Big Palestine Debate in Parliament: Colonel Wedgwood Accuses British Officials in Palestine of Never
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Big Palestine Debate in Parliament: Colonel Wedgwood Accuses British Officials in Palestine of Never

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An accusation against the British officials in Palestine that they “never lose a chance of criticising, attacking and disappointing the Jews”, was made in the House of Commons to-day by Colonel Josiah Wdgwood, in the course of a big debate on the Colonial Office Estimates.

The Colonial Secretary, Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister, opened the debate with a long review of conditions in various colonies, and after he had dealt with a good many colonies, the Hon. R. D. Denman (National Labour) asked whether Sir Philip would deal at all with Palestine, or would prefer that subject to be left to a separate discussion or another day.

I should be very glad that any question should be raised in the debate now, the Colonial Secretary replied, and went on to deal with Iraq, and sat down without himself saying anything about Palestine.

Mr. William Lunn (Labour), who was Under-Secretary for the Dominions in the Labour Government, and was the first speaker to follow the Colonial Secretary, immediately brought Palestine into the debate by recalling that the other day the Colonial Secretary had in reply to a question by Mr. David Kirkwood (Labour) given a list of self-governing Colonies and Protectorates which are administered under the authority of the United Kingdom Government and are given a preferential tariff. The list is a formidable one, he said, and shows how impossible it is to deal with each and every one of them in a single debate. But there is one exclusion from that list, and I should like to ask the Under-Secretary the reason why Palestine is excluded. It is the only part of the Colonial Empire excluded in the list that was given in answer to that question. That is the only point I wish to raise with regard to that matter, and I should like the Under-Secretary to state the position.


Colonel John Buchan (Conservative), the Chairman of the Parliamentary Pro-Palestine Committee, said that he wanted to refer to one item of the Colonial Secretary’s extended stewardship-not one of the largest, or perhaps most important, but certainly one of the most difficult. I refer to Palestine, he explained. I am not going to try to deal with the general question except to say that in her task in Palestine Britain is bound by the most solemn obligations of honour, and in the second place, that that task is of immense importance to her both in regard to policy and to strategy.

Our attitude, as I see it, Colonel Buchan went on, should not be pro-Jewish or pro-Arab, but simply pro-British. Our business is so to conduct our work that we shall be faithful to our obligations of honour, and that we shall ensure the peace and prosperity of two races, to both of which we are deeply pledged.

What is our national obligation of honour? Colonel Buchan asked. It is not to bring Jews back to Palestine, but it is to prepare and make possible a National Home for such Jews as desire to return. The Zionist ideal does not depend upon the extent of territory over which a national home is created, but upon the chances given for the development of the Jewish national genius. That is to say, that its essence is qualitative and not quantative. But since our trust is not for a limited number of Jews, but for the whole Jewish people, it involves freedom of immigration so far as the economic capacities of the land permit. That is to say, there must be no artificial barrier to the free and reasonable development of the returning Jewish people, and moreover we must give to such returning immigrants security in life and property.

That is not an easy task. In the past 12 or 13 years no doubt we have made many blunders in our Palestine policy. It is most important that those mistakes should now be forgotten, and I believe that to-day both races in Palestine are ready to forget the past and look upon the present and the future with clear and practical eyes.

Immigration is managed by arrangement between the Government of Palestine and the Jewish Agency. Obviously it is not a very easy matter, and in recent years the tide of immigration has shrunk to a very slender trickle, and at one time stopped altogether.

Now no Zionist objects to any restriction of immigration based upon economic facts. Zionists are not fools or dreamers; they are practical men. All they ask is that there should be no artificial barrier to such immigration; no barrier except the capacity of the land at the moment to absorb the immigrants, and that that fact should be clearly made known to Jews throughout the world.

