Question of Whether or Not Palestine Government in Habit of Yielding to Arab Threats Hotly Debated
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Question of Whether or Not Palestine Government in Habit of Yielding to Arab Threats Hotly Debated

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The question of whether or not the Palestine Government has been in the habit of yielding to the threats of the Arabs, aroused considerable acrimonious discussion yesterday at the hearing before the Commission of Inquiry, which is investigating the recent Arab outbreaks against the Jews in the country.

The question was precipitated when Sir Boyd Merriman, counsel for the Jewish Agency, pointed to the fact that the custom of blowing the Shofar at the end of the Yom Kippur service, followed for thousands of years, had this year not been followed, because the Government had yielded to Arab threats and prohibited it. Since the government had submitted in this question, at a time when troops were in the country, was it not possible that the Government had also yielded to Arab threats before, during, and after the outbreaks in August, Merriman asked.

The greatest excitement and agitation attended the discussion which followed. Preedy, counsel for the Palestine Government, insisted that the submission of a question concerning the Government’s conduct during October, to a Commission inquiring into the immediate causes of the outbreak in August, was unallowable-Merriman insisted that the Commission was inquiring into the Government’s attitude of mind, and that therefore it was entirely pertinent to show if the Government had yielded to pressure, before, during or after the events. Sir Walter Shaw, head of the Commission of Inquiry, ruled that the question might be put. Preedy violently objected, pointing out that Merriman is attributing the acts to the (Continued on Page 3)

Another issue was presented and settled when Merriman placed before the Commission typewritten copies, and later the original draft, of a telegram, in the handwriting of Assistant Secretary Mills, handed by Mills to Braude, acting in behalf of the Palestine Zionist Executive, containing important changes in a telegram drafted by Braude, reporting to the Zionist Executive in London the Moslem demonstration at the Wailing Wall on August 16.

Luke consistently disclaimed any recollection of the conversation with Braude, but did not deny the interview. Sir Walter Shaw refused to accept for the record typewritten copies of the message, until the very end of the sitting, when Merriman produced the original telegram, minimizing events connected with the demonstration, which Luke identified as being in Mills’s handwriting.

Several times in the course of the morning session, Luke explained that he had had so many meetings, and so many things had occurred, that he did not recollect even the most important interviews with Jewish and Arab leaders alike. At the same time he made the qualifying statement that he did not deny that these interviews had taken place.

The first clash between Merriman and Luke developed over the time when Cust, Acting Governor of Jerusalem, informed Luke of the intended Moslem demonstration. Luke asserted that the question had not been referred to him until about noon. Cust, however, on the witness stand, declared that he heard about the demonstration as soon as he arrived at the office and that “naturally without delay” he told Luke.

Merriman submitted that Braude saw Luke on August 17 about the prayer books that had been burned during the Moslem demonstration, and that he agreed to show Luke the cable he was sending the Zionist Executive in London, while Luke showed him the draft of the Government communique on both the Jewish and the Arab demonstrations. Braude objected to the communique, which generally belittled the outrage, saying among other things that “the pressure of the crowd” upset the table at the Wailing Wall. The communique also denied that the Moslems broke through the new gate, and described the situation at the Wailing Wall during the Jewish services as perfectly normal.

Luke, in explanation of his communique, said that it was intended to check the very considerable misrepresentations of what had happened at the Wailing Wall on both days and also to help the leaders of both sides to calm the people. The communique was not a judicial document. Graver events which unhappily followed, swallowed up the preceding events, he testified.

The witness stated he had no recollection of seeing the cable of the Palestine Zionist Executive which stated that the Government had permitted the Arab crowd at the Wailing Wall; that the crowd had used the new gate; that it had burned the prayer books; and that the Wall was insufficiently policed. In the cable, the Zionists demanded punishment for the desecrators, predicted the outbreak, and urged members of the Zionist Executive to return to Jerusalem.

Endeavoring to refresh Luke’s memory, Merriman quoted from and handed around the actual text of the Government’s draft, asking: “In the face of this, is it possible that you do not recollect?” Finally Luke admitted it was quite possible that the Government suggested certain alterations, and he “faintly recalls” the conversation, but he still does not remember whether he had drafted or discussed the alternative text.

The placing into evidence of the draft in Mill’s handwriting by Merriman, proved to be one of the bombshells of the entire proceedings before the Commission.

Leaving this point, Merriman turned to ask Luke: “Since you are the last Government witness, will you let the Government case close without volunteering information as to to who got up the Moslem demonstration?”

Preedy jumped to his feet, objecting to the question as astounding, declaring that he had never heard of such a question being put to a witness. Sir Walter Shaw sustained Preedy, and instructed Merriman to ask Luke what he knows about the organizers of the demonstration.

Merriman then read the police reports from Nablus and elsewhere showing that rowdies who never before came to Jerusalem had traveled thence in motor cars to celebrate the Prophet’s birthday. Answering Merriman’s query whether he could throw any light on the persons providing the cars, Luke said he knew nothing about it. He denied knowledge as to whether the second lux lamp was not put up in the passage leading to the Wailing Wall because the Grand Mufti had objected to its erection on Wakf property. He said he recalled a discussion regarding a lamp-post, but not what had happened to the lamp, which was designed to light up the pavement at the Wall, after the removal of all the small lamps previously attached to the buildings, which were removed, under the temporary regulations, leaving the worshippers in the dark.

For thousands of years the Day of Atonement services concluded with the blowing of the Shofar, began Merriman in passing to the point which produced the greatest controversy. The Shofar is as necessary and integral a part of the Yom Kippur services as the blessing at the end of the communion service in the Anglican church, he said. Luke could not remember whether the Shofar had been blown from the Wall in previous years, saying that until the Wall became an issue, political spotlight had not been focused on such matters, but he agreed that he had never heard any objections against Shofar blowing before.

