Jews (Fighting Services).

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 6th August 1942.

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Photo of Mr Somerset De Chair Mr Somerset De Chair , Norfolk South Western

I was particularly interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), because he showed a disarming candour when he referred to the difficulty which he and the members of his party found in reaching a decision upon this subject. He recognises that it is difficult for people in this country to know the significance of the possible reactions to a proposal of this kind. As one who has recently returned to this country from Palestine, I will try to give the House some idea of the relative forces involved in these proposals. The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah), in an enchanting speech, referred to long train journeys between Bilston and the House of Commons. While he was on those long journeys, I was tramping the tracks in Palestine, and during that time I had a real opportunity to get to know the people of Palestine. I mean both Arabs and Jews. We saw in our daily contacts a tremendous number of Arabs and Jews. The soldiers there really came to love Palestine. They saw no prospect of getting back to this country for many years and, when they were campaigning in Iraq or Syria, if they spoke of home it was usually of Palestine that they were thinking. When I first went there I camped in the Jordan Valley and visited many Jewish agricultural settlements and was tremendously impressed. I took an archeological society into one, and we were stopped at the gate and asked to remove our boots. We were accustomed to taking them off when we entered mosques, and we thought that this was some religious custom with which we ought to comply, but it was merely because there was an epidemic of swine fever in the neighbourhood and they did not want us to bring it into the settlement.

The Arab is tremendously susceptible to Axis propaganda. He is very impressed by propaganda of any kind, and we know how in the Middle East the barometer of Arab, opinion would go up and down according to our successes in the Western Desert or military developments in any other part of the world. You cannot visit Arab villages, often perched up on crags which are quite inaccessible to any wheeled vehicle, and sit down with the Muktahr and his male relatives in a circle in his house, drinking coffee, without soon getting to know how these people feel about things. At the same time we became very much aware of the burning love of the Holy Land which the Jews who have settled there feel and their determination to be allowed to play a part in the defence of the country.

But if the hon. Member asks me what will be the reaction upon the Arab communities in the Middle East if the proposal to set up a purely Jewish Army in Palestine were adopted, under British administration, I can say that in my opinion it would be disastrous. I am reluctantly driven to the conclusion that in the highly excitable state of Arab opinion it would be extremely dangerous. I do not say that we should rule out the possibility of any alternative constructive proposal, but we have to watch the whole of this question of Arab reaction very closely. We must bear in mind that some very important Arab personalities are in Axis countries, under the protection of the Axis Powers, and it is easy to see, from the drift of Axis broadcasts, that Herr Hitler is throwing out the suggestion of a free Arab Government. He already has with him the ex-Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Husseini, and Raschid Ali al Gailani, who led the Iraq revolt and was the former Prime Minister, and he has an extremely capable general in Fawzi Kuwuckji who led the Palestine rebels in 1936 and who was a continual thorn in our flesh during both the Iraq and Syrian campaigns. It is easy to see how, playing upon Arab susceptibilities, and building up in their minds the prospect of a future German victory, he could promise them an Arab Government on quite spectacular lines. Set off against this is a very considerable Jewish unrest. People in this country are inclined to think that the main unrest is usually Arab, but there is also a considerable amount of Jewish unrest at different times, which flared up, for example, at the time of the "Patria" disaster. I remember, when that ship carrying refugees from Rumania was blown up in Haifa harbour and rolled over on her side, the feeling among the Jews was intense. It is impossible to ask them to see in an impartial light the difficulties in which the British Government found themselves. It is impossible to argue with them that these were illegal immigrants in excess of the quota to which the Government had agreed. It is simply a matter of passionate conviction that Palestine ought to accept Jewish refugees whenever they come from Europe, and one can readily understand their point of view.