1940-1949 | Curfews | Martial law | Palestine

Martial law imposed on Palestine’s Jewish population

British soldiers in Tel Aviv – National Library of Israel.

2 March 1947

On 2 March 1947, General Sir Alan Cunningham, the High Commissioner in Palestine, declared martial law in Tel Aviv, its surrounding suburbs and in several Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. Thousands of British troops and police officers were deployed across the two cities in iron fisted operations, code-named Hippo (for Tel Aviv) and Elephant (for Jerusalem), to crush an insurgency demanding the right to an independent Jewish state.

Using their new martial law powers, the British Army imposed curfews, seized buildings, land and vehicles, cut telephone lines and tried detainees in summary military courts. The measures were particularly onerous on the Jewish population, preventing tens of thousands from attending work. Troops patrolling Tel-Aviv were given orders allowing them to shoot curfew breakers at sight. Kitty Shalom, a girl of four, was one of the first victims, shot dead during the first night of the operation while standing on the balcony of her parents’ home.2

The British government denied that the imposition of martial law and curfews on the population was an act of collective punishment but an official communique, justifying the crackdown, declared that ‘severe measures were now necessary as a result of the refusal of the Jewish community to co-operate with the British authorities against terrorism.’3 Major General Richard Gale, the military governor of Tel Aviv, added that there would be ‘no avoiding suffering caused to the residents through the fault of irresponsible individuals.’4


  1. ‘Shoot at Sight in Tel Aviv,’ The Western Morning News, 3 March 1947, p. 3.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Major General Richard Gale cited in Motti Golani, Palestine Between Politics and Terror: 1945-47,’ Brandeis University Press, Waltham, Massachusetts, 2013, p. 92.

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