The Report of the Haycraft Commission of Inquiry, 1921

By Mike Scott-Baumann

The Commission was appointed by Sir Herbert Samuel, the High Commissioner for Palestine, to inquire into, and report on, the “disturbances” in Jaffa and elsewhere in early May 1921.

It was headed by Sir Thomas Haycraft, the Chief Justice of Palestine, assisted by Mr Luke, the Assistant Governor of Jerusalem, and Mr Stubbs of the Legal Department. It sat from 12 May to 26 July and examined 291 witnesses.

The Commission’s report states that ‘Our task in this inquiry is to establish facts rather than to impute blame’.

It starts with a brief report on the “Khedera Raid” as this had been requested by the High Commissioner ‘as soon as possible’. As this occurred after the riots in Jaffa, the Commission’s report on it will be commented on later.

This commentary first examines the ‘the narrative portion’ of the report. Then, more fully, it focuses on the ‘Conclusions’ to be drawn from the events and, particularly, the ‘Causes of Arab hostility to Jews’.

Report by the Commission of Inquiry into the Jaffa riots


The report begins by describing the city of Jaffa: mostly Arab, both Muslim and Christian, who are a ‘united body as far as the political situation ….. is concerned’, and a quarter Jewish. The “old” Jews largely live a separate life and are on ‘friendly terms with their neighbours’ while the “new” Jews, the Zionist immigrants, are more ‘political’ and have set up ‘labour organisations’.

It was clashes between two of these organisations that is reported to have triggered the riots. The main labour organisation, the ‘Labour Party’, is described as ‘constitutional’ in its methods. The ‘extremists’, later referred to as the ‘Bolsheviks’, put ‘pursuit of class above race or nationality’ and had previously appealed to all workers, Jewish and Arab, with slogans like “Down with the British!” and “Long Live Soviet Palestine!”. The Arabs were said to be particularly resentful and fearful of being targeted by Bolshevik propaganda.

The Labour Party secured authorisation to hold a demonstration on May Day but the Bolsheviks were forbidden from doing so. However, the latter still went ahead and marched on the day. There were clashes between the rival groups, which the police broke up, but the Bolsheviks eluded the police and marched towards the mixed Arab/Jewish Menshieh district of Jaffa. At this point in their narrative, the Commissioners admitted to having conflicting and unreliable evidence. However, they believed that ‘had it not been for the outstanding grievances felt by the Arabs against the Jews, the police would have had little difficulty in keeping the peace’. In the event, the Jewish (Bolshevik) demonstrators were met by a crowd of Arabs with ‘sticks, iron bars, knives.’ Jewish shops were looted and the police ‘lost control of the situation altogether’. Many of the Arab police were infected by ‘racial pressure’ and, in the Commission’s view, were ‘unable or unwilling to stem the rage of their own peoples’.

At 1.00 pm., on the same day, an Arab crowd attacked the Immigration House in Jaffa. This was a hostel for newly-arrived Jewish immigrants. Whether or not Jews had been firing from the building, as some Arab witnesses claimed, the Commission found ‘credible evidence that the police had fired at the windows’ of the hostel. The doors to the building were broken down by the Arab crowd and 13 Jews, and one Arab, were subsequently killed.  The Arab police inspector, who went home for lunch in the midst of the fighting, was severely criticised in the report for a ‘flagrant disregard of duty’: ‘if he had asserted his authority, he might have prevented many deaths’.

By mid-afternoon, the fighting in the Menshieh district was brought under control by the arrival of troops. Nevertheless, by the end of the day, 27 Jews and three Arabs had been killed.

In the following days, the disturbances spread to the countryside and involved attacks on Jewish agricultural colonies. The Commission focussed primarily on the events surrounding the raid on Khedera. This was a colony of 600 Jews which employed 400-500 Arab labourers most of whom were resident in the colony. The raid, by ‘between 400-500’ villagers and Bedouin from nearby, took place amidst rumours of Arabs murdered in Jaffa and of Jews in the city being armed by the Government. The Arabs believed that the Jews were ‘supposed to be generally Bolshevik’ and opposed to ‘property and Government, marriage and religion’. In particular, it was rumoured that Arab workers had been imprisoned in Khedera. An aeroplane dropped bombs near the Arab attackers and use of a machine gun also helped to disperse them, but not before they had ‘burned, ransacked, destroyed and looted at will’. However, no Jewish colonists were killed.  The Commission acknowledged that news from Jaffa had led to rumours circulating which were ‘of a nature to excite an existing emotion’ but had ‘no hesitation in dismissing the allegations’ of Arabs imprisoned in Khedera.

The Commission decided to leave discussion of ‘the general attitude of the Palestinian Arabs towards the Jews, and the policy of the “National Home”’ until later in the report but does not think the attack was ‘premeditated and pre-arranged’ as the Jewish colonists allege.

