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Colonial Cases

Attorney General v. Kassim, 1931


Attorney General v. Kassim

Source: The Palestine Bulletin, 22 September 1931





   Castigating Jamal Eff. Kassim and Dr. Sidki Malhas, two of the three Nablus agitators as "political humbugs who, becoming obsessed with an idea, do not hesitate to make malicious accusations which have no foundation in fact," the British Magistrate (Mr. Cressall) yesterday imposed a bond of L.P. 200 with two sureties of L.P. 100 each and an obligation to come up for judgment when called upon within two years from date on Kassim, and a bond and sureties of half the amount, for one year, on Dr. Malhas.

   The strongly worded judgment created a sensation in Court, especially when the Magistrate bitingly remarked that it would be a waste of public funds to send to prison persons of their ilk and to feed "such misguided nonentities"

   To protect them from themselves and to safeguard their race from their silly efforts at self-aggrandisement, he placed then under bond, while dismissing the case against Sheikh Sabri Abdin, the third accused.

   The judgment closed in the following words:-

British Justice.

   "From these sentences the defendants and others will, I hope, realise the attitude British Justice adopts when a Court is satisfied that offences such as these are committed by persons whose vapourings may sound patriotic to prejudiced political audiences, but when repeated in the calm and dispassionate atmosphere of as Court of Law assume their proper worth as amusing examples of childish arrogance."

   On the question of the arming of Jewish colonies, Mr. Cressall remarked that the defendants had been unable in the witness box to give concrete instances of their misuse by the Jews entrusted with them, the defendants contenting themselves with the declaration that the armouries were dangerous.

   The impression left on his mind by the defendants was that they believed their race to be socially, politically and economically incapable of holding its own in Palestine unless some kind of "dog-in-the-manger" attitude was adopted towards Jewish immigration.

   The judgment in full will be given in the Palestine Bulletin tomorrow.


The Palestine Bulletin, 23 September 1931



The Attorney General


Jamal Kassim, Dr. Sidki Malhas, Sheikh Sabri Abdin.

   The defendants were originally charged with delivering seditious speeches, but during the hearing I formed the opinion that the evidence was not sufficient to support a conviction for an offence triable before the District Court and in accordance with the provisions of the Trial Upon Information ordinance, I directed that the proceedings should continue for an offence under the Dissemination of False News Ordinance 1921.

  The hearing has been somewhat protracted as evidence has been given on both sides at considerable length.  This, however, is as it should be for cases of this nature a full and complete investigation is necessary in order to arrive at a judicial determination on the facts.

"Danger To Arab Race."

   According to the evidence, it appears that for some time prior to 31/7/31 certain Arab politicians were dissatisfied with the results of their protests o the Government of Palestine on what is known, locally, as the Armament Question.  It is clear from the facts, and indeed admitted by the defendants, that some ten years ago the Government on account of insufficient Police protection in outlying districts, had adopted the policy of posting sealed armouries at certain isolated Jewish settlements.  For some reason or the other what has not been disclosed by the evidence, the defendants and others decided that these armouries constituted a danger to the Arab race, but they were unable in the witness box to give concrete instances of their misuse, contenting themselves with the declaration that "they were dangerous."  The meeting of 31/.7/31 was called to discuss the question and to convince the Government of its dangers.


   Now it is perfectly apparent that the defendants are imbued with the belief that the Zionist movement has for its ultimate object the extermination of Arabs from Palestine and they each confessed to a hatred of Jews because of the fear that they will eventually attain political, social and economic power to the detriment of the Arab Race.  The impression left on my mind after hearing their sworn testimony is that they believe their race to be socially, politically and economically incapable of holding its own in Palestine unless some kind of 'dog-in-the-manger' attitude is adopted towards Jewish immigration.  In other words, they infer that the Arab will ultimately become a national nonentity if Zionism continues.  This belief, I have no doubt, is to a large extent the result of the intensive campaign which has been waged in the Arabic press against Zionism, generally, and an examination of the documentary exhibits in the case discloses that the newspapers, particularly Al Jamia Al Arabia, have persisted in this campaign in  spite of official warnings as to the inciting tone of the articles and news and in the face of official declarations that the statements made from day to day, on this subject, were misleading and in some cases definitely false.

   I mention all this because I was at pains during the case to ascertain the state of mind in which the defendants attended the meeting of 31/7/31, for I  arriving at a conclusion as to the meaning of the words used by them, it is necessary that consideration be given to the circumstances in which they were uttered.

Right Of Free Speech.

   It is, perhaps, well to remember that the law of England, upon which I hope all the criminal law of Palestine will eventually be based, is very jealous of the liberty of the subject and of his right to the freedom of speech.  It is a fundamental principle of British Justice that every man has the right to his own opinion, and, provided he does not transgress the law of the land, he is entitled to express that opinion unhampered and fearlessly in public.  Provided he keeps within the limits generally adopted by law abiding citizens as being necessary to regulated Government and to the safety of the State, it is the undoubted right of every citizen to criticize servants of the Government, and the Government itself.  And in so doing, the law does not seek to put a narrow construction on words and phrases used.  It is only when plainly and deliberately the limits of frank and honest discussion are passed, and the speech or publication becomes or is calculated to become, a menace to the peace of the land or to orderly Government, that it steps in and punishes the offender.

Arab National Society

   As a great deal has been said during the case about the Arab National Society and other similar institution's it may not be out of place to remark that under the Law of England such associations and organisations are perfectly legal, and are in fact encouraged, provided they are conducted on proper lines.  So long as their objects are legitimate and their management proceeds on constitutional grounds, they are usually welcomed by Governments as an helpful liaison between the Executive and the masses.  It is when their activities become menacing to the peace of the State and to orderly Government, that they render themselves liable to punishment, for no Government can subsist if persons are allowed, with impunity, to infuse feelings of ill will towards it, and to create animosities between the different sections of the community it governs.

