HL Deb 10 March 1942 vol 122 cc200-23

LORD DAVIES rose to direct attention to the situation in Palestine; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name. I confess I do so with a considerable amount of reluctance. Obviously the last thing any of us want to do in these critical days is to embarrass the Government in any way. The second reason is that my noble friend who has so recently taken up his duties at the Colonial Office obviously has had very little time and, therefore, I imagine, none of us will expect him to give a very long or reasoned reply to-day. At the same time, one feels it one's duty to draw attention to the policy that has been pursued, and is still being pursued, with regard to Palestine, and to register a protest, because some of us, at any rate, believe that it is not calculated to help in winning this war. After all, that is the main and chief consideration. The third reason which induced me to put this Motion on the Order Paper was the urgency of the matter, because I do not believe there is any time to be lost in reversing the policy we have hitherto pursued in regard to our treatment of the Jews and our treatment of this difficult problem.

There are two recent events to which I should like to draw attention which demonstrate the need for urgency. First of all, there was the unfortunate loss of the steamer "Struma" in the Black Sea, which we read about a few days ago. Secondly, we have been informed in another place that a certain number of the followers of the Mufti have been readmitted into Palestine. With regard to the "Struma," this is, as your Lordships are aware, the second case of a ship bringing Jewish refugees to Palestine being sunk. On the first occasion, about a year ago, the "Patria" was sunk at Haifa, and at least one hundred of the refugees were drowned. My noble friend Lord Wedgwood on February 26 asked a question in this House with regard to the "Struma," and in his reply the noble Viscount said that he understood the "Struma" was a converted yacht of about 200 tons, and that it left Constanza in October with some 750 Jews on board with the object of effecting their entry illegally into Palestine. I have been wondering what precisely was the illegality, because under the provisions of the White Paper there is a quota due for the present half-year of 3,400, which is applicable to Jews who wish to go to Palestine, and I imagine that these unfortunate refugees were anxious to be taken in as part of the quota for the current half-year. Therefore I fail to see where the illegality of these proceedings comes in, and perhaps the noble Viscount will be able to explain to us more fully what he meant when he described it as an illegal act.

We all know the facts with regard to the loss of the "Struma." Here were a lot of refugees fleeing from the Nazi tyranny in Rumania and in other Balkan countries, men, women and children who otherwise would have found themselves in concentration camps subject to all the tortures and sufferings which they would have had to undergo in those camps. For ten weeks they remained at Istanbul under the most horrible conditions of overcrowding on this very small steamer. One can imagine what they had to undergo. Then there was the refusal of the Palestinian authorities, who, I suppose, had received their instructions from Whitehall, to allow these unfortunate refugees, flying from the Nazi terrors, to enter into Palestine and join their co-nationalists in that country. I do not suppose there is any other country to which they could have gone. Obviously they could not have gone to Greece, where a large part of the population is on the verge of starvation. It is difficult to imagine where they could have found any refuge or asylum other than in Palestine. As your Lordships are aware, there were a considerable number of children on board this steamer. After ten weeks of negotiating the authorities apparently did relent so far as to be prepared to allow the children under sixteen to be admitted.


Over eleven and under sixteen.


To allow children over eleven and under sixteen to be admitted into Palestine. Unfortunately that instruction arrived too late, and when this ship went down all persons on board, men, women and children, were drowned. I have tried to imagine what were the reasons that induced the Palestinian authorities to refuse admission to these unfortunate refugees. Were they spies? Did the authorities think that enemy agents or spies might have been included in this ship load of refugees? If they did, then the obvious answer to that was the one which I think the Jewish Agency suggested to them, that all these people should first of all be interned, and that then they should be very carefully sifted and weeded out. No doubt the Jews in Palestine would have assisted the authorities in this weeding-out process. Clearly it is not a superhuman performance to carry out such sifting and to place under arrest any person who could not give a satisfactory account of himself.

It might be said that these refugees did not come under the quota. As I understand it, under the quota of the present half-year, which as I have already said amounted to 3,400, there was plenty of margin to allow them to be included, and therefore that could not possibly have been the reason. Then there is the expense of transporting them from Istanbul to Palestine, but that I understand was guaranteed by the Jewish Agency. Moreover, a society in America was prepared to put up £6,000 in order to provide training facilities so that these people could be properly employed when they reached their destination. The last possible explanation is that if these people had been allowed into Palestine we should have incurred the hostility of the Arabs. I want to ask, what Arabs? Obviously we should have incurred the hostility of the Mufti and his followers, but that does not mean we were going to incur the hostility of the vast majority of the Arabs, who, after all, I believe are decent people and not entirely without human feelings. I cannot help thinking that the refusal on the part of the authorities to allow these refugees to enter the country can only be characterized as a stupid, callous and inhuman act, and that the only reason for the refusal was the wish to curry favour with the Arab recalcitrants.

