When Britain turned Palestine into a “second Ireland”

Bernard Montgomery supported extreme violence against the Irish and the Palestinians. (Imperial War Museum/Wikimedia Commons)

I live near a shrine dedicated to the British military commander Bernard Montgomery. Located on a tree-lined avenue that leads to a triumphal arch, this statue of Montgomery in Brussels illustrates how some Europeans regard him as a hero for his role during World War II. In truth, Montgomery was a thug. That became clear when I read his handwritten notes in Britain’s national archives.

During 1938, Montgomery took charge of an infantry division in Palestine. In that role, he helped suppress a major revolt. His advice – preserved in the aforementioned handwritten notes – was that Britain, then administering Palestine under a League of Nations mandate, should display little mercy.

Rebels “must be hunted down relentlessly,” he wrote. “When engaged in battle with them, we must shoot to kill.”

Although he advocated that soldiers be “scrupulously fair” towards Palestinians not taking part in the revolt, he contended that “if they assist the rebels in any way, they must expect to be treated as rebels.”

Those instructions were issued in a situation where Britain had been anything but fair. Soon after the revolt erupted in 1936, the British authorities demolished Jaffa’s Old City, leaving thousands of its residents homeless. That set a pattern whereby entire communities would be penalized for failing to obey their oppressors. The British, for example, categorized villages where rebels lived as hostile and were known to round up all of the men living in them.

In practice, the British authorities drew no real distinction between combatants and civilians. The activities of Israel today bear a strong resemblance to those of Britain. As part of efforts to erect a smokescreen around its crimes in Gaza, Israel has designated that whole territory as “hostile.”

“You must be ruthless”

About 15 years before his time in Palestine, Montgomery had made similar comments about his experiences in Ireland.

While Ireland’s War of Independence was being fought during the 1920s, Montgomery served as a brigade major in Cork. Upon request, he wrote a memorandum on his experiences for a senior British Army officer.

“Personally, my whole attention was given to defeating the rebels and it never bothered me a bit how many houses were burnt,” he wrote. “I think I regarded all civilians as ‘Shinners’ and I never had any dealings with them.”

“Shinner” is slang for someone connected to Sinn Féin, the Irish republican organization.

Montgomery argued “that to win a war of this sort you must be ruthless,” adding, “Oliver Cromwell, or the Germans, would have settled it in a very short time.” Cromwell was an Englishman who led an invasion of Ireland during the 17th century. To the Irish, his name remains synonymous with massacres carried out by his troops.

Montgomery arrived in Cork during January 1921. A few weeks earlier British forces had burned down more than 60 shops there, as well as the city hall and the main library. Around 2,000 jobs were lost as a consequence.

A recent study by historians Andy Bielenberg and James Donnelly concludes that British forces resorted to a “crude strategy” in the Cork area. Mainly implemented in 1921, it involved the shooting dead of people who allegedly failed to stop when ordered by British forces. Seventeen civilians were killed because of that “strategy,” according to the two historians.


One year later, the media boss Alfred Harmsworth – owner of mass circulation British papers like The Daily Mail and The Daily Mirror – paid a visit to Palestine.

Despite being an archetypal establishment figure, Harmsworth – who died shortly after that trip – was shocked by the effects of British policy in Palestine. Harmsworth “declared that we were making a second Ireland of that country,” the journalist J.M.N. Jeffries wrote.

A new edition of Jeffries’ 1939 book Palestine: The Reality was published this year. About eight decades may have passed since that 750-page tome was written, yet it remains painfully relevant.

Palestine was, indeed, transformed into something of a “second Ireland.”

Both countries suffered the effects of settler-colonial projects, sponsored by the British authorities. Both were subjected to British brutality – often carried out by the same individuals. Montgomery was among many members of Britain’s “security” forces who were stationed in Ireland before being sent to Palestine.

