1920-1939 | Censorship | Collective punishments | Detention without trial | Martial law | Palestine

British security forces in Palestine granted draconian powers

British police confront a crowd in Jaffa – c. 1933.
Matson Collection – Library of Congress via Wikimedia

19 April 1936

At 9 pm on 19 April 1936, Sir Arthur Wauchope, the British High Commissioner in Palestine, proclaimed a series of what he termed ‘precautionary measures,’ which gave Britain’s security forces enormous powers. This followed two days of rioting, triggered by sectarian violence between the Jewish and Arab communities, as well as Arab anger at being excluded from the political process. The new regulations gave the colonial government power to take over strategic buildings, to seize any ‘food, fuel, material or stores needed for public life’, to close roads and seize vehicles, to order and enforce curfews, to open, examine and if necessary confiscate mail deemed ‘prejudicial to the public safety or the defence of Palestine,’ to ‘prohibit the publication or printing of newspapers,’ to search premises for ‘banned publications or printing presses,’ to close down telephone services ‘to such persons as he (the High Commissioner) may think fit’, and to ‘deport anyone from Palestine with a Deportation Order.’1

These oppressive decrees were soon followed by others, allowing detention without trial for up to a year, internment in ‘concentration’ camps,  the imprisonment of shopkeepers who refused to open their shops, the confinement of designated individuals to specific places and the demolition of  any building ‘situated in any town, quarter, village or other area the inhabitants of which he (the District Commissioner) is satisfied have committed, aided or abetted any offence involving violence or intimidation, the actual offenders being unknown to him; and where any house, building or construction is appropriated as aforesaid it shad be forfeited to the High Commissioner without compensation and may be demolished.’2 This last amendment to the regulations, issued on 19 June, provided the legal basis by which the British army would, in response to any rebel attack, routinely demolish entire villages and urban neighbourhoods as a collective punishment.

British troops march through Jerusalem –
Matson Collection – Library of Congress via Wikimedia.


  1. Matthew Hughes, Britain’s Pacification of Palestine: The British Army, the Colonial State and the Arab Revolt, 1936-39, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2019, pp. 62-66
  2. Ibid.

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