HL Deb 29 March 1949 vol 161 cc818-40

6.21 p.m.

THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK rose to call attention to the condition of the Palestinian refugees; and to move for Papers. The most reverend Primate said: My Lords, at this late hour in the evening I should have hesitated about bringing this matter before your Lordships had it not been one of such extreme urgency. I am anxious to draw the attention of the House to the condition of a large number of refugees who have fled from their homes in Palestine during recent weeks. We have in recent years become so accustomed to stories of appalling hardship and starvation, to the ghastly massacre of Jews, to the millions of refugees who have poured into the Western zones of Germany, and to other such events, that they have almost an atrophying effect on the minds of many; and nowadays we estimate disasters by millions, rather than by hundreds of thousands. These refugees from Palestine are numbered in hundreds of thousands rather than in millions. But they have no representative in Parliament or in the United Nations; they have no great propaganda organisation able to call attention to their distress. It is for these reasons that I venture to put before the House to-night the appalling nature of the present problem.

The problem has arisen in this way. When it was known that the British were giving up their Mandate in Palestine a certain number of well-to-do Arabs left the country in good time. Rather later, a certain number of Christian Jews were smuggled out of the country, by underground ways, to save their lives. But the great mass of the Arabs still remained in their homes—at any rate the womenfolk with their children. Then there came the massacre at Deir Yassin. The actual number massacred there is still uncertain, but it is known that at least 150 women and children were murdered, many of them mutilated, and their bodies thrown into a well. This was a deliberate and cold-blooded act of terrorism. It is true that it was repudiated by the Jewish authorities—just as they had previously repudiated the murder of our two sergeants and, later, repudiated the murder of Count Bernadotte. But this massacre had this effect: the news of it spread rapidly from village to village; some other outrages on a smaller scale took place; and there commenced a panic-stricken exodus of tens of thousands of Arabs from the homes which they and their forebears had occupied for hundreds of years. They left their homes at almost a moment's notice, carrying with them all the property they could take, perhaps a little jewellery and money. They were robbed of this on the way, and, they reached places of safety—as they regarded them—entirely destitute.

It is difficult to ascertain the exact number, but I think it is generally recognised that there are some 800,000 Palestinian refugees. In the Economist of February 19 it was stated that of these refugees there are 320,000 in Arab Palestine, 285,000 in Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan and Iraq, and 210,000 in the Gaza area. Since then, for various reasons, there has been an increase in the number, and most of the refugees are in a condition of absolute destitution. Two hundred thousand of them are living in caves and beneath wattle shelters, more than 50,000 in catacombs under an amphitheatre; thousands more are living in holes which they have dug in the ground. Where tents are available, they have been occupied by fifty persons instead of the ten for whom they were intended. These people have little food or clothing; disease is rife among them. Their sanitary conditions in any case would probably fall far below those accepted in the West, and when these masses of people are crowded together, dysentry becomes rife. Smallpox and other diseases spread among the people, and it has been stated on good authority that in one district 220 women and children were dying every day. I do not wish to use any material which might be regarded as sensational, but some of the detailed accounts that I have heard from reliable people, working among these refugees, I can describe only as absolutely sickening in their horror. Those are the actual facts.

Various efforts have been made to relieve the situation. Great credit should be given to the Transjordan Government, although that is only a small State, for what they are doing to help these destitute refugees. Out of their small budget that Government are devoting a considerable sum for the help of the refugees, and they have also sent doctors. There are also a number of voluntary societies who are doing their best; the Church Missionary Society have thrown open their hospitals and used their doctors to attend to the medical needs of these people. The Orthodox Church have opened their convents, and the Roman Catholics have done good work, as have the Quakers. A large number of voluntary organisations have also been doing what they could to alleviate the distress of these people—our own British Red Cross Society have been doing admirable work. When all this has been done, however, it is totally inadequate, as these bodies themselves recognise, to meet the magnitude of the problem.

Naturally the question arises: What is being done by the United Nations? The United Nations have a special responsibility in this matter through their lack of courage and wisdom in dealing with this whole problem of Palestine. They have voted considerable sums of money, and have asked their member nations to raise that money. Great Britain has promised £1,000,000.




Yes, given £1,000,000, on the understanding that other nations did likewise—but that condition was withdrawn, in view of the urgency of the situation. I am anxious to know what the other nations have done. I should like to know what the United States, with their warm-hearted philanthropy, have done to help these people. What sums have been promised by the other nations concerned?