Jeffries’ book stresses that the men who drafted the Balfour Declaration – Britain’s 1917 pledge of support for Zionist colonization – mostly treated indigenous Palestinians as expendable. The British government, he wrote, “passed the Arabs by completely, as though they did not exist.”

Montgomery’s advice on Palestine was not always accepted by Britain’s political elite.

Two armed Zionist groups, the Irgun and the Lehi, came to regard Britain as an obstacle to the realization of their aims. In the 1940s, they waged a campaign of assassination and bombing against Britain’s diplomats and troops.

By that time, Montgomery had been promoted to chief of imperial general staff in the British Army. Complaining that Britain had a “policy of appeasement” towards Zionist armed groups, he advocated that heavy force should be used against them.

That advice was rejected by Alan Cunningham, the last British high commissioner for Palestine. Cunningham felt that Britain remained duty-bound to nurture the Zionist project.

The episode says much about how Britain’s support for Zionism has endured against considerable odds. It underscores, too, the egregious double standards of the British authorities. An iron fist approach was applied towards the people they viewed as expendable; their protégés, by contrast, were treated with kid gloves.




There is no doubt that British strategy in Ireland involved State terrorism and brutality particularly in Cork after the ambush and killing of 17 Auxiliaries at Kilmichael and the Burning of Cork soon after, as well as the terror campaign and shoot to kill policy by the Black and Tans. I am also no admirer of Bernard Montgomery who came from the Anglo-Irish Unionist tradition. However his views quoted on Ireland are taken out of context where he stated that a short term military solution was possible with harsh measures but would not endure and a political solution was needed.

Montgomery came to the conclusion that the conflict could not be won without harsh measures, and that self-government for Ireland was the only feasible solution; in 1923, after the establishment of the Irish Free State and during the Irish Civil War, Montgomery wrote to Colonel Arthur Ernest Percival of the Essex Regiment:

"Personally, my whole attention was given to defeating the rebels but it never bothered me a bit how many houses were burnt. I think I regarded all civilians as 'Shinners' and I never had any dealings with any of them. My own view is that to win a war of this sort, you must be ruthless. Oliver Cromwell, or the Germans, would have settled it in a very short time. Nowadays public opinion precludes such methods, the nation would never allow it, and the politicians would lose their jobs if they sanctioned it. That being so, I consider that Lloyd George was right in what he did, if we had gone on we could probably have squashed the rebellion as a temporary measure, but it would have broken out again like an ulcer the moment we removed the troops. I think the rebels would probably [have] refused battles, and hidden their arms etc. until we had gone."
Percival was the Commander of the Auxiliaries at Macroom who were killed at Kilmichael and led a British torture campaign against captured prisoners.


Churchill to the Peel Commmission: "I do not agree that the dog in a
manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain
there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for
instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America
or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been
done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade
race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken
their place,"


What did one expect from guy who advocated gassing the Kurds or referred to Gandhi as a half naked fakir. Besides being a drunken sot Churchill was also a brazen racist. Wonder where he closeted his white sheets and cone shaped hood.

Racism is the handmaiden of Imperialism.


Please continue writing. What you are exposing, must be exposed. My appreciation. I feel indebted.


In 1922 Lord Northcliffe, visiting Palestine and perceiving the results of our government there, declared that we were making a second Ireland of that country. What happened in succeeding years, and even more what has been happening of late, in 1937 and 1938, show that he spoke only too truly. All the mistakes and misdeeds which fed eternal discontent in Ireland and culminated in so much vain bloodshed and destruction there have been reproduced in Palestine. It is almost as though the Irish precedent, far from being kept in mind as a warning, had been remembered as a valuable example of success, and was being copied sedulously in every detail. But if this imitation of the worst policy is mentioned here, it is but to emphasize the fact that Palestine has less room in it for bad policy than even Ireland had. Its a very small place. (Palestine: The Reality. J.M.N. Jeffries. Free Download PDF) . . . https://www.facebook.com/notes...