The High Commissioner of Palestine viewed the behaviour of Jewish fighters as comparable to that of the Nazis, according to an intelligence report issued two weeks before statehood was declared.
On April 30 1948, Sir Alan Cunningham wrote to his superiors that as the Jews celebrated military successes their “broadcasts, both in content and in manner of delivery, are remarkably like those of Nazi Germany”.
In another report, he said that the Jews were prepared for statehood and an “all-out offensive” with “all the equipment of a totalitarian regime”.
Colonial administration records released by the National Archives in London this week reveal that as little as a week before the British departure from Mandate Palestine, the High Commissioner mistakenly believed that “all the ingredients of a successful truce were present”.
The documents detail increasing tension between Jews and Arabs in spring 1948, and the opposing reactions to the United Nation’s partition plan of November 1947 — “received with jubilation by the Yishuv”, but prompting “a mood of bitterness and universal suspicion” among the Arabs.
The papers show the contempt the British had for the Jews, who were deemed willing “to go to almost any lengths to achieve their aim”, and the collapse of any trust in the British by both Jews and Arabs.
Atrocities on both sides are detailed, with frequent references to Jewish “terrorists”, and graphic descriptions of violent attacks on each other or the British forces.
In one dispatch, an account is given of the massacre at the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, the facts of which are still debated today.
Although it is unclear where his information came from, Sir Alan wrote that 250 people were killed, with the attack “accompanied by every circumstance of savagery. Women and children were stripped, lined up, photographed and then slaughtered”.
The dispatch added that the attack was too much for “the strong stomach of the Yishuv” and noted condemnations by the Jewish press and the chief rabbinate. It also recorded the Arab revenge attack on the Hadassah Hospital convoy.
The intelligence reports also show the British view that while the Jews were organised, if “not without internal dissension”, the local Arabs were poorly served by their leaders and by neighbouring countries, despite “extravagant claims of victories”.
Sir Alan wrote on April 30 that the Arabs’ “much vaunted liberation army” was “poorly equipped and badly led”.
He continued: “In almost every engagement the Jews have proved their superiority in organisation, training and tactics.”
He noted that “the foreign Arab guerilla bands… having successfully stirred up the Jews (and incidentally provided them with the excuse that they are merely defending themselves against Arab aggression) are now proving quite unable to protect the local Arabs.”