Lewis Yelland Andrews, the British district commissioner for the Galilee, was assassinated on his way to prayer services at the Anglican Christ Church in Nazareth on Sunday evening, Sept. 26, 1937. Four small handguns were fired at him simultaneously, killing him instantly. He was clearly a friend of the Jews, and after his death they eulogized him as though he had been one of them. The Arabs, on the other hand, had a hard time mourning for him. Although the Arab Higher Committee published an official mourning notice, residents of Acre danced on the rooftops, and Judge Anwar Nusseibeh felt that Andrews had been an Arab-hater. He remarked sarcastically that “Andrews found his God when he had gone looking for him.”
Andrews’ assassins were several students of Sheikh Izzedine al-Qassam, the national hero of the Palestinians, who to this day provides inspiration to Hamas murder cells. From their perspective, the assassination of Andrews was no accident. Andrews was a high-quality target, and his murder was a kind of targeted killing directed against a man who had given actual assistance to the state in the making, “a fitting end” to a man who had become a friend to the Jews, many years before the better-known friend from that same period, Charles Orde Wingate, known to the Jewish men he commanded as “Hayadid” (the friend), was given the title.
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Ninety-three-year-old Yosef Strauss of Kibbutz Beit Zera still remembers that on the evening of the murder, Andrews stopped by to celebrate the kibbutz’s tenth anniversary and play with the babies there. A few hours before his death, on his 41st birthday, he read congratulatory telegrams and cards from the heads of the Yishuv — the Jewish community in Palestine — and from his wife and children in England. Then he raised a glass to celebrate his life, which was to end that very day.
At 5:45 PM, he was shot to death in a narrow alleyway near the post office, not far from the Casa Nova Hospice, as he was on his way to prayers at the church. His bodyguard, police officer MacIan, was wounded and died shortly afterward. Andrews’ deputy, Assistant District Commissioner Pirie-Gordon, slipped and fell and was miraculously unharmed. The murderers fled. England was gripped by sorrow and grief. The British saw the assassination as a violation of their unwritten agreement with the Arabs that government officials were not to be harmed.
While mourning in the Yishuv was organized, it also took place at the grass-roots level. So grass-roots was it, in fact, that the day after the murder, which was the festival of Simchat Torah, the day of Andrews’ burial, worshippers in the north interrupted the festive dancing with Torah scrolls to go out into the streets and salute the district commissioner as he went on his last journey from the north to Jerusalem. Thousands of residents lined the streets between Nazareth and Afula, where Andrews’ coffin passed. For many of them, particularly in the region of the Galilee, Afula and Safed, Andrews was almost family.
Dance balls and performances were called off in Netanya, and commemorative events were held in schools. Alongside the British flags that were lowered to half-mast, the blue-and-white flag was flown as well, with black ribbons. The leaders of the Yishuv, from Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and the heads of the Jewish National Council to the representative of the smallest community, came to the cemetery on Mount Zion in Jerusalem to accompany Andrews to his final resting place.
In their memoirs, the heads of the Yishuv describe the day of Andrews’ assassination as a dark day for them. Some admit that they wept. They did not hold back in describing Andrews’ contribution to the Zionist idea, but 76 years after his murder, Andrews and his work on behalf of the Yishuv were forgotten.
Unlike Wingate, his more famous and charismatic countryman, who helped the Yishuv establish its military force and founded the well-known Special Night Squads, Andrews became nothing more than a line in the history books, and then hardly even that.
The man who offered simple yet vital assistance to the Yishuv is no longer remembered or commemorated. Andrews helped establish dozens of communities, including tower and stockade settlements. He transferred tens of thousands of dunams of land to Jewish ownership, and dozens of communities that were established in the Hula Valley region, the Beit She’an Valley and the Hefer Valley owe him their very existence.
Andrews also provided a vital umbrella of protection to the Yishuv during the Peel Commission hearings and was largely responsible for the commission’s decision in 1937 to partition the western portion of the Land of Israel into a Jewish state and an Arab state — a decision that displeased the Arabs a great deal.
The Arabs made two attempts on his life: one in Acre in 1922, and another in Jerusalem during the 1930s. Both attempts failed.
In one instance, a gun that had been planted in advance for the assassins was discovered in time beneath the stairs of the house where he was staying in Jerusalem. Another time, a courageous Christian girl saved him from a Bedouin lynch mob. Several months before he was assassinated, when the Arab revolt of 1936 to 1939 broke out, Andrews felt that his and his family’s lives were in danger and sent his wife and three children back to England.