What has the Jewish people done in this matter of returning immigrants? It is a most remarkable achievement. They have spent many millions in recent years chiefly drawn from the subscriptions of the very poor, thereby, I would point out, largely saving the pockets of the British taxpayer. Their work has been wonderful. To my mind it has been heroic. Perhaps I speak with special feeling in the matter, for I too am a member of a small and scattered race, a race, however, which happily has never lost its Jerusalem. But if there is any suspicion in the minds of Jewry throughout the world that the British Government are not fulfilling their obligations in the letter and the spirit, then there is a real danger that these contributions will fall off and that you may find up and down the globe the most serious distrust of the honesty and goodwill of the country.

Therefore I would respectfully beg of the Colonial Secretary that as soon as possible he should make some announcement of an increase in the immigration quota to a substantial figure; to some figure which will be satisfactory to the Jews up and down the world who have given the interest of their lives for the establishment of a national home. I am informed that at this moment Palestine is modestly advancing in prosperity both industrially and agriculturally. If that is so surely it is vital that any such increase should at once be reflected in the figures of the quota of immigration, for it is only in that way that you will be able to allay the suspicion and distrust which unfortunately has grown up throughout Jewry in recent years.


There is one other point I would mention, and that is what is called the French Commission. The recent history of Palestine is strewn with the wrecks of unfortunate commissions which have stirred up a great deal of controversy and created a great deal of bad blood. The Shaw Report and the Hope-Simpson Report no doubt contained a great deal of valuable matter but undoubtedly they had disastrous political effects, I think we should have done with that kind of report. The French Commission has a very limited and practical purpose-agricultural development. We all are agreed that the future of Palestine depends upon the raising of the economic status of Jew and Arab alike and upon the co-operation of both races in a common economic purpose. I believe that there was never a better chance for racial co-operation than the present moment, so I would respectfully beg the Colonial Secretary to see that the report of the French Commission is used wisely and rightly, that it is kept to its strict practical purpose and its exact terms of reference, and that it does not contain, like the other reports those obiter dicta upon controversial matters which have created so much trouble.

Mr. Crossley (Conservative) interjected that “the opinion of the Government in Palestine has in no way disagreed with the contents of previous reports”.

I do not agree with that statement, Colonel Buchan returned. But I am not concerned at the moment with the Government of Palestine, for which I cannot speak. What I would ask to keep in mind is the delicacy and difficulty of the whole situation so that we may avoid stirring up any unnecessary and irrelevant controversial issues. We must remember that in Palestine what we do is subject to critical eyes. Whatever we do is anxiously watched up and down the globe by people who have sacrificed a very great deal to their ideal and in whose mind suspicion is, not unnaturally, rather easily engendered. These are truisms, and I am almost ashamed to repeat them. My only excuse is that even a truism is very often true, and that they do happen to be at the moment of some importance. But, let me add, I am certain that they are fully in the mind of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and of the distinguished soldier who is now Governor of Palestine.


Colonel Wedgwood said that he had listened with great pleasure to Colonel Buchan’s speech. He dealt with Palestine, not from the point of view of the pro-Jew, or the pro-Arab, he remarked, but from the pro-English point of view. He did quite right. A great deal of the future of the British Empire depends upon our having in that corner of the Mediterranean a friendly people, determined to support us in the Near East, depending upon us, and, therefore, reliable. It is of the utmost importance to the future of the British Empire that we should have the co-operation of the Jews in the further extension of that Empire, of our trade and, above all, of our culture, but I see it being jeopardised at the present time.

Now I am going to make a prejudiced remark, and I hope that Members will agree that, while it is difficult for me to say it, it is necessary. It will not be enough for Colonel Buchan to persuade the Secretary of State for the Colonies that there must be a few more Jews allowed into Palestine. It will not be enough that he should be persuaded to scrap the French report and to allow land to be bought by Jews in Palestine. That is not enough. Our real difficulty-it is time somebody said it; someone who is not a Jew-that the representatives of our Government in Palestine are not playing the game; that they are disloyal.

I do not mean disloyal to the Balfour Declaration, but disloyal to us, disloyal to the ideals of Great Britain. Our aim, the aim of the Colonial Office and of the Colonial Secretary is that there should be real co-operation between England and the Jews of the world in building up Palestine and in the extension of all that Jew and Englishman stand for in common in the past history of the world and in the future. Our officials in Palestine never lose a chance of criticising, attacking and disappointing the Jews.

