Of Walls and Fortresses: Sir Charles Tegart, the Arab Revolt and Beyond

By Richard Cahill
Submitted to Session P4883 (The Arab Revolt in Palestine (1936-39): Internal and External Factors, 2017 Annual Meeting
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During the Arab Revolt in Palestine, the British government sent Sir Charles Tegart to Palestine to assess the security situations, make recommendations for reforming the Palestine Police, and restore law and order. Tegart had over two decades of colonial police experience in India, rising through the ranks to become the Inspector General of a massive police force in Calcutta. During his two extended visits to Palestine during the Revolt, Tegart made a series of recommendations for reforming the police according to imperial policing practices, many of which were put into place. He also suggested building a “wall” along the frontier with Syria and Lebanon. Additionally, he energetically proposed building 77 fortified police stations or fortresses throughout the country. The “wall” (actually a fence), was erected in the summer of 1938. Curiously, in the early 1940s, after the Revolt was put down and when Britain was in a desperate financial situation, needing all its resources to fight the Germans in World War II, 55 of Tegart’s suggested police fortresses were constructed. These “Tegart Forts” cost the British over two million Pounds Sterling.

This paper seeks to address three questions:
1. Why was Tegart so keen on building a wall on the frontier that he got personally involved in its implementation?
2. Why did Tegart push for, and the British approve of and pay for, 55 new police fortresses in Palestine in the early 1940s, given that the Revolt was over?
3. How did the location of the new fortresses influence subsequent conflicts?

The paper concludes that:
1. Tegart’s experience, personality, and outlook (all profoundly imperial) contributed to his enthusiasm for the border “wall.”
2. Tegart was clearly influenced by his close relationships with Zionist leaders, who endorsed and benefited (financially and strategically) from the construction of the fortresses.
3. The location and strength of the fortresses benefited the Zionists in the War of Independence (1948).

This paper’s methodology employs a qualitative analysis approach, and its findings are based on archival research in Oxford (St. Anthony’s College, Middle East Centre Archive; Rhodes House Archive; Bodleian Library), London (National Archive, Imperial War Museum and British Museum), Cambridge (Centre for South Asian Studies Archive), and Jerusalem (Central Zionist Archive).