What can we imagine are some of the repercussions which have followed this most callous behaviour on our part? I wonder what the Arabs think about it? I cannot help feeling that the majority at any rate of the decent Arabs will regard our action with contempt, and that it will colour their minds in listening to the German and Italian broadcasts to the effect that we have become spineless and effete people who have no regard whatever for our friends and who are not prepared to stand up for our friends when they are in trouble. What sort of repercussions do we suppose this act is going to have upon our Allies in Russia and, "especially, in the United States? I understand that meetings have already been held in many parts of the United States to protest most vehemently against the refusal on our part to allow these refugees to come into Palestine. And what will be the repercussion on the Jews? Obviously their feelings of enthusiasm for our cause will be changed. What about the 10,000 Jews in Palestine who have been recruited for the British Army and have been fighting on all the fronts in the Middle East, in Greece, in Crete, in Syria and in Libya? What will their feelings be like when they read about this horrible incident? Lastly, I wonder what Hitler thinks about it. He must be rejoicing to feel that 750 more Jews have been done to death and that those whom he is fighting against have been more or less a party to this incident.

I cannot help feeling that from whatever angle we regard this question it is going to do us a great deal of harm. But, after all, it is only a continuation of the policy which we have been pursuing for a very long time in Palestine. May I contrast this treatment with the treatment which apparently is being meted out to some of the followers—not all, but some of the followers—of the Mufti? A question was asked in another place last week, what had become of the followers of the Mufti, refugees in Iran and Iraq, who had been handed over to us. It appears that some of these refugees, together with their women and children, who had been handed over by the Persian authorities, were permitted to return to Palestine. None of these men have been the subject of criminal charges, but the question one naturally asks is why they were refugees, why they bolted from Palestine and joined the Mufti in Iran and Iraq, unless at any rate they had been suspected of plotting and of assisting in the terrorist movement. I think the presumption at any rate is that these followers of the Mufti were undesirables who had been connected with the intrigues of their leader and who should never have been allowed to re-enter the country.

There is the presumption, on the other hand, that the refugees on board the "Struma" were our friends, who, if they had been allowed to come into Palestine, would have helped us in our war effort. No doubt many of them would have enlisted in the British Forces whilst others would have done their very best to produce food and essentials for carrying on the war. I cannot help feeling that we have been giving the cold shoulder to our friends and that we have been trying to appease our enemy. The followers of the Mufti can be roughly divided into four groups—firstly, the immediate entourage of the Mufti who are at present, I believe, in Berlin; secondly, the group in Athens, who I suppose are recruited more or less as storm troopers and are preparing to do their utmost to start a new terrorist campaign in Palestine; thirdly, the group in Turkey; and, lastly, the refugees who were handed over to us. Some of them have been sent to Rhodesia—I think more might have been sent to Rhodesia, the worst of them at any rate—and I am very glad to know that has been done. The others, as I say, have come back in the garb of the prodigal, and apparently the authorities in Jerusalem have been satisfied that they will not do any harm and will not become a new menace to our Administration.

I feel that this is really a very urgent question. I beg the Government to give us assurances, first of all, that no more of the Mufti's followers will be readmitted into the country; and secondly, that those who have been sent back shall be interned so that they may not make preparations—no doubt in conjunction with their friends in Athens, Turkey and elsewhere—for a new terrorist movement which, when perhaps we are engaged in fighting the enemy in the north, may suddenly spring into life so that we shall be stabbed in the back once again. These two incidents—the loss of the "Struma" and the re-admission of these followers of the Mufti into Palestine—are only two examples in a long chain of incidents which have been based, as far as one can understand them at all, on a policy of appeasement. I always imagined that when the war started the policy of appeasement was dead, but now I do not believe it is, at any rate so far as Palestine is concerned. It will be remembered that on the very first day of the war a Jewish Congress was sitting in Geneva and they dispatched Dr. Weizmann post-haste to the Prime Minister, Mr. Chamberlain, in order to assure our Government that the manpower and the material resources of the Jews were at our disposal in carrying on this war. There were two ways in which Jewish man-power could have been used to assist our war effort—first of all, recruitment in Palestine itself, and secondly, recruitment of Jews from abroad. Unfortunately these offers have never been accepted and given effect to. I believe at the outset, when Mr. Malcolm MacDonald was Colonial Secretary, he turned them down, and he of course, was one of the arch-appeasers, who was not only prepared to sacrifice other people in a policy of appeasement but even to make a present of our ports on the West coast of Ireland which has caused us intense embarrassment ever since.

After him came Lord Lloyd. He was always regarded as a friend of the Arabs, but he realized the importance of accepting with both hands the offers which had come from the Jewish Agency of help in order to prosecute the war. He, I believe, did away with the stupid regulation of parity between the Jews and the Arabs in the matter of recruitment. Up to that time, I believe, only a certain number of Jews were allowed to be recruited, and that number could not exceed the number of Arabs who volunteered. Another thing which he did was to abolish the distinction between the combatant and the non-combatant categories in which Jews could be enlisted. At the outset they were allowed only to enlist in the Pioneers, but subsequently they were also allowed to enlist in the combatant units of the British Army, and many of them did so. The third thing which he did was to agree, in principle at any rate, to the formation of a Jewish Division, which would be recruited overseas, recruited in what are now—but were not then—enemy-occupied countries and in South America and other places. This Division was to be prepared to fight anywhere—not only in the Middle East but in any theatre of war. Unfortunately, Lord Lloyd passed away, and as your Lordships are aware he was succeeded by my noble friend Lord Moyne, and, regrettably, this proposal for the Jewish Division, as he explained to us here a few weeks ago, did not come to fruition. It was postponed, and more or less rejected. Now, of course, all these Jews who could have been mobilized at that time in what are now enemy-occupied countries have become, in effect, slaves of Hitler, and they are entirely lost to us.

