Jerusalem (Dec. 6)
The Arab side suffered a severe setback at the opening of the session of the Palestine Inquiry Commission when text of the correspondence purporting to have taken place between Hussein and Sir Henry MacMahon was found to have been taken from Jefferies’ Book on Palestine and not to have been secured by Abdul Hardi from the Foreign Office as claimed by the Grand Mufti in his testimony. Stoker, counsel for the Arabs, refused to admit the deception until Merriman drew the Commission’s attention to the same misprint in both, where “individuality of the holy places” is printed for “inviolability.” The discovery of this was attributed by Merriman to his assistant, Viscount Erleigh, son of Lord Reading, and Leonard Stein, former political secretary of the World Zionist Organization. An attempt to put an Arabic text of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion into the record was again forestalled when Merriman produced copies of the London “Times,” exposing it as a forgery.
Sir Boyd Merriman was placed in the unique position of having to defend before the Commission a government action favoring the Arabs to which the Jews were bitterly opposed. This occurred when an Arab witness testified that as a result of the Balfour Declaration, the Jews began buying up land and were now about to occupy the entire country. The Bedouins, said the Arab, self-acknowledged as “Sheik of Sheiks” of the Beersheba district, were prevented from using the land for grazing. If Arabs would refuse to sell the land, he said, the Jews would concoct charges and compel them to get off, leaving the Arabs no place to go but the cemetery. At this point, Merriman, in his cross-examination, undertook to defend the government. He reminded the Arab of the lands which the government gave to the Bedouin squatters in Beisan, with opportunity to retain it on very easy terms. Of this the witness claimed complete ignorance. He said he knew of no Arab tenants in Beisan. Their forefathers, he said, owned this
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(Continued from Page 1) land, and so do they. Preedy, counsel for the government, did not examine the witness.
Sheik Freih Midden, the following witness, is a rather famous character. It was he who made Edwin, son of former High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel, a Bedouin sheik on Edwin’s wedding day. He served as one of the members of the advisory council which Sir Herbert established. “The Arabs are being reduced to beggary,” declared the witness. “They are deprived of grazing privileges.”
Continuing, Sheik Midden declared that he had resigned from the advisory council when he realized that Samuel favored the Jews exclusively. The government policy, he stated, has been Jewish ever since. Taxes, he said, were spent for road construction in the Jewish colonies and for relief of Jewish unemployed. He was convinced, he said, that taxes had been increased in order to compel the Arab natives to emigrate.
The Sheik said he had never heard of the Balfour Declaration until Samuel was made “King.” He claimed credit for having halted four thousand Beersheba tribesmen who intended to go to Jerusalem for the riots. He did this, among other reasons, because, he said, he had received a cable from District Officer Baily, who was then in England, Baily, he said, begged him to keep the tribes quiet.
JEWISH CASE STRENGTHENED
Merriman’s case was strengthened considerably when he forced the witness to admit that the excitement in the Beersheba district was due to reports circulated among the Arabs to the effect that the Jews were trying to capture the Mosque, which had been bombed, and that many Arabs had been killed. The witness denied that these reports emanated from the Mufti, saying if they had, all the Arabs would have come to Jerusalem.
The witness suffered a lapse in memory when reminded that in 1922 he had told Churchill he approved of the Balfour Declaration and welcomed the Jews to Palestine. He might, he said, have been with the deputation which visited Churchill, but the then governor of Beersheba nearly ruined the entire district by sending delegations to Jerusalem constantly.
Again, defending the government, Merriman reminded the witness that the government had moved the Arab cattle out of Beersheba during the last drought and had advanced the Arabs twenty thousand pounds.
Merriman asked the Commission to excuse him from cross-examining this witness. “I cannot usefully cross-examine him on economic questions,” he said, “while questions of major policy appear to be out of the preview of this Commission except as they may tend to show the Arabs mentality.”
The Commission was treated to a picturesque sight at the morning session, when Sheik Emir Beshir Ghazewieh of Beisan appeared. Of small stature, and dressed in desert style, with close-cropped grey beard, he claimed allegiance of forty thousand tribesmen in Palestine and sixty thousand in Transjordania.
