Jerusalem (Oct. 31)
At several points in his testimony. Major Saunders yesterday contradicted previous statements made by him before the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry. Under the continued prodding of Government Counsel Preedy yesterday. Acting Police Commandant Saunders clearly contradicted his testimony of the day before to the effect that the police were aware trouble was brewing. He drew an idyllic picture of the Arab activity on the day of the outbreaks. declaring that there were only regular prayers at the Mosque and that the police were unaware of any preparations for an attack.
What gains there were in the government’s case were counterbalanced by the assertion made by Saunders, in reply to Preedy, indicating that there was realization of trouble, that at first an order was given to disarm the fellabeen coming to Jerusalem, an order which was later rescinded. Recognizing the full import of this statement. Preedy, without seeking to ascertain why the order was cancelled proceeded to the next point as why it would have been most unwise to fire upon the mob in the Old City. In any event. Saunders testified, he did not at the time think the situation grave enough to warrant firing.
Completing his testimony before the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry yesterday at four P. M., after fifteen hours on the witness stand. Acting Police Commandant Major Saunders, made the startling statement that in the event of a massacre the Palestine police cannot be counted upon inasmuch as they are for the most part Arabs.
Major Saunders made this admission in the course of re-examination by Government Counsel Preedy, Under cross examination he admitted that whereas the Jewish procession to the Wailing Wall on August 15. was well policed there were but six policemen at the Wall when the Moslems made
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their invasion. The reasons for that, he said, were that the Jewish procession marched through many streets, whereas the Moslems were on their own ground. To have refused Moslems access to the Wailing Wall was out of the question, Major Saunders argued, because the consequences would have been “incalculable.” It would have been necessary to use batons, and perhaps firearms, which surely would have resulted in a general massacre with which the authorities would have been unable to cope, since in such an eventuality the Palestine Police would have been ruled out from service, since they are mostly Arabs.
It is believed that Major Saunders will be questioned privately on this point by the Commission, at some later date, when all interested sides will be absent. Sir Walter Shaw, head of the Commission, intimating he would like to hear him privately.
Prompted by Government Counsel Preedy, Saunders stated that he had information that some members of the Jewish procession wanted to provoke the police. This would have been deplorable, considering that it was Tisha B’ab, because it would have resulted in the Jews being prevented from visiting the Wailing Wall. whereas the police were determined to permit all law abiding persons to make the usual pilgrimages to the Wall.
Tribute to the conduct of the police in this instance was paid by Preedy in which he was joined by Sir Boyd Merriman who declared that on this occasion the police behaved with exemplary tact and patience.
Sir Walter Shaw participated actively in the discussion on the legality of the Jewish demonstration which ensued. Preedy made every effort to establish that the police were unaware that the Jewish youth intended to demonstrate, believing that they merely intended to visit the Wailing Wall. Sir Boyd Merriman insisted that the police knew and sanctioned the demonstration. Sir Walter Shaw displayed surprise that the police took precautions in front of the government offices, but shepherded the crowd toward the Wailing Wall, where such demonstrations are “harmful.”
Saunders under cross-examination, declared that he had made an error in his previous testimony, disclosing that he knew of the decision to disarm the Jews on Saturday, although it was officially communicated to him only on Monday, August 26. On Saturday, August 24, he received orders from then Acting High Commissioner Luke to enroll more Jews as special constables. Without giving it as a reason for disarming the Jews, Saunders mentioned that on Saturday six rafmen as well as a Company of South Wales Borderers were already in Jerusalem.
Merriman interrupted Preedy when he sought to ascertain why the Jews had been disbanded, since Preedy the objected to this same question by Merriman.
Saunders yesterday apologized to the Commissioners for his wrong statement concerning the Jewish constables, about whom he said complaints had been received leading to their disbanding. Wednesday he frankly withdrew his earlier statement declaring he intended no reflection on the behavior of the disbanded Jews.
William Henry Stoker, counsel for the Arabs, said very little throughout the entire day except to ask Saunders whether he had thanked the Grand Mufti on the morning of the riots, Friday, August 23rd, for his efforts to calm his people. When Saunders replied in the affirmative, Stoker deduced for the record, that the Mufti had worked for peace.
LENGTHY DISCUSSION ON WAILING WALL
A long discussion over the appurtenances at the Wailing Wall was provoked by Stoker. Saunders in his testimony contented himself with saying that until the recent provisional regulations there were no definite rulings. Taking up the discussion Preedy tried to impress upon the Commission the Government’s difficult position in deciding what is permissible. The White Paper declares that the status quo shall not be infringed upon. Status
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quo means what the Turks allowed, but nobody knows what the Turks allowed, he pointed out.
