Galilee (Palestine, 1937-9), Alec Seath Kirkbride, A Crackle of Thorns: Experiences in the Middle East, John Murray Ltd, Great Britain, 1956.
One of my tasks whilst at Nazareth was to site a fence of barbed wire some seventy kilometres long which was built on the instructions of Sir John Tegart, an expert on security matters sent out by the Colonial Office. The fence ran along the northern frontier from the Mediterranean coast to the shores of Lake Huleh and was designed to check the hitherto free passage of rebels, arms and ammunition to and from Palestine with the connivance of both the Lebanese and Syrian Governments. The fence was seven feet high and consisted of two outer faces four feet apart with a tangle of wire in between. I walked the entire length of the fence, taking a British Police Sergeant over each section so that he could show the contractors where to build. On one section it was obvious on looking back that we had gone wrong for a few hundred metres, so I said to my companion, ‘We will change our minds. All great men change their minds.’ He replied at once, ‘They are the only people who are allowed to do so, Sir.’ This obstacle doubtless impeded illicit traffic across the frontier but it did not prevent it altogether.
During this rebellion the Jewish community followed a self-imposed policy of non-retaliation. This decision always appeared to me to have been admirable and to have avoided unnecessary bitterness and bloodshed, but for some reason its authors decided in the end that its adoption had not paid. The restraint which they exercised in the face of great provocation could only have been possible on the part of a well-disciplined people. The great test came when the Arabs broke into Tiberias town one night and massacred a number of Jewish women and children in circumstances of great brutality. The land lines were all cut prior to the attack and the first news which reached Nazareth was a garbled wireless message which indicated that something was seriously wrong. I left Nazareth about one o’clock in the morning with the local Superintendent of Police and one armoured car with a crew of three men. On the way down we had to dig our way through no fewer than ten road blocks which were evidently designed to hold up the arrival of reinforcements. Martin, the Superintendent, and I had to do all the work as we dared not dismount the crew of the armoured car lest we should be ambushed. It took us two hours to get to Tiberias, instead of the normal twenty-five minutes, and we found matters there in a mess. The District Office, a synagogue and several Jewish dwelling-houses were in flames, the streets were littered with dead but the attackers had withdrawn. We got the machinery of government working again just as the dawn came and Martin and I were left looking at each other across the police office. He remarked, profoundly, ‘You know, Sir, if this sort of thing continues, we shall have trouble!’
The Galilee district was garrisoned by units of the 3rd Infantry Brigade commanded by Brigadier (later Lieutenant-General) Evetts. Evetts was one of those wild Irishmen to whom fighting is the greatest joy in life. We got on well together and his farewell visit is a vivid memory. I heard steps pounding on the stairs leading up to my office in Nazareth and the door flew open with a crash. Evetts bounced into my room with his eyes blazing with excitement and announced, ‘Kirk, old boy, I got one on the way over at seven hundred yards with the second shot!’ ‘One’ was an armed Arab who had been ‘got’ with a Mauser pistol fitted with a shoulder butt.
The troops brought the armed bands of Arabs to battle on several occasions and trounced them thoroughly, but experience proved that warfare of this kind did not act as a deterrent but encouraged young villagers who were attracted by prospects of honour and glory to join the rebels. The Arabs had different feelings about the Irish, Scotch and English units against whom they fought. They feared and hated the Irish soldiers as people who were inclined to finish off the Arab wounded where they lay; the Scotch were regarded as fierce fighters who sometimes withheld quarter in the heat of battle; the Englishmen were recognized as a kind-hearted crowd to whose better feelings it was always possible to appeal.
The hanging of Arabs for the illegal possession of firearms was equally ineffective as a means of checking the revolt. The more martyrs who were killed the more Arabs there were ready to take their places. The measures which ultimately extinguished the trouble had nothing to do with battle and death, they merely made everyday life difficult and, eventually, convinced the Arabs that it was not worth while persisting in their policy of violence. One of the most potent of these steps was to require all would-be travellers to obtain a movement permit beforehand, similarly, all movements of merchandise and foodstuffs had to be licensed. There was no glory to be had in resisting such regulations and yet they made life very difficult.
I invented a new way of countering sabotage which appealed to the Arab sense of humour and so achieved its end without causing hatred. On taking charge I discovered that the arrears of taxation due amounted to over three hundred thousand pounds, so, whenever an act of sabotage was committed, I sent for the elders of the village to which the land belonged and informed them that they would have to pay a certain sum of arrears of taxation within a given period, otherwise, troops would be sent to collect the money. The following is typical of the conversation which followed-
The Elder, ‘But, Excellency, we had nothing to do with the cutting of the telephone wires. Had we wished to do such a wicked thing, we would not have chosen wires standing in our lands. The act was, clearly, done by our enemies in order to get us into trouble.’
Myself, ‘I do not understand. I said nothing about the telephone wires. I said that you had to pay five hundred pounds of arrears of taxes. Do you mean to say that you do not owe this money to the government?’
The deputation then had to admit that the money was outstanding and left the room looking rather foolish. Luckily, the rebellion collapsed before all arrears were paid up.
By the middle of 1939, there were signs that the rebellion was coming to an end, but before it did so the then British Resident at Amman retired on pension and I was selected to take his place. Both my wife and I were delighted to be going back to a country where we had already passed many happy years. The outgoing Resident, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry Cox, held the post for twelve years; during that time he accomplished work of the greatest value to the Arabs and to the British. He laid the foundations on which the future kingdom of Jordan was built and then left with the liking and respect of all. I, in particular, was glad to return to the task of giving effect to a policy which was popular, namely, that of training the people of Jordan in self-government, so that one day they could become citizens of an independent sovereign state. I had done my utmost whilst in Galilee to prevent injustices, but there were a number of matters on the score of which my conscience was not at peace. My only consolation was the fact that I left the district with the good wishes of both the Arabs and the Jews of Galilee. One of my greatest joys was to dismiss my armoured-car escort finally on crossing the Jordan river to take up my new post at Amman.
I took my successor to Safed and introduced him to the local head of the Jewish community, who was an aged gentleman of strict orthodoxy. Our host said, ‘We Jews compare the departure of a great man with the setting of the sun and the arrival of a great man with its rising.’ He chuckled with amusement when I replied, ‘I have heard of a great Jew who bade the sun stand still in the heavens, but it remained for Mr. Podhorzer to produce two suns in the sky at the same time.’