1920-1939 | Palestine | Torture



Police and a police dog in Jerusalem c. 1937 - individuals depicted were not involved in the incident described. (Library of Congress via Wikimedia.)
Police and a police dog in Jerusalem c. 1937 – individuals depicted were not involved in the incident described. (Library of Congress via Wikimedia.)

[ 29 December 1937 ]

On 29 December 1937, David Irving, the Anglican Chaplain for the Palestinian town of Haifa, wrote to Graham Brown, the Bishop of Jerusalem, to alert him of a brutal beating of an Arab prisoner he had witnessed at a British run police station. The man’s attackers included several colonial police officers and two British men in civilian clothes, one who appeared to be working with the police, possibly with military intelligence, and the other who seemed to be a soldier. At the time, the British Army was involved in a savage counter insurgency campaign to crush an Arab insurgency against imperial rule.

The prisoner’s teeth had already been forcibly removed when ‘a second man came in who was in plain clothes, but whom I took to be one of the British Police, and I saw him put a severe double arm lock on the man from behind and then beat him about the head and body in what I can only describe as a brutal and callous way. Once or twice he stopped and turned to the other people in the station, and in an irresponsible and gloating manner said “I’m so sorry, I’m awfully sorry.”’1 A little later, ‘a third man came in. He was in plain clothes, and was wearing a soft felt hat. He was, I think, British, and may have been a member of the Police Force, but I thought at the time that he was a soldier in civilian clothes …. But this man also made a vicious and violent attack on the prisoner, and punched him about the head and body.’ The chaplain added that he could ‘only say what I saw on this occasion sickened me and filled me with the gravest misgivings.’2

This vicious beating occurred only three weeks after the arrival in Palestine of Sir Charles Tegart, appointed to advise on more effective pacification methods which included the establishment of a centre in Jerusalem to train interrogators in torture.  Here soldiers were schooled not just in the traditional techniques, what Israeli historian Tom Segev summarises as ‘humiliation, beating and severe physical mistreatment,’ but also in methods which left no physical marks, including what Douglas Duff, Chief of the Jerusalem colonial police,  dubbed the ‘water can’ method in which the prisoner would be forced down on to his back with his head clamped in a fixed position, while water from a coffeepot was splashed into his nostrils.3


  1. Letter from David Irving to the Lord Bishop of Jerusalem Graham Brown, 29 December 1937 cited in Matthew Hughes, Britain’s Pacification of Palestine: The British Army, the Colonial State and the Arab Revolt, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2019 pp. 244-245.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Tom Segev, One Palestine Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, Abacus, 2014, pp. 416-417.

Please feel welcome to post comments below.  If you have any questions please email alisdare@gmail.com

© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *