Formal apology sought for UK crimes in mandate Palestine

British soldier checking papers and searching Arabs for arms at the Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem. 1936 during the Arab Revolt. Editorial credit: Everett Collection /

A formal apology is being sought from the government for atrocities committed in Palestine while it was under British rule.

The petition asks for a formal acknowledgement and apology for abuses during the period of British rule in Palestine from 1917 until 1948, after which Britain withdrew and the State of Israel was declared.

It is being brought by Munib al-Masri, 88, a Palestinian business owner and former politician, who was shot and wounded by British troops as a boy in 1944.

“[Britain’s role] affected me a lot because I saw how people were harassed… we had no protection whatsoever and nobody to defend us,” Mr al-Masri told BBC Newsnight. 

A BBC review of the historical evidence involved includes details of arbitrary killings, torture, the use of human shields and the introduction of home demolitions as collective punishment.

One such example was perpetrated against the people of al-Bassa in 1938 when machine guns mounted on armoured cars opened fire on the Palestinian village before the Royal Ulster Rifles arrived with flaming torches and burned homes to the ground.

Villagers were rounded up while troops later herded men onto a bus and forced them to drive over a landmine which blew up, killing everyone on board.

Sign up for regular updates straight to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated on the latest news and updates from around the Muslim world!

Britain’s raid on al-Bassa was part of a declared policy by the local commander of “punitive” action against entire Palestinian villages – this one after a roadside bomb had killed four British soldiers – regardless of any evidence over who was responsible.

In a statement the UK Ministry of Defence said it was aware of historical allegations against armed forces personnel during the period and any evidence provided would be “reviewed thoroughly.”

Britain’s control of Palestine began during World War One when its forces drove out Ottoman Turkish troops. In 1917, Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour pledged to the Zionist movement to establish a Jewish national home in Palestine.

The UK allowed levels of Jewish immigration and land acquisition to rise, fuelling growing tensions with Palestinian Arabs that frequently broke out into violence.

Britain’s three decades-long presence saw a series of chaotic policy reversals as troops struggled to contain growing violence – both between Palestinians and Jews and, at different times, by armed groups from both sides against UK forces.

A Palestinian insurgency – known as the Arab Rebellion – broke out from 1936, and London flooded the country with troops.

You can watch the full Newsnight report here.

Add your comments below

Previous articleHate crime: Muslims are most targeted group in England and Wales
Next articleMuslim women who disrespect hijab should not be celebrated