Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Royal Irish Constabulary

Omagh Part Two

Colman's Column3This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Monday September 14 2015


The Law’s Delay


On 15 August 1998 at 3.04 p.m. a 500lb bomb exploded in the centre of Omagh, County Tyrone, in Northern Ireland, killing 31 people (including unborn twins) and injuring 220. This was done in the pursuit of a united Ireland by dissident republicans who were against the peace process. There had been a warning call to Ulster Television in Belfast at 2.29 p.m. saying there was a bomb timed to go off in 30 minutes outside the Courthouse on Main Street. There was another call at 2.31 to the Samaritans in Coleraine. That caller said the bomb was about 200 yards up from the Courthouse on High Street. There was another call to UTV at 2.31. The callers used a code word associated with the Real IRA.

Warnings and Hoaxes

Perhaps the various brands of IRA terrorists might seem more “civilised” than the Tamil Tigers – they do tend to give warnings before they slaughter civilians. That is of small comfort to the thousands of people affected by their tactics. At Omagh, the first of three confused warning calls came less than half an hour before the car bomb went off. Superintendent William Baxter told the inquest in September 2000 that since August 15 1998 there had been 68 hoax bomb alerts in the town. Although many thought the warnings on August 15 were a hoax, the police took them seriously and immediately went into action with well-established procedures. The duty sergeant, Phil Marshall, was pleased that they managed to clear 200 premises in the short time available. “My initial thought that it was perfect, that we couldn’t have done better. Omagh was like a ghost town, I thought, if anything goes up now, it’s buildings only”.

There is no Main Street in Omagh. The courthouse is roughly 400 metres from the spot where the car bomb was parked in a stolen maroon Vauxhall Cavalier. It seems that the courthouse was the intended target but the bombers could not find a parking space and left the car outside SD Kells’ clothes shop in Lower Market Street, on the southern side near the crossroads with Dublin Road. The police had, in effect, been evacuating people towards the bomb rather than away from it. The bombers claimed it was not their fault and that they had given adequate warnings. If they had been concerned about loss of life they would have triggered the bomb at 3 a.m. not 3 p.m. on a public holiday when the streets were full of people.

Civil Action

On January 20 1999, Mo Mowlem, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, and Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the chief constable of the Royal Irish Constabulary, pleaded with the MP Andrew Hunter not to use his parliamentary privilege to name six suspects in the Omagh bomb murder inquiry. They told Mr Hunter, chairman of the Conservative backbench committee on Northern Ireland, that such action would prejudice any prosecution.

Frustrated by delays, the families took action. On 28 October 2000, the families of four children killed in the bombing – James Barker, 12, Samantha McFarland, 17, Lorraine Wilson, 15, and 20-month-old Breda Devine – launched a campaign to bring a civil action against the suspects named in a BBC Panorama programme. On 15 March 2001, the families of all twenty-nine people killed in the bombing launched a £2-million civil action against RIRA suspects Seamus McKenna, Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy, and Seamus Daly.  The civil action began in Northern Ireland on 7 April 2008.

Jason McCue

Human rights solicitor Jason McCue fought the case for the families over many years. He has been described as a “rock ‘n roll lawyer” – he married TV celebrity and journalist Mariella Frostrup (her father was Norwegian but she was brought up in Ireland) and they hang out with George Clooney. He wrote of the families: “Their achievement is important for Ireland and for the UK. It is a happy irony that their civil action did more to unite Ireland than the murderers that killed their families. But more than that, the Omagh civil action drew support from across the 32 counties and when the verdict came in, households throughout Ireland raised a toast to their achievement.”

Peace, Compromise, Impunity

The case was not concluded until 2009. Why did it take so long to bring the murderers to any kind of justice and why was it left to “ordinary” people to make such an effort? They had, as historian Ruth Dudley Edwards puts it, “to take on not just a terrorist organisation, but most of the Dublin, Belfast and London police, justice and political establishments, who for varied reasons thought their actions misguided, counterproductive or unhelpful to the peace process”. Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness expressed their support but refused to give any information that would help bring the bombers to justice.

Peter Mandelson

Former Northern Ireland secretaries Peter Mandelson, Tom King, Peter Brooke, Lord Hurd, Lord Prior, and Lord Merlyn-Rees signed up in support of the plaintiffs’ legal fund. Mandelson took the lead in coordinating this.

