Six thousand given a few hours warning of compulsory demolition
16 June 1936
On 16 June 1936, six thousand Arab Palestinian residents of Jaffa’s Old City awoke to leaflets, dropped by British aircraft, informing them that their homes would be blown up and that they had until 9 pm to vacate them. The astonishing pretext was the need to improve ‘health and sanitation,’ although the actual intention was to improve access for military vehicles and soldiers.
Some families were away and so unaware of the warning. They returned to find that their homes and all their possessions had been pulverised.1 Other residents stayed until they were forcibly evicted. The British press predictably blamed ‘agitators,’ who had ‘intimidated’ them.2 The remainder searched desperately for donkeys or camels on to which they could load some of their possessions in the few hours they had to quit. The authorities failed to provide any alternative accommodation and they were forced to find shelter in crowded schools, in basement cellars and even on the beach.3
A few days later, on 23 June, the Daily Herald carried a photograph of a large explosion on page 3, with the caption ‘Heart of Jaffa blown up. Centuries old houses covering 4,500 square yards… blown up by British troops.’ It explained it as ‘a sanitary measure.’4 Similarly, on 27 June, The Illustrated London News carried two photographs of detonations, noting that the British authorities had ‘recently decided to open and improve the Old City at Jaffa by demolishing certain congested and insanitary buildings and constructing two new roads through it.’ It added that ‘the Old City has been described as a “stubborn centre of sniping and bomb throwing.”‘ The fate of the inhabitants was not considered worthy of any comment in any British newspaper, many of which made no mention of the demolitions.5
One exception to the near universal deference shown by the British elite to the official pretext for the evictions was Chief Justice Sir Michael McDonnell. He had to consider an injunction brought to stop the action, and though he dismissed it and allowed the clearances to go ahead, he embarrassed the British administration in Palestine by publicly confirming that its claim that the demolitions were part of an urban renewal scheme was a lie which demonstrated a ‘disingenuous lack of moral courage’ and he refused to impose the costs of the case on the petitioners.6 A few weeks later the judge was forced to take early retirement.7
- Matthew Hughes, ‘The Benality of Brutality: British armed forces and the Repression of the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936-39,’ Brunel University accessed online at https://bura.brunel.ac.uk/bitstream/2438/3202/3/Fulltext.pdf
- “Strikers Foment Trouble in Jaffa,” the Northern Daily Mail, 17 June 1936, p. 5
- Tom Segev, One Palestine Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, Abacus, London, 2014, p. 399
- “Heart of Jaffa Blown Up,” the Daily Herald, 23 June 1936, p. 3.
- “Jaffa Demolitions,” The Illustrated London News, 27 June 1936, p. 1170
- ‘Not For Town Planning,’ The Derry Journal, 6 July 1936, p. 8
- Tom Segev, One Palestine Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, Abacus, London, 2014, p. 399 and Matthew Hughes, “The Benality of Brutality: British armed forces and the Repression of the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936-39,” Brunel University accessed online at https://bura.brunel.ac.uk/bitstream/2438/3202/3/Fulltext.pdf
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