§ 2.34 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I beg to ask the Government the question of which I have given them private Notice—namely, whether they have any statement to make about the recent deplorable events in Palestine and, in particular, in Jerusalem.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (VISCOUNT HALL)
My Lords, on the morning of February 22 a convoy of three military-type trucks and one police-type armoured car was observed travelling towards the centre of Jerusalem. The occupants wore military and police uniforms. The three trucks parked in Ben Yehuda Street, in the Jewish commercial centre of Palestine. A few minutes afterwards a heavy explosion occurred, which completely demolished buildings on both sides of the street. Casualties were heavy. Shortly after the explosion the armoured car was observed 2 leaving Jerusalem along the Jaffa Road at great speed. This vehicle bore an identification number of which there is no trace in police records, but both military and police armoured cars have been stolen in recent disturbances. The armoured car in question has not yet been found.
Investigations are not yet complete, but it is clear that there is no ground for the suggestion, understood to have been broadcast in Palestine, that members of the British Security Forces were responsible for the outrage. The Zionists, although challenged to do so, have produced no evidence in support of this charge. Statements have been made on behalf of the Arabs admitting the responsibility. His Majesty's Government deeply regret the further heavy loss of life resulting from this incident. According to the latest report available twenty-seven persons were killed by the explosion, while in subsequent reprisals nine members of the British Security Forces were murdered.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, while thanking the Government for their full statement on this shocking event, I would like to ask these questions. Do I understand that responsible Arabs have accepted responsibility for the explosion? Secondly, has any expression of regret been received from the Jewish Agency for these entirely unjustified and unprovoked attacks upon British troops? Thirdly, have the Jewish Agency given any assurances that there will be no repetition of such attacks? Further, I should like to ask the Government how it was that a British armoured car came to be stolen, and whether steps are being 3 taken by the responsible authorities to see that such a thing does not occur again. I would also like to ask what measures are being taken to safeguard the security of British troops in the present unhappy situation. Finally, I would ask the Government whether it is being made abundantly clear to the leaders of both the Jewish and the Arab communities that if there are further incidents involving the loss of British life the communities themselves cannot and will not be absolved from responsibility for the actions of their members. In conclusion, I would like, if I may, to express our deep and sincere sympathy with the relatives of the victims of these intolerable outrages.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
My Lords, in reply to the first question, whether any responsible Arab has recognized responsibility for this outrage, I would inform your Lordships that an Arabic pamphlet appeared in Jerusalem to-day giving the following information and warning:A group of Arab commandos carried out, by blowing up buildings in Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, reprisals for Jewish bomb in Ramie. We warn Jewish community that, if they do not stop blowing up houses and killing innocent people, we shall take severe revenge. We have enough explosives to blow up all Jewish towns and colonies in Palestine. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Signed, Abdul Khader Husseini.Whether that pamphlet can be regarded as official His Majesty's Government cannot say, but they are making inquiries.
Concerning an expression of regret, I am sorry to say that so far no such expression has been received from the Jewish Agency. The noble Marquess asked: How came it that these British vehicles were stolen? It is very difficult, in a country where conditions are as complicated as they are in Palestine at the present time—where there is a great amount of mining of vehicles and, indeed, the killing of British troops—to prevent vehicles being stolen. I assure your Lordships that every possible step is being taken to prevent the stealing of British property in this way. With regard to the noble Marquess's last question, may I say that of course warnings have repeatedly been made to both Jews and Arabs in relation to their deliberate murder of British troops. Unfortunately all the warnings and threats which have been used have not brought any easing 4 of the situation. I will certainly take up the other matters which have been mentioned by the noble Marquess and discuss them with the Colonial Office, with a view to giving your Lordships' House further information in relation to this matter.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships' House is grateful for the further information. Arising out of the supplementary answer, would the Government consider two suggestions? First, following a precedent which I think has been applied before to the destruction of property—and this destruction of life is far more serious—would it not be possible to impose fines upon the communities? Secondly, in a case such as this, where the Jewish Agency have apparently made themselves deliberately responsible for, or at any rate have permitted, the circulation of a lying rumour about British troops, would it not be possible to hold the leaders responsible?
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
Will the Government make it plain, through the wireless and through every other means at their disposal, how bitterly the people of this country resent this cruel slander upon our soldiers?
§ LORD HARLECH
Can the noble Viscount say whether the name at the end of this pamphlet which purports to claim responsibility for this outrage is not that of a close relative of the Mufti?
§ VISCOUNT HALL
My Lords, if I may reply to the last question first, I think that that is so: the name given is that of a very close relative of the Mufti. With regard to the question put by the most reverend Primate, I will certainly convey to His Majesty's Government the suggestion which he made, with a view to seeing that full publicity is given on the lines suggested by him. In reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, I will convey to His Majesty's Government the suggestions which he made, particularly that which proposed that the communities responsible for these diabolical crimes should be called upon to suffer to the full degree in making good the damage which has been done. In reply to the other matter which the noble Viscount mentioned, I would say that I will convey it to His Majesty's Government, with a view to action being taken on the lines suggested.