I cannot help feeling that we have been guilty of pouring cold water upon the enthusiasm of the Jews to assist us and to aid our cause. In fact, there has been a succession of snubs. First of all, as I have said, we insisted upon the stupid rule of parity of enlistment. Then we said the Jews must only enlist in Pioneer units—they must not be allowed to join combatant units. Then we refused to allow them to have their own badges, or to form distinctively Jewish units. I cannot understand why, because that concession has been made to the Druses. Fifty thousand Druses in Syria have been allowed to form a Druse Legion alongside the British Forces in Syria, and each of the allied nations gets credit for whatever it contributes to the common cause. If it could be done in the case of the Druses, why not in the case of the Jews? Then, I believe, we have a Division in Egypt which has been recruited from the Senussi tribe. They are called the Senussi Division. May I ask why is it that the same privilege, or, at any rate, the same treatment, should not have been accorded to the Jews? After all, any person who is prepared to wear a badge knowing that if he is caught by the enemy he will be put up against a wall and shot simply because he is wearing that badge, shows an offensive spirit and also that he has taken his courage in both hands.

Lastly, we have never recognized, so far as I am aware, the services which Jews have already rendered on all fronts in the Middle East. If you go to their Commanders you will hear lots of praise of the Jews, but when it comes to reporting it in the Press or to extending any official recognition, not a word has been said or published. And so I cannot help feeling that this is a stupid and a wrong policy. It is the sort of policy that we adopted at the beginning of the last war, when great efforts were made by the Nationalist Party, and especially by Mr. Redmond and his followers, to recruit men in Southern Ireland. I remember that when Mr. Redmond and his colleagues asked that the men it was proposed to recruit should have a special badge, and when it was suggested that they might have a special uniform, bands of their own, and other things, it was all turned down by the War Office at that time. The result was that the enthusiasm of the people of Southern Ireland who were being asked to serve alongside us against the common enemy was killed; and, subsequently, there was the Easter rebellion of 1916. I think that if we go on pursuing this stupid policy we shall again land ourselves in similar disasters. What it means is that we are giving the cold shoulder to our friends in a vain attempt to appease their detractors.

I must apologize to the House for continuing for so long, but I wish to bring to the notice of your Lordships two more instances which illustrate the kind of atmosphere which has prevailed in Palestine, and the attitude of our Administration there. Twelve months ago—it took a long time before it was published in this country—Dr. Norman Maclean, an ex-Moderator of the Church of Scotland and a King's Chaplain, chanced to be in Jerusalem. He was asked by the Editor of the Palestine Post to write an article for publication in that paper because it so happened that the celebration of Christmas by the Christians and the celebration of the Jewish Feast of Lights coincided that year. He was invited, as-I say, to send an article for publication in this newspaper. What was the result? The result was in the publication which I hold in my hand. When this article appeared, the censor had got hold of it and out of 139 lines he had struck out 100 lines. If your Lordships will read the article you will find that there is not a single word about any political subject at all. It is simply an endeavour to put the case from the standpoint of the Christians and from the standpoint of the Jews. I cannot help feeling that it was not only an affront to the Jews but an affront also to the Christians that this article should be dealt with in the way that it was. I wonder whether the censor has been reprimanded. The whole thing has a Nazi smell about it, and I cannot help feeling that it does show the extraordinary way in which our Administration carries on affairs in Palestine.

There is a second instance to which I must draw the attention of the House, and which happened quite recently. Dr. Weizmann, who, as your Lordships are aware, is the head of the Jewish Agency, sent a cable to Palestine on the occasion of a great recruiting campaign, in order to encourage people there to join not Jewish regiments but the British Army. He said: My heartiest greetings to the Palestine Auxiliary Territorial Service at the outset of its recruiting campaign. I know how eagerly our women will welcome this opportunity to share with the ten thousand of their men already serving in defence of their lives, homes and of all that Palestine means to them. That was the message, but the censor refused to allow it to be published in the Jewish papers in Palestine. I cannot help wondering how we can ever hope to win this war if this is the way in which we treat our friends and their efforts to help us in fighting the enemy. It is a stupid policy. It brings us into contempt with the Arabs, and it brings us into disrepute with our friends.

