This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: WOY 290).


Recruiting film for British volunteers for the Palestine Police illustrates the special nature of police duties in the Holy Land.

The film is intended to recommend the life of a Palestine policeman as a fulfilling career option during ‘peacetime’. REEL 1. Begins with a typical historical introduction to Palestine, with sequences of biblical locations. The narration is careful to point out that Palestine is sacred ground to Islam, as well as to Judaism and Christianity. There is a brief tour of the country: the camera visits Acre, Haifa, Lake Tiberias, Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem (including a shot of the same Christian patriarch seen in MGH 3619). Throughout these sequences, Arab towns and Arab life are presented as ancient and ‘primitive’, while stress is placed on the modern ‘European-type’ cities and lives of Palestine’s Jews. The Jerusalem sequence intends to show the great and harmonious diversity of religious and social types in Palestine; the narration asserts that ‘the security of this bewildering variety of people is in the hands of a highly efficient police.’ A Palestinian Arab officer and British officer are then shown, and the commentary indicates that they are ‘of different race.’ The policemen are shown working together. The film then turns to the life of new recruit; there is a passing mention of the ‘terrorist activities of political extremists’, but it is not explained. Sequences show radio patrol vans, and the Police Mobile Force in armoured vehicles. The military-style training inside a fortified compound is shown (perhaps the main police training centre at Jenin?), including drills, training in detecting drug smugglers, learning the law, learning Arabic. Barrack life is shown, including the ‘married quarters’ – a telling shot shows a baby in a swing with the fortified barb-wires perimeter typical to rural police ‘Tegart Forts’ visible in the back of the shot. Sports and the police band are also shown. REEL 2. Mounted patrols shown. A mounted patrol of British and Arab policemen visits a village and greets the mukhtar (the conversation is said to be conducted ‘all in Arabic’). CID chemists and the wireless control room are visited. Desert patrols, Arab police on camels. The dog unit: a demonstration of Doberman Pinscher dogs being drilled for various tasks. The role of the Marine police is shown, on both the Mediterranean at Haifa and at Lake Tiberias. All divisions are then seen filing past the High Commissioner to receive medals on the Kings birthday, and the film ends with the assertion that the police are protecting the ‘peace and security of the ordinary citizen.’ ‘The End’ credit is also printed in Arabic; the request for recruits (‘single men aged 18-25’) gives a London address (27 Victoria St. SW1).


Summary: Given the extremely turbulent situation that prevailed in post-war Palestine, the film’s explanation of the role and duties of the Palestine police is less than perfunctory. There are no references to Jews after the initial historical sequences.



After the defeat of Ottoman forces in 1917, the internal security of Palestine, and in particular its towns and cities, was henceforth the responsibility of the British. Makeshift police units were immediately set up in Jerusalem out of the ashes of the Turkish administration and staff, and British officers began to be brought in soon after. The Palestine Police were officially established in June 1920 as a British municipal force which was augmented by a gendarmerie; in 1926 the gendarmerie, divided into British and Palestinian sections, was absorbed into the main police force. Initially the Palestine Police unit was modelled on the Royal Irish Constabulary, and after the disbandment of the RIC, it drew a large percentage of its British membership from ex-RIC men (including many from the notorious Black and Tans). Later, the Palestine Police became the pre-eminent colonial police force, and Palestine the main training centre for colonial police (Sinclair, 2006, 50-1).

Though there were some serious incidents early on in the Mandate period, notably the Nabi Musa riots of 1920 and the Tel Aviv/ Jaffa riots of 1921, the 1920s in Palestine passed largely without major public order disturbances. This relative calm seemed to encourage complacency in the authorities, and the decade saw the steady reduction in the amount of money available for the security services, with a concomitant reduction in the numbers of both the Palestine Police and the Trans-Jordan Frontier Force to just 2100 and 677 men respectively by 1928 (Kolinsky, 1993, 29). After 1925 there was almost no military back-up available to the police, and intelligence monitoring of religious tension had been sorely neglected throughout the decade. Kolinsky notes that the force would have been ‘adequate, though barely so, for normal conditions,’ and goes on to observe that, given the tensions in the territory, by 1929 ‘the thin line of internal security had been virtually erased’ (ibid., 29-30).

The anti-Jewish riots and massacres of 1929, sparked by disputes over usage of the Western Wall, found the authorities completely unprepared for a major disturbance, and lacking in the ability to prevent the spread of serious violence and disorder. Significant military reinforcements from outside Palestine had to be called in immediately to help quell the unrest. Following these disturbances, the police force was expanded, and a large number of military troops were permanently stationed in Palestine.

