Monday, June 10, 2019

When Bevin Was Way Out of Order

On April 28, 1948, Labour MK Frederick Cocks asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Ernest Bevin 

whether, under the agreements to supply given quantities of arms to the Arab States, His Majesty's Government have guaranteed to deliver these arms by certain fixed dates; and whether, in view of the publicly announced intention of these States, or some of them, to invade Palestine after 15th May, he will suspend for a period further deliveries of such arms.

The Yishuv, under attack effectively since November 30, with both irregular troops and some units of the Transjordan Arab Legion already participating in the fighting, needed such protection from aggression. British support for that aggression was invidious.

Bevin answered the second part of the question so:

"it is impossible to forecast the outcome of the United Nations discussions on Palestine and the future of the country is so uncertain that it is impossible to take decisions now as to the action which may be required in respect of the period after 15th May."

Cocks persisted:

will the right hon. Gentleman suspend delivery of these arms or allow the Jews to have arms with which to defend themselves?

Bevin replied

From all my information about Palestine at present, it seems to me that the Jews are the better armed of the two, but I cannot draw a distinction, and I have no intention of interfering until I get the decision of the United Nations. From that I refuse to move"

Cocks snapped back

"The right hon. Gentleman will let people be murdered before he arrests the murderer."

Then Bevin got nasty:

No. I appealed to both the Jews and the Arabs in London and warned them that we would leave Palestine. We must remember that the British sergeants were not hanged from the tree by Arabs"

That, of course, has nothing to do with the matter at hand. Just a swipe. Plenty of British troops and police were assassinated by Arabs during the Mandate period.

Then another Labour MP, Samuel Segal, asked

In view of the reports that British arms may be used, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether His Majesty's Government intend to give any advice to King Abdullah to restrain him from taking any warlike action?

Bevin answered

I do not think I should assume any such thing until King Abdullah indicates that he proposes to do it. Why should I assume that he is going to do these things? I have had no indication of it. [An HON. MEMBER: "He said he was going to."] At the same time, I have had experience of other people taking this action.

Lord (to be) Barnett Janner then popped up

May I ask my right hon. Friend to treat this in the serious manner in which it deserves to be treated? Will he please say definitely to this House whether he has any information at all about the meeting which was supposed to have taken place, or did take place, at Amman, what was the result of the deliberations, and will he take steps to prevent the use of arms supplied by us to kill people in Palestine?

Bevin then got really nasty

I have no information about that meeting. I say to the Jews and Arabs—the Arabs are not in this House—I say to the Jews and Arabs: the way for both of you to settle this is to stop fighting.

Which led John Lewis, another Labour MP, to ask

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker; am I in Order in asking the Foreign Secretary what he meant by the reference to the fact that the Arabs are not in this House?

And the Speaker quashed that

That is not a point of Order.


On May 5, 1948, Edelman asked Bevin

"what military action the Arab Legion has undertaken in Palestine without the consent of His Majesty's Government.

Bevin answered


Kibbutz Gesher was attacked by the Arab Legion, being shelled, during the first phase of the battle for the site between April 27-29 (here in Hebrew; here in English) and according to Sela

the Legion had heavily shelled Kibbutz Gesher, near Naharayim, in the presence of Crown Prince Talal [in April], 
And on May 4th, attacked Kfar Etzion. And again on May 12.


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