Black watch troops beat twelve Arab villagers to death
6 November 1937
On Saturday 6 November 1937, an officer in the North Staffordshire Regiment recorded in his diary how soldiers of the Black Watch beat twelve Arab villagers to death with their rifle butts in the Palestinian village of Silwan.1 The incident occurred while troops were being deployed to crush an Arab rebellion against British rule and only a few hours after the killing of two Black Watch privates, whose bodies had been left sprawled in a pool of blood near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, their kilts raised to expose their buttocks. The Dundee Courier reported that by the time a British journalist arrived, he found a company of the Black Watch armed with rifles crouching behind stone walls,’ adding that ‘their anger at the killing of their comrades could be read in their faces.’2
Black Watch soldiers used doberman tracker dogs to lead them to the village which lay on the eastern outskirts of the Old City, but on arriving at 4 am the suspects were nowhere to be found.3 A Press Association report noted that one villager was shot dead and another ‘seriously wounded’ after they threw stones and that ‘the Arab owner of one of the houses fell over a precipice as he fled.’ There was no mention of the fact that twelve villagers had been brutally beaten to death. The paper did report, however, that two houses in which ammunition had been found ‘during the search caught fire and were destroyed.’4 It is possible that this was a reference to two of three houses which were selected for demolition. Additional collective punishments included a fine as well as a curfew and an obligatory muster every evening imposed on the entire village for the killing of the two soldiers.5
Although there was no evidence the villagers themselves had been involved in the initial murders, the British commanding officer in Palestine, Major General Archibald Wavell, expressed his complete satisfaction with the operation, informing Whitehall that ‘prompt measures against Silwan will have done good,’ since it was a ‘bad village which has given trouble before.’ His only regret was that it was unfortunate that a villager had died ‘falling over a cliff.’6 Like the newspaper, Wavell appears to have been unaware that twelve Palestinians had been murdered in the most horrific manner, repeatedly bashed with rifle butts, and if he did know, then he deliberately choose not to report it.
- Matthew Hughes, Britain’s Pacification of Palestine: The British Army, the Colonial State and the Arab Revolt, 1936-1939, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2019, p. 159.
- ‘Highlanders Shot Dead by Arabs,’ The Dundee Courier, 6 November 1937, p. 7 and Matthew Hughes, op. cit., p. 159.
- ‘Palestine Murders: Search in Village,’ The Scotsman, 8 November 1937, p. 9.
- ‘Arabs Shot During Search for Murderers,’ The Nottingham Evening Post, 6 November 1937, p. 9 and ‘Arab Village Searched for Murderers,’ The Coventry Evening Telegraph, 6 November 1937, p. 1.
- ‘Palestine Murders: Search in Village,’ The Scotsman, 8 November 1937, p. 9 and ‘Comrades Mourn Black Watch Victims,’ The Dundee Courier, 8 November 1937, p. 7.
- Wavell cited in Matthew Hughes, op. cit., p. 159.
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