The Consul General at Jerusalem (Wadsworth) to the Secretary of State

No. 665

Subject: Tension and Terror in Palestine, Continued.

Sir: That at no time since the outbreak of the 1936 disturbances54 had interracial tension run so high in Palestine was the leading theme of my preceding despatch on the above subject, No. 655 of July 10, last. The ensuing fortnight, I have the honor to report, has seen a welcome lessening of that tension. The curfews imposed on Jerusalem and Haifa have been lifted. There has, however, been no let-up in the tempo of terrorism, and signs are not wanting that even the current storm may not have fully passed. The dominant emotion today is still serious apprehension as to the future. Let me elaborate under three heads: the state of feeling in the Jewish and Arab communities, threatened trouble in Trans-Jordan, and the danger inherent in the present situation.

Among the Jews the question of the hour has been that touched on in my last despatch, i. e. whether the leaders would be able to reestablish confidence in their consistently-held policy of self-restraint. Sympathy had grown rapidly throughout the Yishuv (Palestine Jewry) for what was generally recognized as being the Revisionist [Page 936] policy of direct action based on the principle that counter-attack in the form of reprisals was the best defence. As Dr. Judah Magnes, President of the Hebrew University, put it to me yesterday: “Wherever Jews have met during the last trying weeks this question has been uppermost in discussion. There were many waverers.”

For the time being responsible leadership has weathered the storm. Waverers have been held in line by an extensive press and propaganda campaign. But the basic bitterness remains. Further incidents may cause it to flare into action. Several threatening incidents have already occurred, raised tension but happily passed without serious repercussion.

The first and most serious was a wide clandestine distribution on July 12 by the Bnei Hakenaim (“Sons of the Zealots”, see footnote to second enclosure55 of my last despatch) of an exaggerated Hebrew version of an extraordinary letter56 written under date of May 30, last by Colonel Josiah Wedgwood, strongly pro-Zionist Member of Parliament, to the Jewish Former Officers Association, Tel Aviv. In it he advocates passive resistance. “You cannot,” he urges, “dine and denounce … You curse them (the British officials) behind their backs; try cursing them to their faces … an Englishman’s hands would not remain tied … consider what action British colonists would take under the circumstances; and if you do about half as much you will never need to do it again”. As circularized by the Bnei Hakenaim the letter was headed: “Colonel Wedgwood Calls the Jewish Youth to Revolution”. The circular concluded: “Jewish Youth: Will this letter at last awaken you from your dream; will you learn from it the pathway to revolt which will lead you to attainment of freedom.”

A copy of the letter, kindly given me by Mr. Justice Greene and checked against the copy telegraphed to London by the local Times correspondent, is enclosed. It bears, I believe, full reading. Reaction in British official circles was one of spluttering high-blood-pressure offence. “Treason”, said one; another, “He should be impeached”; a third, “The proper place for him is a mad-house”. I am convinced that even members of the Executive Council were unaware of the letter’s contents until it was first published in the Hebrew version. On July 19 its publication in any language was banned under the Palestine Emergency Regulations.

Other threatening moments were those following the arrest of a considerable number of Revisionists (in addition to the 40 mentioned in my last despatch) and the wave of indignation which swept over the Yishuv when it learned of the barbarous attack by a large armed Arab [Page 937] band on the small Jewish settlement of Kiryath Haroshet on the Haifa–Nazareth road, July 20. Here, the band, before driven off by the defenders’ rifle-fire, entered two outlying huts, killed their occupants (in one case, a woman and her child, and in the other, a family of husband, wife and baby) and then set the huts on fire.

As to the Revisionist arrests my Polish colleague, who is unquestionably in matters touching the Jewish community the best-informed neutral observer in Jerusalem today, assures me that the danger of this situation lies primarily in the fact that among those arrested there are only political and not terrorist leaders. He fears, therefore, further reprisals by the latter. Dr. Magnes, I may add, shares this view.

Among the Arabs, also, feeling has run high, and incidents of what they now refer to as counter-reprisals are of daily occurrence. Details are given in Consul Pinkerton’s fortnightly reports on “The Status of Public Security in Palestine”.57 Most critical moments were those following the Jewish bombings in Haifa and Jerusalem July 6 and 10 mentioned in my last despatch and a further serious bomb explosion at the David Street vegetable market in Jerusalem’s Old City on July 15. In this latter, 10 Arabs, including six women and one child, were killed and 29 wounded, many seriously.

That the last of this recent series of serious bombings was a Jewish reprisal is denied by the Jewish press on the grounds, primarily, that no Jew would have dared to penetrate so fanatically Arab a milieu and that the bomb might more logically be supposed to have been in the custody of an Arab endeavoring to evade Police searches for arms then being actively pursued in the Old City. A typical editorial on the subject from the Jewish Agency-controlled Palestine Post of July 17 is enclosed58 as a matter of record, for it presents the type of argument which leads the average local British official to the exasperated conclusion that: “When the Jew has a good case he invariably overplays it, when a bad one he seems constitutionally unable to keep quiet about it.”

From two high officials I have it as unquestionable that this type of bomb has never been used in any of the scores of Arab bombings of the last two years and, if not identical with, at least closely resembles that used in the more serious bombings generally recognized as Jewish reprisals. Arab feeling on the subject is well summed up in the following extracts from an “Arab News Agency” editorial of yesterday’s date. This “leader”, I should add, was clearly drafted for publication in the pro-Mufti weekly Palestine and Trans-Jordan which was suspended [Page 938] during the week, presumably for the similarly contentious editorial enclosed with my last despatch.

