LONDON (Aug. 6)
Immediate formation of a Palestine Regiment composed of Jewish and Arab infantry battalions for general service in the Middle East was announced in the House of Commons today by Secretary for War Sir James Grigg, following a sharp debate on the question of the establishment of a Jewish military force within the British Army.
Sir James stated that the policy of maintaining numerical parity between Jews and Arabs in recruiting Palestinians for the British forces would be abandoned in accepting recruits for the new regiment. The Palestine Buffs, to which about 2,500 Jewish soldiers are now attached, will be incorporated in the new force, he added. He expressed the hope that an additional 10,000 recruits would now be obtained.
At the same time that the War Secretary announced the establishment of the Palestine Regiment he reiterated the British Government’s opposition to the formation of a separate Jewish military unit, which was demanded in the course of the debate by several of the M.P.s.
OUTLINES STEPS TO ENABLE PALESTINIANS TO DEFEND COUNTRY
Acknowledging that the advance of Marshal Rommel’s armies in Egypt had created considerable concern in Palestine, Sir James stated that after conferring with Sir Harold MacMichael, High Commissioner for Palestine, and also with the commander in-chief of the British forces in the Middle East, the government had come to the conclusion that the following steps, in addition to formation of the new regiment, would best enable Palestinians to defend their country:
1. Expanding the Palestine Volunteer Force, which is open to all residents, to its full strength of 2,000 as soon as sufficient arms and training facilities are available.
2. Recruiting an additional 1,500 men for the rural and special police, which will bring those bodies up to their maximum strength. A training staff, liaison officers, arms and equipment will be provided by the commander-in-chief of the Middle Eastern army as soon as circumstances permit.
3. The training and equipping of all existing units will be pushed as rapidly as possible.
The Secretary for War concluded by stating that the Government is doing its utmost to enable Palestine Jews to defend their country against “the universal enemy.” If advantage is taken of all facilities now offered, he said, only a very small part of the available manpower in Palestine will not be engaged in action “against the common foe.” He expressed the belief that the formation of the new regiment is the best assurance that both Jews and Arabs will ultimately unite in defense of their country. Sir James said every honor is due the Jews throughout the British Empire for their unstinted participation in the various branches of the armed forces.
ZIONIST CIRCLES STATE NEW POLICY “SMALL STEP FORWARD”
Zionist circles here stated that they considered the policy enunciated by Grigg as “a small step forward.” Abandonment of the parity principle, they said, “opens the road to further progress as does the promise of increased equipment for the settlement and auxiliary police.”
The official announcement of the Government’s policy by Sir James was preceded by an acrimonious debate in which about a dozen of the members, Conservatives and Laborites, participated.
Major Victor Cazalet, Conservative; replying to assertions by several of the members that Arab reaction to formation of a Jewish army would be “disastrous,” stated that “without victory in the Middle East and elsewhere neither the Jews, the Arabs or the Christians will have much to say about the future of the Middle East.” He urged the government to do everything possible to “enable every man and woman in Palestine to partake in the defense of the country,” suggesting that it grant the Jewish Agency’s request for a fighting force of 20,000 and a home guard of 50,000 as an integral part of the British Army, with a special “Lion of Judah” badge, which would be known as the “Palestine Jewish Force.” Probably the majority of the Arabs are as desirous of defeating the common enemy as the Jews, he said, stressing the fact that “the Arabs as a whole could not oppose the defense of their own land.”
Daniel Lipson, Independent Conservative, who is Jewish, expressed his disapproval of the demand for a Jewish army. “Speaking as a Jew,” he said, “I cannot support the proposal for a Jewish army. I believe that creation of such an army cannot help the war effort and is not in the interest of the Jews concerned.” He stated that he felt that an independent Jewish fighting force would emphasize the difference between Jews and non-Jews and would be harmful to the Jewish people rather than helpful.