Let me recall to you the view expressed by the present Prime Minister as recently as May, 1939. This is what he said: To whom was the pledge of the Balfour Declaration made? It was not made to the Jews in Palestine, it was not made to those who were actually living in Palestine. It was made to World Jewry and in particular to the Zionist associations. It was in consequence, and on the basis, of this pledge that we received important help in the war, and that after the war we received from the Allied and Associated Powers the Mandate for Palestine. This pledge of a home of refuge, of an asylum, was not made to the Jews in Palestine but to the Jews outside Palestine, to that vast, unhappy mass of scattered, persecuted, wandering jews whose intense, unchanging, unconquerable desire has been for a National Home. … It is not with the Jews in Palestine that we have now or at any future time to deal, but with World Jewry, with Jews all over the world. Does not that apply to these unfortunate refugees who sought refuge in Palestine, who journeyed there on the "Patria" and on the "Struma," who were refused admission, and so many of whom were sent to their doom? I cannot help feeling, therefore, that this policy is not really the Prime Minister's policy; I cannot believe that he has joined the ranks of the appeasers.

I come now to another declaration, which was made in November of last year, when General Smuts said: The case for the Balfour Declaration has become overwhelmingly stronger. Instead of the horror of new ghettos in the twentieth century, let us carry out the promise and open up the National Home. The case has become one not merely of promises and International Law, but for the conscience of mankind. We dare not fold our hands without insulting the human spirit itself. That, I think, goes to the root of the matter. This is not merely a question of expediency; this is really a moral question. Since Hitler has for years past made the Jews the target of his persecution and of his outbursts of hate, I feel that anyone who refuses to accept the challenge is playing a double-faced game and is injuring the cause for which we are fighting. I do not believe that there can be any neutrality in this matter, and I believe that the whole attitude of the administration in Palestine has been in complete contradiction of our declared war aims, the rescue from oppression of all the oppressed peoples of the world.

In conclusion, therefore, I would respectfully and earnestly appeal to my noble friend. I am sure that we shall not make a real effort to win this war if we go on in this way, and indeed if we continue on these lines it is doubtful whether we shall win it. I ask myself whether we shall deserve to win it if we treat in this way people who are prepared to help us to the limit of their capacity, and who arc willing to pour out their blood and their treasure for our cause. I am not a pro-Jew or a pro-Arab, and I hope that most of us, at any rate, take that line and will welcome assistance from both Jews and Arabs. If the Arabs want to have their own Division and their own units, why cannot they have them, and why cannot the Jews have them as well?

I know that the Jews are not popular in this country, for reasons which we all know, at this moment, but I should like to point out that there are good Jews and bad Jews, just as there are good Christians and bad Christians. Although we see in the Law Courts every day "black-market" prosecutions, and so on, obviously the thing to do with people who are guilty of these offences is to put them up against a wall and shoot them, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. That would soon put a stop to this sort of thing. That, however, does not mean that the Jews in Palestine are of this type. They, as I have said, have helped us, and are helping us even now; they are exhorting their people to join our Forces and to fight against their arch enemies. I think that it is only reasonable, just, fair and wise, therefore, to give them every encouragement and ever recognition. I would end by reminding your Lordships of the words of Tennyson: Since right is right, to follow right Were wisdom in the scorn of consequence. I beg to move.


My Lords, before I begin to lose your sympathy I should like to say a ward on which all of us will agree. Dr. Weizmann has long been the leader of the Zionist Movement, and I have known him for twenty-five years. He has done a great work for the Jewish people. The other day one of our bombers did not return, and Dr. Weizmann's son is dead. I think that we ought to say a word of tribute and sympathy to Dr. Weizmann now that we are discussing a question which relates to Palestine.

I think that the whole gist of the speech of my noble friend Lord Davies points to one self-evident truth, which is that the Administration in Palestine is Anti-Semitic. I think that all our troubles in connexion with that country have come from this constant Anti-Semitic bias of the Palestine Administration. The evidence of that Anti-Semitism has been given in the speech of my noble friend, and, in addition to the things which he mentioned, I should like to refer to certain other facts. I will quote as evidence the toleration shown by the Administration to the Arab side in the riots of four years ago, and the escape of El Fawzi and the Mufti from that country when the riots were suppressed and their capture could have been effected. Then there was the question of the imprisonment of those Jews who dared to drill. They attempted to drill with the rifles that had been issued to them. It was against the law. They were all sent to prison, with sentences which range up to seven years' imprisonment for merely drilling in order to learn how to defend themselves. Some of them are still in prison. That, I think, is evidence of Anti-Semitism.

Then there was the prohibition of the right to buy land in Palestine. You do not find any other part of the British Empire where a certain number of British citizens are denied the right to buy land, except in the Punjab where it is denied to the Hindus. I think they may buy land which was not previously owned by Moslems; but the Jews in their home land are refused permission to buy or lease land. Another piece of evidence was the case of the partition of Palestine. You will remember that the first partition included Galilee in the Jews' part of Palestine. The Administration there objected very strongly. A fresh Commission was appointed which acceded to their point of view that Galilee should be excluded from the Jewish area. In all these cases there may be two sides to the question, but I am merely citing them as evidence of the consistently Anti-Semitic attitude of the British Administration in Palestine.