It is inconceivable that if the massacre of two or three years ago had been a massacre of English people and not of Jews that the Government there could have conducted itself as it did by disarming the very people who were being attacked. That is only one example. Pin-pricks go on month after month and year after year. The police during the last rising could not be relied upon, but the same police are there, and the same officers. Everything, the whole institution, seems to my prejudiced mind to be determined to wreck that for which I and the honourable Member for the Scottish Universities stand. There has been an age-long struggle between the Jews and the Church. That has gone on for 2,000 years, and it is going on to-day. It has been a mean and a dirty struggle throughout. There has been more injustice, more bullying, and it is going on to-day, in the east end of Europe than there has been in any ancient struggle or any racial hatred that one can imagine. The Church against the Jews. And our officials there are on the side of the Church and against the Jews, and against those of us who love liberty and justice. It is given to us to have an opportunity of righting this age-old wrong, and we can do it with advantage to ourselves as well as justice to humanity. We are not playing our part. It is not our fault here and it is not the Government’s fault, but it is the fault of a disloyal body of officials in Palestine.

Vice-Admiral Taylor asked if Colonel Wedgwood had confirmation of these sweeping statements against our officials, who have no chance of defending themselves in this House?

Of course, I have confirmation, Colonel Wedgwood replied. It is from my own observation. If Admiral Taylor would like to see it, he should read my book, called “The Seventh Dominion”.

I have said what I have said about Palestine, he went on, and it will probably be my last word on the question, becayse, having said that, nothing else I say on that question will ever be listened to. It is the business of the Government to defend their public officials.

It is not the business of the Government to defend their officials if they are wrong, the Colonial Secretary put in. I take the responsibility for all my officials, whether they be right or wrong, and, if they are to be attacked, I am the person who ought to be attack. As Colonel Wedgwood has taken this opportunity of making certain charges against our officials, I think it only fair to say that I entirely repudiate the spirit which he has thought it fit to attribute to them, and I am sure that every single official, from Sir Arthur Wauchope, is discharging his difficult duty in the fairest way he can.

I am glad to hear that, Colonel Wedgwood said, and I hope the Colonial Secretary will take the earliest opportunity of visiting Palestine and seeing matters for himself.

I have nothing to withdraw, Colonel Wedgwood added when Admiral Taylor shouted “withdraw”.

Dr. O’Donovan, Conservative member for Stepney, complained that there was no member of the Church present to defend her against Colonel Wedgwood’s attack.

The history of the last 2,000 years is enough foundation for my statement, Colonel Wedgwood answered. Did not every crusade begin by a massacre of the Jews?

I say “no”, Dr. O’Donovan replied.

Vice-Admiral Taylor again demanded a withdrawal, in view of the statement made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, denying Colonel Wedgwood’s criticisms on the officials in Palestine. He speaks of justice, he said, and he should give justice to these officials who are endeavouring to do their work as well as they can.

I point to the three massacres of Jews which have taken place in Palestine, Colonel Wedgwood returned, massacres which would never have taken place if the Jews had been English. On that I base my charge that they have not been loyal to the idea of British-Jewish co-operation.

Admiral Taylor will have a chance of chipping in and proving the valuable services of these officials, he added. I was about to point out that these officials in Palestine are not ordinary Colonial Office officials. At the present time the Colonial Office is recruiting perhaps the best material in this country for the Colonial Office Service, but those in Palestine were recruited after the war, not from the Colonial Office officials with the traditions of the Colonial Office but from other sources. The best hope for the future of that country is a gradual drafting into Palestine of our Colonial Office Service. Unfortunately, Colonial Office servants at the present time are suffering from severs cuts in wages and salaries. The Colonial Office would be well advised to see that its servants are adequately rewarded for their excellent services, which I should be the first to recognise in every other Colony to which I have been.