The Commission met again in open court with press allowed.
TESTIMONY OF HAJJAR
The Arab counsel spent the entire afternoon session trying to prove that the first dead Arab was brought to the government hospital on August 23. The testimony of Dr. Yousseie Hajjar, head of the hospital, two porters and a clerk, offered conflicting statements. Two gatekeepers and a clerk, who had evidently been coached, gave dove-tailing stories, fixing 12.35 P. M. as the time the first dead Arab Christian, Hanna Karker, was brought to the hospital on Friday. They also declared that no other dead or wounded reached the hospital for at least an hour and a half later. Stoker asked Dr. Hajjar whether the first persons wounded were Jews or Arabs, and the doctor replied, “as far as I remember, they were Arabs.” To Stoker’s question of “when did you see the dead,” Hajjar replied, “at 3 o’clock I went to the mortuary and saw five dead, the first unidentified but later identified by the porter as Hanna Karker.” Hajjar didn’t know whether Karker was one of the first two dead.
In a brief cross-examination, Merriman tried to prove that the government had warned Dr. Hajjar the day before to prepare hospital beds. Seven times he asked Hajjar, “did Briarcliffe or any representative of the health department warn you the day before to prepare for trouble?” Hajjar hedged and said he could remember no warning of a written nature but he had a hint, and he also said that McQueen had asked him what he was doing that day and told him to arrange so that the hospital was never without a medical officer.
When Merriman asked why they needed a permanent medical officer at that time, Hajjar said because it was Friday, and since visitors to Jerusalem were expected, trouble might develop.
As a result of these questions, Mr. Preedy, government counsel, got into a tiff with Merriman, and cried: “He is suggesting that the government knew all about it in giving warning to the hospital and not taking police precautions.”
SAYS BRIARCLIFFE WARNED HOSPITAL
Merriman replied: “I am going to prove that Briarcliffe warned the Hadassah hospital on August 22 to have 12 beds ready. Dr. Hajjar insisted that the government hospital had not received any official warning.
Mohammed Khalil, for ten years a porter at the hospital gate, testified that at 12.35 on Friday he saw a dead man brought through the gate and taken to the mortuary where an examination revealed he was a Christian Arab, who was later identified by his wife. Merriman asked Khali: “When were you first asked to remember what time this dead man was brought in?”
Khalil answered “a month after the riots, by Cosgrove.” Khalil also said that the other dead and wounded were brought in an hour and a half after the first dead one.
Elias Samman, a government clerk, created some amusement by evidently answering a series of prepared questions by Stoker, but several times he became confused and popped out “no” for “yes.” To Preedy’s question of “what fixes 12.35 in your mind as the time the first dead man was brought in,” Samman replied, “a friend of mine came to ask me to go to a picnic, and looking at the clock I replied, ‘this is no time for a picnic. Then the dead body arrived.”
Maughanam of the Arab counsel, clapped his hands loudly and thanked Preedy for helping the Arabs to fix the hour of the first dead, adding, “What happened to the picnic?”
Samman said it didn’t “come off,” at which there was heard a whisper on the Jewish side: “It came off in grand style.”
The testimony of Lester Ward, inspector of trades and industries, created additional merriment. “I was standing at the Municipal Gardens Friday at 12.30, when I saw a crowd of Jews proceeding past the post office and then turn, running towards the Slonim Building.” Ward, commenting on hearing a “vulgar noise” made by the Jews and addressed to the Arabs, Commissioner Shaw asked him to describe the noise. Ward blushed, hemmed and hawed, and then bashfully made a burbling sound with his lips. Continuing, he said: “I then saw a procession of Arabs, led by two Arabs and mounted police, and the mob was singing out, ‘Mohammed.’ Then I saw an object hurled from the top of the Slonim Building. Later I found that it was a concrete building block. I saw a gentleman in a white suit wrestling with a tall Arab and then saw another Arab come and stab the gentleman. Later I returned and found that the man who was stabbed was von Weisl.”