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

No. 711

Subject: Revolt in Palestine, “Dictatorship of the Bands”; Brief Speculation on Possibility of Compromise by Consent.

Sir: That the last month has witnessed a further serious deterioration in the public security situation in this country is frankly admitted, I have the honor to report, by all leading British officials in the capital. The public speaks openly of “the dictatorship of the bands”, the Arabs with a newly awakened pride in “national” accomplishment, the Jews with gravest apprehension for the immediate security of life and property and with insistence on the urgent need for extensive protective measures, notably the arming of further self-defense units.

Reference, I venture to believe, may appropriately be made in this connection to my despatches Nos. 655 and 665 of July 10 and 24, last, entitled “Tension and Terror in Palestine”. The leading theme of the former was that “at no time since the outbreak of the 1936 disturbances had interracial tension run so high”; of the latter that, while the immediate tension then existing had eased somewhat because Jewish leadership had weathered the storm of Revisionist challenge to its policy of self-restraint, there had been no let-up in the tempo of Arab terrorism. My subsequent fortnightly despatches on the “Status of Public Security”64 have borne out this thought.

Let me be more specific. Day before yesterday the Jerusalem District Superintendent of Police, Major W. F. Wainright, commented to me: “There is no doubt that the bands are progressively larger, better armed and better led, that their organization reaches into every village and town of the hill-country from Galilee to Beersheba and that they have the almost universal support of the (Arab) people”. The Secretariat official, Mr. C. M. Pire-Gordon, with whom the Consulate General deals directly in matters involving requests by American citizens for special protection, similarly observed: “It must be admitted that the position of the rebels has become much stronger [Page 944] these last few weeks and that large areas of the country must now be regarded as rebel territory”, and the Jerusalem District Commissioner, Mr. E. Keith-Roach, who returned last week from three months leave of absence, tells me he is “astounded” at the change. “My Assistant Commissioner and District Officers, as well as the Police”, he said, “tell me my writ no longer runs four miles from the capital. None question that we have a serious national revolt on our hands”.

Arab friends assure me that the earlier terrorist methods of suppressing opposition within the Arab camp are, except in rare instances, no longer necessary, that “the (Arab) people as a whole are behind the movement”. They report with little-veiled satisfaction tales of rough justice rendered by the insurgent leaders. The bands, they say, are now directed by a single, obviously able commander-in-chief under the Mufti’s guidance, with four regional commanders as his chief lieutenants, one each for Galilee, northern and southern Samaria, and the Beersheba-Bethlehem area.

Respective headquarters for these four major commands are said to be in the hills near Safad, Nablus, Tulkarm and Hebron; there plans are laid for the increasingly daring and effective daily acts of sabotage and attack. Each major band is said to comprise some 500 men continually under arms; and in each region there is hardly a village in which “reservists” have not been organized. The latter are varyingly estimated at from ten to twenty thousand. They are called on, I am told, “in shifts” to guard the approaches to the bands’ headquarters and to participate in the nightly “direct” actions.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The moral, if one there be, to be drawn from the subject matter of the foregoing paragraphs is perhaps that stressed in the famous Durham Report (1839) on Canada:65 “No large community of free and independent men will long feel contented with a political system which places them, because it places their country, in a position of inferiority to their neighbors”. In Palestine we have seen an erstwhile subject and suppressed but nonetheless homogeneous Arab people vitalized into action—and that, as I understand it, is the essence of nationalism—by gradually growing fear of Jewish domination, succeeded in 1936 by strongly crystallizing apprehension as to the aims of what their leaders decried as British imperialism. Today, I believe, one may fairly see in the progress of the current revolt both a growing realization among the people of its “position of inferiority” and a natural resultant aspiration towards independence.

[Page 945]

I fear I have phrased this thought far less effectively than was done a year ago in the now well-known Report of the Palestine Royal Commission. From its analysis that body reached the logical conclusion that Partition offered the best and most hopeful solution of the Palestine problem. At the time I concurred in that finding. Today, on practical grounds—grounds studied in extenso by the subsequent Partition Commission and reported briefly in my despatch No. 675 of August 8, last66—I find myself, with many other attemptedly objective observers here, tending to add to that finding the words “in principle”. The situation, we feel, has so deteriorated as to render the principle of Partition impracticable of application at the present time.

The alternative, I find many who hope, may be found in a modus vivendi which will permit of the setting-up—with at least a modicum of consent by Arab and Jew—of a temporary regime under drastically modified Mandate providing for continued British administration of the country within the framework of a plan embodying the major elements of that outlined in my telegram of August 8, 12 Noon, last, i. e. the retention of the Jerusalem Corridor, Galilee and the Negev under direct British administration and the fostering of autonomous Jewish and Arab Areas in the rest of the country—the whole to be administered, with varying objectives and limitations (notably as to immigration) in its various areas, by a British High Commissioner.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Possible ground for hopeful speculation that some such solution is under consideration, I may add in conclusion, is to be found in the fact that Dr. Izzat Tannous, Palestine-Arab propaganda agent in London, arrived in the Lebanon on August 25, last. According to information received by my French colleague, he has since held lengthy converse with the exiled Mufti who today, more than ever before, is the one outstanding leader of the Palestine–Arab cause. And only the strong can compromise.

Dr. Tannous, it will be recalled, had had an interview of an hour or more with the British Colonial Secretary, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, following the latter’s return to London from his recent dramatic visit to Jerusalem (despatch No. 690 of August 19, last67). In an interview given to the editor of the leading local Arabic daily Falastin Dr. Tannous is reported to have said:

Mr. MacDonald’s trip to Palestine convinced him that our movement is national, the movement of a whole people … solution will [Page 946] be developed in London in collaboration with several prominent and representative Arabs … among them Emir Saud (Crown Prince of Saudi-Arabia), Teufic Suweidi (Iraqi Foreign Minister), Muhammad Mahmoud Pasha (Egyptian Prime Minister) and Jamil Mardam Bey (Syrian Premier).

I plan to develop in an early report this interesting subject of the nature of what in the title of the present despatch I have called current speculation on the possibility of compromise by consent.

Respectfully yours,

George Wadsworth
  1. Not printed.
  2. Great Britain, House of Commons, Sessional Papers, 1839, vol. xvii, pp. 5–119, “Report on the Affairs of British North America from the Earl of Durham”.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not printed; but see telegrams of August 8, noon, and August 9, 11 a.m., from the Consul General at Jerusalem, pp. 940 and 941.