In 1999, Peter Mandelson had succeeded Mo Mowlem as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Mowlem was popular with the British media and public; her willingness to speak her mind, often without regard to the consequences, was seen as strength. Mandelson was regarded as a cold Machiavellian manipulator. However, the campaigners warmed to him and he to them. Mowlem wanted to do everything to avoid undermining the peace process which was her monument.

Ruth Dudley Edwards was heavily involved in the campaign and wrote a book about it. She had worked in the British civil service, and was impressed that, soon after taking office, Mandelson had taken the unusual step of writing to her, commending her article in the Telegraph. He wrote that such articles “play an important part in changing the environment in which the terrorists operate”. “I agree with you entirely that everything possible should be done to try and bring those responsible for the Omagh bomb to justice”. He was distancing himself from Mowlem, who had seemed, according to Edwards, more comfortable with ex-terrorists than with victims and whose seeming indifference to the Omagh relatives had been “scandalous”.

Mowlem had discouraged ministers and civil servants from meeting the families and wanted to play down expectations of bringing the bombers to justice. Mandelson insisted on meeting the families. He was so affected by an exhibition of children’s art work. One of the relatives said: “Peter Mandelson is the nicest man, the best man…He cried, he cried in there and he put everyone out of there, even his Private Secretary. All politicians want to do is look after themselves. They don’t care about anything, but Peter Mandelson did care”. The Mail published a picture of his grief-stricken face. He said: “I feel a tremendous sense of loss every day I wake up and find yet another day has passed without these prosecutions taking place”.

Mandelson continued to offer practical help after he ceased to be Northern Ireland Secretary. He played a very active role behind the scenes and with the media. He also contributed generously from his own money.

An End to Terror?

Just two months after Omagh, two planes, flew into the World Trade Centre. That was supposed to change the context of terrorism. Different conditions post-9/11 helped in the defeat of the LTTE. Did Omagh help the Irish peace process? After the carnage many tried to adopt a positive outlook, hoping good would come out of evil. It was thought that the strength of public outrage would shame the Real IRA into giving up an “armed struggle” that was killing unborn babies.

Unfortunately, the Real IRA are still in business. Recent events indicate that the Provisional IRA might also still be active. Eternal vigilance is essential. Could the LTTE also rise like a Phoenix?

More next week about the unraveling of peace in Northern Ireland.


Omagh Part One – The Road of Tears

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday September 8 2015

Colman's Column3



After the bombing, Cathy could never settle back into her university studies at Derry and Patsy was often on the road to bring her traumatised daughter back home. In the car mother and daughter would be keening uncontrollably for Aiden, the son and brother forever lost to them. They christened the road from Derry to Omagh ‘The Road of Tears’.

On 15 August 2000 my wife and I were having a post-shopping Murphy’s at Le Chateau on St Patrick Street, Cork City in Ireland. I was going to write “enjoying a pint of Murphy’s” but that would not be appropriate because, like everyone else in the bar, we had tears streaming down our faces. The TV was on and the news programme was marking the second anniversary of the Omagh bombing.


On August 15, 1998, just two months after we had gone to live in Ireland, a huge bomb exploded in the centre of Omagh, a small market town in rural County Tyrone, in Northern Ireland. A total of 31 people were to die as a result of the bomb, and 220 were injured. The dead included a  woman 4 months pregnant and her unborn twins girls; six children, three of whom had been visiting from County Donegal in  the Irish Republic and one of whom was on holiday from Spain (Fernando’s mother, Lucrezia, had previously been traumatized when her husband had been seriously injured by an ETA car bomb) and six teenagers. Death was ecumenical; nineteen of the dead were Catholics, eleven were Protestants.

It Was People who Died

Each person who died represented a crushing loss to a wide circle of people. The bombers killed two babies and two about to be born, three schoolgirls, four schoolboys, six students, three shop assistants, a despatch clerk, a shopkeeper, a crane driver, a mechanic, a horticulturalist, and an accounts clerk. These were the targets of the “soldiers” of Éireann, the “freedom fighters”.

It was the time of year when parents and children went to SD Kells or Watterstones to buy new school uniforms. Most of the people in the centre of Omagh on August 15 1998 were from the town or surrounding countryside. It was an uncommonly sunny day for that part of the world and crowds were gathering for the processions that mark the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven. The original plan was for the procession to start 200 yards from where the bomb exploded. Thousands would have been close to the explosion if the plan had not been changed.


