“The maintenance of the censorship in Palestine during the period of the war produced many curiosities in the way of prohibited material”, the London-based Jewish Chronicle’s Jerusalem Correspondent observed in its issues of 19 October 1945.
It was only in the Spring of 1943 that the system of returning marked copies of cables were returned to him and other press correspondents; hitherto, they had no idea that their material had been expurgated. The file he’d kept from then onwards of material he’d sent to the paper but which the Censor had blue-pencilled “makes amazing reading”, he wrote.
“It shows the lengths to which local bureaucracy was prepared to go, not in protecting the interests of local security, but in justifying the White Paper policy, in white-washing the blunders of meddling departments, in concealing official incompetence, and in pursuing that course which a friend of mine here aptly described as trying to keep the dilapidated old ship of state afloat by taking the patch off one leak and putting it over another.”He went on, with a more than touch of bitterness:
Early in the war, when the British military authorities announced recruiting of Palestinians, the Palestine Government did its best to play down the Jewish effort. The Arabs were then reaching the top of their bent in disloyalty, the pro-Axis elements in Iraq and Syria were simmering (with what results we know), the British thought they were caught in the cleft stick of the Middle East between the powerful Axis forces to the west and north and the Arabs all around them. The Arabs of Palestine were scornful of the attempts to raise a local force of Palestinians to defend the country. Only the Jews cooperated.
So the publicity given abroad for a Jewish Army was put under a censorship ban. Obviously the Arabs would be peevish if they knew that the Jews wanted to raise a fighting force to help Britain in her predicament and stress, and the appeasement wallahs in Cairo would have nothing of that. Oh, no! Better that the Jews do their enlisting and their fighting and their effort for the Empire anonymously, secretly, without fuss or pother [sic], than that the noble son of the desert be enraged at this challenge to his own lagging loyalty.
So these things happened:
A Jewish news agency sent a cabled account abroad of a wartime exhibition in Tel-Aviv, around the summer of 1943... the exhibition was a Palestinian Jewish tribute to the Soviet war effort. The cable stated: “Zionist, British and Russian flags flew over the entrance to the exhibition.” The word “Zionist” was deleted by the Censor.
When the Palestine Regiment was formed out of the three Jewish battalions of the Buffs (to which the Jewish infantry regiments were originally attached), it was necessary to take account of the three or four companies of Arab infantry. So the badge devised was the same emblem as appears on a Palestinian 100-mil (two-shilling) coin: the olive branch. The Jewish soldiers wanted a national design of their own and refused to wear these two-bob badges. Courts martial ensued.
When the Palestinian Regiment went out into the desert, and the Jewish transport companies of the R.A.S.C. [Royal Army Service Corps] did such yeoman work in servicing the Eighth Army from El Alamein to the Po, they had no flag of their own. At one place near Benghazi a Jewish company mounted its own blue and white colours and refused to strike them when ordered by the British Area Commander. “That is the flag we are fighting for,” they said. They were all charged with mutiny, and the matter would have ended disasterously for both officers and men, who had enlisted primarily as Jews, had not wiser counsels prevailed.’
And then came this unpleasant revelation:
'Pro-Fascist elements in the Polish Army in the Middle East about which a chapter of itself could be written – were protected by military censorship because it was an Allied Army. It is now no secret that Jews were put in gaol as “deserters”, that anti-semitism assumed a militant and active form among both the higher-ups and subordinate ranks in General Anders’ forces, and that there were numerous cases of the humiliation of Jews. I have it on good authority that a Polish colonel used to parade his battalion every morning, give the order “Jews to the front!” and when the Jewish soldiers stepped forward, he would say contemptuously, “You Jews cost us our country and are responsible for our exile. When we get you back to Poland we will murder you.” This, I am told, was part of the parade ritual and was not excepted even on the Sabbath. The story could not be printed – that Polish colonel was the ally of Britain.'The Jerusalem Correspondent continued:
'Space would not permit the publication of the many incidents which occurred in the war years as part of the supreme contribution by the Palestine Government to winning the war by hiding the Jewish share. The Jewish Agency Executive’s files must contain more of the accounts of this debasing and shameful treatment than the memory of the ordinary mortal can encompass. It would be interesting in due course to read the history of the war against the Jews of Palestine which the protracted negotiations between the Jewish Agency and the Government and the archives of the Agency’s political Department would disclose. Perhaps that history will one day be written.’In the Jewish Chronicle of 2 November the Jerusalem Correspondent returned to his theme, to complete it.
Today there is no move to secure the custody of the Mufti, who, as a Palestinian citizen, and subject of His Majesty’s Mandatory rule, was as much a traitor as William Joyce to Britain and Vidkun Quisling to Norway.
Nor did those Arabs who joined the Palestinian units of the British Army behave any better. After a little while they began deserting in large numbers, with, of course, their rifles and ammunition. There were frequent outbreaks of mutiny; I can cite three which came to my knowledge:
One was at the Wadi Sarar ordnance depot, when Arab infantrymen attacked Jewish soldiers and had to be confined to barracks by force of arms, and subsequently transferred; another was during the troubles in the Lebanon this year, when Palestinian Arab troops joined a VE Day procession in Beirut without authority, carried a picture of the Mufti of Jerusalem at the head, and engaged in hooliganism and shop-window breaking, and, I am told, tried to attack a French convent because it showed only French flags and no Arab banners; again during this summer there was a similar outbreak.
As a result of the third demonstration, the Arab infantrymen were discharged out of their regular release groups on the ground that “their services were no longer required”. Today, few if any Arabs are left in the Palestinian units, but 15,000 Jewish men and women are still serving.”A document in the Jerusalem Correspondent’s possession showed that, following a
‘long period of frustration of their effort, the Jewish Agency Executive was informed ... that its Liaison Officer at the Sarafand Recruiting Depot, who had been active in that capacity for over two years (... since the early part of 1941) was notified by the officer in charge to leave the Recruit Training Depot by May 1. On April 29, the premises of the Recruiting Office of the Jewish Agency in Tel- Aviv were entered by the police, a search was carried out, officials and members of the public who were present were interrogated, and the official in charge of the office was “detained for further examination”. The Jewish Agency was not advised of the action taken nor was it informed of any complaints or charges against the officials concerned.
The Jewish Agency Executive registered on April 29, in a letter to the Chief Secretary, its “most emphatic protest against the action.” It was added: “A police search in an institution of the Jewish Agency of the Mandate regime of which the Agency forms an integral part. The incident is all the more grave as the search and the detentions occurred in an office which is engaged in the recruiting of men and women for His Majesty’s Forces.”
“The Jewish Agency is driven to the conclusion that by the demonstrative action now taken the authorities have broken off their cooperation with the Jewish Agency in the organisation of Jewish recruiting. The Jewish Agency can obviously expect its officials and the numerous volunteers assisting them to engage in the tasks of recruiting under conditions which expose them to police searches, interrogations, and detention. It, therefore, begs to inform the Government that the procedure they have authorised has compelled the discontinuance of the activity of the Jewish Agency’s recruiting offices.”
That was the position in April 1943. The letter from which I have quoted was sent to foreign press correspondents by the Jewish Agency, but the correspondents (myself among them) could not get it through censorship. Subsequent efforts succeeded in overcoming the formidable obstacles which this letter indicated, and the Jewish Brigade Group finally emerged as a fighting force. It was not for several months, however, that Jewish recruiting was resumed.’