Still, he refused to change his regular habits or to give up his Sunday attendance at the church — the church at whose very gates he was murdered.
Making the desert bloom
I first heard Andrews’ name in the home of my grandfather, Shlomo Zalman Shragai, who was a member of the National Council, the governing body of the state in the making. Afterward, in a bizarre turn of events that occurred decades later, when I was doing research for a book about Rachel’s Tomb, I was shown a murky item from the newspaper Haboker that had appeared shortly after Andrews’ murder.
The newspaper reported how, at the last moment, Andrews had prevented the demolition of Rachel’s Tomb when troops of the British army’s engineering corps attached explosives to its walls. At the time, the building was closed because of the riots. In accordance with the orders they had received, the British soldiers mistakenly believed that the building was just another structure and that they must demolish it, together with other buildings along the Jerusalem-Hebron road from which people fired at that road.
Andrews arrived at Rachel’s Tomb moments before the demolition was to occur, and stopped it from happening. The news item was confirmed by veteran journalist Gavriel Tsifroni, who passed away about two years ago. Tsifroni recounted the incident, but would not sign on it. His source was Oved Ben-Ami, later the mayor of Netanya and a close friend of Andrews. Tsifroni cross-checked the information with British army officials, who confirmed its accuracy.
Years before he saved one of Judaism’s holiest sites in the land of Israel, Andrews was already a close friend of the heads of the Jewish Agency: Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Yosef Weitz and Moshe Sharett. In particular, he was a close friend of community leaders in the north. Andrews worked at a time when relations between the Mandate authorities and the heads of the Yishuv were relatively good. The White Paper, signed by Malcolm MacDonald, had not been issued yet; immigration was still unrestricted, and the purchase of land by Jews, which Andrews greatly assisted, had not yet been prohibited. In the last six years of his life, Andrews worked under the fourth High Commissioner in Palestine, Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, who was considered fair and even friendly. As Andrews assisted the Jews, Wauchope did not interfere.
Andrews was born on Sept. 26, 1896 in Sydney, Australia. His ancestors had immigrated there from Scotland. When World War I broke out, he joined the Australian army, and in 1917, when he was 21 years old, he arrived in Eretz Israel with the British troops who defeated the Turks. Slowly, he worked his way up the ranks, eventually serving as commissioner of Acre and, later on, of Safed. He was a judge and also the district officer of Haifa. In 1925, he was transferred to Nazareth and appointed the acting commissioner of the northern district. From time to time, he was “borrowed” to help other district commissioners.
Believing that he must communicate with the Yishuv’s leaders in their own language, Andrews learned both Hebrew and Arabic. He also took the Balfour Declaration, which supported “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” seriously. Once, he told agronomist Akiva Ettinger that unlike several of his colleagues, who doubted that city-bred Jews would be able to work their land and guard it, his experience in Australia — where merchants and clerks living near Melbourne had transformed into farmers — had taught him that it was entirely possible.
Ben-Ami once witnessed an outbreak of religious feeling in Andrews during a conversation with him. “We were speaking about the establishment of the Jewish state,” Ben-Ami recalled, “when suddenly the man stood up, and in a unique state of excitement and arousal said: We Christians believe that the Messiah will come and redeem mankind only when a Jewish state is established … and I, who hoped all my life to be one of the helpers of this rebirth of the Jewish people, am fortunate to have this privilege.”
Indeed, Andrews had many opportunities to provide assistance, and he tried never to miss any. Ben-Ami’s daughter, Hanni Wolfson, who was born in 1929 and is now writing her father’s biography, found that Andrews worked to include land along the shoreline in Netanya and expand its eastern side from King David Street to the sea. The land, which was owned by the government, was given to the Jewish residents for free. Andrews also helped move forward a land-exchange transaction between Netanya and the Mandate authorities that helped the city’s development considerably.
Wolfson remembers the home Andrews built in Netanya where he used to go to relax on weekends. “In the yard of the house was a riding horse, and when Andrews wasn’t there, it was watched. “… He used to stay at our home. The territory between Tel Aviv and Hadera was desolate then, and Andrews was very excited at the farming community that suddenly sprang up from the sands. The pioneer enterprise enchanted him.”
