HL Deb 14 February 1922 vol 49 cc144-52

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government the Questions of which I have given Notice—namely:—

  1. 1. Whether Palestine, pending the conclusion of peace with Turkey and the acceptance of the Draft Mandate by Parliament, remains in the position of "occupied enemy country."
  2. 2. Whether, in "occupied enemy country," International Law, as amended by Section III. of the Hague Convention, sanctions such proceedings as—
  1. (a) The introduction into the country of more than 20,000 aliens against the wishes of more than 90 Per cent. of the people, aad in violation of enemy law.
  2. (b) The imposition of a third official language, which is not spoken by more than five per cent. of the people.
  3. (c) The selling, to a syndicate financed by aliens, of church property which, under enemy law, was treated as Wakf.
  4. (d) The alteration of the currency.
In October last I tried to raise the question of the legality of the proceedings of the Government in Palestine, and the answer I received at that time was not at all a satisfactory one. The noble Duke said the High Commissioner of Palestine was "in the position of a competent military authority." I have no doubt whatever that Sir Herbert Samuel is a most competent military authority, but even so exalted a personage ought to have the sanction of Law behind him. It is only in Ireland that we have inside the Empire at the present moment a Government which has no legal authority. The noble Duke admitted at that time that the action of selling the lands of the Greek Church goes somewhat beyond that which is recognised by international jurisprudence as the normal functions of an ordinary Occupying Power. But he contended that "His Majesty's Government is not an ordinary Occupying Power"; and I think he was perfectly right. We are probably the most extraordinary Occupying Power ever known to the world.

Article 43 of Section 3 of the Hague Convention says this: The authority of the legitimate power having actually passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all steps in his power to re-establish and ensure as far as possible public order and safety while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country. I ask your Lordships to note those words, "while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country." Was the Zionist Government which we have set up in Palestine absolutely prevented from respecting Turkish Law in the cases which I have quoted in the second part of my Question? I could have included many more cases of the violation of Turkish Law than I have, but I have selected four typical cases. Is it really absolutely necessary to do all these things? If it is, then my whole contention, of course, falls to the ground.

Take the introduction of more than 20,000 aliens against the wishes of more than ninety per cent. of the people. Can we say that this was absolutely necessary? Why was there such a hurry about it when Palestine had not had time to recover from the devastations of the war and was not in a position to receive a great influx of colonists? This horde of aliens was collected by foreign agents in Central Europe and clumped down on the shores of the Holy Land only because British bayonets supported the dumping. Were British troops ever before employed in such a humiliating duty? Of this horde, a considerable number, no one can say how many, were Bolsheviks, and it was Bolsheviks who started the riots at Jaffa last year and posted up such placards on the walls as these: Down with the English coercive power. Long live the free women of the Communist Society. A section of these aliens is destitute of all morals and is now adding to the vicious elements in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Is it fair to force these people on the Palestinians?

The latest achievement of the Zionists is to smuggle in 303 revolvers and 17,000 rounds of ammunition. They were all brought into the country in beehives and incubators, which the Zionist Government had proclaimed to be free of duty. A previous consignment was landed without detection, and a third consignment was found to be on the way. This must mean that these arms come from Germany through Trieste, and it shows that these imported aliens, whom we have forced upon Palestine by our Army there, are already in secret relations with their co-religionists in Europe. I ask your Lordships to consider whether all this was absolutely necessary and, therefore, consonant with the Article I have quoted from the Hague Convention.

I turn to the selling of the lands of the Greek Church, which was certainly in violation of Turkish Law. I explained in October exactly what was done. These lands were parcelled out into large lots which could not be purchased by any of the Palestinians, none of them being wealthy enough for the purpose. Since then the sale has taken place. There was no competition, and I understand that the lands went for very much below their value. The possessors of this land, which is the most valuable suburban land around Jerusalem, are now living in New York, Chicago, Frankfort, Berlin, Paris, London—all or any of these places. Article 56 of the Hague Convention directs that the property of institutions "dedicated to religious worship, … even when belonging to the State, shall be treated as private property." I do not know if that Article helps my ease in any way, for I am not lawyer enough to be able to say, but the fact is that this Church property was sold to aliens by the Zionist Government against the wishes of the people and against the law of the country, and the effect of that in future will be most serious. Again I ask your Lordships to consider whether that could be pronounced to be in any way a necessary action.

My other two instances, the forcing of a foreign official language upon people who cannot speak it and the change from Turkish to Egyptian currency, must speak for themselves. If my view is right, those measures are obviously illegal, but in any case it seems to me a monstrous thing to impose these changes upon a helpless country by British military force.

