(thanks to Adam Levick)
I reviewed David Cesarani’s 2009 book on the affair here.
The decision to compensate the victims of torture and illegal detention during the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya (Britain has said sorry to the Mau Mau, 7 June) is heartening and must lend weight to claims for compensation by those whose civil and human rights were abused by British security forces in the first colonial counterinsurgency campaign of the postwar era, in Palestine.
Will the government now apologise for the torture and murder of a 16-year-old boy, Alexander Rubowitz, who was seized by an undercover police squad led by Major Roy Farran in the Rehavia district of Jerusalem on 6 May 1947?
Rubowitz was a member of LEHI, the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, a proscribed underground organisation responsible for numerous assassinations and bombings. But when he was apprehended he was doing nothing worse than distributing anti-British propaganda. He was taken to a deserted area outside Jerusalem, where Farran struck him repeatedly on the head with a rock, causing his death. Farran admitted this to his commanding officer, Colonel Bernard Fergusson, and said the policemen with him had stripped the boy’s body and mutilated it. The corpse was never recovered. Farran was subsequently investigated by the Palestine police force and arrested. He fled custody twice. In October 1947 a court martial acquitted him on the grounds that, if there was no body, no murder could be proved. Subsequent attempts by the Rubowitz family to bring Farran to justice using criminal and civil proceedings were all foiled.
Roy Farran died in Canada in 2006, having enjoyed a successful career as a newspaper publisher and politician. He is regarded as a heroic figure and his wartime exploits in the SAS are legendary. However, his activity in Palestine became a model for British counterinsurgency techniques in Malaya, Kenya, Aden and Northern Ireland, always with disastrous consequences. An apology to the Rubowitz family, who have not given up seeking justice, would acknowledge their cause and signify a repudiation of the covert, semi-legal techniques that have repeatedly dishonoured the British armed forces in operations against insurgents.
Research professor in history, Royal Holloway, University of London