On the night of 11th/12th July 1947 two young sergeants, Clifford Martin and Mervyn Paice, were in Nethanya with a Jewish 'friend', Aaron Weinberg. There was an alert on because of threatened activity by the Irgun gang if terrorists convicted for an attack on Acre jail were executed. Capital punishment was accepted in those days, as it is today in countries like the US and China. The executions went ahead. The men had been tried and convicted in open court and their executions were quick and efficient.
"At 0045 on 12 July Martin and Paice were bludgeoned, chloroformed and pushed into a car. Weinberg (the Jewish friend they were with) was bound and then dumped by the side of the road. At 0400 he freed himself and gave the alarm. Martin and Paice had, meanwhile, been entombed in a cell of twelve square feet and less than six feet high. It had been dug underneath a diamond factory floor, with a thick layer of sand on top.
Nethanya was cordoned and the search (Operation Tiger) began which included Haganah members. Although a few other terrorists were caught, the search was unsuccessful thanks to the silence of the Jewish community. For reasons unknown the diamond factory was not searched.
Eric Farthing, 4th/7th Dragoon Guards was involved in the search and remembers the murders well.
The murders went ahead.
"On the following day Amihai Paglin drove to Nethanya with his accomplices. The first sergeant was extracted. A hood was placed over his head. He was bound and placed on a chair. A rope was strung round his neck. He asked if they were going to kill him. Could he leave a message? There was no time. The chair was kicked from under him. He was slowly throttled; the rope compressed his windpipe. After fifteen minutes he was dead." A Captain's Mandate, Philip Brutton
The second sergeant was murdered in the same manner half an hour later.
Their hooded and hanging bodies were found on 31st July 1947 after a tip off. They had been held in the underground space for almost three weeks. When Capt Galetti of 23rd Field Company, RE, cut them down he was temporarily blinded when a mine inside one of the bodies exploded. The ground had been checked for mines but not the bodies themselves.
Clifford Martin's mother was an Egyptian Jew so by Jewish law he was Jewish and, in addition, Peter Davies who knew them both, in an interview on the Badil Resource Centre Site says:
"For a little while, perhaps only a few days, I shared a tent in a camp outside Nethanya with Sergeant Paice and Sergeant Martin of the Army Intelligence Force Corps who were kidnapped by Menachim Begin's IZL, taken to an olive grove where their bodies were booby-trapped with explosives and hanged. The irony of that incident was that on the one or two occasions we discussed the situation in the country, all three of us expressed varying degrees of sympathy with the Zionist cause."
The Daily Express of 1st August 1947 carried the dreadful photograph of hanging bodies which shocked everyone and distressed the families. Even the Zionist, Barnett Janner MP, expressed horror at the atrocity. A leaflet, (full text) couched in classic terrorist language and reminiscent of George Orwell's 'Newspeak', was left pinned to the bodies.
Ron Hyde, a British Constable in the Palestine Police stationed at Safad was detailed to escort the Jewish Mukhtar to the funeral of Dov Gruener whose execution had been the excuse for the murder of the two sergeants.
Many soldiers, having been kept in check successfully for so long and in spite of relentless provocation finally broke loose and five Jews were killed and many shops damaged though the troops were soon brought back under control. In England there was rioting across the country, especially in Liverpool, which went on for five days. At least 300 Jewish properties were attacked before the anger subsided.
After the murders a Jewish contact told the British that the sergeants had been kept in the Feldman diamond factory and that Oved Ben-Ami, the mayor of Nathanya, (a street is named after him) and his family had known this. Source: 317 Field Security Section Report, WO275/80.
In spite of expressed regrets, the Jewish Agency and others never assisted the authorities in arresting the terrorists responsible for the atrocity. A Jewish organization in England though did react with dignity:
"It was, however, the Association of Jewish ex-Servicemen who gave the most informative and telling Anglo-Jewish reaction to the dual tragedies of the Irgun executions and the anti-Jewish rioting in Britain. In an unequivocal bid to display Anglo-Jewish loyalty to Britain, even in the face of the overwhelming animosity that the anti-Jewish rioting presented, the Association placed a wreath at the plinth of the Cenotaph with the inscription: 'In memory of Sergeant Martin and Sergeant Paice, who died doing their duty in Palestine. From the Jewish ex-Service comrades of the British forces.'" Middle East Explorer which also has more details.
Arthur Koestler sought to excuse the atrocity in his Letter to a Parent of a British Soldier in Palestine.
The filmmaker, Peleg Levy, is planning a documentary and marked the recent anniversary of the murders by taking a tour of 70 people around the final places in the lives of the two soldiers. It began in Herzliya (where they were kidnapped) and ended in "the sergeants' forest" in Kiryat Hasharon.
|updated October 2014 | home|