The events in Jaffa set off further attacks on rural Jewish colonies. While, in the view of the Commission, ‘political unrest’ amongst the Arabs had, for some time, made them ‘responsive to any provocation’, the immediate cause of the attacks was the ‘exaggerated rumours of the killing of Arabs by Jews in Jaffa’. An attack on the colony of Petach Tikvah, involving large numbers of armed Arabs, was halted by the fortuitous arrival of a cavalry squadron while a further attack was repulsed by bombs dropped from a plane. Four Jews and 28 Arabs were killed.



The Commissioners acknowledged that the Jaffa riots were triggered by the ‘Bolshevik demonstration’ but were clear that it ‘could not have been sufficient to give rise to more than a street riot of the ordinary kind’. Instead, it provided the ‘spark that set alight the explosive discontent of the Arabs’.

Some Jewish witnesses argued that the disturbances were engineered by a small number of Arabs who regretted the passing of Ottoman rule because it had ended the ‘privileges and opportunities of profit formerly enjoyed by them’. They said that the Arabs were ‘primarily anti-British’, not anti-Zionist, and sought to ‘wreck’ the Mandate. The Commission disagreed: the feeling against the Jews was ‘too genuine, too widespread and too intense’. Instead, the report attributed the discontent to Government policy over the ‘Jewish National Home’, Arab misunderstanding of that policy and the way it ‘is interpreted and sought to be applied by some of its advocates outside the Government’. Above all, any anti-British feeling on the part of the Arabs arose out of the ‘suspicion that the Government is under Zionist influence, and is therefore led to favour a minority to the prejudice of the vast majority of the population’.

The Commission was critical of the authorities for not suppressing the propaganda of ‘the Communists’ but it blamed the Arabs for turning the ‘quarrel into a race conflict’ and behaving with ‘savagery’. The ‘killing [of Jews] was accompanied by an orgy of pillage’. The report discounts the common Jewish charge that the outbreak was planned and ‘pre-arranged for the 1st May’ and notes that ‘notables on both sides’ had cooperated with the authorities. ‘Without their assistance, the outbreak would have resulted in even worse excesses’.

The Commission’s authors were of the belief that, amongst both leaders and people on the Arab side, it was generally believed that the ‘aims of the Zionists and Jewish immigration are a danger to the national and material interests of the Arabs in Palestine’. The report stresses that this view is ‘well nigh universal amongst the Arabs’.

The authors reiterated their view that the raids on Jewish agricultural colonies were the ‘outcomes of the general rage against the Jews’ which were aroused by reports of Arabs killed by Jews in Jaffa. The raids could not be condoned yet it was pointed out that ‘most of the colonists had lived for years on quite friendly terms with their Arab neighbours’ and often employed them.

The report says that the Civilian Administration ‘had broken down’ during the riots in Jaffa and the police had proved unable, sometimes unwilling, to withstand the violence. There were just under 200 men in Jaffa District police force, with only two British officers. While not commenting on whether the numbers were sufficient, the report points out that training and discipline was insufficient to ‘subordinate those racial and religious prejudices which are so pronounced in Palestine, to the sense of duty’. Nor were pay and conditions of service conducive to ensuring ‘impartiality’. Nevertheless, ‘the Palestinian offers good material for the creation of an efficient Force’, as shown by the ‘exemplary conduct’ of the highly trained police who had arrived from Jerusalem. 

Causes of Arab hostility to Jews       

The report observes that, as long as the Jews were an ‘unobtrusive minority’, as in Ottoman times, they were not disliked but that they are now believed to have a ‘preponderating influence over the Government’. This explains why a minor provocation could ignite an ‘explosion of popular anger against the Jews in general’. The report finds that ‘hostility to the Jews’ is experienced by a wide cross section of Arabs, both amongst the people and their leaders, Muslim and Christian. It is reported that, during the riots, discrimination by the Arabs between different categories [of Jews], such as long-established and recent immigrants, was ‘obliterated’.

The report then lists the grievances which caused the Arabs’ state of ‘exasperation’. These are presented as allegations:  

  1. British policy was focussed on ‘the establishment of a National Home for the Jews, and not to the equal benefit of all Palestinians’.
  2. The Government’s ‘official advisory body, a Zionist Commission’, necessarily put its own interests first and constituted an ‘imperium in imperio’ [a state within a state].
  3. There was an ‘undue proportion of Jews in the Government service’.
  4. Part of the Zionist programme was ‘the flooding of Palestine’ with people who ‘had greater commercial and organising ability’ who would thus gain the ‘upper hand over the rest of the population’.
  5. Immigrants posed economic competition and were ‘favoured in this competition’.
  6. The Jews’ arrogance and contempt for ‘Arab social prejudices’ were offensive.
  7. ‘Immigrants of Bolshevik tendencies’ had been allowed entry to the country and to introduce ‘social strife and economic unrest’ and to propagate ‘Bolshevik doctrines’.