Recent horrific pictures of drowned refugees have sparked controversy about the ethics of displaying such images. I want to convey to you the horror of Omagh but I want to respect the sensibilities of my readers and the dignity of the dead. Buses were used to ferry victims to hospital and blood was flowing down the steps on to the road. In the rain, the gutters ran red with blood and rose petals. A young girl sat in the street holding a severed hand saying: “I don’t want her to be alone”. A policeman who had wandered up and down the street carrying a head had to be invalided out of the RUC. Steve Buttle was so affected by Omagh that he functioned badly at work and his relationships deteriorated. Eventually he wrapped himself in a body bag and shot himself in the head.

The poison administered on August 15 1998 did harm not only to those who were present in Omagh on that day. It spread far and wide and for a long period, for generations into the future. Thousands had their lives blighted by intense sorrow, physical pain and depression beyond imagining.

Who Was Responsible?

Unusually, no group claimed responsibility on the day of the attack, but the Royal Ulster Constabulary suspected the RIRA (Real Irish Republican Army).Indeed, three days after the attack, the RIRA claimed responsibility and apologised for the attack. The RIRA had few members and the authorities knew who most of them were and where they lived. Two months after we had been crying in our Murphy’s, BBC put out a Panorama programme called Who Bombed Omagh? hosted by journalist John Ware. The programme gave the names of the four prime suspects as Oliver Traynor, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy, and Seamus Daly.

 The Law’s Delay

Daly was not charged with the bombing in a criminal case until April 10 2014. However, a civil case brought by the victims’ relatives was concluded on 8 June 2009. Michael McKevitt, Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly were found to have been responsible for the bombing and held liable for £1.6 million of damages. It was described as a “landmark” damages award internationally.

The Campaign

Because of frustration at the slow progress of the criminal investigation, the families of the victims created the Omagh Support and Self Help Group (OSSHG) soon after the bombing. The organisation was led by Michael Gallagher, who lost his 21-year-old son Aidan in the attack. In the 30 years of The Troubles, there was no precedent for a group of victims challenging the system in this way.

In the tribal society that is Northern Ireland it was surprising that the OSSHG included hard-line and moderate unionists as well as nationalists; there were Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Free Presbyterians, and a Mormon.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

I draw in these articles on the work of,  among others, Ruth Dudley Edwards. Ruth was deeply involved in the campaign and her 2009 book about the Omagh bombing was named the Sunday Times current affairs book of the year and won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger award for non-fiction. The book, Aftermath: the Omagh Bombing and the Families’ Pursuit of Justice, should be of interest to Sri Lankan readers. Ruth is a distinguished Irish historian from a distinguished family of Irish historians.  She was born and brought up in Dublin and educated at University College Dublin (UCD), Girton College, Cambridge and Wolfson College, Cambridge. She has worked in the London civil service.

She is also a crime fiction writer and a prolific columnist, often stirring up controversy in the British and Irish press.  She now lives in London and describes herself as British-Irish and is comfortable with being culturally both Irish and English. She takes a particular interest in Northern Ireland and her writings have had her placed in the category of “revisionist”. That is to say, she has no time for myths about heroes and martyrs. She once told a hostile audience: “I wear the badge ‘revisionist’ as a badge of honour! Patrick Pearse had a right to sacrifice himself but not all those civilians! If seven people can determine these things, the Continuity IRA has the right to style themselves the heirs of 1916. There is a flouting of democracy.”

An End to Terror?

Just two months after Omagh, two planes flew into the World Trade Centre. That was supposed to change the context of terrorism. Different conditions post-9/11 helped in the defeat of the LTTE. Did Omagh help the Irish peace process? After the carnage many tried to adopt a positive outlook, hoping good would come out of evil. It was thought that the strength of public outrage would shame the Real  IRA into giving up the  “armed struggle” that was killing unborn babies. How did that work out?

Why did it take so long to bring the murderers to any kind of justice and why was it left to “ordinary” people to make such an effort? They had, as Ruth puts it, “to take on not just a terrorist organisation, but most of the Dublin, Belfast and London police, justice and political establishments”.

More on this next week

Torture Part Three

A shorter version of this article appeared on Page 5 of Ceylon Today on Tuesday February 3 2015.

Colman's Column3


Lawlessness was the law. Judge Anwar Nuseibeh maintained that lynching was less heinous than British repression because lynching was at least not sanctioned by law.