The Arab uprising of 1936-39 exposed the continuing inadequacy of the Mandate security services to manage the restive Arab population. Effective military and administrative control of most of the country was lost to the rebelling Arab populace, and only a brutal and repressive military crackdown, including the use of air power, was able to suppress the revolt.

Reviews of the police and security situation following these and later crises all recommended that the Palestine Police remain an essentially civilian force, on the model of the Ceylon or Metropolitan police forces (major revews of the Palestine Police were undertaken in 1929 by Sir Herbert Dowbiggin, in 1938 by Sir Charles Tegart, and in 1946 by Sir Charles Wickham). However, all also recognised the necessity of the military for the maintenance of basic order and the possibility that the police might have to engage in military-style counter-insurgency work. The Palestine Police thus became subject to contradictory impulses on the part of the administration, particularly after the review made by Sir Charles Tegart in 1938: officially they were to remain a civilian force, but in fact they became ever more militarised, with the foundation of military-style strike groups, suggestions being made for mounted divisions organised along military lines, and the creation in 1944 of the armoured ‘Police Mobile Forces’ (Sinclair, 54-6). ‘The stark reality,’ writes Sinclair, ‘was that the theory of a civil police force ran counter to the ongoing situation. What was needed was a militarised police force that could provide internal security and public order’ (Sinclair, 54).



Produced in Palestine by the No.1 Army Film and Photographic Unit during 1945, Palestine Police is a recruitment film, and was intended largely for a British home audience. The file kept on the film indicates that it was received from Palestine by the Colonial Office on 5 December 1945; it premiered to assorted dignitaries at the Ministry of Information on 7 January 1946, before being shown widely throughout the UK by Army mobile cinemas, as well as touring schools and boys clubs during that year (NA CO 733/451/1). This file contains varied and comprehensive correspondence relating to the screening and distribution of the film).

As with many films of Palestine from the Mandate period, Palestine Police begins with an introduction to the country and its people. Palestine is presented as a biblical melting-pot of old and new, and of the three Abrahamic faiths. The entire set of sequences is presented ahistorically in the style of a travelogue: the effect is to emphasise the presence of marvellous diversity in the land, and, as is often the case, this is epitomised by the sequence of Jerusalem, with its ‘endless stream of jostling, picturesque humanity.’ Palestine, the land where ‘three main lines of faith meet before spreading out to the ends of the earth,’ is presented as an extraordinary idyll where the ancient and modern, respectively personified as Arab and Jew, peacefully co-exist.

After introducing the audience to the land, the film moves on to the Palestine police themselves. ‘The security of this bewildering variety of people is in the hands of a highly efficient police,’ intones narrator Keating, as the film for the first time approaches its main subject matter with a shot of two policemen. ‘They are of different race,’ notes the commentary – one is British, one is ‘a Palestinian’, that is, an Arab. This gloss on race is the beginning of a glaring omission which continues throughout the film – despite the early emphasis on the three faiths of Palestine, there are now no further direct references to Palestine’s Jews.

The film continues with a loose narrative following the training and regular duties of a new recruit to the police. The bobby-on-the-beat imagery of the first police scenes soon gives way to evidence of the distinctly military nature of the job, with scenes of recruits in barracks, on parade, and on patrol in armoured cars. No explanation for this highly militarised life is given, besides a throwaway reference to ‘terrorist activities of political extremists,’ and the cheerful assertion that the mobile forces help to ‘suppress serious disorder in its initial stages’. None of the tasks demonstrated in the film – catching smugglers of ‘the vicious hashish drug’, preventing Arab fishermen from overfishing Lake Tiberias, detecting illegal immigrants, etc. – explain why the police appears to be more like the army.  (There are also some pointers, perhaps accidental, which make it apparent that the police are also under serious threat of attack. One extraordinary scene, showing life in the ‘married quarters’ of the police barracks, shows a mother pushing her child on a swing with a fortified barbed-wire fence clearly visible in the background.)

The film continues with further, rather romantic, examples of the varied kinds of police work in the territory: a mounted patrol to an Arab village greets the mukhtar; a radio patrol has tea on a sand-dune with some camel-mounted Arab officers; the ‘backroom boys’ of the CID conduct experiments to identify ‘a speck of blood’; the naval and canine divisions are shown. The film closes with the original British and Palestinian police duo out on the beat, with the voiceover giving the reassuring message that they are guarding the ‘peace and security of the ordinary citizen’. The film ends, and then the appeal for recruits is shown.