The newspapers of the time reported that after he worked to eradicate malaria and drain the swamps in the Sharon region, the Netanya municipal council wanted to name a street after him. But Andrews told Ben-Ami that he preferred it be done “only when the establishment of the Hebrew state was officially declared.” After he was assassinated, the city fathers of Netanya named a street after him even though the state had not yet been established.
One of us
Although the Jews saw Andrews as an ally, he took care to emphasize that he was neither pro-Jewish nor pro-Arab, but rather pro-British Mandate and a fair man. Professor Motti Golani, a researcher of the period, believes that Andrews was a loyal representative of British colonialism who did nothing without his superiors’ permission. “Most of the tower and stockade settlements were established in the north, in Andrews’ domain,” Golani says, “and at the same time, Britain assisted in that enterprise.” Golani believes that Andrews “was assassinated because as an official of the Mandate, he was responsible for the tower and stockade project and gave it assistance.”
Despite these statements, the officials of the Yishuv saw Andrews as far more than one who carried out policy. For his part, he did not bother to disabuse them. Avraham Herzfeld, a member of the Second Aliyah who dedicated himself to the establishment of communities and concluded every inauguration of a new community with the song “Behold, watch and see how great is this day,” recalls in his writings that relations between Yehoshua Hankin, who purchased the land of the Jordan Valley region, and Andrews were so friendly that during one of their meetings, Hankin turned to Andrews and said, “Now tell your high commissioner that I want land in Beersheba.” That Hankinesque slap on the back occurred after Andrews had arranged the deed of transfer of the entire Hula region to the Palestine Land Development Company with Hankin, Moshe Sharett and their colleagues in the name of the Mandate government.
In one of his diaries, Yosef Weitz, one of the heads of the Jewish National Fund, describes a similar relationship that led, among other things, to the plowing of the land of Beit She’an, which had been seized by the Arabs, and the evacuation of the Sakhne area for the Jews. In his journals, David Ben-Gurion documented conversations between himself and Andrews about land in the Negev and the Arava regions. In all these descriptions, Andrews is depicted as “one of us,” a man who can keep a secret and with whom one can reach understandings. Maybe that is why, when bloody conflicts over land broke out between Arabs and Jews and required mediation, Andrews was the natural choice, at least of the Jewish side.
The teacher and journalist Chaskel Zwi Klötzel, originally from Germany, was a witness to this kind of mediation in an Arab tent near Beit She’an, over which Andrews presided. One of the members of the Beit Yosef community had shot a Bedouin thief to death, and the parties made peace only when Andrews told the Jews to pay compensation to the Bedouin.
Andrews knew how to threaten as well as compromise. In the Haganah archives in Tel Aviv is the testimony of Levi Noah, a British police officer. Noah joined Andrews for many of his trips between the Jewish and Arab communities in the north, and heard Andrews warn the Arab mukhtars in the Beit She’an Valley that if they dared attack Beit Yosef, he would personally make sure “to destroy the Arab villages.” “Only then,” Noah testified, “did calm prevail in the entire area.”
Aharon Etkin, who was killed the year after Andrews’ assassination together with Haim Sturman and David Mosensohn when their car went over a mine south of Beit She’an, mourned for Andrews “as for a bosom friend.” In a booklet commemorating Etkin printed in 1939, the relationship between the two men is described as follows: “Now Andrews was a commissioner with special authority … and Etkin appeared before him as the representative to the authorities of the three blocs of Nahalal, Afula and Harod-Beit She’an.
“The relationship between them was not formal because they were partners in the work. Etkin knew all of Andrews’ ways, and Andrews knew that anything Etkin brought to him must be regarded as important and carried out.”
“He will come back to vacation in Netanya”
Andrews therefore became the Yishuv’s trusted confidant in land affairs. He attained to this status after he helped the defenders of Hadera against the Arab attackers in 1920, and in 1929 rushed to rescue 20 Jewish families from Hadera and brought in a squad of Circassians armed with machine guns to break up a Bedouin mob that was threatening to attack the members of Beit Alfa (the chronicles of the Haganah describe Andrews’ good deeds during that time at length). But Andrews neglected his own safety.