Here I should like to raise a specific point—of which, I fear, I have given only brief notice to the noble Lord who is to reply. I understand that if some of the money which has been voted by the British Government could be placed at the disposal of the British Red Cross—say, something like £75,000—the whole of it would be spent on securing that the necessary medical and personal help was made available, while the British Red Cross would continue out of its own funds to pay for its staff. I hope it may be possible for the Government in some way to respond to that offer. The need for help, the need for personnel, the need for medical supplies, food, blankets and so on, is simply overwhelming.

Therefore, the first question I ask the noble Lord who is to reply is: Can he give us information as to what the United Nations are doing at the present time, and what is being done generally to help these people in their immediate needs? Perhaps I ought to point out that, when the United Nations decided to set aside a certain sum of money for these Palestinian refugees, they did so on the assumption that the number would not exceed 500,000. Since then, the number has gone up to 800,000. I also want to ask whether the noble Lord can tell us anything about a long-term policy. These people are not only destitute; they are hopeless. Until a few months ago, the majority of them were living in the villages and houses in which their fathers and grandfathers had lived, in some cases centuries before. They have been driven out of the land which they have occupied for nearly 1,000 years. These people are asking: "When are we going back to our homes?" As a matter of fact, in many cases their homes have been taken over by the State of Israel and given to various Jewish immigrants. In many cases, their homes have been completely destroyed. In other cases, they have been looted.

Among these refugees, I am afraid there are something like 10,000 who come from the more or less professional classes. Many of them were living in a part of Jerusalem. Their houses are now standing in ruins, and where they are not ruined, they have been taken over by the Jewish State and handed out to Jews. There is little chance of those people ever being able to go back again. But what about the great mass of peasants, a people who have an intense love of their village and their land? It is assumed in certain quarters that they will never again be able to go back to Palestine. Perhaps some of them would dread going back. There may be a number of them who, for many reasons, would prefer not to go back, but there are a large number who are filled with a passionate desire to return to their homes and who have not yet learned that in many quarters it is regarded as almost impossible that they should return. I think it would be breaking every law of justice if the United Nations accepted the position that these people must be permanently expelled from their homes.

What would we in this country feel, for instance, if the people of Devonshire were driven away from their homes and their houses were occupied by Polish Jews? We could imagine the intense feeling among the people. It is an act of gross injustice if the United Nations accept the position that these people, driven away by terror, are never to be allowed to return to their homes again. There is the well-known phrase in St. Augustine's book The City of God, in which he says that a nation without righteousness is a great brigandage. A nation which by force drives away people from the land so that it may occupy the land itself does, indeed, come very easily under that term "a great brigandage."

I hope that the Jews themselves in Palestine will realise not only the harm that they will be doing to their own reputation but the dangers to which they will expose themselves in the future if they make no attempt to reconcile those people. When we look back to the Old Testament, to history, we see that the little Kingdoms of Judah and Israel rarely had independence. Most of their time they were fighting, and fighting very bravely, against their immediate neighbours. Time after time they were brought under subjection and then, led by some great leader, they secured their freedom again. When that period passed, they were perpetually intriguing with the powers on either side of them, and then becoming the satellite States of one of the great Powers, Syria or Egypt.

At the moment, the State of Israel is in a relatively strong position; it is useless for anyone to deny that. It has become a State which, for the sake of the world, we hope may be a settled State and not a centre of perpetual disturbance and intrigue. The Jews have secured that State partly, no doubt, through the courage and the enthusiasm of their adherents, but also through the financial help of the United States and the political assistance both of the United States and of Russia. The new State of Israel cannot rest assured that in the next twenty-five years or so it will receive the same support from both Russia and the United States. It may then be left to its own resources, to defend its own borders by its own strength. Round about it, there will be tens of thousands of Arabs, becoming much more disciplined and united than they are now, filled with a passionate desire for revenge, to recover the territory which they have lost. It would be well for the stability of this State if now, while there is time, it shows a conciliatory attitude towards these Palestinian refugees.

Count Bernadotte, in almost his last words in his statement on the refugees, said: I believe that for the international community to accept its share of responsibility for the refugees of Palestine is one of the minimum conditions for the success of its efforts to bring peace to that land. We all desire to see peace in Palestine. We all hope that the present negotiations may result in a permanent peace. But there is no hope of a permanent peace if there remains this sore of bitterness on the part of the refugees. At present, these unhappy people are destitute and hopeless. The immediate need is to save them from death by disease or starvation and, second only to this, is the importance of giving them hope for the future. I beg to move for Papers.