The British Mandate in Palestine

In previous articles, I have written that Israel was among the nations that learned from Britain about torture techniques. Britain accepted the League of Nations mandate for Palestine in 1922 and endeavoured to suppress the Arab revolt with two army divisions supporting the civil authority. By the 1930s, Imperial policy was to rule out full martial law in situations of “sub-wars” but after the Arab capture of the Old City of Jerusalem in October 1938, the army effectively took over policing from the civil authority. The army and not the civil High Commissioner had the upper hand. Thousands of Arabs were held in administrative detention, without trial, and without proper sanitation, in overcrowded prison camps.


Ireland in Palestine

Israeli historian Tom Segev, in his book One Palestine Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate, has a chapter entitled “Ireland in Palestine”. Segev describes how Irish born Sir Charles Tegart ruled Palestine with the help of the Royal Ulster Rifles and former Black and Tans. Tegart had a security fence erected along the northern border to prevent the infiltration of terrorists. He built 62 police fortresses, which became known as “Tegart forts”, around the country and set up concrete guard posts along the roads.


Sir Charles Augustus Tegart, KCIE, KPM (born 1881, died 1946) was a colonial police officer in India and Palestine, who was praised for his industry and efficiency. He was born in what Ulster Loyalists call Londonderry, but Irish Republicans call Derry, the son of a Church of Ireland clergyman, Rev. Joseph Poulter Tegart of Dunboyne, County Meath. He was educated at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen and briefly at Trinity College, Dublin – Royal and Trinity! A Jewish official described him as a tall Irishman, old and gaunt with white locks crowning his head. His face was etched with lines and he had a long nose like the beak of a hawk.


The governor of Bengal, Lord Lytton, joked that attempts to assassinate Tegart were misguided, since he was ‘an Irishman’ who ‘for all we know may be a Sinn Féiner at heart. He is the last man, therefore, to be deficient in sympathy with the cause of Indian nationalism’. Another speaker praised Tegart by saying, ‘I always think an Irishman is specially suited to be a policeman. Being by instinct “agin the government” he knows exactly what people who want to make trouble feel like and is able to forestall their action’.

Annie Besant was a stern critic of Tegart accusing him of physically mistreating prisoners in Bengal. A commission appointed by the government of Bengal ruled in favour of Tegart.
Even fellow officers admitted his methods were “unconventional and dare-devil” and that he was sometimes guilty of the ‘”circumvention of law and procedure to achieve results”.

In 1938, another Irishman, Major General Bernard Montgomery, wanted to take control over the whole of Palestine. “Monty” brought a haughty simplicity to his task. The Arabs were “gangs of professional bandits” and he gave his men simple orders on how to deal with them: kill them.


Tegart – Imperial Policeman at Large.

Tegart served in the Calcutta Police for thirty years from 1901. He arrived in Palestine in December 1937 with the remit of advising the Inspector General on matters of security in relation to the Arab revolt. Tegart imported Dobermans from South Africa and set up “Arab Investigation Centres”. A special centre in Jerusalem taught interrogators how to torture. One such centre in a Jewish quarter of West Jerusalem was closed only after Edward Keith-Roach, the governor of Jerusalem, complained to the High Commissioner. Keith-Roach  argued that “questionable practises” were counter-productive both in terms of the information gathered and the effect on local people’s confidence in the police.

Black and Tans

Britain transferred the notion of collective responsibility to Palestine from the war in Ireland. The Palestine police recruited many of the actual individuals who persecuted Irish citizens and set them to persecute Palestinians. Many recruits to the Palestine police were ex-“Black and Tans” and “Auxiliaries” from the Irish War of Independence (1919-21). These special forces of Temporary Constables (usually referred under the general title of “Black and Tans”) recruited to assist the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) were the brainchild of Winston Churchill, then British Secretary of State for War. Thousands, many of them British World War I veterans, answered the British government’s call for recruits. The Black and Tans became infamous for their attacks on civilians and civilian property.


The late Lord Longford wrote of Tans torturing captured republicans, “cutting out the tongue of one, the nose of another, the heart of another and battering in the skull of a fourth”. Others testified to being beaten under jets of freezing water.

Irish historian Professor Roy Foster wrote of the Tans: “They behaved more like independent mercenaries; their brutal regime followed the IRA’s policy of killing policemen, and was taken by many to vindicate it.”They disregarded all normal policing procedures, and committed almost casual murders. A British Labour Party commission reported that it felt feelings of shame at witnessing the “insolent swagger” of the Tans, whom they described as “rough, brutal, abusive and distinctly the worse for liquor”. Another observer reported: “They had neither religion nor morals, they used foul language, they had the old soldier’s talent for dodging and scrounging, called the Irish ‘natives’, associated with low company, stole from each other, sneered at the customs of the country and drank to excess.”