Jewish organized attacks on Arabs, which continued for three successive weeks, have satanically made use of Friday … to execute their devilish conspiracies … Mourning and grief immediately struck the Holy City; and in less than one hour, the whole city closed down and a wave of dumbness prevailed …

The Arabic press, always fearing the mighty power of the censor, refrained from commenting upon the incident … Desperate, struck with horror and heart-bleeding, the Arabs of Palestine have since then been impatiently awaiting to see whether the Government shall succeed in discovering the perpetrators … fresh tragedies are awaiting the Arabs ahead unless the Government heart and soul concentrates and courageously ventures to reveal the secrets of the crime-infested Jewish quarters.

If Government’s inactiveness … has had any effect, it was giving the Jews sufficient courage to relieve themselves of every responsibility and to charge the Arabs themselves with throwing the referred to bomb at their own kinsmen and brethren … The following shameless words appeared in the Palestine Post’s editorial of Sunday, July 17th. (Note: a quotation from Enclosure 2 herewith) …

Can there be anything more infructuous than the above words? To describe them as shameless would not be enough … In our humble opinion law is the foundation of order, and justice the foundation of both; but apparently “National Home Building” needs other foundations than these.

A significant further indication of the state of Arab feeling is to be found in the following telegram sent by Emir Abdullah to the High Commissioner after the first two of these serious bombings (Note: translation is from the nationalist Arabic daily Ad-Difaa of July 11):

The tragic Haifa incident has caused in the Trans-Jordanian public opinion an effect of deep sorrow and indignation. So also with the Jerusalem incident. I myself am sad also.

Even though I am aware that Your Excellency and the Government in Palestine are doing their duty regarding peace by every means and with all wisdom, it is nevertheless my duty to call the attention of Your Excellency to the fact that these attacks by Jews have removed every hope in the efforts of the Government to create the suitable atmosphere to solve the Palestinian problem.

I hope that those who direct the Zionist policy among the Jews will realize that by such activities they can arrive at but one result, namely, utter impossibility (Note: literally—real impotence) of the life of quiet and peace they hope to have with the Arabs.

And in regard to the attacks on my Arab compatriots and in the most holy spot of a country dear to me and to my nation, I address to you the strongest protest against the aggressive behaviour on their part; and I expect soon (to learn of) what severe punishment has been prepared for those who have so brazenly committed those atrocities.

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The special significance of this protest is that it points the first occasion since the outbreak of the 1936 disturbances when a pro-Palestine-Arab demonstration has occurred in Amman. On the Friday following the Haifa outrage—the Arabic press reports and my Yugoslav colleague, who on that day visited the Emir, confirms—a crowd of “some thousands” (Note: probably less than 2,000) visited the Emir’s palace and the British Residency before noonday prayers. Speeches were delivered expressing “deep resentment and calling on both the Emir and Sir Charles Cox, the British Resident, “to do all possible to alleviate tension over Palestine and to put a stop to innocent sacrifices.” The Emir replied “with damp eyes”, Sir Charles [said,?] that “Their sentiments would be properly conveyed with a special recommendation.”

Among British officials here I find some apprehension as to the potential danger of these developments. “Tegart’s Wall”, they recognize, will, when completed, force Syrian arms-smuggling to endeavor to divert its present routes to one through Trans-Jordan. They have been counting on full assistance from the Arab Legion and Frontier Force of that area to block such attempts. Palestine experience of the last two years gives good ground for believing this cannot be accomplished effectively if the population show active sympathy for the Palestine insurgents. Therefore, in this connection also, they see a new potential factor, resulting from the Jewish reprisals, capable of militating against their efforts to reestablish and maintain a passing degree of public security in Palestine.

This brings me to my final point, the danger inherent in the present situation. In despatch No. 511 of January 23,59 last, I reported an interesting conversation with Sir Charles Tegart, Special Police Advisor, in which he argued ably that a normal state of public security could not be reestablished until a definite policy and plan of Palestine settlement had been adopted. “From the policeman’s point of view,” I recall him saying on a later occasion, “it makes little difference what such plan may be. Without a positive objective police efforts must of necessity be restricted largely to counter-action. Their intelligence service, morale and general effectiveness must progressively deteriorate.”

This thought I hear of late voiced with increasing frequency in British and Jewish circles. There is, too, increasing recognition that the situation has already so deteriorated that little short of a full division of infantry reinforcements could today give body to the high words as to restoration of order voiced by the High Commissioner on his arrival here last March (despatch No. 541 of March 659).

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A leading Arab and a leading Jew called separately on me in my office one morning last week. To each I put eventually the much overworked question: “What do you think of the situation?” Each replied in almost identical words and with equal conviction that Great Britain is to blame: “There is in the country no government worthy of the name. The situation is going from bad to worse. The insurgents have the provinces in the palm of their hand, except in the few places actually occupied by British troops. And even there, as well as in the cities, the insurgent leaders operate with impunity in the collection of funds for their cause and recruiting of young men. Every week sees them better organized. Every week shows the Government’s efforts to regain control more futile.” Both viewed with apprehension the troublesome months which must pass before the Palestine Partition Commission’s report can be published, considered and implemented.

There are few in Palestine today who do not share that apprehension.

Respectfully yours,

George Wadsworth
  1. See Foreign Relations, 1936, vol. iii, pp. 434 ff.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Printed in the London Times, July 16, 1938, p. 11d.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Not reprinted.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Not printed.