Luke a Reluctant Witness; Answers Questions with Ill-disguised Hostility Under Merriman’s Persisent
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Luke a Reluctant Witness; Answers Questions with Ill-disguised Hostility Under Merriman’s Persisent

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The ill-disguised hostility between Sir Boyd Merriman and H. C. Luke, Chief Secretary of the Palestine Government and Acting High Commissioner during the August outbreaks, over the latter’s reductance to answer frankly and fully all of Sir Merriman’s questions when Luke took the stand for the second time, created an electrically charged atmosphere at the Inquiry Commission’s hearing.

As the cross-examination proceeded, Luke became more reticent and Merriman more insistent. The controversy reached its height at the point where the questioning reached the matter of Luke’s permitting a Moslem counter demonstration at the pavement of the Wailing Wall, causing “horror and distress” to the Jews all over the world, after the Jewish procession on Tisha B’Ab.

With the Wailing Wall as a starting point, the whole history of the friction, starting with the removal of the screen on Yom Kippur in 1928, believed by many to be the beginning of the Arab troubles, by order of Keith-Roach, District Commissioner of Jerusalem, was reviewed. Mr. Luke admitted that Keith-Roach’s act, in ordering the removal of the screen, was perhaps imprudent. The resolutions adopted by the World Zionist Congress, demanding the right of free and undisturbed worship at the Wailing Wall, were the subject of a heated debate between Mr. Luke and Merriman, the latter insisting to know what was prevocative in the resolutions, Mr. Luke hedged and finally answered that the right to undisturbed worship might cause alarm to the Arabs. Merriman succeeded in extracting from Luke the admission that the allegations of the Arab Executive to the effect that the Jews had designs on the Moslem Holy sites were untrue.

At the same time, the deplorable lack of management of the Wailing Wall by any responsible Jewish body was revealed, testimony disclosing that neither the Vaad Leumi, Palestine National Council, nor the Zionist Executive, have the Wall regulations under control. It developed that two beadles, one an Ashkenazi, and the other a Sephardi, are the responsible authorities.

The extent to which the Zionist Executive is to be consulted by the government, came into the discussion, in connection with the failure of the Pal- (Continued on Page 7)

Reluctantly admitting that the “Jamia El Aratia” is the organ of the Moslem Supreme Council, although in his opinion, not its organ in the sense that the “Osservatore Romano” is the Vatican organ, Luke described as inaccurate the Moslem memorandum to the Government on the Wailing Wall, which this paper published on October 8, 1928. The memorandum of the Moslems declared that the Wailing Wall is an inseparable part of the Mosque; that it is a sacred Moslem site, and that the pavement is a private alley which the Jews may visit on sufferance, the same as all others. The Jews were never more than visitors, therefore they could not be allowed to hold regular services or to raise their voices. Luke declared that official Moslem opinion still maintains, as it did a year ago, that the Jews not only desire to possess the Wailing Wall, but aspire to encroach on the Mosque. He stated further that the leter published in the London “Times,” by the Grand Mufti, four days after the occurrence of the outbreaks in Palestine, is “no correct interpretation of the White Paper.” The White Paper of 1928 was issued by the Palestine government following the controversy over the removal of the screen on Yom Kippur.

Continuing, Luke declared: “It is grossly inaccurate to state, as far as the government is concerned, that the Jews have no right to pray at the Wailing Wall. It is absolutely untrue that the Zionist Organization at any time claimed or attempted to claim the right to expropriate any part of the Mosque. It is contrary to all Zionist pronouncements, which have officially and indignantly disclaimed any such designs. The Zionist Organization has never receded from this position, and all the Arab allegations concerning these encroachments are unjustified.

Conceding that the action of Keith-Roach in communicating the order to the beadle to remove the screen in the midst of the services on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar had wounded the religious susceptibilities of the Jews, Luke said that he, however, had not known that Keith-Roach had failed to communicate the order to Colonel Frederick H. Kisch, of the Palestine Zionist Executive, whom he had seen on Yom Kippur eve, in the course of a complimentary visit to a synagogue.

Admitting the great and comprehensible distress caused by Keith-Roach’s action, Luke said the government had expressed its regret for the manner of the removal of the screen, although it had justified its removal in the White Paper issued after the incident.

At this point the discussion developed that there is no Jewish authority over the Wailing Wall. Luke recalled that he had discussed the question with Dr. Chaim Weizmann, president of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization. Sir Walter Shaw remarked that no one knows who is the officer in charge of the Wailing Wall. When Batterson, a member of the Commission, inquired who appoints the beadle, Luke answered that he does not know, but it is possible that the beadle is the highest authority. This point was disputed by Sir Boyd Merriman, who declared that the Government, prior to taking its action, could have communicated with the Rabbinate, which it did not do. Instead, the police came and took away the screen, thereby causing worldwide distress. Luke’s only comment was: “We all felt great regret.”