6.39 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend, Lord Salisbury, has asked me to say how deeply he regrets that, owing to indisposition (which I hope is only temporary), he is unable to take part in this debate. In his absence, I wish to say a few words to support the moving appeal which has just been made by the most reverend Primate, that everything possible may be done, short-term and long-term, to alleviate the tragic plight of these Arab refugees, at least 800,000 in number. Their plight, their tragedy, is no less moving and no less urgent because similar influxes of refugees have followed on other great political changes. That precedent, if it can be called a precedent, does not in any way lessen the responsibility of the world and of the United Nations to find a solution. Therefore, I am sure we must all, both in this House and in the country, welcome the initiative which the most reverend Primate has taken this evening, and which is so much in accord with the highest and longest traditions of your Lordships' House.

As the most reverend Primate recognised, considerable efforts have been made. The United Nations has made its appeal, I think for 32,000,000 dollars as a minimum, and I believe 21,000,000 dollars have been promised. I am glad that His Majesty's Government did not make their contribution conditional upon the resolution being passed but found £1,000,000 right away. I think I am right in saying that the United States Congress has passed, or certainly has in passage, a Bill contributing another 16,000,000 dollars. The little State of Transjordan, always so loyal and with so broadminded a ruler, are trying to make a contribution which, in relation to their poor and sterile country, is, as the most reverend Primate has said, very remarkable and an example to others. These sums, large as they are and many of them made by countries undergoing difficult times themselves, are evidence of the extent to which this tragedy has stirred the imagination of a world too accustomed to tragedies of this kind. But, even so, and even if more money is forthcoming (as it must be if it is needed), it is all, at best, a palliative to keep the wolf from the door for a few more months. That must be done, but what is needed is a permanent solution of this problem. What these poor people want is not relief camps but homes—and their own homes if they can possibly get back to them.

In the twenty years or so between the two wars the League of Nations was continually faced with the problem of refugees, not in one continent alone. The solution was sought to find some place, some city of refuge to which they could go. The continents of the world were scoured to find such a place—Uganda, British Guiana, and places at the upper reaches of the Amazon—and yet, in the long run, it generally came back to this: that the refugees, if they could not get back to their own countries, must be absorbed more or less where they found themselves. Absorption is impossible in the present case. They have found in this arid land only a temporary resting place for their tired feet. It is quite impossible that Transjordan should be able to absorb them all. As the most reverend Primate has said, this is a problem essentially for the United Nations as a whole. I do not see what this country can do alone and, whatever may be our opinions as to the handling by this Government of the Palestinian question generally, I certainly think it fair to say that the Government have not been behind in this matter. They were not responsible and they have done their best in pressing upon the United Nations the urgency of this matter, and have set an example in finding money themselves.

This is a problem which the United Nations as a whole must tackle, but there are two bodies of opinion to whom a special appeal can be made—namely, the new State of Israel, and the surrounding Arab States. Between them they can do more than anyone to alleviate the misery of these unfortunate people. This catastrophe is a by-product of the conflict between Jews and Arabs and, so long as that conflict continues—indeed, until real peace is established—the refugee problem will persist. The tragedy is one which should touch the hearts of all thinking Jews in particular. They, more than any other race in the world, have known the miseries of exile and of persecution. It would indeed be a strange thing (which surely they would not wish) that the first results of the establishment of a Jewish State should be that other human beings were to suffer some of the worst sufferings which Jews themselves have ever experienced in their own persecution.

My Lords, I would echo what the most reverend Primate has said on a lower ground—a more material ground. I have known these countries and their problems, and for some years was responsible for the administration of the Mandated Territories. In the long run—and it is not such a long run—the State of Israel is dependent upon the surrounding Arab countries. They may win a battle here and there, but that is not economic security. I doubt whether it is physical security. There is no doubt at all that that State, economically precarious in any case, for all the marvellous things which the Jews have done there, is dependent for its exports, certainly in its industrial life, on the adjoining Arab countries. Therefore, on the lowest ground, this is in their interest. Let them remember also that in the past Jews have lived happily, peacefully and prosperously in Arab lands. Many of your Lordships in the old days knew such places as the City of Baghdad. There you found great Jewish populations conducting their trade and being good friends with their neighbours. I myself remember, and shall always carry as a memory, what I thought and hoped was the ultimate solution in Palestine, where the two races had to live together—namely, the old colonies which were established long before the Balfour Declaration or the National Home by Baron Edmond de Rothschild. Those Colonies succeeded and prospered, because Jew and Arab lived together in mutual confidence and mutual dependence. I am sure that alike their moral duty and material interest should urge the Jews to do what they can to relieve the position which they have created for these Arabs.