In the summer of 1920, the Black and Tans burned and sacked many small towns and villages in Ireland, as reprisals for killings by the IRA. They summarily executed civilians, including a Catholic priest. On the night of 11 December 1920, K Company of the Auxiliaries burnt down the centre of Cork City, destroying more than 300 buildings in the city centre and afterwards proudly pinned pieces of burnt cork to their caps. This event horrified even ardent Irish supporters of the Crown. The violent tactics of the Tans encouraged the Irish public to increase their covert support of the IRA.

Mahatma Gandhi said of a  British peace offer: “It is not fear of losing more lives that has compelled a reluctant offer from England but it is the shame of any further imposition of agony upon a people that loves liberty above everything else”.

Policing Palestine


The Anglican Archdeacon in Jerusalem wrote to his secretary.”For a time I was seriously troubled at the “Black and Tan” methods of the police, of which I had overwhelming evidence”. An Anglican chaplain in Haifa also wrote to the Lord Bishop in Jerusalem, in December 1937 about an incident he witnessed in which a suspect whose teeth were already knocked out before he was brought into the station was given another brutal beating. The Anglican Archdeacon in Palestine believed police abuses were the cause of the violence rather than a response to it.

In Palestine, in 1924-25, the British had effectively formalised the principle of reprisals in the Collective Responsibility and Punishment Ordinances, building on the idea that Palestinian village life was a collective “social system based on mutual protection rather than justice”. The 1929 manual was precise on how soldiers should conduct themselves, forbidding, for instance, stealing from and mistreatment of civilians. However, it also provided a legal framework for shooting rioters and allowed for “collective punishment”’ and “retribution”. Neither the 1929 volume nor the subsequent 1934 and 1937 updates provided any concrete definition for what constituted collective punishment. The law stated, “The existence of an armed insurrection would justify the use of any degree of force necessary effectually to meet and cope with the insurrection”.


Britain classified the Arab revolt as an internal insurrection and not an international war. These were criminals not soldiers. The British were careful to use the courts and the civil law modified by military necessity – the death penalty for possessing a firearm, for example. Military courts acted swiftly and prisoners were hanged quickly after going through some charade of legal process.


Soldiers had little to fear from disciplinary action in relation to theft, brutality and assault. Historian Matthew Hughes, after extensive research, found only one successful prosecution of servicemen in Palestine – that of four British police officers who blatantly executed an Arab prisoner in the street in October 1938.


Torture Methods

According to Segev, under the Tegart regime, suspects underwent brutal questioning methods including the Turkish practice of falaka– hitting prisoners with a cane on the soles of their feet and on their genitals. Although this is attributed to the Turks, it is similar to the practice known by the Italian name bastinado. In former centuries, it was also referred to as Sohlenstreich (sole stroke). The Chinese term is jiao xing.

In Bailing with a Teaspoon, Jerusalem police chief Douglas V Duff described the “water can” method of interrogation that did not leave the marks that beatings would.  The police held the suspect down on his back with his head clamped between two cushions and trickled water into his nostrils from a coffee pot. This method was applied to Jews as well as Arabs. Mordechai Pechko, a member of the militant Zionist group Irgun told how he had been tortured in this way.

Prisoners ran the gauntlet between two lines of men with pick axes, bayonets, rifles and tent pegs.  “Any that died they went into the other meat wagon and they were dumped at one of the villages on the outside.”An eyewitness recalled a “lad’s eye was hanging down on his lip, on his cheek.” Arthur Lane, a soldier from Manchester told how soldiers, to deter attacks,  would tie Arab hostages to the bonnets of lorries, or put them on the front of moving trains. Those who tried to run away  would be shot. On the lorries, some soldiers would brake hard at the end of a journey and then casually drive over the hostage, killing or maiming him.

Some Arab prisoners jumped to their deaths from high windows to escape their captors. Some had their testicles tied with cord; others were beaten with strips of wood with nails in; some had wire tightened around their big toes. “Interrogators” pulled out fingernails and hair was torn from faces and heads.  Red-hot skewers, electric shocks, boiling oil and intoxicants were used on detainees. Prisoners were sodomised. There were mock executions.