Emanuel Mor, a Jewish police officer on the British police force who took part in repelling one of the attacks on Ayelet Hashachar, describes a meeting of Yishuv representatives with Andrews after the murder of a Jew from Haifa near what is now Tivon. “The murderer’s tracks led to Zippori (Saffuriya),” Mor recalled, “and the Jews wanted to impose a collective fine on the Arabs of the village. Andrews took a notepad out of his pocket and said, ‘You don’t have to trouble too much to convince me to act against Zippori. I have a personal interest in the matter.’ He then began to read from the pad a report he had received that the Arab Higher Committee had ordered an Arab man from Zippori to assassinate him [Andrews]. Andrews added: ‘But I must be fair. The tracks do lead to Zippori, but this gang was not comprised of local people, so I will not impose a fine on them.'”
Andrews also supported a “compromise” decision of the Mandate government, after the great Arab revolt broke out, to arrest the leaders of the riots but not to harm the members of the Arab Higher Committee. He knew the danger he was in. He told Moshe Sharett that he was second on the blacklist of those whom the mufti’s associates had marked for death. He promised his friend Ben-Ami that “if he lived after suppressing the riots in the Galilee,” he would return to vacation in Netanya.
A few months before his death, Andrews testified in favor of the Yishuv before the Peel Commission, which was appointed to determine the cause of the riots. The commission met 66 times in the Palace Hotel in Jerusalem. Andrews, who served as the government’s development officer, doffed his civilian clothes and the keffiyeh and headband he customarily wore, put on a tuxedo, and refuted the narrative of the “dispossessed” that the Arabs used.
He reported to Lord Peel and his colleagues that no more than 664 peasant farmers were found who claimed that they had once been tenant farmers on the land that had been sold to the Jews, and that 347 of them would be settled on government land while the rest renounced such assistance after finding other places to live. The commission’s conclusions, which allocated 17 percent of the land for a Jewish state, caused a conflict between Ben-Gurion and Weizmann, who saw them as a first step toward the practical establishment of a Jewish state, and figures such as Jabotinsky and Ussishkin, who felt the Jews had a right to the entire area of the Land of Israel. For the Arabs, the conclusions were further proof of the need to get rid of Andrews.
After the assassination, the 50 Jewish communities in the Galilee district published a large mourning notice announcing the death of “the friend of those who worked the land, the man of justice and integrity.” The National Council declared, “Andrews’ name will be inscribed on the tablets of the history of the Land of Israel and the Jewish community among the holy ones who sacrificed their lives for the welfare and construction of the country.”
A lost mythology
“At 1:30, the coffins arrived in Jerusalem, accompanied by an honor guard of British police officers and army troops,” the newspaper Davar reported the day after the funeral. “Andrews’ coffin was draped with the British and Australian flags. All the heads of the British administration and the national institutions came to take part in the funeral procession … which proceeded to Mount Zion and the British cemetery. … The Anglican bishop recited the funeral service and read a chapter of Psalms that was a favorite of Andrews. After the coffins were lowered into the graves, an army company fired three times into the air, a trumpet sounded, wreaths were laid and the burial of the victims of Arab terrorism was completed.”
After the assassination, the British began a wave of mass arrests. They imprisoned the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, and dispersed and outlawed the Arab Higher Committee and all the national councils.
The Supreme Muslim Council was also disbanded and its property confiscated. Hundreds of Muslim leaders were arrested. Five of them were deported to the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean.
The mufti, Husseini, took refuge in Al-Aqsa mosque, surrounded himself with dozens of armed terrorists and finally managed to escape, flee the country and ally himself with Hitler in Europe. The Arab revolt intensified. Britons and Jews were the targets.
But in 1939, when the revolt ended, the British radically changed their policy. They issued the White Paper, restricted Jewish immigration, prohibited almost all purchase of land and, for all practical purposes, reneged on their commitment to the establishment of a Jewish state. The rest is history: World War II, the Holocaust, the joint revolt of the Haganah and the breakaway groups, the Irgun and Lehi, and finally the War of Independence and the birth of the State of Israel.
To this day, a gardener whose salary is paid by the British government comes to Bishop Gobat’s cemetery on Mount Zion, on a cliff overlooking the Dead Sea, to care for the flowers and bushes around Andrews’ grave (and the graves of other Britons who served here): a memory of days gone by, forgotten, just like Andrews and his abundant help to the Yishuv. A street in Netanya is named for him.
A hospital named for Andrews was planned for the city, but never built. In Afula, too, almost nothing remains of the mythic grove named after him, which was considered one of its symbols. Somewhere out there live his descendants. We tried to locate some of them via historians of the British Foreign Office, but to no avail.