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The British in Jenin

Gordon Corera investigates the events of summer 1938 in Jenin.

The town was seen by the occupying forces as a centre for Arab ‘terror’. An assassination meant something had to be done, a ‘reprisal’ in the words of once official. And sending in the soldiers to blow up people’s houses seemed the best way of rooting out the problem. The town is Jenin but the soldiers and officials are British and the year was 1938.

From 1936, Arab resentment, born of frustrated hopes for independence coupled with the growing influx of Jewish immigrants, began to spill over into civil disobedience and low-level violence against the British mandate authorities. By the summer of 1938, this had turned into ‘an intensified campaign of murder, intimidation and sabotage’ which caused the British administration ‘grave concern’, according to the British Report to the League of Nations, which catalogues a spate of attacks by Arabs on Jews, by Jews on Arabs, by Arabs on Arabs and by Arabs on the British government.

And, despite its comparatively small size, Jenin had been at the centre of much of the trouble. On January 31st of that year, thirty members of armed Arab gangs and two British soldiers were killed near the town. On March 3rd, aircraft were used in a heavy engagement against an armed band of between two and three hundred Arabs and on April 21st two British soldiers were killed when a military patrol was shot at in the hills just west of the town. On August 6th, Constable Willis of the Palestine Police Force was shot dead on an Arab bus between Nablus and Jenin and then on the 24th came the key event – acting Assistant District Commissioner Moffat was fatally wounded by an Arab assassin  in his office in Jenin. The assassin was almost immediately apprehended by troops, and in an ensuing attempt to escape, was shot dead.

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