I pass to the case which has just been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, the case of the "Patria." The "Patria" had about 1,300 Jews on board. It got into Haifa harbour and they were not allowed to land—they were to be sent on to Mauritius. The Jews blew a hole in the bottom of the ship and those who managed to get ashore were allowed to land: the rest were drowned. The "Patria" case was a pretty bad one, but at any rate those Jews were allowed to go to Mauritius; they were not to be sent back to Hitler. But what I would draw your Lordships' attention to, because it is such evidence of Anti-Semitism, is the fact that Sir Harold MacMichael on that occasion went to the microphone and broadcast messages to the Jews in which he specially pointed out that even at the end of the war these people whom he was sending to Mauritius would not be allowed to land in Palestine. It was not necessary to say that at all: there was no reason for it; besides, who knows what will happen at the end of the war? It was simply that he wanted to show that he did not want these people to have a chance of feeling safe or coming to Palestine. I think it was a particularly brutal thing, when you remember that the sons and other relations of those people on the "Patria" were actually waiting on the shore ready to receive them.

Next I come to the consequences of the "Patria," which everybody realizes, except the Administration there—the case of the "Struma." The "Struma" was not allowed to get as far as Haifa, be- cause after the "Patria" trouble the Government arranged with the Turkish Government not to allow ships to sail for Palestine. Therefore the "Struma" never reached Haifa and remained in the Bosporus. It remained there for three months—760 people on a ship of 200 tons, with no food and no medical appliances. Nothing more nearly approaching the Black Hole of Calcutta can be imagined. Meanwhile the Colonial Office were pestered with telegrams from America and all over the world, begging them to allow these people to proceed to Palestine. I do not know who it was that refused, but, moved by some feeling of humanity, they said, "Oh well, if we must have any Jews, take the children between eleven and sixteen." I do not know whether that offer ever reached the "Struma," but I can imagine that the parents of the Jews on board the "Struma" would not have accepted the offer—I doubt whether the children would. They could not take the little children, but they could take the children between eleven and sixteen.

Your Lordships know that when garrisons surrender they sometimes pick out by lot the people who will be shot: here the Palestine Administration were more humane, they picked out those who might be saved. But they were not saved. Whether they had the chance or not I do not know. They went back, or rather the ship went back—back to Hitler. You must remember what had happened to Jews in Rumania already. They had had thousands murdered. There were tales of people being roasted alive in bakers' ovens. Every atrocity and inhumanity had been perpetrated on that unfortunate people. The Rumanians are almost worse than Hitler. We sent the Jews back there. It is no wonder they did not go. But when the sinking did take place we got the final, beautiful comment of The Times correspondent in Palestine. I am told that this gentleman is a clergyman of the Church of England. This is what he said, as quoted from The Times: It is not fully appreciated by outsiders, or even by the Jews, that Hitler's policy would be doubly served if Great Britain were jockeyed into the position of having to accept in Palestine any Jewish refugees forced out of countries under Hitler's rule, for this would reduce the number of Jews in those countries and would arouse disquiet among the Palestinian Arabs. That, I think, is typical of the frame of mind not only of this Times correspondent, but of the whole Palestine Administration, and it is on such evidence as that that I base my first charge that the Administration there is Anti-Semitic.

The argument that has been used to me, and i think is going to be used here this afternoon, is that it would have been dangerous to allow these refugees to come into Palestine because they might contain among their numbers some who were in Hitler's pay. That was said at the time of the sinking of the "Patria." That is why most of the people who managed to swim ashore then are still interned, though some have been allowed out to do work of national importance. It has been the argument used in this country. It has been used by my noble friend Lord Croft—we ought not to allow refugees into this country because some of them might be in Hitler's pay. That is the argument on which we based the internment of all refugees a year and a half ago—some of them might be in Hitler's pay. There has never been a particle of evidence which would convince anybody that any of the refugees have been in Hitler's pay. It is manifestly improbable that Hitler would employ a Jew in any circumstances. It is ridiculous to suppose that even our own Intelligence system would employ in Germany a person who spoke German imperfectly. There is the further reason that the Jews have certainly more cause to hate Hitler than anybody else in this world. In Palestine you have the additional argument that Hitler can get Arab agents more easily and cheaply than anybody else.

That allegation regarding the Jews is a bare-faced excuse which supplies fresh evidence of Anti-Semitism on the part of people who admit quite openly, "We do not like Jews" What is the excuse given by the Colonial Office? I am sorry it will be given by my noble friend opposite (Viscount Cranborne). The need to appease the Arabs! The Arabs have rebelled. They have never fought for us, and they never will fight for us. The probability is, if the Germans get there, they will fight against us. Hitler's propaganda continues to advertise and jeer at our weakness in Palestine. It keeps on telling the Arabs in Palestine that this is a Jewish war. Mussolini, I believe, avers that he is the protector of the Mahomedans, and indeed we have seen in Iraq how successful this propaganda was. The rebellion in Iraq was due principally, I believe, to the weakness we showed in Palestine—a weakness that indicated fear. Iraq rebelled, and we repressed the rebellion with the most perfect kid-glove diplomacy. Egypt will not fight. By this sort of appeasement we only give Orientals the impression that we fear them. Are we afraid of them? If we are afraid of them, arm the Jews, and then we shall not need to fear the Arabs. If we are not afraid of the Arabs, then we really ought not to continue conciliating our enemies at the expense of our friends.

