1920-1939 | Palestine | Punitive operations

British special night squad troops target random Arabs

Members of the Special Night Squads training – 1938
Z. Kluger – National Photo Collection of Israel.

3 October 1938

On 3 October 1938, Special Night Squad (SNS) soldiers, composed of British troops alongside Jewish auxiliary forces, commanded by Captain Orde Wingate,  launched a surprise punitive attack on the villagers of Daburiyya in northern Palestine. The raid followed an Arab terror assault the previous evening on the town of Tiberias, killing 19 Jewish civilians, including 10 children, and burning the synagogue and government buildings.1 Lieutenant Humphrey Bredin of the Royal Ulster Rifles commanded one of the SNS platoons. He had recently been awarded the Military Cross for distinguished service in Palestine and had witnessed the earlier terror attack. He is alleged to have commented: ‘Would I be allowed to take revenge, I would have eliminated all the Arabs.’2  The evidence, however, suggests that he did indeed inflict indiscriminate revenge, with appalling consequences for an unknown number of innocent Arab civilians.

Shortly before Bredin’s platoon’s arrival at Daburiyya, possibly during the morning of 3 October,  a Jewish auxiliary, Levacov, recalled that they ‘met an Arab riding his bicycle. Bredeen [sic] shot him dead… this helped a bit in reviving the general atmosphere.’ Another soldier, who may have been recounting the same incident, claimed that an ‘Englishman’ fired at a bicyclist with his pistol, but on failing to hit him, took a rifle from a Jewish soldier and killed him.’3 However, the situation seems to have deteriorated further when the platoon reached Daburiyya, on the afternoon or evening of the same day.  Levacov remembered that ‘when we arrived… Bredeen gave orders not to have mercy and not behave like gentlemen.’

It’s not clear how many of the villagers were killed or injured, but historian Matthew Hughes comments, based on his research at the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, that ‘SNS men shot random Palestinians after the Tiberias massacre’ and also that enraged Jewish auxiliary soldiers ‘turned machine guns on the villagers of Daburiyya.’ Some days later evidence emerged that exonerated the villagers from any involvement with the initial terror assault in Tiberias. Intelligence from the Jewish paramilitary organisation Haganah identified another village, Kfar Hittin located just outside Tiberias but over ten miles from Daburiyya, as having been the base for those responsible for the earlier raid.4

FOOTNOTES

  1. ‘Jews Murdered by Arabs in Palestine,’ The Scotsman, 4 October 1938, p. 12 and ‘House to House Massacre,’ The Nottingham Evening Post, 3 October 1938, p. 3.
  2.  Levakov cited in 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. 286 and ‘The MC and MM Awarded: Palestine Bravery,’ The Belfast Telegraph, 6 August 1938, p. 4.
  3. Levakov and another soldier cited in Matthew Hughes, op. cit., p. 286.
  4. Matthew Hughes, op. cit., p. 286.

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