The Arab States themselves are equally directly interested in doing what they can for the men, women and children of their own race. If only peace and harmony can be restored this problem will solve itself. And indeed, no real, no lasting, solution can come without such an enduring settlement. Therefore it is to that real and enduring settlement that all the efforts, the moral and physical forces—and they are tremendous—of the United Nations should be directed. In the meantime, while that is made the main objective, whatever can be done to relieve this temporary—I hope it is only temporary—tragedy, should be done. I can assure His Majesty's Government that in anything they can do, either by way of effective action in the United Nations or on their own part, they will receive the unqualified support of us all.

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that I am, speaking for all noble Lords on these Benches when I say that we thank the most reverend Primate for having brought before us this calamitous tale of these refugees in the Arab States who come from Palestine. I do not want to go now into any question of the past, nor yet into any question relating to the long distant future. There are many noble Lords who can do that much more effectively than I can. I would like to confine myself to the immediate problem in front of us, and to say a few words from the point of view of the Red Cross with which I have been working for a very long time. There are just one or two considerations which I would like to mention in that connection. One of the first and most important things about any form of help which these people are to receive from the Red Cross is that that help must be given extremely promptly, and by people in the field who know what is wanted. That is why I support the most reverend Primate's plea that a certain amount of the money which the British Government have already put down should be given direct to the Red Cross who do their own work in the field. The refugees in Transjordan have been assigned to the care of the British Red Cross by the International League of Red Cross Societies. What I fear is that if there is not something in the way of a direct allocation the money will be collected and allocated (some of it, at any rate) to the League of Red Cross Societies. Once that sort of thing begins, the money is caught up in the bureaucratic whirl, and some time elapses before it is finally released to the people to whom it was intended to go.

The British Red Cross, as I say, have been given charge of the work in Transjordan. It is a tiny country of only 400,000 inhabitants, but the number of refugees already amount to about 220,000. That is a figure which I obtained from the Red Cross about a fortnight ago. Of that total, about 220 die every day. They die of starvation and disease, because there are no drugs with which to treat them. They are afflicted with dysentry, malaria, smallpox, beri-beri and various wasting diseases connected with gradual starvation. The British Red Cross authorities have done as much as they can. They have established one small hospital, which is already very much overcrowded. They have several dispensaries working in some of the biggest camps for the refugees in Transjordan, and the work is proceeding. But the Red Cross needs money more than anything else. It can provide the staff if it is given the money to buy the drugs and the food. It does not want money to pay staff—it can pay its own staff, I am sure. Therefore, I strongly support the suggestion made by the most reverend Primate that some of the money from the British Government's £1,000,000 should be given to the British Red Cross.

There is one other point upon which I would like to touch. I think that the money from the American Government has already been paid into the pool. I was speaking to some of the Red Cross authorities this morning, and they told me they thought that 16,000,000 dollars had already been paid in. That is certainly encouraging. But the British people and the British Government have for a long time had a great interest in the Middle East. Apart from the purely political side, we have been interested in the people of the Middle East, interested, in a friendly and paternal way, in their difficulties for very many years. I feel that the time has now come when there should be a great response, both from the British Government and from voluntary sources, to help these people in their trouble. There are one or two funds established, and the Transjordan Government have done good work, so far as they can. A fund has been started by Jews in Great Britain who are collecting money for this purpose, and various other sums have been raised. What we can do at the present time to assist these people in the Middle East will help to show them that we still remain, though poor, a great Power and a humane Power. What we can do to help these refugees will certainly redound to our credit in the long run. I support very warmly the most reverend Primate's Motion.

6.56 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, very briefly, to support the most reverend Primate and the other noble Lords who have spoken in favour of his Motion. This problem seems, in a way, to be two problems. There is, first of all, the immediate problem with which the noble Lord who has just sat down has dealt. Of course, the first thing that arises on that matter is the question of money which is so urgently needed. The United Nations considered that for a period of nine months—that is to say, until the coming August—a sum of 32,000,000 dollars, or some £8,000,000, would be the minimum necessary. That was on the basis of an estimate of 500,000 refugees, but, as the most reverend Primate has pointed out, the number to-day is much nearer 800,000. Of that money, as we know, certainly not all, or anything like all, has yet been received, though I should be glad to hear from the noble Lord who is going to reply to this debate how much has, up to this moment, been received for these purposes. Even if all the money is received, it is money which was to last only until August, 1949. Presumably, after that, more money will be required.

