HL Deb 27 March 1923 vol 53 cc669-70

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether in their opinion the occupation of Palestine is strategically, as distinct from politically, advantageous to the British Empire. It is a commonplace of Zionist propaganda in this country that the military occupation of Palestine is, if not essential, at any rate highly advantageous to the British Empire, and that we ought to be grateful to Zionists for giving us an excuse for maintaining a garrison in Palestine. It is suggested that this garrison safeguards the Suez Canal from attack. I am not going into all the details of that contention, but I think the general military opinion is that it does not materially assist in the defence of the Canal.

It is also suggested that we might evacuate Egypt and base the Canal garrison on Palestine. It is well known, however, that the whole of the Suez Canal garrison and the working of the Canal depend upon an adequate supply of fresh water, and that this is obtained, and can only be obtained, from the Nile, so that Cairo is and must remain the key of the Canal. There are various other considerations which will readily occur to your Lordships and with which I need not trouble you. I will only remind the House that the late Sir Henry Wilson, no mean authority and a man who had all these considerations in his mind, gave it most definitely as his opinion that the military occupation of Palestine, so far from being beneficial, was most deleterious to the British Empire.


My Lords, the Question raised by my noble friend opens a very wide field for discussion, but I would only remind him that we are in Palestine now at the instance of the League of Nations. I am bound to say that there is no question of strategy, hut that we are there because we are carrying out a certain definite obligation, placed upon us before the world by the League of Nations. Consequently, it is perfectly true to say that strategy does not enter into the matter. I do not think that I can carry the matter further than that. It would be difficult for me to talk about the strategy of the East, or of the Empire as a whole, and as we are simply in Palestine for the purpose of carrying out the functions imposed upon us by the League of Nations, I can only repeat that we are not there for strategical purposes.