Mr. Barnett Janner, the member for Whitechapel, said that for 2,000 years the Jewish people throughout the world have turned to the land of their ancestors, Palestine, for inspiration and guidance. I do not speak in any disparaging terms of the Arabs, he said, because all those who are interested in the Zionist movement clearly and definitely agree that the Arab population should be considered in a proper manner, and there is not the slightest desire on the part of any who are connected with the movement that there should be oppression of any other people. But during the 1,000 years when Palestine was in the occupation of the Arabs it remained a land which was economically unsound and was practically barren of cultivation. After all, Palestine is only the size of Wales, and the idea of colonising it can only be brought to a successful end if it has behind it a considerable amount of idealism and of desire to promote the interest of visionaries who believe that that is the only spot in the world where they can find some common centre for their common ideals. Since the Congress which was held in 1897 at which Dr. Herzl presided, Great Britain has shown close sympathy with the ideals of the Zionist movement. This was brought into concrete effect when in 1917 the Government issued a declaration in which they stated quite categorically:

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

On April 23rd., 1922, the Mandate for Palestine was conferred upon Great Britain at the San Remo Conference and this was confirmed later by the League of Nations in 1922. The policy of the Mandate has been endorsed by all British Governments which have prevailed since, by the Governments of the British Dominions, by all the principal States represented in the League of Nations and by America. It is interesting, for the purpose of understanding the position, to notice that in the course of the last ten years the Jewish population in Palestine has increased by 100,000, but that there has been a similar increase in the Arab population. Before Zionist effort began, the population of Palestine was practically stationary.

The settlement in Palestine is not a commercial undertaking but a work of national regeneration. If it had been otherwise, the results achieved could not have been comparable with those which to-day fill the whole world with wonderment. The country would have remained in its former drowsy and static condition. The dynamic force provided by the efforts of the visionaries, the pioneers, has altered the face of a considerable portion of the land to a condition even beyond the hopes of the most sanguine. It has made Palestine an oasis of optimism in the desert of the world’s economic position to-day. This has been brought about mainly not by capital which has been brought in from rich and wealthy people, but by the efforts of people throughout the length and breadth of the world who, in many instances, have contributed towards the fund by pennies and two pences in boxes which have been distributed at millions of points.

I should like to refer to the remarks of the Secretary of State in which he mentioned that scientific methods, inquiry and research were necessary in order to get the best that we can for the benefit of our colonies and the Empire. Palestine during the last 10 years has afforded one of the most striking examples of how a land has been brought from malaria infested conditions in many places to a prosperous condition in certain districts by scientific inquiry and by proper methods of research, which have been produced, not through the coffers of our Exchequer, but through the pockets of Jewish people throughout the world. The laboratories of the Agricultural Experimental Station at Tel Aviv, with branches in other parts of the country, mark the beginning of the entry of a modern era such as the agriculture of the East has never known before. It has encouraged the growth of fodder on irrigated ground, rational alterations of varieties cultivated, increased and better use of manures, and an improvement in milking and in the breed of poultry. It has developed the planting of early vegetables, the standardisation of agricultural machinery, the prevention and cure of plant and animal disease of all kinds. The Jewish Settlement was the first to take up dairy and poultry rearing; it imported cows for the purpose of breeding and increased the average yield of milk from 600 litres for a cow of local race to 3,000 litres. These settlers introduced into Palestine new varieties of fruit, such as the banana and grapefruit, and they were the first to plant fruit trees to a considerable extent.

I could enlarge upon the activities of this small section of people who made up their minds that they would overcome every difficulty in order to provide a centre of national interest in Palestine. I could tell of the achievements which have been performed in the direction of industrial improvements, how the colonists have improved the social conditions of the people in the land. I could elaborate-and anyone who has been to Palestine could see it quite clearly-that out of chaos there has been provided something which is a credit to the world, and which, if extended, will enable the world to have an asset that it had not before. That has been done not at the expense of the Exchequer, but directly through the services which have been rendered by these colonists themselves in Palestine. The Palestine administration provides for the whole of the cost of those matters which are not dealt with by Jewish funds. It does not call upon the Exchequer to spend anything in order to supplement them. It merely calls upon the Exchequer to pay such sum as may be necessary for the support of those military forces which are normally a part of the strength of our forces in this country. Anything over and above that has to be met by the Palestine administration itself.