The last example I shall give of this policy of appeasing our enemies and injuring our friends is the refusal of the Colonial Office to allow Home Guards to be formed in Palestine. It is four months since some of us went to see Lord Moyne on this question. We thought it was going to go all right, but nothing has been done. The danger has certainly become more obvious—danger not only from Germany, but also from Japan. Why has nothing been done? For the same reason—because we must not annoy the Arabs, because of this continual passion for appeasing at the expense, in this case, not merely of the Jews, but of our honour. If we abandoned the Jews in Palestine as we abandoned the unfortunate Chinese in Malaya and Hong Kong, we should blacken our history beyond repair. To refuse people the power to defend themselves, to refuse them the right to carry a rifle, own a rifle, and to drill when their most deadly enemy is on the borders, with a knife at their throats, is neither the act of a sane man nor of a gentleman. That is the crime we are committing in Palestine to-day. I have said that the real reason of all our troubles in Palestine is that the Administration does not like Jews. All other reasons they may give are excuses on the part of a pro-Arab, pro-Italian clique who are the enemies of this country and the abettors of Fascism.

What is the Secretary of State going to do about it? Is the policy going to change? We have had twenty-two years of this policy—this attempt to appease the Arabs, this continual bias against the Jews. Now we are in the middle of a desperate war fighting for our own lives. Cannot we, even now, revise that policy and provide ourselves with friends who can fight and die—friends who dare not surrender. If we had that support, our morale in this country would be better than it is. We might get as good an example from these people in Palestine as we are getting from the Russian morale. We are throwing it all away through a stupid prejudice carried to excess in Palestine and, believe me, my Lords, carried to excess in this country also.


My Lords, the Motion which the noble Lord, Lord Davies, tabled for discussion to-day is a very wide one. He draws attention broadly to the situation in Palestine, and in the course of his speech, and in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, many questions have been raised both of detail and of general policy. It may be for the convenience of the House if I deal very briefly with some of these questions of detail first. There is, first of all, the question of a Jewish Army about which there has been a good deal of talk this afternoon. The House will forgive me if I do not deal with that question to-day. There is a Motion already on the Paper in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, which is directed to this specific point. It is to be debated at an early date, and will be replied to by my noble friend Lord Croft. I do not propose to make Lord Croft's speech for him to-day, nor do I propose to inflict upon the House a double dose of Government oratory on this particular problem.

Then there is the question of the return of the adherents of the Mufti to Palestine, which was mentioned first of all by Lord Davies and later, I think, also by Lord Wedgwood. There has been a sort of suggestion in both these speeches that in the interests of a policy of appeasement of the Arabs, which is supposedly being carried on by the Palestine Administration, a stream of undesirable and dangerous persons is being allowed to go back into Palestine. I do not really know where the noble Lord, Lord Davies, got his information. I am quite certain he did not mean to mislead the House, but I do not think that the facts bear out, the impression he gave. Perhaps he will allow me to finish. What are the facts in regard to those refugees who were apprehended in Persia? Some of them no doubt were very unsuitable people to allow to return. Those apprehended in Persia numbered only thirteen, and out of this thirteen, six, I think the noble Lord himself said, have not gone back to Palestine. They have gone to Southern Rhodesia and there they are interned, and there in fact they will remain.

What the noble Lord did not say was that among them were the really dangerous people Jamal El Husseini, Amim Tamimi and others of the close associates of the Mufti. They are the people who were capable of causing danger and disturbance. The remaining seven were mere hangers on; they were unimportant people, and to that extent harmless. As I think the noble Lord said, quoting from a reply given in another place, they are not open to any criminal charge. Those seven people have been brought back, but only in full agreement, and after careful consultation, with the Security Authorities. They are under constant observation, and they can be apprehended at any time if they misbehave themselves. The impression that the noble Lord gave that a stream of people of a dangerous character has come back is not justified.


May I intervene for a moment? The noble Viscount has attributed something to me that I did not say. I did not say a word about a stream of people. I quoted the number of six, I think, and their women and children, which had been given in another place. I did not mean to suggest that there was a stream of people. I referred specifically to the six, and, it seems to me, we can ask this question: Why did these six ever go away and leave Palestine at all unless they came under suspicion as being followers of the Mufti and therefore undesirable people?


No doubt they have been hangers-on of the Mufti. They have been in very undesirable company, and people who have been in undesirable company are very apt to bolt in a crisis. But, in any case, they have been allowed back only after very careful consultation by the Security Authorities. It is considered that they are not dangerous, but they are being kept under constant observation.

Then there is the question of the Palestine Administration, and especially the High Commissioner himself. As noble Lords know, there have been considerable attacks upon him and upon the Palestine Administration both in this House and outside. There seems to be a strange misconception, which has gained ground, that the Administration of Palestine is pursuing a completely different policy from that of His Majesty's Government here. They are talked of as an independent entity, as if they were doing whatever they felt inclined to do, and as if they were in fact, quite apart from His Majesty's Government, pursuing a violent Anti-Semitic policy. Even so great an authority as Dr. Weizmann himself, who, as the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, said, is a man we all respect for his integrity, has fallen into that error in the speech he made on Sunday last. In reality, that conception of the Administration has no foundation at all. It is impossible to make any differentiation between the policy of the Palestine Administration and the policy of His Majesty's Government here.

