867N.01/1155

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

No. 727

Subject: Revolt in Palestine, Continued; Strengthening of British Military and Jewish Defense Forces.

Sir: A further serious deterioration of public security, I have the honor to report, has been witnessed in this country since the submission of my despatch No. 711 of September 6, last, on the above subject. The “dictatorship of the bands” discussed therein has strengthened. Striking rebel successes have been recorded, notably in the increasingly effective sabotaging of government communications and in the “occupation” of such important Arab centers as Jaffa, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jericho. Details are given in the Consulate General’s fortnightly despatches on the “Status of Public Security.”69

The national character of the Arab revolt is now recognized by all fair-minded British officials and foreign observers. It is obvious to all that Government is on the defensive and progressively losing ground, that it does not possess sufficient strength to suppress the insurgents. That, however, such strength—or at least a considerable contribution thereto—is shortly to be made available and that Government proposes to use it with despatch now seems probable.

The providing of this additional strength, it is now currently accepted in British official circles, was determined upon at the time of the dramatic secret visit paid to Jerusalem early last month by the British Colonial Secretary, Mr. MacDonald (despatch No. 690 of August 19, 193869). Its nature, I gather in extensive discussion with high British officials and others, is to be two-fold, i. e. reinforcement of British troops and police and the building-up of strong, armed [Page 947]Jewish defense units. Notably as concerns the latter considerable progress may already be reported.

In my Press Review of August 20, last,70 Item No. V–2 [V–1], I reported the details of the composition of the 7,400 men of all ranks which made up the British military strength then maintained in the country. An additional infantry brigade of some 1,800 men, I added, was in training in England for Palestine service. The headquarters unit and one battalion of this brigade arrived at Haifa on September 13. Its two other battalions are to arrive next week. Further, it was officially announced in London on September 15 that the equivalent of two additional brigades are to be sent shortly, i. e. from England two cavalry regiments and one infantry battalion and, from India, three (British) infantry battalions. The latter, I learn reliably, have already embarked for Suez. The effect of these various reinforcements will be to raise total military strength in Palestine to some 13,000 all ranks.

In the matter of British police reinforcements the figures are less impressive. On January 1, last, the Palestine Police rolls included some 60 British officers, half as many inspectors and 1100 other ranks out of a total force of 3,600 (which included some 1650 Arabs and 750 Jews). These totals were only slightly increased during early months of the year. Following Mr. MacDonald’s return to London, however, it was announced that 350 additional British police would be recruited in England. Of these, 120 arrived at Haifa September 5. The remainder are expected early in October.

Following the renewed outbreak of disorder last fall, I should add, this regular police force was supplemented, as during the 1936 disorders, by supernumerary police. On January 1 these numbered some 4,100 of whom 3,900 were Jews (1,000 on active service and 2,900 reservists) enrolled and hurriedly trained for the protection of Jewish settlements. The remaining 200—of late largely dismissed as untrustworthy during the current revolt—were Arabs enrolled “for other police dispositions”.

This brings me to the interesting question of the strengthening of the Jewish defense units—a question of pertinent concern to our own Government, for it is on the effectiveness of these units that in very considerable measure depends the security of the lives and property of the Jewish inhabitants and, hence, of the 8–9,000 American Jews resident in the country. This question is one which, as already reported, has been stressed for many months by Jewish leaders and publicists. As late as September 7, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organization, key-noted at an important meeting [Page 948]of the Jewish Foundation Fund: “Our immediate demands are … adequate protection of our men and women, and especially a fair share in the maintenance of public security.”

The following detailed exposition of Jewish desiderata in the matter is from careful notes which I took during the course of an hour’s discussion of the subject had with Political Director M. Shertok of the Jewish Agency on September 16. He had had tea with me alone and spoke with clarity and frankness. His comment on the political aspects of the situation will be reported in a subsequent despatch.

“On April 1, opening of the current fiscal year”, Mr. Shertok began, “the Palestine Government for reasons of economy reduced to 635, i. e. by approximately one-third, the Jewish supernumeraries on active service, i. e. the number paid regularly by it. We had, however, increased to roughly 4,500 the number of reservists, i. e. those authorized to carry arms; and for their use Government had issued to us a total of 3,700 rifles. This meant that if we wished to use these reservists for guard duty at the colonies and outskirts of urban settlements we had to pay them ourselves. Their monthly salaries are fixed at six, seven and eight pounds respectively for privates, corporals and sergeants”.

“In compensation for this reduction in numbers”, he then explained, “we obtained, in so far as concerned the 635 Jewish paid men, an improvement in their organization: First, creation of these non-commissioned ranks; second, permission to use them for regional as well as simple local defense; third, the creation of ten mobile guard units of ten men each who, in motor transport supplied by us, were not attached to any one settlement but have since been continually employed on regional patrol duty; and, fourth, the assignment of four British police officers to supervise their activity in four major regional areas and act as liaison with the central authorities”.

“As the situation went from bad to worse”, Mr. Shertok continued, “we prepared a most careful project for increased defense, the essence of which was that this number of 635 Government-paid supernumeraries should be increased by roughly 2,000 of whom 500 were to be formed into 50 additional motorized mobile guard units and the remaining 1500 to be distributed among some 250 local garrisons (each under a corporal) organized into 50 groups (each under a sergeant). The total cost to Government for the 3,600, each of whom would be supplied with one of the Government rifles already issued, would thus have been some £P. 16,000 ($80,000) a month.”

“In addition”, he added, “we urged that rifles be issued to each of the remaining 1,400 enrolled reservists whom, together with the cost of all necessary motor transport, we were willing to pay. Further, we wished to retain our individually licensed shot-guns and pistols, some 2,000 in number, and the 1,000 Greener guns (a sort of “sawed-off” shot-gun) issued in 1936 for use by the colonists themselves in case of attack and since retained in sealed arsenals under the charge of village mukhtars (head-men).”

“Considerable progress has already been made towards realizing this program”, Mr. Shertok assured me, “and I am most hopeful that, as the result of a survey recently completed by a General Staff officer [Page 949]and already approved by the General Officer Commanding, it will be put fully into effect in the near future. It will, to recapitulate, give us a Jewish defense force of 5,000 supernumeraries armed with Government rifles, and some 3,000 other arms”.

“We consider at the Jewish Agency”, he concluded, “that with these defense units available to supplement the increased British military and police forces we shall be in a position effectively to protect ourselves against Arab attack during such period as may elapse before the present chaotic situation is cleared-up by what must and what, I believe, will be a military reconquest of the Arab parts of the country. We shall, of course, continue to lose men and be unable fully to prevent arson and sabotage, but we shall feel ourselves relatively secure as to life and property and find renewed courage and confidence to carry-on until political settlement is reached”.

I am—and for the first time in many weeks—considerably reassured, by this interesting exposition, as to the future security of Jewish-American lives and property in this sorely troubled land. Discussing the question today with Mr. Julius Simon, President of the Palestine Economic Corporation of New York and to my mind the soundest-thinking conservative among our American Jews in Palestine, I was happy to find he shared this view. “We should”, he added, “as a general proposition take our chances along with the other settlers”, this in commenting on my suggested corollary that, in any such picture as Mr. Shertok had painted, my own intercession on behalf of Jewish-American interests could most effectively be limited to individual cases where a particular American interest appeared threatened.

That the Consulate General is always prepared to extend such intercession unstintingly need, I venture to believe, hardly be added.

Respectfully yours,

George Wadsworth
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