The middle section of the film, showing a highly militarised force, is never adequately explained, and indeed the implicit suggestion that all is not well in the Holy Land – the reference to ‘terrorist activities’, the indication that ‘peace and security’ are in fact at risk – is never elaborated on. This refusal to give anything more than the most perfunctory indication of the threat goes hand in hand with the total omission of all mention of Jews after the initial historical section. Unmentioned in the film is the fact that the recruitment drive of which the film is a part, and the most intense phase of police militarisation which is reflected in it, came in response not to the actions of rebelling Arabs, but to violence by Jewish paramilitary organizations.

The end of the war in 1945 had seen a marked intensification of the already serious campaign of violence being waged by Jewish paramilitaries against the Mandate authorities. After the British refused to countenance Truman’s proposal for the admission to Palestine of 100,000 Jewish refugees, attacks surged, with the Irgun and Lehi terrorist groups being joined in struggle by outlawed Hagana paramilitary forces. Much of the Jewish population of Palestine was in a state of revolt that recalled the Arab uprising, but which was more tactically sophisticated, better equipped and better organised. British civilian, military and police infrastructure and personnel were constantly attacked, and police in rural areas were confined to life inside fortified barracks, such as those seen in the film (‘Tegart Forts’; see Binsley 1996: 194-7 for an account of life within such a fort). A state of emergency was declared, nearly 100,000 troops were sent to the country, and it became increasingly clear that British control of the territory was unsustainable (Krämer, 2008, 304-5).

The Annual Administrative Report of the Palestine Police for 1946 gives some sense of the intensity of the situation, with the Port and Marine division reporting numerous cases of the mining of ships and ports, the Railways division reporting ‘widespread acts of sabotage’ throughout the year (car bombings of stations, large scale armed attacks on trains, train derailings, explosives placed on tracks), and the Police Mobile Force reporting repeated remotely triggered roadside bombing of patrol vehicles. Numerous policemen were targeted in ‘bomb outrages’, and several were killed in the notorious King David hotel blast. Over the course of the year, the police seized a staggering 18,817 ‘serviceable’ bombs, 24 machine guns, and nearly half a million rounds of rifle ammunition; in 1945 they had seized just 25 bombs, no automatic weapons, and just 10,000 rifle rounds (Palestine and Transjordan Administration Reports 1918-1948, 1995, 509-58).

Naturally none of this features in the film. The description early on of the general prevailing situation as ‘peacetime,’ and the film’s overall elision of the real role undertaken and challenges faced by the police are tantamount to being disingenuous. Official uncertainty over the role of the police and the refusal to admit the necessary military character of their duty, is evidenced by the bizarre disjunction between the scenes of the two friendly policemen and the military-style training scenes; the fatal British tendency to recruit from whichever portion of the populace was not in rebellion is clearly suggested by the absence of references to Jews or Jewish police recruits, and the repeated emphases on the Arab elements of the police. Omissions and internal contradictions such as these can be seen finally as a clear reflection of several of the most disastrous shortcomings of the security situation in the Palestine Mandate area, and beyond that the film as a whole can be seen as a typical symptom of the greater malaise: the lack of any clear strategy for British objectives in Palestine, and the steady, inevitable loss of political initiative in the country. 

Francis Gooding (July 2009)


Works Cited

Binsley, Jack Palestine Police Service (London: Minerva, 1996).

Kolinsky, Martin Law, Order and Riots in Mandatory Palestine, 1928-35 (London: St. Martin’s Press, 1993).

Krämer, Gurun  A History of Palestine (Oxford: Princeton, 2008).

NA CO 733/451/1

Sinclair, Georgina ‘“Get into a Crack Force and earn £20 a Month and all found…”[sic]: The Influence of the Palestine Police upon Colonial Policing 1922-1948’, European Review of History Vol. 13, No. 1, March 2006, 49-65.

‘The Palestine Police: Annual Administrative Report 1946’, in Palestine and Transjordan Administration Reports 1918-1948: Vol.14, 1945/6-1946 1995 (Southampton: Archive editions 1995): 509-58.




Technical Data

Film Gauge (Format):
1668 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Mayne, Derek
Keating, Rex
Bryan, Peter
Production company
No 1 Army Film and Photographic Unit





Production Organisations