When the Black & Tans left Ireland for Palestine

"Come Out, Ye Black & Tans" is one of the more popular Irish Rebel songs. But the third verse often gets overlooked in discussions of its legacy:

Come tell us how you slew
Them poor Arabs two by two
Like the Zulu, they had spears
And bows and arrows

How bravely you fought one
With your sixteen-pounder gun
And you frightened them poor Natives
To their marrow

The Black and Tans, as they were called, were a special unit of Britain's Royal Irish Constabulary, and known for committing some particularly heinous acts of wartime horror, including an incendiary bombing of some 300 homes in Cork. After the end of the Irish War of Independence, Winston Churchill re-assigned many of the soldiers who comprised the Black and Tans to continue their campaign of terror — in the Mandate of Palestine, which had recently come under British control after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Churchill privately acknowledged that the Tans were "a gang of murderers," while also publicly declaring them a "picked force of white gendarmerie" for the newly established British Mandate of Palestine.

Ronald Storrs, who was the British Military Governor of Jerusalem when the Black & Tans arrived, was quite excited by the prospect of "forming for England a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism." To be fair, Storrs also claimed to be "the first military governor of Palestine since Pontius Pilate," which is a weird comparison to make unless you're one of those guys who's really proud to be an "equal opportunity offender."

(This was several years after the Balfour Declaration, which was written by UK Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, who had previously been the Chief Secretary for British-ruled Ireland, during which time he passed the Irish Crimes Act, which made it legal for British military police to open fire on a crowd of protestors who refused to pay their rent to their absent British landlords.)

Of course, the Jewish population in the Mandate of Palestine was hardly left unbothered by the occupying British Military Police, either. As one Irish magazine wrote in 1945, "Never let it be forgotten that the Irish people … have experienced all that the Jewish people in Palestine are suffering from the trained 'thugs' 'gunning tarzans' and British 'terrorists' that the Mandatory power have imposed upon the country."

History is weird and complicated and also utterly fascinating.

Winston Churchill sent the Black and Tans to Palestine [David Cronin / The Irish Times]

The Irish Imperial Service: Policing Palestine and Administering the Empire, 1922–1966 [Seán William Gannon / Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies]

Why the Irish support Palestine [Rory Miller / Foreign Policy]

The Return to Yurty Aherne's Couch [The Blindboy Podcast]