1920-1939 | Collective punishments | Curfews | Palestine



British troops in Jerusalem c. 1936.
The National Photo Collection of Israel via Wikimedia.

[ 16 October 1938 ]

On 16 October 1938, Edward Keith Roach, Britain’s District Commissioner of Jerusalem, imposed a 24 hour curfew on the Old City to start from 7 pm. A notice was posted the same day on walls, and also dropped by aircraft, warning the population that it was to last for an indefinite period, and that anyone failing to remain indoors faced a hundred pound fine and a six month prison sentence.1 The inhabitants were duly terrified, knowing that British soldiers in Palestine routinely took the law into their own hands, arresting, beating and flogging some curfew breakers and shooting dead others.

City and village curfews were habitually issued, as they both served to limit movement and punish local inhabitants.  This particular round the clock curfew, imposed at the height of an Arab insurgency, was not lifted for four days and then only for a mere two hours on 20th October and for a further six six hours from 10 am on 22 October ‘to permit exit from and ingress in to the city.’2 Even this limited movement was tightly regulated, with the those entering through the Herod, Dung and New entrances having to pass through ‘needle’s eyes’ in tall gates which had been erected the previous December, and as dusk fell fifteen searchlights, installed on the city’s walls, probed the streets and alleyways with a piercing light. It is no mere hyperbole, when military historian Matthew Hughes, writing in Britain’s Pacification of Palestine: The British Army, the Colonial State and the Arab Revolt, observes that by 1939 the country had become ‘a nationwide prison with people’s homes as the jail cells.’3

The frequent day and night curfews imposed across Palestine caused enormous hardship and suffering for those affected. In Jerusalem on 20 October, a British woman, Winifred Rogers, persuaded soldiers to allow her to enter the Old City.  With the help of three Arab assistants she was able to distribute six thousand loaves of bread, but she was shocked to find that the inhabitants were so hungry that ‘they cried at the sight of food and kissed the loaves almost afraid to break them.’4


  1. Matthew Hughes, Britain’s Pacification of Palestine, The British Army, The Colonial State, and the Arab Revolt, 1936-1939, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2019, pp. 231-234 and ‘Troops Comb Jerusalem,’ The Belfast News-Letter, 20 October 1938, p. 7.
  2. ‘Harrowing Scenes in Jerusalem,’ The Belfast Telegraph, 21 October 1938, p. 11 and ‘Jerusalem Curfew,’ The Yorkshire Evening Post, 22 October 1938, p. 9.
  3. Matthew Hughes, op. cit., p. 234 and ‘Palestine Quieter,’ The Yorkshire Post, 21 October 1938, p. 9.
  4. ‘Brave Woman in Jerusalem,’ The Dundee Evening Telegraph, 21 October 1938, p. 1 and ‘Harrowing Scenes in Jerusalem,’ The Belfast Telegraph, 21 October 1938, p. 11.

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