1920-1939 | Demolishing villages | Palestine

British army turns Palestinian village into ‘a pile of mangled masonry’

The houses of Mi’ar are methodically destroyed – Image from The Scotsman, 1 November 1938, p. 12.

26 October 1938

On 26 October 1938, journalists were driven out to the Palestinian village of Mi’ar, east of Acre, to witness ‘a punitive measure.’ Arthur Merton, the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, described it as a village ‘with a population of about 500… perched on a hill, looking most innocent with its clean white houses,’ but then claimed that ‘this appearance was deceptive.’1

In the previous weeks roads in the surrounding countryside had been damaged by insurgents ‘cutting trenches across them with pneumatic drills’ and British soldiers travelling along them had come under sniper fire from Arab rebels who were fighting for independence from British rule. It was, however, acknowledged that villagers had helped to repair the road damage.2 The mukhtar (village headman), when questioned by Brigadier John Evetts, the military commander of the Haifa district, had insisted that he had never ‘seen any armed men.’ Unfortunately for the villagers this response was deemed to be uncooperative at a time when, according to an Associated Press report filed the same day, ‘the military are taking firm measures in North Palestine to obtain security on the roads.’3  Soldiers of the Royal West Kents promptly occupied the surrounding hills, while British army sappers commenced blowing up six of the larger buildings with dynamite. The headman was then warned that he must persuade the villagers to surrender their rifles or else all the remaining houses in Mi’ar, numbering over a hundred, would be destroyed.4

The next day at least two British newspapers reported that the mukhtar was ‘unable or possibly afraid, because of rebel vengeance to produce the rifles which the military asked for yesterday. The blowing up of houses in the village therefore proceeds.’5  A New York Times reporter noted that ‘when the [British] troops left, there was little else remaining of this once busy village except a pile of mangled masonry.’6

A map of the area around the village c. 1940s.
Source – cropped from palopenmaps.org


  1. Arthur Merton of the Daily Telegraph cited in ‘Road Destruction in Palestine,’ the Belfast Telegraph, 27 October 1938, p. 13. The Times, (27 October 1938 p. 14) estimated the village’s population at 600.
  2. ‘Rebels Trapped in a Cave,’ The Times, 27 October 1938, Issue 48136, p. 14 and ‘Journalists See Demolition of Arab Village as Punitive Measure,’ The Scotsman, 27 October 2016, p. 12.
  3. Associated Press report cited in ‘Arab Village Demolished: Restoring Order in Palestine,’ The Leeds Mercury 27 October 1938 p5 and  ‘Journalists See Demolition of Arab Village as Punitive Measure,’ The Scotsman, 27 October 1938, p. 12.
  4. The 1931 census figures recorded a population of 543 living in 109 houses. See E. Mills, Census of Palestine 1931: Population of Villages, Towns and Administrative Areas, p. 102 accessed online at url https://ia800304.us.archive.org/18/items/CensusOfPalestine1931.PopulationOfVillagesTownsAndAdministrativeAreas/PalestineCensus1931.pdf
  5. ‘British Punitive Operations Continued,’ The Scotsman, 28 October 1938, p. 11 and ‘Destruction of Houses because Rifles not Produced,’ The Belfast Telegraph, 28 October 1938, p. 9
  6. Cited in Nicholas Bethell, The Palestine Triangle: The Struggle for the Holy Land 1935-48, Putnam, 1979, p. 49.

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