Collective Punishment


The Rt Rev. WH Stewart, the Anglican Archdeacon of Jerusalem and, from 1938, Chaplain to the Palestine Police and so no enemy of the force, wrote of dark deeds in rural areas of Palestine. A common tactic was “punitive demolition”. The largest single act of destruction came on 16 June 1936 in the Arab city of Jaffa when the British blew up between 220 and 240 buildings, making 6,000 Palestinians destitute and homeless.


In Nablus in August 1938, almost 5,000 men were held in a cage for two days and interrogated. On September 6 1938, a land mine near Al Bassa killed four soldiers from the Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR). The RUR and Royal Engineers rounded up villagers shooting some who tried to escape, beating others with sticks and rifle butts. They took one hundred villagers to a nearby military base, where four men who were  forced to kneel naked on cacti and thorns. Eight soldiers set about beating them “without pity” in front of the group. Pieces of flesh “flew from their bodies” and the victims fainted. Other villagers were put onto a bus, which was forced to drive over a land mine laid by the soldiers, destroying the bus and killing many of the occupants. The village’s inhabitants were then forced to dig a pit and throw all the bodies into it.


Harry Arrigonie, a British Palestine policeman at   Al Bassa at the time, recalled grisly photographs, taken by British Constable Ricke, present at the incident of the maimed bodies,. A senior British Palestine police office, Raymond Caflferata, wrote to his wife, “You remember reading of an Arab bus blown up on the frontier road just after just  after Paddy [a slang term for the Irish] was killed. Well the Ulsters did it—a 42-seater full of Arabs and an RE [Royal Engineers] Sgt [Sergeant] blew the mine. Since that day not a single mine has been laid on that”.


A major recalled with “enormous pride” how, in November 1938, the army set up fake executions for villagers in Halhul, in the hope of getting them to hand over weapons. In July 1939, Halhul was the site of an atrocity committed by the Black Watch Regiment. All the men in the village were imprisoned in a wire cage in the sun with little water. After 48 hours, most of the men were very ill and eleven old men died. One villager was driven by thirst to falsely claim to have hidden a gun down a well. The British killed him when he failed to retrieve it.


An Arab whose father died at Halhul claimed that between eleven and fourteen men died after two weeks in the sun with no food and water. He recalled electric generators/floodlights/heaters running all night to increase the detainees’ privations, some being so hungry that they ate dirt. A woman also recalled how the soldiers beat them and threw away food that the women brought for the captive men


High Commissioner Sir Harold MacMichael made the deaths sound like an unfortunate industrial accident, “a combination of unfortunate circumstances”. No one had killed the villagers deliberately, it was not an “atrocity”. Nevertheless, the British government did compensate the families.


Systemic and Systematic

According to official British figures covering the whole Arab revolt, the army and police killed more than 2,000 Arabs in combat, 108 were hanged, and 961 died because of “gang and terrorist activities”. Over ten percent of the adult male Palestinian Arab population between 20 and 60 was killed, wounded, imprisoned or exiled.

British district commissioners expressed themselves with what Segev calls a “peculiar blend of discipline and pedagogy”. “Some officers sound like Scout leaders improving their flock. They always sought to preserve an appearance of ‘fairness’.” The authorities claimed that abuse was not in keeping with the character of the British soldier. There can be little doubt that British brutality in Palestine was both systematic and systemic. Similar techniques were used in the British colonies and have been used recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. The authorities did little to curb the excesses of individuals and groups of soldiers and police who enjoyed inflicting pain on Arabs. I will deal with the theme of complicity next week. I recommend to any readers interested in the topic Tom Segev’s well-written and readable book. Much of the detail about specific incidents of brutality come from a paper by Matthew Hughes entitled The Banality of Brutality. English Historical Review Vol. CXXIV No. 507. Hughes provides copious citations, not just from Arab victims, but also from the perpetrators who boasted about their own brutality.

According to Matthew Hughes: “The authorities (re)constructed the law to give soldiers’ actions legality. The British had to balance what was lawful, what was morally right, and what worked, and these were not compatible. The regulations in force after 1936 made, as a pro-Arab British resident of Haifa wrote, ‘lawful things which otherwise would be unlawful’. Lawlessness was the law.”


Next week I will look at Hannah Arendt’s ideas about complicity and the banality of evil. Hughes wrote about the mind-set of the British soldier in Palestine: “Servicemen were guided by a legal system that meant that they could accept the premises of their government that allowed for brutal actions, and they could do so with all the energy of good bureaucrats obeying orders—hence the phrase ‘banality of brutality’ in the title to this article, a tilt to Hannah Arendt’s study of Adolf Eichmann.”



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