Sir Walter Shaw affirmed that until this year the Wailing Wall was a blind alley, having no connection with the Mosque area. To this Saunders agreed, declaring that in his ten years experience there had been no door from the pavement around the Wailing Wall to the Mosque of Omar.
Preedy assured the Commission that the Moslem building operations were suspended by amicable agreement in order to enable the British government to ascertain whether or not the construction was permissible, and that the construction was resumed only when an affirmative ruling was obtained.
One principal question bearing upon the present political situation was put by Sir Boyd Merriman to Saunders. The Police Commandant denied but later admitted that he is aware that the Arabs intend to close their shops on November 2nd, the anniversary of the issuing of the Balfour paper, as a protest.
The question of the Syrian visa which the Grand Mufti is reported to have sought the day before the riots is destined to remain unclarified for some time. Saunders informed the Commission that the French Consul agreed to apply to Paris for permission to give information concerning the matter if the Commission would make a direct request to the consulate. Stoker volunteered to make a statement at this point but was overruled by Sir Walter Shaw.
Saunders admitted that he refused the request for rifles of a deputation of the Jewish self defense on the day of the riots, asserting however that he sent an escort to evacuate the women and children of Talpioth.
He made the important admission that on Saturday, August 24th. he had one hundred and seventy two special constables, including 41 Jews and that on August 28th, when the Jews were disarmed. 142 constables still remained.
Saunders agreed that the Arab demonstration on Friday. August 23rd. intentionally abused the right of way transforming the pavement in front of the Wailing Wall into a public thoroughfare. He also stated that the government consistently allowed lamps opposite the Wall. He declared that the Zionist Executive tried to make the “Doar Hayom” end its agitation.
Merriman read the report of sub-inspector Langes, describing the Arab demonstration at the Wall, how it smashed furniture, tore books, shouted “Kill the Jews. The Wall is ours.” One sheik delivered an inflammatory speech the transcription of which is in the possession of the police. The Commission asked that it be produced.
Saunders admitted that two thousand Arabs participated in the demonstration, and that it was a mistake to use Arab police to lead the funeral procession of the Jewish youth. Mizrachi, who died from wounds received when the youth demonstration was attacked on August 15th.
Merriman introduced the report of the British Sergeant Siegrist describing the influx of Arab bands early Friday armed with knives, clubs and pistols. Hearing shots, he asked his superiors to arm the police reserves with rifles, but this request was unheeded.
Merriman also submitted that the Government formerly issued rifles to the Jewish colonies under seal, but withdrew its armories on June 19th. thus justifying the request of the Jewish self defense for rifles when in danger.
Armored cars, it was disclosed arrived from Transjordamia Friday, did not stop in Jerusalem but proceeded to Ramaleh, returning to Jerusalem in the late afternoon.
Regarding the water carts as a measure to disperse the mobs, Saunders testified that they were effective as long as the water supply lasted. The armored cars did not frighten the population except when they were ordered to fire. Saunders admitted that the attempted uprising in Transjordania was suppressed because the authorities were able to deal successfully with the incipient disorders.
CAPT. KINGSLEY-HEATH, SECOND WITNESS
Captain Kingsley-Heath Police officer in charge of the New City during the outbreak, followed Major Saunders as the second witness to appear before the Inquiry Commission. The first part of his testimony consisted in the reading of a long statement of his action and the dispositions of the police during the entire trouble period, by Assistant Attorney General Drayton who is action as Preedy’s assistant.
This testimony revealed that on the average there were but two constables in all the outlying Jewish districts threatened by the Arabs. Captain Kingsley-Heath was later cross-examined by Mr. Silley, an Englishman from Cairo, who is serving as assistant to William Henry Stoker, counsel for the Arabs.
Silley in his cross-examination endeavored to make Kingsley-Heath declare that the Jewish youths who assembled for a demonstration preliminary to the Wailing Wall procession were in an ugly mood. Firmly denying this. Captain Heath also disagreed with Silley’s aspersions on the Chaluzim (pioneers) as well as Silley’s suggestion that those in the procession did not conduct themselves as peaceable citizens. He denied that shouting took place in the procession, except by a few, asserting the only discussion that took place was regarding the return route from the Wailing Wall to the city. Indirectly, he complimented the Jewish ushers understood to be members of the Jewish self defense who kept order at the Wall. Refuting the suggestion of the Acting Police Commandant that those in the procession were spoiling for a fight, he dismissed lightly the raising the emblem of the Order Brith Trumpeldor, which resembles the ordinary Zionist colors. He admitted ordering police to charge crowd outside the Zionist Executive offices.