The High Commissioner and those devoted people who assist him are merely public servants appointed to carry out the policy which has been approved by the British Parliament. I think it is very important to make that clear. That they are doing with, I believe, complete integrity and great courage, in circumstances of extraordinary difficulty, and to suggest anything else, as the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, did, is in my view, if he will forgive my saying so, both undesirable and dangerous, because it can only injure the authority of the Administration and that can only lead to disaffection and unrest. To suggest, as the noble Lord did, that the Administration is harsh, unfair and animated by Anti-Semitic bias—he will not deny that was the impression he gave—is bad. To assert that they have deliberately tolerated Arab riots and even condoned the escape of the Mufti is particularly shocking. I think it would be impossible for anyone in this House to say anything more undesirable and dangerous, and, if I may say so with all deference to the noble Lord, it comes very near to an incitement to violence.

The real truth is that the Palestine Government and His Majesty's Govern- ment have been trying to carry out a policy based, not on appeasement either of Arab or of Jew, but on impartiality. Many things may be said about the policy which has been adopted, but that was certainly the intention of it, and that is not what the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, wants, nor what the noble Lord, Lord Davies, wants. They do not want a policy of impartiality. To accuse the Palestine Administration and eminent public servants of anti-Jewish bias is, I submit, not fair, and I do hope we shall have no more attempts, either inside this House or outside it, to drive a wedge between His Majesty's Government and the Palestine Administration. I am the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and I accept full responsibility for the conduct of affairs in Palestine. I am very glad to make this quite clear so early in my tenure of the Colonial Office.

As a by-product, if I may so describe it, of this strange attack upon the Administration there has been a sustained campaign against the censorship in Palestine. No censorship is perfect. In every country where censorship is in operation errors and mistakes are made. I do not believe the Palestine censorship in that respect, any more than any other censorship, is entirely blameless. The purpose of the censorship as it is applied in that country is to prevent the publication of material that is likely to inflame public opinion and lead to disturbance. It may be that there are cases in which it has operated too strictly. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, mentioned two instances, one about the Christmas message. I have seen that document, and inquiry has been already instituted in Palestine to find out what the facts are. I have not had a reply yet, but I wanted the noble Lord to know that. Then there is the second case of a message by Dr. Weizmann to the rally in Palestine. Our information is that that was published in the Palestine Post. We are making further inquiries also into this point, in order to make absolutely certain what the facts are. It certainly is not the intention of His Majesty's Government that the censorship in Palestine should be unduly rigid. We want as much freedom as is possible, and should any other examples of undue rigidity come to the notice of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, or the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, or anyone else, if they will send them to me, I will make the fullest inquiry. But that there should be a censorship is, I am afraid, in existing circumstances, inevitable.

Finally, both the noble Lords who have spoken have raised the question of our general policy towards Palestine. While I fully appreciate the integrity and the purity of the motives which have inspired the noble Lords to-day—which one could see from the passionate earnestness with which they spoke—I cannot feel that it has been a happy inspiration to raise this particular problem at the present time. I would remind noble Lords that this is one of the most critical moments of the war. We have had serious setbacks in the Far East. We are likely to have more. We read in the Press and elsewhere of great preparations for German offensives both through Russia towards the Caucasus and through Turkey towards Iraq and Syria. The whole of the Middle East at the present time is under a potential threat of attack. We may have need of every friend we have got in that area, both Jewish and Arab, and we have many friends in both of those two communities. Parliament has approved a policy for Palestine. I am not going to say for a moment that it is a policy which is wholly acceptable either to Jew or to Arab or indeed to numbers of people in this country—that was probably impossible—but it was a genuine attempt to find an impartial solution of the problem. Now, at this vital, critical moment the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and others who feel like him think fit to suggest that His Majesty's Government should embark on a totally new and entirely untried experiment. I cannot believe that there could be anything more calculated to lead to disturbances and disquiet throughout the Middle East than that.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, stated his case, if I may say so, with great moderation, and I think we should be very grateful to him for that. The noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, spoke with his usual zeal and fire. He made, I am afraid, some exceedingly controversial statements. In an interview which the noble Lord gave recently to the Press, I notice that he said he was happy to be in your Lordships' House, because now he felt free to say anything he felt inclined. I do hope the noble Lord will not confuse the words liberty and licence. That would be very sad for him, for your Lordships' House and for the country as a whole. Noble Lords may remember that during one of those recurrent crises that used to come our way in the years before the war, the then Prime Minister, Mr. Chamberlain, used a famous metaphor in which he compared the situation in Europe to that which sometimes occurs in high mountains, when any sound, even that of the spoken word, may precipitate an avalanche. I hope the situation in the Middle East to-day is not as delicate as that. But I must say that I do not think that the loud provocative shouts of the noble Lord are very likely to reduce the danger. At any rate, whatever he may feel, however legitimate it may seem to him to say what he has, I cannot allow myself such latitude. The situation is, to my mind, far too delicate. I believe that general statements by the Government on Palestine policy at this moment could not do any possible good and might be fraught with danger. Therefore I do not propose to make any statement on policy to-day, and in doing so I am confident that I shall receive the support of the overwhelming majority of your Lordships' House.

