3 JULY 1936, Page 16



WE sat in the gravel-bedded garden of the German restaurant. Haifa was quiet tonight. No spit- ting, no demonstrations, no bombs. In the corner sat three of the Palestine Police, off duty and drinking lager. A fat Jew brushed a mosquito from his face. The blond Saxon waiter brought us our veal and laid the table with teuton precision. A couple of sunburnt Naval Officers tumbled in—to order steak and lager. Yes, Haifa was peaceful.

" Tell me about Jaffa," I said.

My friend paused.

" I'm afraid I sympathise with the Arabs," he replied thoughtfully, " they're fighting a losing battle and they know it."

" But Jaffa . . ." I reiterated, " remember I last saw you on Wednesday evening. You were sailing at midnight. . ."

My friend crumbled a piece of bread.

" Yes. Only the Captain and First Lieutenant knew the orders. Leave was up at ten," he smiled. " Well, we slipped out of Haifa Harbour just after midnight and went south at 20 knots. Jaffa is only 60 miles down the coast, so we got there some time before dawn. We anchored about 100 yards from the shore—a destroyer doesn't draw much water," he explained.

I nodded.

" But you're assuming I know all about this incident," I reminded him. " I wish you'd begin at the beginning."

" Very well, then, here's the story." He played with his fork. " As you may or may not know, Jaffa is a very old town. The streets are—or rather were—about six feet wide ; Arab houses crawl over each other with that peculiar licence which antiquity allows. It had its own beauty. Rather like you picture Elizabethan London." He coughed. " The draining system was of the same vintage," he murmured.

" Let's leave the beauty and get down to the story." He looked at me, pained.

" All right. You may remember when this trouble in Palestine first began that the old town of Jaffa became an Arab fortress—or so it was believed. No Englishman and no Jew had been inside its thick mediaeval walls since the first riots, and although the Jewish Tel-Aviv and the Arab Jaffa are bedfellows on the same stretch of coast, there's a thick barbed-wire boundary between them—in case of sleepwalkers, you see." He paused for a moment. " The army suspected Jaffa to be the centre of the gun-running organisation which has made this revolt possible, so that added a sting to the affair. Then the rumour spread that the British were afraid to enter Jaffa. The place became a major boil on the skin of Palestine, as though there weren't enough already. Anyway one thing led to another and the authorities decided that a little slum clearance was just what was needed. So. on Wednesday night a couple of battalions were sent down and the admiral detached a destroyer— which was us—to stand by in case of emergency. Forty- eight hours beforehand the Arabs were told to evacuate the place. They were informed that a wide road was to be blasted through from one end to another. con- sidering the present temper of the country, we expected a certain amount of trouble."

" Two battalions is a lot for slum clearance," I remarked. " We arrived there, as I said, just before dawn and an armed boat was sent ashore with a small landing party and some signal staff, so that the Army and Navy might keep in contact. Dawn broke and the fun began. Jaffa is a strong old town with immensely thick walls and a full equipment of suitable places for snipers. The gates of the town are covered by shutes down which burning oil can be poured. And after all, is that any worse than mustard gas ? " Through my Naval Officer friend peeped the pacifist.

" Well, and was there trouble ? " I asked.

" No. That's the amazing thing about it. The troops entered and not a soul could be seen. The town was empty. The Arabs had gone with all their goods and possessions. Though they left their vermin and the smells," he added.

" Where did they go ? "

" Some hung about in groups outside and some invaded Tel-Aviv and scared the Jews out of their houses. You could feel the tension in the air. Even from the sea. Then the explosions began. The Royal Engineers were at work and the result was burnt into my mind. It was weird. There would be a shattering explosion and for two minutes or so you could see nothing of the town for the cloud of orange-yellow smoke and the dust storm which those old stones kicked up. Then the haze would clear and you could see that part of the town had crumbled. Then there would be a delay—a sort of dentist's-waiting-room-pause while more explosive was laid. Then the cycle would be repeated. Slowly a wide valley was driven through Jaffa."

" Did you have to do any shooting ? " I asked.

" No. In fact in the afternoon, about 1,000 of the soldiers were allowed to go bathing. In the blood-and- cutlass way I suppose it was an anti-climax."

" And didn't the Arabs do anything while their town was being destroyed ? "

• My friend shook his head.

" They just stood watching pathetically. And now it is over, they are told they may go back to their city and build a macadam road over the ruins of their houses."

" So they found no gun-running Headquarters . . • " " They found nothing. Mind you, they left the mosques. That would have been too much. Probably the mosques were stacked full of guns," he added cynically. I laughed.

" But I thought you were for the Arabs ? "

" So I am," he maintained, " and you would have been too, if you'd been there. It was . . . strangely irreverent. There was Tel-Aviv, Jewish and prosperous and gloating while its poor neighbour Jaffa, the ancient Arab town, was severed into two. Can you wonder that the Arabs are so bitter ? "

" But we had to do it for the sake of prestige. Surely you admit that ? " I urged.

" Oh I I suppose so and it was effective," he grudged me, " but is it so important ? Aren't there other ways ? Imagine blasting an arterial road through the heart of Oxford . . . "

I objected. After all, in Oxford there are baths and even drains. But my friend was not to be moved.

" I believe this will cut deeper than anything the British have done," he said seriously ; " the Arabs will remember this above everything else—that we butchered Jaffa to create . . . a macadam road."

A mosquito buzzed. The faint haze over Mount Carmel seemed very still. The three policemen rose from their corner. They needed a good night's sleep. Tomorrow was Arab Saturday. Most certainly there would be bombs .