Man seeking Royal Ulster Rifles apology after civilians ‘forced to drive over landmine’ in Palestine – Belfast Telegraph

Posted By on October 17, 2022

A man whose parents survived a massacre of 20 civilians in Palestine by troops of the Royal Ulster Rifles is seeking a government apology more than 80 years on.

id Haddads mother and father were in the village of al-Bassa when it was the target of so-called punitive measures by soldiers of the Belfast-based regiment on September 7, 1938.

The region was then governed by Britain as the Mandate of Palestine, created by the League of Nations following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War.

Both Arab and Jewish groups revolted against the British administration, with the violence suppressed by police and troops.

On the night before the incident at al-Bassa, two soldiers of the Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR) were killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol near the village, with two more later dying of their wounds.

According to various accounts, the next day a detachment from the RUR, accompanied by members of other regiments, arrived at al-Bassa with armoured cars and began machine-gunning houses before burning the village.

It is claimed the troops then rounded up around 50 Arab men, put them on a bus and forced the driver to drive over a mine. The total number killed has been put at 20.

Mr Haddad is one of those behind a petition and dossier of evidence sent to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) asking for an acknowledgement and apology for actions carried out by troops during the period of British administration.

Speaking to the BBCs Newsnight, Mr Haddad said: I wanted people to know that my parents, as youngteenagers, they suffered. And those who died, we have to speak for them now.

The MoD said it would review any evidence of historical allegations of crimes committed by soldiers in Palestine.

One account of what happened at al-Bassa was given by Major Desmond Woods, then a newly commissioned officer in the RUR, which is part of the Imperial War Museums oral history collection.

Major Woods, who died in 2002, said the village elders had been warned that if any soldiers were blown up by a mine, the nearest village would be subject to punitive measures.

A patrol went down one night commanded by a young officer called Millie Law he was slightly senior to me. Unfortunately, the Arabs had laid a mine and the patrol vehicle was blown up by one of these mines, he recalled.

Millie Law was killed and a couple of riflemen were also killed. Word came through at about 6 oclock in the morning that one of our patrols had been blown up and Millie Law had been killed.

Gerald Whitfeld [battalion commander] had told these mukhtars [village leaders] that if any of this sort of thing happened, they would take punitive measures against the nearest village to the scene of the mine.

The nearest village to the scene of the mine was a place called al-Bassa, and our company were ordered down to al-Bassa to take part in punitive measures.

I will never forget arriving at al-Bassa and seeing the Rolls-Royce armoured cars of the 11th Hussars peppering al-Bassa with machine-gun fire. This went on for about 20 minutes.

Then we went in. I remember we had lighted braziers, and we set the houses on fire and we burnt the village to the ground.

Major Woods said the divisional commander queried what was going on when he saw clouds of smoke from the balcony of his headquarters in Haifa.

We all thought this was going to be the end of our commanding officer Gerald Whitfeld. Certainly if it had happened these days, it would have been, he added.

He said, Sir, I warned the mukhtars that if these things happened to any of my officers or men, I would take punitive measures against them. I did this and would have lost control of the frontier if I hadnt.

Major Woods said the divisional commander replied: Well, just go a wee bit easier in future.

He added: The Royal Ulster Rifles treated the Arabs very firmly indeed but, by Jove, itpaid dividends. Of course you cant do those sort of things today.

Sunday Life contacted the Royal Ulster Rifles museum for a comment but did not receive a response.

Al-Bassa was rebuilt but later razed to the ground by Israeli forces after its capture during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

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Man seeking Royal Ulster Rifles apology after civilians 'forced to drive over landmine' in Palestine - Belfast Telegraph

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