In the course of that administration the Jewish people, it is estimated, provide from 30 to 40 per cent. of the actual income of the Palestine Fund; consisting of one sixth of the population of the country, they bring to the funds of the administration some 30 to 40 per cent. In addition, some £40,000,000 capital has been brought into Palestine by Jewish people, and above all the efforts of the pioneers has made it possible to make those improvements to which I have referred.

In the last 10 years a city has been built on modern lines and planned under modern conditions, namely, the city of Tel Aviv, the population of which has increased from 5,000 to 40,000 in the course of these years, and which is built on sand dunes in a manner that is a credit to town planning. All the work that has been done has been done on lines which could be approved by the most careful of those who are prepared to criticise in other directions. The educational system in Palestine, which does not demand that children should attend school compulsorily is being supplemented from the funds of this movement, which makes every Jewish child attend school. The medical services of the Jewish national movement have been open to the whole of the people, and trachoma and other endemic fevers have been wiped out in certain districts because of the research and investigation which has taken place.

All this has only been possible because of the knowledge that was behind those who were working in that cause that they had the support of the British people, and that they relied on that support not breaking down. Some two years ago, although the Zionist movement was providing conditions which would be of advantage to the whole population of Palestine, there occurred something which was to the discredit, and certainly to the discomfort, of all who had anything to do with the management of the country. There occurred in Palestine a pogrom, and bitterness of feeling spread throughout the communities of the world when they heard that in that very land, which was not considered as a profit-making venture or in any sense as a land from which there would be extracted anything, but a moral and national satisfaction, a pogrom occurred.

Is it any wonder that indignation spread, and that when the White Paper was published subsequent to that massacre people were dissatisfied with terms which limited the advancement of so important a movement? Is it any wonder, too, that even to-day, when we know that the Colonial Office is giving sympathetic consideration to the matter, people who have supported this cause are nervous lest the spirit of the Prime Minister’s letter which supplemented or explained-or tried to explain away-the contents of the White Paper, and which said that certain things would be done in Palestine to make the position consistent with the terms of the Mandate is not to be implemented? Is it any wonder that there is heart-burning among people who see that there is no tangible move towards carrying that letter into effect? We know that in the last few months there has gone to Palestine a High Commissioner in whom the faith of the Jewish people and the Zionist movement is considerable, though he has not yet had an opportunity of doing all that would be expected of anyone who had made a longer stay in that country; and I appeal to the Colonial Office to endeavour by their acts to give effect to the promises contained in the Prime Minister’s letter.

Several matters have been prominent in the minds of those who are aggrieved. In the first place there is the question of immigration. There was an immigration labour schedule for Palestine, introduced, I agree, before this Government came into power. When they are arriving at the figures for that schedule the Jewish Agency, after careful consideration, calculates the number which it considers the land can economically support. The Administration in Palestine ultimately sanctioned the ludicrous figure of 350-only 350 new recruits to give wealth to a land which depends so particularly upon the immigration of those who are prepared to work under conditions which would not be accepted by many other peoples### Of that 350 half were retained by the Administration itself. People who are interested in the Zionist movement feel that this decision reduces the position to an absurdity, and I am confident that those who are directing the affairs of Palestine to-day will see that the position is remedied.

In some of the lands which have been purchased by the Jewish National Fund-and after all, the land forms the basis of the Zionist Movement in Palestine-which have been purchased to become the inalienable property of the Jewish nation, leases have had to be granted to P#douins who have swept down and demanded the right to come upon lands in respect of which not only has the purchase money been paid, but full and adequate compensation has been given to the tenants. I hope that the administration will take note of the dissatisfaction that is felt by those who consider that the leases which have been granted are not a reasonable and fair thing to be expected by the owners of that land, and that when the time comes for the expiration of those leases, proper and due care will be given that those who swooped down upon the land should be asked in no uncertain manner to remove themselves.


