Securing Zion? Policing in British Palestine, 1917–39

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History and Philosophy


The British period in Palestine (1917–48) was fundamentally shaped by the commitment to promote the Jewish National Home (JNH) as originally stated in the Balfour Declaration (1917). The extent that that commitment shaped public-security policy in Palestine is examined in this article. While the need to reduce costs and the desire for a civilian (rather than military) force also shaped policy, the government's JNH policy was the key determinant in public-security policy in Palestine. It meant the police was specifically configured to protect the Jewish population and there were always a disproportionate number of British personnel in the force. This became more pronounced as British rule progressed. Following deadly riots in 1929, the number of British police was tripled; with the inception of the Arab Revolt (1936–39) that number more than quadrupled. Moreover, during the Arab Revolt the British increasingly relied on members of the Jewish community to assist with their protection. The majority of these Jewish forces were supposedly for defensive purposes; regardless, they were all members of the semi-secret underground Jewish army, Haganah. The British were well aware of this and tacitly approved. In doing so, the British made a significant contribution to the Zionist project.

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