War in Palestine booklet


29 June 2021
A new booklet providing a background to the present conflict in Israel/Palestine has been published by the British Palestine Police Association.

The booklet has been produced to mark the centenary of the British Palestine Police Force. Policing the Holy Land 1920-1948 explains the early, violent stages of the Palestine/Israel confrontation before Israel became independent.

The booklet contains reminiscences from former Palestine policemen about their experiences, while Lord John Cope, Patron of the British Palestine Police Association, encapsulates the history of the time in the booklet, which has been edited by Ralph Cairns.

The British Palestine Police Force policed Palestine under the Mandate of the League of Nations and it covered what is now Israel and the Occupied Palestine Territories, including Jerusalem and Gaza.

From the outset the Force faced problems because Palestine was the ‘Twice Promised Land’. The British had promised the Arabs self-determination in 1915-16 in return for support against Turkey and in the Balfour Declaration in 1917 had promised the Jews support for a ‘National Home without prejudice to the rights of existing communities’.
The Palestine Police Force, which succeeded the military occupation after the defeat of Ottoman Turkey in World War I, was initially composed of mainly locally-recruited policemen with British commanders. It reflected the ethnic proportions population, being about 90% Arab (Muslim and Christian) and 10% Jewish. However as violence increased, more (and more) British were recruited to ensure peace between Arabs and Jews. By 1948 there were 4,000 men in the British Police which was always armed to counter the threat of guns and bombs.

Patron of BPPA, Lord Cope said, “It is difficult today to realise what Palestine was like 100 years ago. Israel did not exist and only 10% of the inhabitants were Jews. In 1920 the intention of the Mandate was that Britain would guide the country to independence with the existing largely Arab inhabitants and special arrangements for Jews. Given the conflicting aspirations of the Arabs and the Jews for the territory and the contradictory promises we had made to each side, this was always a huge challenge and ultimately proved impossible.

“By 1937 it was suggested that there should be two states and this is still the basis of British and UN policy, but there is still not agreement today. The pressure of Jewish immigration as the Holocaust grew made the situation ever more difficult. In 1948 we gave up and left a vicious war behind us, as well as the graves of 349 British policemen and 276 Arab and Jewish colleagues. Our fathers and grandfathers in the Palestine Police did their best, but British policy failed.”

Lord (John) Cope was in the Westminster parliament from 1974 to 2020 and for 25 years was on the front bench of the Conservative party in the Commons and the Lords.

Policing the Holy Land 1920-48, is published by the British Palestine Police Association and costs £15 from Ralph Cairns. Contact [email protected].


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