There are other matters of which I believe the administration is already aware. I do not want this Committee or the Minister to feel anything other than that the desire of this movement is to give of its energy, and of all it possesses, of its gifts, to the land of Palestine. That desire is one that has no regard to oppressing any other people. It wishes

to work in co-operation and harmony with other peoples in that land, but it believes, and it is entitled to believe, that it has not merely helped its own people but has given complete and full advantage to the other peoples of that land. It has made their land more valuable, has shown them methods of cultivation which otherwise they would not have known and has brought a considerable amount of health to them. It has done in a social and in an economic direction very much indeed to improve the conditions of the whole of the inhabitants of the land. It wants to have a complete understanding between the two peoples, but it wants not to be prevented from continuing its own activities, which are of such importance to the welfare of the land. It wants to have an opportunity of knowing that the movement as a whole shall not be so discouraged, throughout the length and breadth of the world, that it will not be able to find that capital to help Palestine which will relieve the Exchequer and give prosperity to the whole of that country, irrespective of whom the inhabitants may be.

It believes that if the spirit of the Mandate is properly carried into effect, harmony will be produced in that ancient land, where the National movement built a university at the commencement of its career. It believes that if this movement is encouraged, it will ultimately provide in Palestine a great centre of which this Empire will be proud-the Empire which holds the Mandate. It will produce an opportunity of trade which is incalculable, and it will prove to be something which will be a credit to the whole world. In that spirit, I appeal to the Colonial Office to regard the position. I appeal to them to make it clear to those who are managing Palestine that this is the real spirit in which it should be managed; that there is nothing inhuman, wrong or unprincipled in it; that it is all for the good of the country; that no one should have the right to enforce, upon those who are doing all that they possibly can for the improvement of the country, ideas and difficulties which are not reasonable or proper; that no council shall be held in that land which can disobey the order of the administration by introducing antisemitic matter, or by dealing with questions, as the recent Conference in Palestine did, with which it has been ordered not to deal; that the authority of the administration shall be respected, and that consequently, further improvements shall be brought about in the conditions, in which there have been such considerable improvements during the last 10 years, which have made that country something very different from anything that it had been for many centuries before.


Sir Robert Hamilton, the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, in winding up the debate, said that with regard to Palestine, I am sure we can all sympathise with the keen disappointment that anyone must have who sets out with great enthusiasm and high endeayour to carry out a difficult task when he finds that time is passing and the achievements that he hoped to effect are still in the future. Within recent

years there has been a combination of events which have tended to cause a good deal of disappointment to those who were hoping to see matters in Palestine go a great deal faster than has been possible. This question of the settlement of the Jewish National Home in Palestine has always reminded me of a journey up-river in a canoe where you meet with shallows and rapids and, in order to get on, you have to unload your canoe and carry it round the rapids. Then you think you are going to have an easy turn and round the corner there is another rapid, and the canoe has to be unloaded and carried again. It is very hard work and very disheartening, but all the time you know that, if you do not unload the canoe, you will lose it in the rapids. That is what has been happening with regard to our advance in Palestine.

We have been bound by the course of events to go slowly to prevent the scheme being wrecked on the rapids through which it has had to pass. There has never been any desire by this Government or any other to depart from the letter of the Mandate, or, since the Prime Minister’s letter of explanation in the White Paper, to depart from what he sets out there. However desirous one may be of getting on with the work, we are limited by the absorptive capacity of the country and it would not help matters if the immigration schedule were suddenly widened out and thousands were poured into the country where there was no means of absorbing them and putting them on to work when they could produce things which could be sold in the markets of the world. Therefore, it has been left, very rightly, to the High Commissioner, in conjunction with the Jewish Agency, to decide the number that can be admitted from time to time. It would be very unfortunate if the authorities in this country tried in any way to intervene in a matter of that sort, and although I thoroughly appreciate the spirit with which Mr. Janner spoke, and deprecate the manner in which Colonel Wedgwood spoke, I hope the spirit of enthusiasm will not be allowed to evaporate.

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