To Merriman’s question, “Did the Mufti or the Moslem Supreme Council say they would not be responsible for the consequences if the Shofar was blown on Yom Kippur?” Luke answered they objected because it had been blown on Rosh Hashonah. To the question, “Do you deny that the Mufti said he would not be responsible for the consequences on Yom Kippur?” Luke replied that he had no recollection of it.

Merriman then pointed out that the Shofar had not been blown, to which Luke replied “not at the Wall.” He explained that the congregation adjourned to the synagogue, where he understood that they heard the Shofar. To Merriman’s question: “Was the greatest Government pressure brought to bear on the rabbis to explain to them that the blowing of the Shofar would entail bloodshed?”, Luke testified that he didn’t know, because he was not present at the conversation with the rabbis.

At this juncture Merriman read a letter from the Chief Rabbinate, concurring in the order not to allow the Shofar to be blown, owing to the pressure of the Arabs. Luke would not say that it was the pressure of the Arabs. He said that the Arabs objected to the Shofar blowing because it was not included in the new regulations.

Here there followed a long consultation between the Commissioners over this question, Shaw remarking that the question assumes that there were threats, whereas the witness had said that he had no knowledge of such threats. After another consultation, Shaw said: “I desire that the question shall be asked.” It was then that Preedy objected and Shaw said that Sir Boyd wishes to know the state of the government’s mind, and the question is permissible.

Sir Henry Betterton, a member of the Commission, expressed astonishment that Luke had no recollection of such important matters. Merriman (Continued on Page 4)

When the session was reopened, the Commissioners stated that the question whether the Government yielded to Moslem threats and prohibited the blowing of the Shofar, is not a question of fact, but a deduction from a series of facts, from which the Commission itself must draw, therefore it cannot enforce an answer from Luke to Merriman’s question, if Luke objects. Luke replied that he did not object, but that he knew of no threats, and that Sir John Chancellor knew of no threats and yielded to none.

Merriman then read a letter by the Rabbinate, stating that they agreed to the mediaeval prohibitions only because of the special difficulties of the situation and wish to avoid trouble and spare the inhabitants of the country from further shock from their enemies. The letter continued to say that the Rabbis realize that they have none to rely upon except their Father in heaven.

“Was an acknowledgment sent to the Rabbis, correcting the impression that the Government ordered the prohibition to save the country from further bloodshed?” Merriman asked Luke. In reply, Luke read a letter tersely acknowledging the Rabbis’ communication which “His Excellency has duly noted.”

Merriman introduced part of Chancellor’s statement to the Permanent Mandates Commission in July, in which he stated that the Moslems are trying to invest El Burak with a sanctity never before attached to it. Merriman implied that the Government was as skeptical as the Jews regarding the sacredness of the pavement to the Moslems. Skepticism can’t be provocative, for then the Government is ###ong the provokers, Merriman as###ed. After a long silence, Luke agreed.

Merriman then took up the Government bulletins on the disorders, issued before the return of Sir John Chancellor to the country. “You appreciate the difference between the spasmodic rioting between rival sections of the community and the attack by one section upon another?” asked Merriman, adding that the bulletins were intended to convey the impression that there was a mutual spasmodic outbreak, not an Arab attack. Luke replied that he himself did not like the bulletins, but there was no specific intention to give an erroneous impression. The state of the country necessitated that the supply of information should not be of an alarmist form, Luke asserted. He said he did not remember that the Palestine Zionist Executive had generally objected to the communiques, recalling only one exception, and that to the Safed communique, which reported “a small outbreak has been successfully quelled by the arrival of troops.” Luke agreed that this description was an understatement.

Merriman countered: “Isn’t it almost an understatement to call this kind of a thing an understatement? By this time, all the people of Palestine knew what was going on. No useful purpose was served by such a communique.”

Luke refused to answer whether the Jafia riots were described in the following manner: “A party came into conflict with the police in the Mansieh quarter.” That “three were killed, twenty-four wounded,” was an understatement of the intended Arab attack on Tel Aviv, Luke admitted, again adding the communiques were meant to be reassuring documents, not history.

Regarding Haifa where it was officially reported that “the Arabs and Jews again came into conflict at Hadar Ha’ Carmel, and were dispersed by the police.” Merriman stressed that it gave the wrong impression that there was a mutual clash. Merriman demanded to know why the casualties at Hebron which is administratively not a part of Jerusalem, were bulked with the Jerusalem casualties, and why the Hebron butchery of Jews where no Arabs were injured by Jews was made undistinguishable.

Luke pleaded it could not have been the government’s intention to minimize the awfulness of the Hebron attack, yet was unable to explain the communique which said that eight Moslems were killed, ten wounded, without saying that they were killed and wounded by the police after the massacre. Luke was unable to explain why the Haifa communique said that twenty-five rifles were seized whereas the Commission knows of only two rifles, nor why the flour mill prisoners were kept four weeks, why all the Jewish Arab casualties were bulked without distinguishing which casualties were inflicted by the military.

Luke disagreed that it was the tendency of the bulletins to make it appear that there was an outbreak of rival factions. “There was no deliberate intention to picture the outbreak as a bilateral series of events,” he stated. He said such a conclusion was possible but unintended. It was impossible, he said, to project the mind into the future and contemplate the subsequent effects of the communiques. Merriman then read Chancellor’s proclamation pointing to the differences in tones. Preedy replied there is a difference between proclamations and news bulletins.

The police commissioners, Mavrogardato and Saunders, were questioned in camera after the session adjourned.

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