British Impartiality

   In this connection I have no doubt that the population of Palestine, both Arabs and Jews, appreciate that the Mandatory Power is supplied by a Country whose reputation for fair play and impartiality in Courts of Law is proverbial and is the result of a system - based on the doctrine of presuming the innocence of an offender until his guilty is clearly proved.

   In the case under review, that principle has been scrupulously followed, and learned counsel will agree that Mr. Elliott, the Government advocate, has in his conduct of these proceedings upheld in every way the best traditions of the Bar in England.

   Mr. Abcarius has submitted that nothing said by the defendants at the meeting was false nor calculated to disturb the public peace.  He contends that the assembly was a lawful one, and that the audience was not a public gathering inasmuch as the attendance was confined to those expressly invited.  He further argued that the defendants cannot be held responsible for newspaper reports of their speeches, and that all they did was to make suggestions as to a possible course of action on a subject that was of considerable public importance.

Speakers' Intention

   Now there are two main points to be considered in the case, namely:-

  1. Did the defendants, or any of them, utter words relating to the government policy of sealed armouries which were in fact false, and
  2. If they did so, were such words calculated to disturb the public peace.  In arriving at a conclusion on these points, it is necessary to consider not only the language, but also the class of audience addressed; the state of public feeling at the time, and the place and method of uttering such words.  Consideration of all these elements is essential, for as I have remarked already during the case, 'Words which may on one occasion be found harmless may on another be deemed dangerous to the public peace on account of the particular circumstances surrounding their use.' Moreover it does not matter what the intention of the speaker was, for liability depends, not on the truth of the words spoken, not on the motive involved, but on the question whether the words used, having regard to the audience addressed, etc., were calculated to promote public disorder.

Chagrin With Government

   In the present case, I am satisfied that the general feeling of the assembly was not only hatred of Jews, but of chagrin at the unsuccessful attempts to get the Government's policy changed.  In other words, Arabic public opinion had been roused by an intensive Press campaign and by oratorical efforts, to a pitch bordering on what might be termed insubordination to those entrusted with the orderly Government of the land, and very little was required to turn the smouldering embers of dissatisfaction into the flames of open disorder and disobedience to those in authority.  The audience was hungry, one might almost say ravenous, for further verbal morsels of Zionist aggression and Government partiality towards the Jews.

Intemperate And Fallacious.

   Having considered the evidence, both for and against the accused, I have comer to the conclusion that the defendants, Jamal Kassim and Sidky Malhas, supplied the wants of their audience, by making use of language, not only intemperate in tone, but fallacious in the premises, and in so doing they disseminated false news which they were aware was calculated to disturb the public peace.

Sabri Abdin's Mentality

   With regard to the defendant Sabri Abdin, I am not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he made use of the language alleged by the prosecution.  He seems to have attended the meeting as an invitee and there is no evidence that prior to 31-7-31, he had identified himself in any way with the mischievous campaign of calumnity which the other two defendants with the help of the Press had embarked upon.  I am inclined to the view that he (Sabri Abdin) was led away by the atmosphere of the meeting, to discuss a question which he understood imperfectly, and that his general mentality is not of such a standard as would enable a man with his limited knowledge, to withstand the temptation of indulging in irrational talk when he found himself in the environment of a political meeting.  That he expressed his views forcibly there is not doubt, but I am not convinced that the words he used were of such a nature as to render him liable under the Ordinance.  I trust, however, that after his experience in this case he will confine what ability he possesses to his profession of teaching, and not to the support of political parasites that can do him no good, but may do him considerable harm.

Political Humbugs

   It is perfectly clear to me that Jamal Kassim and Sidky Malhas, the latter perhaps in a lesser degree, are the type of political humbugs who, becoming obsessed with an idea, do not hesitate to make malicious accusations which have no foundation in fact.  That persons who love Palestine - as they declare they do - should seek to create unrest in the country, is clear proof that they have no real regard for the Peace they profess to represent; and their conduct must stigmatise them in the minds of reasonable men, as substantial adventures who strive to attain cheap notoriety at the expense of their illiterate brethren.  If they are really sincere in their views, I would advise them to seek satisfaction for any alleged grievances in a constitutional way through Parliamentary or Legislative institutions, and not through the medium of intemperate speeches in public on matters which, it is obvious; their biassed minds render them incapable of absorbing in a rational way.  When, with expedience, they become more endowed with reason, they will no doubt appreciate the fact that their offence was investigated and tried during the administration of a Mandatory Power, whose chief faulty perhaps is that its Judicial Officers are inclined to suffer fools gladly.

Wasteful To Imprison Them

   On the question of punishment I have had no difficulty at all, for I realize that to send to prison persons of their ilk would be to waste public funds on the upkeep of misguided nonentities, when such funds could more usefully be employed on the advancement of the country.  In order, however, to protect them from themselves, and to safeguard their Race, from their silly efforts as self aggrandisement, I have decided that Justice will be met if they are dealt with under the Probation of Offenders Ordinance and placed on Bonds in the following terms:-

Jamal Kassim A Bond in the sum of L.P. 200, with two sureties of L.P. 100 each to come up for judgment when called upon within two years from date.

   Sidky Malhas A Bond in the sum of L.P. 100 with two sureties of L.P. 50 each to come up for judgment when called upon within one year from date.

   The Case against Sabri Abdin is dismissed.

   From these sentences the defendants and others will, I hope, realize the attitude British Justice adopts when a Court is satisfied that offence such as these are committed by persons whose vapourings may sound patriotic to prejudiced political audiences but when repeated in the calm and dispassionate atmosphere of a Court of Law assume their proper worth as amusing examples of childish arrogance.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School