There remains the question of the "Struma." In the present unhappy situation of the world, it is, I suppose, to a certain extent inevitable that we should be hardened to horrors. But I do not think there can be anyone who was not profoundly shocked by the terrible sinking of this ship. The whole facts are not yet known. Possibly they never will be known. She may have been destroyed by a torpedo, she may have run upon a mine, she may have tried to beach herself and struck a rock, or she may, as the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, suggested the other day, have been deliberately blown up by the wretched passengers themselves in a moment of despair, though there has been up to now no evidence to support that most horrible of all explanations. All that is certain is that she sank with practically all hands. We must deeply regret that the plan of His Majesty's Government to transport, at any rate, the children between the years of eleven and sixteen to Palestine, could not be carried out. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who suggested that the failure of this plan was due to the Palestine authorities. I would assure him that that is not the fact. The Turkish authorities refused to allow them to land from the vessel at all. There was complete agreement with the Palestine authorities to take these children, and the scheme fell through for reasons for which we were not responsible. In any case there is nothing now which can be done for the passengers of the "Struma," who have so unhappily lost their lives.

Noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon have asked me what steps His Majesty's Government can take to prevent the recurrence of such a tragedy. We are as anxious as noble Lords themselves that the tragedy should not be repeated. But I must make this proviso. We cannot take any measures which would undermine the policy regarding illegal immigration into Palestine. Even if these immigrants were not to exceed the quota for the year, to admit them to Palestine would be contrary to the policy approved by Parliament which stated categorically that "His Majesty's Government are determined to check illegal immigration." To depart from this; policy would at once raise those wider issues and invite those wider dangers to which I have already referred. Within these limitations I can give your Lordships' House an assurance that His Majesty's Government will do everything in their power. I cannot tell noble Lords to-day what steps can, or will be taken. That must depend upon the time and upon the circumstances. Nor can I give any absolute guarantee, because the circumstances clearly might be beyond our control: But His Majesty's Government are as horrified as any noble Lord at this dreadful event and will do all that is practicable to prevent it happening again. I have spoken this afternoon very frankly to your Lordship's House. This is no time, I think, for beating about the bush. It is a time for plain speaking. Never was there a moment when it was more necessary for us all to show a sense of responsibility. I would appeal to noble Lords in whatever part of the House they may sit to show that same discretion which is imposed upon us who sit upon the Front Bench; for upon our capacity to show wisdom and self-restraint may well depend the survival of free speech here and throughout the world.


My Lords, I would like to thank the; noble Viscount for his reply to this Motion, but I confess I cannot help feeling rather disappointed. However, as I said at the outset, he has held his present post for a very short time and one may hope that when he has had more leisure to look into things he may modify his views somewhat. One cannot help feeling that the time has probably come for a drastic spring-cleaning, because it is not only in Palestine but in other parts of the world as well that we have: rather fallen down in our Colonial Office administration. There are one or two points to which I should like to refer before I withdraw my Motion. I think the noble Viscount said that this was not the time for untried experiments. Nobody has asked him—at least I have not this afternoon—to go beyond the provisions in the White Paper, and surely there is nothing in the White Paper which suggests that we should refuse to accept this assistance which the Jewish Agency and their friends have offered us from the very outset of hostilities. There is nothing in the White Paper, I believe, which should debar us from accepting with both hands what they offer, and from doing all that we can to encourage them in every possible way to put forth their greatest effort to help us in the conduct of the war.

Then, the noble Viscount said, it was very wrong—no, "wrong" was not the word, I think he said "injudicious"—to talk about these things, or to bring up these subjects at all at this moment, when we find ourselves in this very critical situation. I can assure him that the only reason my noble friend Lord Wedgwood and I have called attention to this matter to-day is that we wish to avoid another setback, and we believe that to pursue the policy which has hitherto been pursued is not the best way of doing that. I think he also said that we were partial. I have tried to point out that, so far as I am concerned at any rate, I am absolutely impartial. I am neither pro-Arab nor pro-Jew, and I am sure the noble Viscount did not mean to suggest that we were showing bias to one side or the other.


I, perhaps, would not suggest that against the noble Lord, Lord Davies. But I think, perhaps, the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood would not refute or rebut the charge.


With regard to the matter of the refugees, I never suggested that there was a stream of these people coming back from Iran and Iraq. The extraordinary thing is that they should have been received back into this country, whereas the unfortunate people on the "Struma" were sent back to their doom. Finally, I would like to say that I am sure we all rejoice that my noble friend Viscount Cranborne has now assumed the duties of his very responsible position at the Colonial Office. We wish him every success in his Department. We know that he is not an appeaser at any rate, because he was one of the few men in this country who sacrificed their positions and resigned rather than become parties to this iniquitous policy which has brought all these disasters upon us. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.