Geneva (Jun. 15)
I have again the honour of appearing before the Permanent Mandates Commission during their consideration of the Palestine Report, as accredited representative of the British Government, this time under happier auspices than last year, Dr. Drummond Shiels, the British Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, said in appearing here to-day before the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations, when it commenced its examination of the administration of Palestine during the past year.
On that occasion, Dr. Shiels pursued, the atmosphere was still agitated as a result of the deplorable occurrences of 1929. Since then, however, I am glad to be able to say that, although it must be admitted that tension still exists in the political atmosphere of Palestine, and that the country has not escaped the effects of the world-wide economic depression, nevertheless a period of quiet has ensued as compared with the disturbed conditions of the preceding year. Without wishing to appear in any way complacent, I venture to say that it is a source of satisfaction to His Majesty’s Government that the measures taken to prevent a recurrence of disorder have proved efficacious. As an instance, I might mention that the period of Easter both in 1930 and 1931 passed off quietly, save for a few isolated incidents. When it is remembered that in both these years Easter period and these of the Jewish Passover and of the Moslem festival of Nebi Musa largely overlapped each other, thereby producing a period of exceptional tension and religious excitement, it is indeed satisfactory that things passed off so quietly. I should like – in that connection – to pay a tribute to the efficiency of the arrangements made by the Local Administration which led to so satisfactory a result and which also gives some evidence of the progress made by the reorganisation of the police force.
While, as I have indicated, 1930 may be contrasted with 1929 as a period of quiet following a period of unrest it has also been a period devoted to investigation, enquiry and report. In the first place, Sir Herbert Dowbiggin, one of the ablest police officers in the overseas service of the British Empire, was sent to Palestine in January, 1930, to advise on the reorganisation of the Palestine police. His report was submitted in May of last year. There has also been a report of a Committee appointed by the High Commissioner in April, 1930, on the economic condition of agriculturists in Palestine and the fiscal measures of Government in relation thereto.
This was followed by the report of Sir John Hope Simpson (presented towards the end of August 1930 and published in October of that year) on immigration, land settlement and development. At about the time of the presentation of Sir John Hope Simpson’s report, Mr. G. F. Strickland, of the Indian Civil Service, presented his report to the Palestine Government on the possibility of introducing a system of agricultural co-operation in Palestine.
The last, but by no means the least important report which I have to mention is that of the Commission appointed by His Majesty’s Government with the approval of the council of the League of Nations to determine the rights and claims of Moslems and Jews in connection with the Western or Wailing Wall. This Report, as the Commission will be aware, has recently been published.
IMPOSSIBLE TO GIVE SATISFACTION TO ONE SECTION WITHOUT CREATING CONSEQUENT EQUAL DISSATISFACTION IN OTHER: PRIME MINISTER’S LETTER INTERPRETING WHITE PAPER GONE LONG WAY TO ACHIEVING ITS OBJECT WITH JEWS SAYS DR. SHIELS BUT ARABS CONSIDER IT ADVERSE TO THEIR INTERESTS: THIS GOVERNMENT DOES NOT ADMIT BUT FACT ILLUSTRATES DIFFICULT TASK GOVERNMENT HAS IN PALESTINE
After full consideration of the material at their disposal, and in particular the reports which had by then been made available, Dr. Shiels went on, His Majesty’s Government issued in October of last year a Statement of Policy as had been foreshadowed in my statement to the Commission last year. Considerable controversy arose over this document and it was evident to His Majesty’s Government that their intentions had been seriously misunderstood and misinterpreted in some quarters.
His Majesty’s Government took such steps as were possible to remove the atmosphere of mistrust and misapprehension with which their statements had been received in Jewish circles. On the 17th. November, a debate upon the subject of the White Paper took place in the House of Commons, and shortly afterwards, arrangements were made for conversations to take place between Jewish leaders and representatives of His Majesty’s Government. These conversations, which were conducted in a spirit of goodwill on both sides resulted in the Prime Minister’s letter of 13th. February, 1931, to Dr. Weizmann, which sought to remove certain misconceptions and misunderstandings which had arisen as to the policy of His Majesty’s Government as set forth in the White Paper of October 1930, and which, in the words of the Prime Minister “will fall to be read as the authoritative interpretation of the White Paper on the matters with which this letter deals”.
