquire into the causes and the circumstances of this outbreak has not, up to the present, concluded its labours The noble Lord has indicated a wide enough knowledge of the circumstances to know that no reasonable person could have expected that a very summary conclusion would be reached by the Commission, and the noble Lord, I imagine, would hardly think it either a useful or a usual course that its conclusions should be stated until they are presented in a complete form.

The circumstances of the outbreak on which the noble Lord desires enlightenment are, of course, the very subject matter of the inquiries which are at the present moment before the Commission. But a short account of the outbreak and a preliminary casualty list have been received from the High Commissioner, and if the noble Lord who asks the Question, or any other noble Lord, would he interested in seeing that account, I shall be very glad to make it available. It occupies some ten pages and is not, I think, sufficiently illuminating to make it worth while reading it unless any noble Lord particularly desires that it should be read. But the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham in, shall certainly see it if he asks me.

With regard to the second part of the Question, until the Report of the Commission has been received the noble Lord will, I think, on reflection, agree that it would be impossible to give an assurance that it will be laid before the House. The conditions with which we are dealing in that part of the world are of a very singular character. The noble Lord has very often made it plain that he understands them very well, and I cannot think that he would dispute what, to me at least, seems obvious, that the Report might quite easily be of a nature, and be couched in terms, which would not be suitable in the public interest for the purpose of making a Parliamentary Paper. We must wait until we see what the Report says, and then decide, consistently with the precedents and considerations which are familiar to all of us, whether, in the public interest, it would he desirable to publish it.

As regards the third part, of the Question, the Report of General Palin's Committee, which investigated the disturbances at Jerusalem a year ago at Easter, was received just after the new administration under Sir Herbert Samuel had been set up. Most members of the House, I think, would have confidence in the common sense and sobriety of judgment of Sir Herbert Samuel—certainly those of us who knew him in the House of Commons would entertain that view—and I believe that even those who do not know him would be disposed, in the difficult task which he has undertaken, to avoid any decision, or even expression of opinion, which might embarrass him in what is undoubtedly a very critical stage of his responsibility. Sir Herbert Samuel is of opinion that the publication of that Report at this moment could do no possible good, and that it might prejudice the prospects of his Government. His advice to the authorities at home was, therefore, against publication, and we adopted, and intend to act upon, that advice. I think most of your Lordships would feel that we were right in not repudiating the clear opinion entertained by our representative on the spot, and my own view is that no useful purpose would be served by publishing the Report after the considerable interval which has elapsed, and as publication during that interval might easily have been mischievous. I think I have answered the points raised.

LORD SYDENHAM

My Lords, I beg to thank the noble and learned Lord for what he has said. I would not for one moment press for anything which might not be in the public interest, but I think it is very unfortunate that this information, after a protracted and careful Inquiry by impartial people, is not to be published.

THE LORD CHANCELLOR

I will see that the noble Lord's views are represented to the Colonial Office.