It was reported that these grievances had led the Arabs to be suspicious of Government. With regard to what they saw as the preponderant Jewish influence in Government, the Arabs asserted that having a Zionist Legal Secretary ‘lessens their confidence in the administration of justice’. They also claimed that the Public Works Department and the railways employed a disproportionate number of Jews so that, in effect, public money was being used to subsidise the development of the ‘Jewish National Home’.

On ‘the question of Jewish immigration’, the Arab workers would not have minded if the new arrivals went to work in agricultural colonies. However, if they were employed in Government, ‘especially now that Hebrew has been made an official language’, or in commerce, the Arabs felt threatened.

In response to the argument that the Jews were ‘returning to their ancient home’, ‘the Arab tells you’, so the report states, that ‘they are Russians and Poles, and sometimes adds that they are Bolsheviks. In any case, he complains that they take the bread out of his mouth’.

Overall, the main objection to immigration ‘can be summed up in the fear that through extensive Jewish immigration Palestine will become a Jewish dominion’. Such fear is ’not lessened’ by the circulation in the villages of rumours, reported to the Commission by a senior British official, of ‘the Jews being secretly armed by the Government’. Such rumours were widely believed in a part of the world where ‘racial and religious prejudices are elemental’.

In Jaffa itself, opposition to Jewish immigration was also said to be caused by the Arabs’ perception of the ‘self-assertion and aggressiveness’ of new, particularly young, Jewish arrivals whose behaviour was ‘at variance with Arab ideas of decorum’. Furthermore, the report says, the activities and propaganda of the ‘Bolshevik Jews in Palestine’, though small in number, inspired inordinate ‘uneasiness’ amongst the Arabs.  Leaflets calling for ‘class war, and to promote anarchy and social upheaval’, caused alarm, especially among ‘less enlightened’ Arabs.

The Commission was convinced that there was ‘no inherent anti-Semitism in the country, racial or religious’ but that it was Zionist ‘activities and pretensions’ which had inspired ‘profound distrust’ in the Arabs. Far from convincing the Arabs that the ‘policy of the “National Home” will benefit Arabs as well as Jews’, the Zionist Commission had had an ‘exacerbating rather than a conciliatory influence’ on the Arab population and thus constituted ‘a contributory cause of the disturbances’.

The report then points out that, while the Zionist Commission was believed to exercise influence over Government policy and personnel, the Arabs ‘have no similar body to exercise corresponding influence on their behalf’. An added source of the Arabs’ distrust arose from the fact that, even in the countryside, they were more than aware of ‘provocative’ statements made by Zionists or their supporters in London: for instance, an article in the Jewish Chronicle in May 1921 wrote of the need to make Palestine ‘as Jewish as England is English’.

It was when the Commission interviewed Dr. Eder that they were assured they were hearing the testimony of one of the more ‘responsible Zionists’. Eder was ‘unaggressive in manner and free from any desire to push forward opinions which might be offensive to Arabs’, yet he stated his belief that there could only be ‘one National Home in Palestine, and that a Jewish one, and no equality in the partnership between Jews and Arabs, but a Jewish predominance as soon as the numbers of that race are sufficiently increased’. The Commissioners presumed that Dr. Eder was expressing the ‘official Zionist creed’ because he was the ‘acting Chairman of the Zionist Commission’. He went on to claim that ‘the Jews should, and the Arabs should not, have the right to bear arms’ and that the Zionist Commission should have a say in the appointment of the High Commissioner. These claims were reported to be ‘at the root of the present unrest, and differ materially from the declared policy of the Secretary of State and the High Commissioner for Palestine’ and were likely to have arisen out of the Zionist habit of regarding Palestine as “a deserted, derelict land”.

Rather optimistically, if not naively, the Commission felt that existing hostility could be allayed if the Arabs ‘accept implicitly the declared policy of the Government on the subject of the Jewish National Home and that the Zionist leaders should abandon and repudiate all pretensions that go beyond it’. The latter should ‘adopt a considerate attitude towards the people among whom they must wish to live in peace and friendship’, especially as ‘they are seeking a home in a country at present overwhelmingly Arab’, while the ‘Arab notables ….. should make it clear to the Arabs that in no case can they expect murder, violence and pillage to be condoned.’


Sir Herbert Samuel, the High Commissioner, was shocked by the riots. His immediate reaction had been to suspend Jewish immigration temporarily and to declare that the British Government would never impose upon the ‘people of Palestine’ a policy which they thought was ‘contrary to their religious, their political and their economic interests.’

Samuel was chastened by the Haycraft report which had concluded that: ‘So long as the popular feeling described above continues it will not be possible to maintain law and justice effectively.’ Furthermore, he recognised that the report had identified the Balfour Declaration and British support of Zionism as fundamental causes of ill-feeling.

In August 1921, he submitted the report to the Colonial Secretary. He commended the Commission for their ‘thorough and impartial review’. The report was published in October 1921.

A graduate of the University of Cambridge, Mike Scott-Baumann taught history for 35 years and is the author of Palestinians and Israelis: A Short History of Conflict which was published by The History Press in 2021. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the Balfour Project.

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