I have spoken of the Government of Palestine as a Zionist Government, and I think I am justified in using that term. The Government is a pure autocracy in the hands of a man whom Mr. Churchill described in the House of Commons as "an ardent Zionist." In addition, the Legal Secretary is a Zionist, the Secretary of Commerce and Industry is a Zionist, and the Director of Stores, who disposes of all the contracts, is also a Zionist. It is a remarkable fact that two of these persons took a very active part in the long and complicated manœuvres which led to the Balfour Declaration, and they now appear in high office in Palestine. But that is not nearly all. An imperium in imperio was set up in April, 1918, six months before Viscount Allenby had completed the conquest of Palestine, so great was the hurry to take possession of this little country. That Zionist Commission was reorganised and strengthened in 1919, and it consists of persons who are not Palestinian citizens but are supposed to represent International Zionism. The effect of such a body sitting in Jerusalem can easily he imagined. Like Bunty, it pulls all the strings. By the terms of the proposed Mandate it is proposed to make this Commission a statutory body, and that will have the necessary effect of placing the economic future of Palestine in the hands of foreign international capitalists. I should have thought that even a Unionist House of Commons would not have put up with that, but one never knows what may happen now.

In his recent tour in Palestine, Lord Northcliffe made two quite important discoveries. He found out that Palestine is now governed by armoured cars, which I think quite well expresses the situation, and he also discovered that the orthodox Jews of Palestine are very strongly opposed to Zionism, as indeed they may very well be. I hope I have not wearied your Lordships; I have not told half of this wretched story. In all our history I know of no instance in which we have occupied a country, said we were liberating that country, and then treated it with the injustice and even inhumanity that we have shown to Palestine. It is a very little country, only the size of Wales and almost equally mountainous. Mountaineers have always been proverbially patriotic. What would Welshmen think of the dumping of tens of thousands of people on their country, with the announced prospect of this process going on continuously until the total number rose to millions, and the knowledge that then these millions were to take possession of, and to rule, their country? What would Welshmen do in that case? What would the Prime Minister himself lead them to do?

I think that the patience and restraint shown by Palestinians, Moslem and Christian, like the patience and restraint which have been shown by Ulstermen, have been very remarkable. There have been some local disturbances, which in certain cases, as at Jaffa, were started by Zionists. But it is not safe to count on the continuance of this patience, and our present large and quite unnecessary military expenditure may have to be very considerably increased in the near future. I hope that His Majesty's Government will this afternoon make the situation perfectly clear, in so far as it is affected by the Hague Convention. For myself, I attach much more importance to the moral law than to any other law, and I believe that we are now violating the moral law every day in the treatment of our late Allies, the helpless Palestinian population, for whose welfare we have made ourselves completely and entirely responsible.


My Lords, the status of Palestine and the position of His Majesty's Government therein were exhaustively discussed in your Lordships' House in connection with the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, on November 10 last. On that occasion I explained that Palestine is at present, and will be until the coming into force of the Treaty of Peace with Turkey, "occupied enemy territory," and that His Majesty's Government's position therein is that of an Occupying Power.

I went on, however, to explain that His Majesty's Government's position is not that of an ordinary Occupying Power. In ordinary circumstances an Occupying Power is merely in temporary occupation of a portion of enemy territory which may, and probably will in due course, be returned to the Power which formerly possessed it. In these circumstances it is only reasonable and proper that the Occupying Power should maintain the territory as far as possible in statu quo ante, in order that the minimum of dislocation may occur when it is evacuated and returned to the Power which possessed it before. It is also in ordinary circumstances usual to find in the country an existing administration which can be carried on without very much difficulty.

In the case of Palestine, however, both these conditions are absent. Palestine is not going to be returned to Turkey, and the obsolete and outworn system of government which had been imposed by the Turkish conquerors upon a non-Turkish population had disappeared with their disappearance. There was, therefore, no reason for re-establishing this system, and it was incumbent, upon His Majesty's Government, as I said in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, to set up a civil administration in the country for the purpose of discharging the necessary functions of government.

But more than this, His Majesty's Government, when they were entrusted with the administration of Palestine by the Supreme Council of the Allies at San Remo, were entrusted with it under certain definite conditions. They were to administer the country in such a manner as to implement the Balfour Declaration; that is to say, while protecting the civil and religious rights of the existing inhabitants, they were to render possible the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Such conditions were totally incompatible with the strict observance of the status quo ante, by which was implied the maintenance of that mediæval immobility which was characteristic of countries within the Ottoman Empire. His Majesty's Government cannot therefore admit that they are entitled only to take such action in Palestine as is strictly sanctioned by Section 3 of the Hague Convention.