That brings me to the more important question which, as other noble Lords have said, is that of resettlement, and the urgency of tackling that matter, because the longer we put off a plan for the resettlement of these unfortunate people the more of them will perish from starvation, disease and other causes and the more difficult will our problem become as time goes on. In addition, more and more money will be required to be spent, not on curing this terrible situation but merely as a palliative. Therefore I feel that there is urgent necessity for a final plan to cope with this terrible problem. The question arises as to where these refugees are to go. I agree with the most reverend Primate that those who wish to return to their homes should, most definitely, be allowed by the State of Israel to do so. But I am not so certain that many of them will be able to return to their homes, or indeed that all of them will now desire to do so. That being the case, we are still left with an enormous problem. After all, 800,000 refugees is a quarter of the total population of Iraq, nearly as much as the total population of Syria and three times the total population of Transjordan.

When one considers that these people have to be housed and employment has to be found for them, one realises the immensity of the problem with which the United Nations are faced. The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, pointed out that much that has been achieved has been largely due to people not waiting for the United Nations but getting on with the job on their own, and for the immediate problem I think that is the best solution; but any long-term plan of resettlement is beyond the scope of private individuals and private organisations. Only the United Nations can make any such plan. I hope some plan is going to emerge and that the noble Lord who is to reply may be able to give us some information on that point.

In conclusion, I should like to say a word about the responsibility for this plan. As I have said, a plan of this magnitude can be put into effect only by an organisation like the United Nations and it is clearly the responsibility of the United Nations. But I feel very strongly that, though overall responsibility lies with the United Nations, that is no excuse for individual nations to feel that they have rid themselves of the problem and need not bother any more. Many nations have a great responsibility. Noble Lords have referred to the responsibility of the State of Israel. I believe it is not only her responsibility but in her own interests that she should show an attitude of generosity and co-operation in this matter. The United States has also a considerable responsibility for recent policy in Palestine and for what has occurred, and I am glad to see that up to date she has responded to her responsibility with her usual generosity.

As an Englishman, I feel that we ourselves have a great responsibility for these Arab refugees. I do not wish at this hour and on such an occasion to rake up controversies of the past, but I would like to take the minds of your Lordships back to the year 1921 when, at the same time as we proclaimed our adherence to the idea of a National Home for the Jews, we promised that this would be achieved without in any way prejudicing the civil and religious liberties of the remaining peoples in Palestine. I do not think I need emphasise the fact that there are very few civil liberties left to these unfortunate people who are refugees in this land. We have a responsibility in seeing that these people are looked after and we should not "let up" until this has been done. It may be said by the Government that the ultimate decision does not rest with them and must rest with the United Nations. But the Government are members of the United Nations and I sincerely hope that they feel as I do about this matter; that they will use every endeavour in their power to promote a speedy solution of this problem, and will continue their efforts until the misery and suffering which these people have so unfairly incurred is relieved.

7.4 p.m.


My Lords, enough has already been said to-night about the desperate plight of the Arab refugees and the urgent need for immediate assistance on a large scale. I do not wish to detain your Lordships for long, but I should like to support very strongly the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, who has said that although Britain has contributed much already to the welfare of the refugees, she cannot in any way shirk her responsibilities towards the Arab countries, as these obligations were laid down in the Balfour Declaration. Unless something is done immediately there will be disastrous economic effects on the whole of the Middle East, and the Middle East is an area in which this country is intensely interested, not only in regard to oil but also strategically.

I want to examine briefly the situation as it will probably be seen from the Jewish point of view. Israel has just finished fighting a war and she is bankrupt. The whole of her recovery depends on her establishing commercial, industrial and agricultural enterprises on which she can build up her economic position. At the same time, 30,000 Jews are going into Israel every month and those immigrants have to be clothed and fed and housed. Moreover, I understand that the Israeli Government are planning to contain within their present border within a few years a population of 5,000,000. I think that is an extremely high figure and I doubt whether they will be able to do it. The houses which have long been Arab homes have been taken over by Jewish families and it would be political suicide for any Jewish statesman to suggest that those looted homes ought to be given back to their rightful owners. Just before his death, Count Bernadotte urged the Government of Israel to take back the Arab refugees. The Israeli Government refused on several occasions to discuss this matter with him. I think it is well to remember the advice which Count Bernadotte gave before his death. I quote from his Report: The right of the refugees to return to their homes must be safeguarded. Here is a challenge to the United Nations. It is up to them to see something is done about it.