On receipt of the letter, Dr. Weizmann issued a statement, of which a copy accompanied his letter to the High Commissioner of the 30th. April last, transmitting a memorandum on the Jewish National Home in Palestine during 1930. These documents are before the Commission. As will be seen from a perusal of Dr. Weizmann’s statement, the issue of the Prime Minister’s letter has gone a long way to achieve its object, I do not think, in view of the manner in which the Prime Minister’s letter has been received by Dr. Weizmann, that I need make any further comments upon the controversy which preceded it.
The Prime Minister’s letter to Dr. Weizmann has not, however, Dr. Shiels said, been well received by the Arabs, who consider that it has modified, adversely to their interests the White Paper. This we do not admit, but it is an illustration of the difficult task of Government in Palestine that it appears to be impossible (with the present racial outlook) to give some measure of satisfaction to one section without creating a consequent and equal dissatisfaction in the other.
DEFINITE PROGRESS MADE IN PALESTINE DESPITE ADVERSE CIRCUMSTANCES: NOTHING TESTIFIES MORE HIGHLY TO COUNTRY’S POWERS OF FINANCIAL ENDURANCE AND RECUPERATION THAN FACT THAT CUSTOMS REVENUE IN 1930 APPROACHED MILLION POUNDS: RESULT MORE REMARKABLE IN YEAR OF REDUCED JEWISH CONTRIBUTIONS AND INVESTMENT
In dwelling as I have done in some detail upon various Reports, investigations and discussions which have taken place since I last appeared before the Mandates Commission, Dr. Shiels continued, I should be very sorry if I conveyed the impression that His Majesty’s Government and the Palestine Administration had nothing in the way of practical achievement to point to during that period. I merely wished to emphasise the fact that His Majesty’s Government have been endeavouring to obtain the best and fullest possible information with regard to the various problems in Palestine with which they are faced, so that wise and appropriate action may be taken.
I think, however, that it will be clear from the Report of my Government to the Council of the League on the administration of Palestine and Transjordan for the year 1930, that, despite certain adverse circumstances, definite progress has been made in various directions. In the words of the Report “nothing testifies more highly to the country’s powers of financial endurance and recuperation than the fact that the revenue from customs in 1930 approached one million pounds”. This result is all the more remarkable in a year of reduced Jewish contributions and capital investments. Were it not for the burden of defence, the finance of the country, in the world circumstances of the last two years, might be considered satisfactory.
Important public works have been undertaken during the year which has enabled the Government to afford employment to a substantial number of workers. Considerable progress has been made with the Harbour works at Haifa, and an important achievement has been the completion of the Government Kadcorie Agricultural School at Tulkarem which was opened to pupils on the 1st. January, 1931.
An outstanding event of the year was the opening of the bulk oil installation of the Shell Company at Haifa. Also it should be mentioned that Conventions have been signed between the Palestine and Transjordan Governments and the Iraq Petroleum Company with a view to the construction of a pipeline from the Iraq oilfields to the Bay of Acre; this being one of the two pipe lines which in their new Agreement with the Government of Iraq, the Company have undertaken to construct by the end of 1935.
