The world falsely
accused Israel of atrocities in Jenin, but how would the British have handled the
situation if they were in control of the land of "palestine" today instead of
Israel? The following article may give you an idea of what their response would be.
Dr. Rafael Medoff, April 21, 2002
"Demolishing the homes of Arab civilians
"Shooting handcuffed prisoners
" "Forcing local Arabs to test areas
where mines may have been planted
" These sound like the sort of accusations
made by British and other European officials concerning Israel´s recent actions in Jenin.
In fact, they are descriptions from official British documents concerning the methods used
by the British authorities to combat Palestinian Arab terrorism in Jenin and elsewhere in
The documents were declassified by London in 1989. They provide details of the British
Mandatory government´s response to the assassination of a British district commissioner
by a Palestinian Arab terrorist in Jenin in the summer of 1938. Even after the suspected
assassin was captured (and then shot dead while allegedly trying to escape), the British
authorities decided that "a large portion of the town should be blown up" as
punishment. On August 25 of that year, a British convoy brought 4,200 kilos of explosives
to Jenin for that purpose. In the Jenin operation and on other occasions, local Arabs were
forced to drive "mine-sweeping taxis" ahead of British vehicles in areas where
Palestinian Arab terrorists were believed to have planted mines, in order "to reduce
[British] land mine casualties." The British authorities frequently used these and
similar methods to combat Palestinian Arab terrorism in the late 1930s. British forces
responded to the presence of terrorists in the Arab village of Miar, north of Haifa, by
blowing up house after house in October 1938. "When the troops left, there was little
else remaining of the once busy village except a pile of mangled masonry," the New
York Times reported.
The declassified documents refer to an incident in Jaffa in which a handcuffed prisoner
was shot by the British police. Under Emergency Regulation 19b, the British Mandate
government could demolish any house located in a village where terrorists resided, even if
that particular house had no direct connection to terrorist activity. Mandate official
Hugh Foot later recalled "When we thought that a village was harbouring rebels, we´d
go there and mark one of the large houses. Then, if an incident was traced to that
village, we´d blow up the house we´d marked." The High Commissioner for Palestine,
Harold MacMichael, defended the practice "The provision is drastic, but the situation
has demanded drastic powers."
MacMichael was furious over what he called the "grossly exaggerated accusations"
that England´s critics were circulating concerning British anti-terror tactics in
Palestine. Arab allegations that British soldiers gouged out the eyes of Arab prisoners
were quoted prominently in the Nazi German press and elsewhere.
The declassified documents also record discussions among officials of the Colonial Office
concerning the anti-terror methods used in Palestine. Lord Dufferin remarked "British
lives are being lost and I don´t think that we, from the security of Whitehall, can
protest squeamishly about measures taken by the men in the frontline." Sir John
Shuckburgh defended the tactics on the grounds that the British were confronted "not
with a chivalrous opponent playing the game according to the rules, but with gangsters and
There were many differences between British policy in the 1930s and Israeli policy today,
but two stand out. The first is that the British, faced with a level of Palestinian Arab
terrorism considerably less lethal than that which Israel faces today, nevertheless
utilized anti-terror methods considerably harsher than those used by Israeli forces. The
second is that when the situation became unbearable, the British could go home; the
Israelis, by contrast, have no other place to go.
Dr. Medoff is Visiting Scholar in the Jewish Studies Program at SUNY-Purchase. His most
recent book is Baksheesh Diplomacy Secret Negotiations Between American Jewish
Leaders and Arab Officials on the Eve of World War II (Lexington Books, 2001).
Reprinted from Arutz Sheva IsraelNationalNews.com - www.israelnationalnews.com/article.php3?id=1022