I submit that there is a threefold responsibility for this tragedy. First there is Israel, who by her own actions has brought misery, starvation and death to nearly two-thirds of the Arab population of Palestine. It is to Israel, the latest member of the United Nations, to whom the whole world looks, and I hope not in vain, to make the largest contribution to the solution of this problem. The world must judge in the future whether the State of Israel has a heart, but let it never be said that the new State was born without a conscience. Secondly, there is Britain, who should never forget her obligations to the Arab countries and her economic interests in the whole of the Arab countries. She should strive to regain their good will, which she has lost in the last few months. Thirdly, there is the United Nations, and in particular the United States, who sponsored the new State of Israel. They should not forget the challenge and appeal of their own representative, Count Bernadotte. The Jewish refugee problem has partly been solved by creating an Arab refugee problem. The duty clearly lies with these three parties to make restitution for the great injustice and misery they have caused.


My Lords, I venture to intervene for a few moments in this debate because for some two years I had a degree of responsibility for a problem which is something analogous to the Arab refugee problem. I refer, of course, to the problem of the Jewish refugee camps in Cyprus. Before dealing with that, I should like to refer in one sentence to what the right reverend Primate said about the action of Transjordan. I remember discussing the Palestinian problem with King Abdullah some time in 1937 or 1938. I well remember the broad-minded and generous attitude which he took up in that conversation, and naturally I have noticed with the most lively interest how he has fully lived up to everything that he said to me on that occasion. I took the deepest interest in these camps in Cyprus from the time of my arrival in that island. Without going into the rights or wrongs of the matter, or discussing policies in any way, I must say that I felt great sympathy with the Jews interned there. I was well able to understand their sense of frustration, and the many heartburnings which they must have undergone during their period of detention. But, so far as I was concerned, I can certainly say that no proposal for the amelioration of the conditions under which they were living was put before me to which I did not gladly assent; and in every representation I made to the Secretary of State concerning the care and administration of those camps I received the most sympathetic help and support from His Majesty's Government. Indeed, this country can feel very proud indeed of the story of those camps.

The officers of the Cyprus Administration, and in particular the officers of the health services, did everything in their power to see that those camps were well looked after. I remember very well the good humour and good temper of the young inexperienced soldiers who had the difficult and thankless task of guarding those camps. I remember, too, the splendid help given by the American representatives of the A.J.D.C. The people of Cyprus were very good about the whole matter; and I must say that the Jews themselves inside the camps gave little trouble. Those camps were well administered, and what could be done to relieve the natural distress, frustration and heartburning of the occupants of the camps was done. It is on that account that I venture to speak in this debate.

I have also heard a good deal about the conditions under which these Arab refugees are living. I mention one point only. I hear that women are giving birth to children in those camps under indescribable conditions. During the whole period while the camps in Cyprus lasted, over 1,000 children were born; and all those children were born with every care and sympathy shown, and under conditions which could not have been bettered. Remembering those things, I venture to endorse the plea of the most reverend Primate that the State of Israel will do whatever they can to remedy the state of affairs in these Arab refugee camps. I do not wish in any way to take sides in the matter in what I am saying; it is so easy to exacerbate feelings by saying a wrong word, and perhaps to put obstacles in the way of what one wishes to achieve. The entire responsibility does not rest with the State of Israel. But they have won a great political victory, a victory with a wonder- ful historical background which, because of that historical background, stirs the emotions of all. Again, without entering into the rights or wrongs of the matter—and I earnestly wish success to the State of Israel, starting out upon their great adventure—I would, with great respect to all the authorities in Israel, suggest that nothing would give the State of Israel a better send-off, and nothing could ensure for them more sincere good wishes for their future, than that they should do whatever they can in joining hands with those endeavouring to alleviate the sufferings of these unhappy refugees.

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to the most reverend Primate for calling our attention to the sad plight of the Palestinian Arab refugees who have been driven from their homes by recent hostilities. It is the most recent refugee problem which confronts the world and, as has been so eloquently stated, it is pitiable and tragic in the extreme. I am not going to suggest that this new pressing and distressing problem should lead us to forget the refugee problem created in Europe after the last war. Noble Lords will remember that at one stage there were between 10,000,000 and 12,000,000 displaced persons in Europe; and there are still between 7,000,000 and 8,000,000 people living within the Western Zone of Germany who were living somewhere else before the war. But this great problem in Europe has had powerful organisations, such as the International Refugee Organisation, devised to tackle it, and the problem in Western Germany has been the responsibility of the three major Powers who occupy the Western Zones.