MOST IMPORTANT PRACTICAL PROBLEM AT PRESENT IS LAND DEVELOPMENT AND LAND SETTLEMENT: COMPREHENSIVE DEVELOPMENT SCHEME CALLED FOR IN INTERESTS OF BOTH ARABS AND JEWS: POLITICAL DIFFICULTIES DELAYED ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND IF EFFORTS TO ATTAIN HAPPIER POLITICAL CONDITIONS SUCCEED THEY SHOULD REACT FAVOURABLY ON MATERIAL PROGRESS: GOVERNMENT INTENDS CONCENTRATING ON ECONOMIC IMPROVEMENT PARTICULARLY THROUGH DEVELOPMENT SCHEME HOPING IT WILL GRADUALLY ESTABLISH PROSPERITY AND BETTER UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN TWO RACES IN PALESTINE
While the condition of commerce and industry during the year may be regarded with some satisfaction agriculture has, as might be expected, suffered from the world-wide depression. It has also suffered from the additional misfortune of a bad winter crop due to unfavourable climatic conditions, a plague of field-mice and an invasion of locusts for the third year in succession. The peril of the locust invasion was successfully dealt with by the skill and energy of the Administration. Various measures have also been taken to relieve the plight of the cultivator, including the remission of one half of the commuted tithes on the winter crops, and the distribution of Â£35,000 to farmers in short-term agricultural loans. It has subsequently been deemed necessary, in view of the continued depression in agriculture, and the unsatisfactory financial position of agriculturists to make further large remissions of tithe for 1930 and for the present year.
I may end this short review of events by referring to the construction of the Jordan Hydro-Electric Power station which, as has been noted in the Memorandum submitted by the Jewish Agency, was almost completed at the end of the year, and but for delay owing to the sever floods in the Spring of 1931, would probably have by now been providing current for industry over a large area of Palestine.
The instances which I have Just given of activity in various branches of work in Palestine leave out of account what is perhaps the most important practical problem at the present time in regard to that territory, namely, the question of land development and land settlement. It may, I think, be regarded as common ground that a comprehensive scheme of development is called for in the interests of both the Arab and the Jewish communities and in fulfilment of the responsibilities which His Majesty’s Government have for the general welfare of Palestine. In framing a scheme which will meet these requirements His Majesty’s government have made every effort to ascertain the views and to consult the interests of both parties. This has not been easy and it has involved much expenditure of time, but it is hoped that, in the near future, it will be possible to announce the general outlines of the scheme.
Subject to the necessary previsions for control, consultation and advice, the administration of the scheme will be placed in the hands of an officer to be appointed under the title of Director of Development and his appointment will be the first step. His Majesty’s Government are now taking active steps to secure the services of a suitable officer for this very important task. In order to finance the scheme, His Majesty’s Government proposes that a loan of Â£2,500,000 should be raised, which Parliament will be asked to authorise His Majesty’s Government to guarantee. As the Commission may be aware, I have already made an announcement in Parliament to this effect. I feel confident that the scheme, when fully worked out, will make a very marked difference for the better in the economic condition of the country and will thus prove of great advantage to the whole population, Jew and Arab alike.
As regards the method by which the policy of development should be carried out and the detailed programme of work to be undertaken, I should like to make it clear that His Majesty’s Government have no intention of governing their procedure by any assumptions based on existing estimates of facts and figures. The whole problem will be carefully investigated on the spot by the Development Authority whose recommendations will be framed in the light of the facts so ascertained.
I emphasise this point, Dr. Shiels said, since some of the facts and conclusion contained in Sir John Hope Simpson’s Report have, as the Commission will be aware, been challenged in Jewish quarters. It will, however, be clear from what I have just indicated, that the Development Authority will not start by assuming the correctness of any set of statistics in relation to their problem, but will verify on the spot the facts necessary to be ascertained before proceeding to draw up or to execute any part of the scheme of development.
In conclusion I should like to remark that it may be said that the difficulties of the political issue have, to some extent, tended to delay economic development. It may be said – on the other hand – that happier political conditions, if efforts to attain them are successful, as I hope they will be, should react favourably upon material progress. The situation, however, does call for action in the economic field, and it is the intention of His Majesty’s Government, while taking into due consideration political facts and requirements, to concentrate upon the development scheme in the hope that there-by greater prosperity and a better understanding between the two races may gradually be established in Palestine.