Turning to the recent incidents be ginning with the Jewish procession to the Wailing Wall on Tisha B’Ab, and culminating with the riots throughout the country, Luke denied that he received apprehensions of what might happen about “the Wailing Wall business.” Then Merriman cited a report in an Arab paper of a meeting at the Mosque on August 2, at which thousands of Moslems swore to defend the Mosque of Omar with all their might against the Jews. Luke said he recalled no Jewish action with regard to the Wall, which was likely to cause alarm in the Moslem camp.

The first spark in the hostility which developed was struck by Merriman, when he reminded Luke that on August 6, Pincus Rutenberg, now president of the Palestine National Council, had come to him to convey his anxiety over the turn which the agitation against the Jews had taken. Merriman pointed out that since Rutenberg had never before displayed interest in such matters, the mere fact of his visit should have conveyed the seriousness of the situation. Answering, Luke declared that Rutenberg had discussed only the Jewish aspects of the question, overlooking the Moslem side. Rutenberg told him, Luke said, that many young Jews, not of the Orthodox type, intended to come to Jerusalem, because they were excited over the new Moslem construction on the Wailing Wall, and that they might do things that level-headed people would deplore.

Merriman dissented from this version of the interview with Rutenberg, declaring that Rutenberg had implored (Continued on Page 8)

He admitted that the “Felestin,” like other Arab papers, was formerly opposed to the regime of Amin el Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, but that now “since the disturbances, internal party politics have tended to disappear among the Arabs.”

Quoting from the “Felestin” of August 13, to the effect that orders had been issued to sheiks in Nablus and Haifa, and trustees of the Wakf elsewhere, to establish societies for the defense of the Moslem Holy Places, Merriman asked Luke: “Have the Jews provoked this?” Luke replied that the speeches delivered at Zurich aroused Arab circles, and read from the speech of Harry Sacher, member of the Zionist Executive, in which he said that the Mandate goes further than the White Paper, which is based on the status quo.

After reading the official resolutions adopted by the World Zionist Congress last summer at Zurich, in connection with the Wailing Wall, Merriman asked Luke: “Is there a single word to which any one can take exception?” Instead of answering, Luke explained the differences between the Jews and the Moslem viewpoints, the Jews claiming the right of access for prayer and congregational worship, necessitating appurtenances, and raising the question of which appurtenances are permissable. “The resolutions asking for undisturbed worship might cause alarm,” the Chief Secretary of the Palestine administration declared.

This statement Merriman countered by reading the White Paper of 1928, issued by the Palestine Government, which permits certain appurtenances. He challenged Luke to justify the Moslem irritation. When Luke hedged, Merriman pressed : “Do you underline the words you ‘think there is anything provocative?” “I cannot answer the question,” answered Luke. Reminding Luke that he himself had first introduced the subject of the Zurich resolutions, Merriman demanded an answer to his question. Yielding, Luke replied that the request of the Zionists for undisturbed and free exercise of worship is capable of causing anxiety to the Arabs.

This altercation was followed by another, when Merriman asked Luke whether he had contemplated the possibility of a Moslem counter demonstration when he had permitted the Jewish procession to take place on Tisha B’Ab, August 15, and whether he had contemplated the horror to the Jews resulting from the Moslem invasion of the pavement. Luke’s reply was that he had no time to think of the effect. It was Luke’s business to try to prevent a counter-demonstration, declared Merriman. “At any cost whatsoever, you should have ordered it stopped,” insisted Merriman. “No, not at all costs, Sir Boyd,” answered Luke hotly.

“Is it your view that a general massacre would have been caused if the demonstration had been prohibited?” continued Merriman. “I did not say general massacre, but general demonstration, could have been prevented only with considerable bloodshed in the Haram area,” declared Luke. Challenging him on the Haram area, Luke modified his statement to say Haram neighborhood.

Pressing his point that the Government should have avoided, if possible, causing extreme distress to the Jews, Merriman declared to Luke: “You could have ordered the Grand Mufti to prevent this demonstration.” “I could give no order to stop it. It is doubtful if the police would have been able to stop it except at the risk of considerable bloodshed and of consequences that could not be forecast.”

“What would the Grand Mufti have done if you had ordered him to prevent the demonstration?” Merriman demanded of Luke. This question was ruled out by Sir Walter Shaw, head of the Inquiry Commission, on the ground that it was hypothetical.

Merriman then asked Luke whether he had prosecuted any Jews who had infringed upon the regulations for the Tisha B’Ab procession. Luke’s reply was to read the official communique foreshadowing the prosecutions, adding that it was the business of the attorney-general as the head of the government to look after the prosecutions, and not his business.

Continuing, Merriman inquired: “Are you aware of any Jews arrested?” Luke answered, “No.” “Any Moslems?” Again the answer was in the negative.

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