It was otherwise in Palestine and the surrounding Arab States, when the Palestinian refugee problem began to be created in the days immediately preceding the relinquishment by Great Britain of her Mandate. It was not possible for any international action to be taken to cope with the problem until six months later, during the General Assembly of the United Nations. In the meanwhile, the refugees had grown from the first small trickle of Arabs leav- ing predominantly Jewish areas into great masses of people, comprising almost the whole Arab population of Palestine—as has been said, about 800,000 in all. This mass settled in Arab Palestine and in the neighbouring Arab States, and for six months were succoured almost exclusively by the inhabitants of these countries. I should like to join in the tribute paid to the unselfish way in which these neighbouring Arab States and people took the refugees into their homes, and in many cases shared with them their entire stocks of food.

As noble Lords have already pointed out, His Majesty's Government took the initiative, both in action by themselves and in pressing for action by others. His Majesty's Government immediately gave £100,000 for relief purposes, and this provided working capital for the first United Nations Relief Organisation under Sir Raphael Cilento. Then, at the General Assembly of the United Nations in September last, the United Kingdom delegation were the first to press for more extensive action to cope with the Arab refugee problem. The House will be aware of the Organisation which emerged from that session of the United Nations—namely, the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees. This Organisation, ably directed by Mr. Griffis, the former American Ambassador in Cairo, has done valuable work in the field. The refugees in the Gaza area are being fed on a scale of about 2,000 calories a day, and they are being sheltered. We have no precise information about the refugees in other parts, but we understand that feeding is at a reasonable level, and that shelter of some sort has now been provided.

I think we are all proud to know that the British Red Cross and other voluntary British societies were amongst the first in the field, and that the total British contribution of £1,000,000 to the United Nations' scheme was the first substantial sum on which Mr. Griffis was able to draw. The most reverend Primate asked whether it is possible for a contribution to be made from this £1,000,000 to the British Red Cross. I have had the matter checked up, and I find that the British Government's £1,000,000 was a grant to the United Nations Relief for Palestine, and I understand that discussions are now going on between the United Nations, the League of Red Cross Societies and the British Red Cross to see how far the funds required by the British Red Cross can be made available to them. It is also good news that the even more important contribution of the United States' Government, that of 16,000,000 dollars, has just been passed by Congress. I understand that the authorising Bill provides that an advance of 8,000,000 dollars—that is, half the amount—may be obtained from the Finance Reconstruction Corporation. The appropriation authorising the whole payment will, I believe, come up for consideration in mid-April.

As has been said in this debate, all this is only immediate relief. Contributions to the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees have not yet reached the estimated requirement of 32,000,000 dollars, but Mr. Griffis estimates that, on the basis of the advances of 5,000,000 dollars from the United Nations Working Capital Fund and present contributions of about 25,000,000 dollars pledged to the scheme, he should be able to continue feeding the refugees until December.

The most reverend Primate asked me specifically for information regarding contributions from other countries. I have a long list of fourteen members of the United Nations and three non-members who have made contributions: the Dominions, Western European countries, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, and the Yemen. The three non-members are Bahrein, Indonesia and Switzerland. It would take a good deal of time to give the details, and I thought it would be better if a question were put down and the full details given in answer.


They have all subscribed?


Yes, sums varying from 726,000 dollars from Canada, to a contribution of food from the Yemen which cannot be estimated in dollars. We are urging the Secretary-General of the United Nations not to insist upon immediate repayment of the loan from the Working Capital Fund from the American dollar contribution. Moreover, we were fortunate in persuading the International Children's Emergency Fund last October to allocate 6,000,000 dollars from the residual funds of U.N.R.R.A. for the relief of children and nursing mothers among the refugees. We shall continue to take every opportunity to encourage this United Nations work of relief. We consider that this urgent matter should be kept before the Assembly of the United Nations and we have noted with satisfaction that the Secretary-General proposes to convene during the present Assembly in New York the Advisory Committee provided for by the last Assembly's resolution on refugees. This Advisory Committee will be composed of representatives of Australia, Argentine, the United Kingdom, the United States, Egypt, the Lebanon and France.

