The Sergeants Affair - Reactions in Palestine

Reactions in Palestine

At 11:00 on 30 July the Irgun publicly announced the killings. The army and Haganah searched intensively for the bodies, but had not found them by the end of the day. Fearing that the mine they had planted might injure a Haganah patrol, the Irgun telephoned the Netanya town council, giving the location of the bodies and a warning about the mine. At 07:00 the next morning, the bodies were located by Jewish Settlement Police men, who, because of the warning, stayed clear. Soon British soldiers, Yishuv representatives and reporters arrived at the scene. They observed that the bodies had been partly stripped, their shirts wrapped around their heads and that the bodies appeared "blackened, bloodied." According to most sources, having thoroughly checked the surrounding area, the officer in command, a captain, began cutting down the body of Clifford Martin using a knife fastened to a pole. When it fell, the mine went off, blowing Martin's body to pieces and knocking sideways the tree from which Paice's body was hung. Despite jumping back, the captain received wounds to his face and a shoulder.

As news regarding the bodies became known throughout Netanya, the residents, fearing reprisals, began stocking food and some even left the city. The council called upon the residents not to believe false rumors and Haganah men stood in the central bus station to prevent people from leaving the city. Irgun boasted about the murders and a response was delivered in the Irgun press:

We recognize no one-sided laws of war. If the British are determined that their way out of the country should be lined by an avenue of gallows and of weeping fathers, mothers, wives, and sweethearts, we shall see to it that in this there is no racial discrimination. The gallows will not be all of one color.... Their price will be paid in full.

The Irgun also received a belated request from Paice's father, asking for clemency for his son. This was disregarded, and Kol Zion Halohemet, the station of the Irgun, aired a reply saying that his request should have been addressed to the British government.

The first response came from Ben-Ami, who said that "of all the crimes committed to this day in this country this is the most despicable one, defiling our war of liberation.... I testify that most of our population made desperate efforts to free the kidnapped and prevent this disgrace." The memorial grove was established, that still exists nowadays.

The Yishuv's official institutions gave similar responses, condemning the perpetrators as murderers of two innocent persons, who took upon themselves the authority to decide in life and death issues. Jamal al-Husayni, head of the Arab Higher Committee compared it with the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, saying that the Arabs had not performed such actions.

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