I will now deal with the four specific points raised by the noble Lord. First, as regards immigration, the obligations imposed on His Majesty's Government by the conditions under which Palestine was entrusted to them, made it necessary for them to initiate a policy of strictly controlled and selective Jewish immigration up to the economic absorptive, capacity of the country. It is true that in 1888 a Turkish Law was promulgated forbidding the entry into Palestine of foreign, or, indeed, Turkish Jews for a period exceeding three months. The Powers, however, never recognised the validity of this law, basing their objection on the fact that it tended to discriminate between Jewish and non-Jewish nationals of foreign States, and in practice the law had been ineffective since its promulgation.

Secondly, as to the imposition of a third official language: the introduction of Hebrew as the third official language in no way restricts or infringes upon the existing rights and liberties of the inhabitants of Palestine. It facilitates the work of the Palestine administration, inasmuch as it provides a medium of expression among Jews of many nationalities resident in Palestine.

As regards the third point. The question of the sale of part of the property of the Orthodox Patriarchate was exhaustively discussed in your Lordships' House on November 10 in connection with the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, and also before that on November 2 in connection with the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Sydenham. To the information which I then gave to your Lordships I have oily one fact to add which has since come to my knowledge. I have learnt that the Patriarchate, before the date on which the Palestine Government assumed control of its affairs, had already been in communication with the Syndicate referred to by the noble Lord and had in fact agreed to sell to it the actual estates which have since been sold. The only effect which the intervention of the Government had was to secure for the Patriarchate better terms than those which it had been able to secure for itself. The sale was suspended and announcements that these properties were for sale were circulated in Palestine, Egypt, Cyprus and other parts in the Near East. No alternative purchasers, however, came forward.

As regards the fourth point, I think that I had better explain to your Lordships what actually took place. As the Turks withdrew from Palestine they succeeded in taking with them a considerable part of the currency existing in the country. The Turkish currency which remained was for the most part inconvertible paper which had depreciated to a fraction of its face value. To maintain this Turkish currency as the official currency of the country would have simply had the effect of giving it a totally fictitious value and pro tanto ameliorating the economic position of our enemies, and would also in practice have hindered trade. The British Army as it advanced brought with it the Egyptian currency, in which all its transactions at its base in Egypt were carried out. The effect has been to facilitate trade between Egypt and Palestine and enormously to improve the economic situation of the country. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the rupee currency was introduced into Iraq in exactly similar circumstances. I understand that the French Government have also set up in the mandated area of Syria a new currency which is linked to the French franc.


My Lords, I do not quite understand from the answer of the noble Duke what is the present position of the Immigration Regulations in Palestine. I understand that those Regulations, which imposed certain discrimination as to the nationality of the Jews who were to be admitted, were a failure, and that therefore at the present time Jews of any nationality can enter Palestine, presumably under Zionist assistance. To my mind, the one question which touches not only the Arab but the Christian population of Palestine, is the question of immigration. I understand that there would be no objection to a native of Palestine returning to his home, but there is the strongest objection to having immigrants introduced there by Zionist or Jewish influence, and this is a point which weighs most heavily, I fancy, upon all those who dislike the idea of this Jewish Home in Palestine. I should therefore be glad if the noble Duke would say what is the position of the immigration of Jews into Palestine.


I think I made it clear in the first part of my statement that we had initiated a policy of strictly controlled and selective immigra- tion up to the economic absorptive capacity of the country—that is to say, not more than can be absorbed in the country are allowed to come in, and those who are able to come in are carefully examined before they are allowed to enter. No Bolsheviks, or people of that kind, are allowed to come in.


Are their passages paid, or do they come in by voluntary effort?


May I have notice of that Question?


Is it not a fact that a large number of these Jews are not self-supporting, but are employed on relief works, paid for by the Arab taxpayer?


That, again, I should like to look into, but I doubt whether it is so.


May I ask whether in the four cases which I quoted in the Question, His Majesty's Government consider that the Government of Palestine were absolutely prevented from following the ordinary law of the land. Do I understand the noble Duke to say that the original Turkish Law, which rigidly regulated the introduction of Jews, had not been observed?


The law which was promulgated in 1888 has never been put into force, or recognised by the Powers. It is true that it existed, but it has never been observed.


I take it, all the same, that it has been acted upon, because there was no great influx of Jews until we took over the country.

House adjourned at ten minutes before six o'clock.