By March 10, 2008 Read More →

The Palestine Police and the Jewish Settlement Police, Shira Klein, COJS.

The August 1929 disturbances exposed the inadequacy of the British military forces and even more so the weakness, both in quantity and in quality, of the Palestine Police—a force run by the Mandate Government which included both British and local policemen. The Va’ad Leumi (Jewish National Council), representing the Yishuv, blamed the police force for having failed to protect the Jewish settlements at the time of the riots. The main charge related to the police’s unwillingness to answer the Jews’ pre-1929 requests to add Jewish men to the force and to equip settlements with armories. Chancellor, the High Commissioner at the time, realized the damage that had been done and informed his superiors that “public confidence in the [Palestine police] force has been shaken.”1 The Shaw Commission, too, recommended a reexamination of the police force, stressing the importance of an increase in the number of British policemen. The Colonial Office understood that the police must be reorganized in order to prevent a recurrence of uncontrollable violence and appointed Sir Herbert Dowbiggin, the experienced head of police in Ceylon, to recommend what must be done.

Dowbiggin’s first step was to increase the number of British policemen. In 1928 the police force consisted of 2100 men, of whom the British numbered less than 200, the Jews approximately 300, and the rest—about 1600 men—were Arabs. On Dowbiggin’s recommendation, the British section of the force was increased to 650 men. Secondly, he set about enabling the police to control as many areas as possible at the same time. This had been difficult at the time of the riots since they were all concentrated in the big cities. He therefore spread the British forces, as well as the local policemen, all over the country. Thirdly, following Dowbiggin’s advice, the police provided the Jewish settlements with armories. These were comprised, however, of Greener guns—primitive weapons that could fire at a range of no more than 100 meters—with 50 bullets for each gun. To the Yishuv’s objection that these guns were rather useless, Dowbiggin responded that in case of attack, the police would arrive immediately; the guns were only meant to intimidate the enemy. Dowbiggin’s fourth task concerned the local—Arab and Jewish—policemen, who, in times of crisis, did not pass on information to their senior officers. This was especially true for the Arab rank and file, whose actions during the 1929 incitements were swayed by their loyalty to their people. Dowbiggin proposed to provide the policemen with living quarters in the police buildings, so that they would not be under the influence of their townsmen. However, this plan was not carried out, and the Arab policemen, comprising 60% of the whole police force, remained a standing concern.

The next few years proved Dowbiggin’s measures to be useful. In October 1933, for instance, the police took decisive action against Arab strikes and demonstrations, managing to quell the riots without calling for army support. However, during these years there were several murderous assaults on Jews in which the police proved quite helpless, and the Yishuv, on the whole, was unhappy about Dowbiggin’s reforms. Their requests to receive armories had been answered with the fairly useless Greener guns; their demands to increase the number of Jewish men had been turned down; all in all, the British were not providing them with the means required for their self-defense.

What the settlers were truly in need of was a Jewish police force, armed and uniformed, to guard their settlements. As early on as 1929 the Zionists had turned to Chancellor and requested that he approve their forming a Jewish police force, armed and supervised by the British, whose aim would be to guard the settlements. The Government had objected to this plan, arguing that it would only incite the Arabs further. This situation changed, however, following the disturbances of 1936, when the British recognized the need for further protection. Together with the Jewish Agency, the Mandate Government established the Jewish Settlement Police (J.S.P.), also known as Notrim (guards).

The J.S.P. was initially organized in four classes—one active and three on reserve—but the need for active forces grew. For this reason, the categories were abolished in 1938 and a regular force, organized into companies, groups and units, was introduced. They were equipped with uniforms and arms by the British, and they guarded settlements, railroads, airfields, and Government offices. By the end of 1939, the J.S.P. numbered more than 13,000 men, was equipped with more than 4,000 guns as well as armored cars, and held mobile patrols. Most of the members were Haganah men, and the district battalions they operated in were roughly parallel to those of the Haganah. Thus, although officially the J.S.P. forces were subject to British command, de facto they were loyal members of the Haganah. The Haganah frequently used the J.S.P. framework as a disguise for underground training and operations.


Cited in Kolinsky, Martin, “Reorganization of the Palestine Police after the Riots of 1929,” Studies in Zionism, 10 (2) 1989, p. 161.

Primary Sources

A Survey of Palestine- Prepared in December 1945 and January 1946 for the Information of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, Jerusalem- printed by the Government Printer, Palestine, 1946–47, vol. 2, chap. 15.

Report of the Commission on the Palestine Disturbances of August, 1929, London- HMSO, Cmd. 3530, March 1930, chap. 5, 12.


איל, יגאל, “מאורעות 1929- נקודת מפנה בתפיסת הביטחון בארץ-ישראל”, קתדרה, 83 1997, עמ’ 125–142.

סלוצקי, יהודה ואחרים (עורכים), ספר תולדות ההגנה, ירושלים- הספריה הציונית, 1954, כרך ב’, חלק 1, עמ’ 404–415, 500–509. חלק 2, עמ’ 881–910.

Kolinsky, Martin, “Reorganization of the Palestine Police after the Riots of 1929,” Studies in Zionism, 10(2) 1989, pp. 155–173.

Slutsky, Yehuda, “Israel, State of (Historical Survey)- Jewish Defense and Resistance,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jerusalem- Keter, 1972, vol. 9, p. 350–1.

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