But, as I have suggested, measures of immediate relief leave us with the more serious problem of resettlement. I have been glad to see in the British Press recently a number of well informed and moving articles about the plight of the refugees, amongst which I might mention in particular those of Mr. Alexander Clifford in the Daily Mail. There have also been a number of letters from Mr. Victor Gollancz who assures us of the Jewish interest in the plight of the refugees, and I am sure we all trust that the Jewish response will be in proportion to Mr. Gollancz's hopes. The plain fact is that, just because the refugees are being kept alive, there is no reason to think that the problem is even on the way to solution. Our representatives in the Middle East tell us that the saddest and most serious thing about the refugees is the apathy and the hopelessness which are setting in. The relief funds do not stretch to the provision of useful work or even of recreation. That is why I do not wish to suggest that, because His Majesty's Government can claim that they have used every endeavour to alleviate the lot of the refugees, and because the measures taken by the United Nations are now showing results, there is any ground for complacency. On the contrary, we consider it to be vital that during any breathing space which may be provided by international relief, plans should be worked out for the absorption and resettlement of the refugees in case all of them cannot return to their homes.

Under the terms of the United Nations' Resolution of December 11, 1948, responsibility for arranging repatriation or resettlement and compensation is vested in the United Nations Conciliation Commission. The Conciliation Commission is now holding a conference with the Arab Governments at Beirut to discuss this problem. We must, of course, await the results and recommendations of the Beirut Conference. But I wholeheartedly agree with the most reverend Primate and other noble Lords that what is needed is both a short-term policy and a long-term one. Immediate relief measures, such as those to which I have referred, are urgently necessary, but they are not enough. There must be practical repatriation or resettlement plans which will restore this vast mass of refugees to conditions of normal human existence by the provision of homes and work and opportunity. But, as noble Lords will recognise, until there is a peace settlement between the Jews and the Arabs, it will not be known what proportion of the Arab refugees can be repatriated.

It is undoubtedly true that short-term plans will have only a very limited effect. What can be done in that way should, of course, be undertaken as rapidly as possible. But of greater effect will be a programme of long-term constructive plans by which absorption and resettlement on a large scale can be carried out for those who cannot return to their old homes. There is scope for large-scale works such as irrigation schemes, land reclamation, the building of road and rail communications and other socially and economically necessary developments. The task is essentially one of providing work for the able-bodied, and we understand there are a number of development plans on foot in the Arab States which might be expedited and expanded and so contribute to the absorption of a large number of refugees. The sort of schemes I have in mind are, a project for increased cultivation in the rain fed Jezira area of North Eastern Syria; the irrigation of the Jordan Valley, and the irrigation of about two million acres in the Euphrates Valley in Iraq. Obviously, the undertaking and speeding up of such large-scale creative enterprises would involve financial resources beyond the immediate capacity of the Arab countries concerned, and substantial financial assistance would be needed from outside sources—international or other. It is only by such projects that this urgent problem of the Palestinian refugees can be tackled with prospects of adequate success.

His Majesty's Government will be very glad to give the Commission and the Governments concerned all the encouragement and advice in their power in carrying out resettlement of the refugees, and in particular to provide the expert assistance of the economic advisers attached to the British Middle East Office, who have during the past three years assisted the Arab Governments in the preparation of their development plans. I am sure the House will be gratified that British organisations, both private and official, have taken a leading part in trying to relieve the sufferings of the Arab refugees from Palestine; that the great problem of repatriation or resettlement is one on which we are anxious to see practical plans produced, and that we are ready to co-operate so far as we can in order that these may contribute to an effective solution of this urgent human problem.

I will add only this. The debate has shown not only the deep sympathy of your Lordships' House but also its deep concern in face of large-scale human misery and suffering. We hope and pray that the cry for help will be heard across the world, and that an increasing and continuing response will be forthcoming which will enable prompt, increasing and effective action to be taken to aid and rehabilitate these distressed people, whose plight is not of their own making.

7.32 p.m.


My Lords, if I may intervene for a moment, perhaps I may be allowed to say that I have not taken part in this debate because I have no special information on the subject which has been under consideration. My noble friend Lord Amulree spoke from these Benches, as he is intimately connected with the British Red Cross and, as his speech showed, is well informed as to the work of relief that is being done for the refugees and as to the desires entertained by the Red Cross organisation. But in a few days from now I shall be going to Israel, and I hope to gather there a good deal of information on the subject which has been under review to-day. I can assure your Lordships that any opportunity which I may have of conferring with the authorities of the State of Israel I will take, in order to convey to them the feeling of deep concern which is prevalent in all quarters of your Lordships' House at the plight of the refugees. I will convey, also, the earnest hope of your Lordships that the State of Israel will take any measures within their power of helpful and sympathetic co-operation towards bringing about the resettlement of these refugees in conditions that are just and effective for their redemption from the plight in which they now find themselves.


My Lords, I rise only to thank very much the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, for his sympathetic reply. I am sure this debate has been useful in expressing the deep feeling we all have on this matter. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.