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THE ROLE OF JEWISH AUXILIARY POLICE FORCES IN MANDATORY PALESTINE *

[Professor Jehuda L. Wallach, Head of Aranne School of History, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel]

When the British in 1918 finally conquered Palestine, until then under Ot- toman rule, they were immediately confronted with the problem of maintaining law and order. In particular, they had the obligation to provide security to the Jewish community in the country in view of the Balfour Declaration of 2nd No- vember, 1917. The Jewish community, however, was prepared to bear the bur- den of its defence by itself. To the Jewish and Zionist leaders it seemed logical that the Jewish battalions 1 which had participated in the Palestine campaigns on both sides of the Jordan, would form the nucleus of the future defence forces. However, very soon the British military administration, and later on the Civil Service, superseding it, had second thoughts as to the political wisdom of ap- proving this course. Since it became obvious that British public opinion would not be in favour of drafting British soldiers for security tasks in Palestine at a time when Great Britain was demobilizing after the Great War, an acceptable solution had to be found.

First steps were taken to create the so-called "Palestine Defence Force", which would be composed of two battalions: one Jewish battalion, posted in the northern part of the country, and an Arab one, in the south. Each battalion would number 600 soldiers, officers and other ranks. The privates would be paid twelve Egyptian Pounds per month and receive rations and uniforms. The authorities left no doubt that the force would be officered by Englishmen. This immediately raised a set of problems which were prevalent during the entire course of British- Jewish relations until the end of the British Mandate in Palestine.

First, there was the problem of antagonism between the British officers and Jews holding lower ranks. Whereas the British were used, as a result of a long colonial tradition, to certain patterns of behaviour between British subjects and natives, the Jewish soldiers refused to be treated as "natives".

Secondly, the above-mentioned proposals presented a serious standard of living problem. The pay-scheme was arranged according to the expectancy of local fellahin, but was by no means appropriate or sufficient for people accus- tomed to a European standard of living. On this particular issue, the Jewish insti- tutions were prepared to provide subsidies for the Jewish soldiers, an idea, how- ever, not favoured by the British planners.

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    Since most sources for this paper are in Hebrew, I desisted intentionally from

adding reference footnotes for those sources.

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