This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: COI 171).


The historic past, cultural and economic present and potential future of Palestine are all portrayed as (mainly implicit) criticism of "the tension and uncertainty of the last 25 years."

Film of the Jordan valley and various archaeological sites introduces a religious profile of the Palestinians: Moslems, Samaritans, Jews, Christians. The image of the Christian Arabs of Bethlehem introduces a section on the established communities ("the ordinary people of Palestine ask nothing better than to be left in peace") such as the orthodox Jews of the old city of Jerusalem, or rural communities of Bedouins and biblical-style fishing, farming and irrigation. Picking up on the last image, the film launches into the modernisation of Palestine: "whatever the political future... the British Government is determined... Arab and Jew alike shall enjoy the benefits of modern science." Hydro-electric power, water, oil, chemicals, fruit farms; kibbutzim; new buildings; new Arab and Jewish colleges and hospitals; the whole new city of Tel Aviv ("most vital monument of Zionism"). A closing statement of the two races' rival claims leaves the question as "Palestine's problem".


Credits: described as being photographed by British Information Services, Middle East, and edited by Anglo-Scottish Pictures.



In April 1946 the British and American governments received the report that had been prepared, in 120 days, by the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry (AACI). The Committee, made up of six American and six British members, had been suggested by the British government as a response to President Truman’s initially refused request that 100,000 Jewish refugees be permitted to enter immediately into Palestine. This issue (‘the 100,000’), which one commentator has described as an ‘idée fixe’ for Truman (Roger Louis 1984: 387),had left the two governments at loggerheads. The British were most concerned that general Anglo-American relations were not strained by what were then seen as lesser issues; the Foreign Office hoped that the Committee would defuse the situation by encouraging the Americans to understand the British position vis-à-vis the refugee crisis (a position that was largely still based on the recommendations put forward in the White Paper of 1939, specifically that a bi-national state was the ultimate aim, and that Palestine’s Arabs would eventual have control over Jewish immigration; ibid.: 392).

The Committee had assembled in Washington, on 4 January 1946. They had been charged with the task of examining in detail the manifold problems of Mandate Palestine, and recommending measures which would lead these problems to a ‘permanent solution’ (Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry: Report to the United States Government and His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, 1946). Their investigations took them from the USA, through the ruins of post-war Europe, to the capitals of the Arab world. Everywhere they went, they took testimony: from survivors of the camps, from American Zionists, from the leaders of Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine, from Arab nationalists, and others. They debated, they argued, and they compromised; despite widely differing views, the report they finally submitted was unanimously agreed on, its findings condensed into ten ‘recommendations’.

The recommendations equably and intelligently covered various issues, including land rights, future Jewish immigration, economic development and the necessity for Arab equality. In practical terms, they pivoted on two of the ten points: that the 100,000 refugees should indeed be immediately admitted, and that the only long-term solution to the Palestine problem would be the creation of a viable bi-national state that guaranteed the rights of Jews and Arabs equally and comprehensively.

The American and British governments had given their assurance that the recommendations of a unanimous report would be unconditionally accepted. However, on 30 April, the day of the report’s release, Truman indicated that he welcomed the recommendation that dealt with ‘the 100,000’, but omitted to give assent to any further part of the report. Atlee, though sorely disappointed with the report since it undercut British policy at almost every turn, was nevertheless infuriated by Truman’s precipitate dismissal of it, and announced the following day in the Commons that there was to be no implementation of any of the recommendations until both Jewish and Arab groups in Palestine disarmed (Roger Louis op. cit.: 417-8). This was clearly an impossible request and must surely have been intended as such. The report was effectively dead in the water just two days after its publication.

Meanwhile, in Palestine itself, the Mandate authorities struggled on. The period from late 1945 to mid-1946 saw collaboration between the Jewish Agency, the Hagana defence militia, and the IZL and Lehi militant forces in a highly coordinated ‘Jewish Resistance Movement’, whose attacks were capable of major disruptions to British infrastructure (this joint insurgency movement in fact submitted its own long statement to the AACI in March 1946; this statement is reproduced in full in Cohen ed. 1987: 97-105). The violence reached its peak on the 22 July, when IZL cadres dramatically bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 people and injuring scores more. The bombing was a watershed moment in British attitudes to Palestine, and powerful figures, notably Winston Churchill, began to question the wisdom of remaining entangled in the Mandate. A flurry of Anglo-American negotiations in July 1946 then attempted briefly to resurrect a rather abstruse Colonial Office paper that had been rejected by the AACI in January of that year. This paper, which subsequently became known as the ‘Morrison-Grady plan’, provided for ‘provincial autonomy’ in a Palestine divided into four cantons, with a central British administration retaining a heavy military presence and reserving power over key issues (Roger Louis op. cit.: 434-5; Sela 1998: 231-3).

Rejected alike by the Zionists, the Arabs and, despite Truman’s apparent early enthusiasm for the plan, the Americans, the Morrison-Grady plan was the last serious attempt at a presentation for a unified bi-national state (albeit a highly ambiguous one) (Roger Louis op. cit.: 436-8). In early August the Jewish Agency declared in favour of the partition of Palestine and the foundation of a separate Jewish state (Sela op. cit.: 232). In the middle of that month, High Commissioner Cunningham sent a telegram to the Colonial Office in which he concluded that, given the position of the Jewish Agency’s leadership, ‘almost any scheme which may now be devised for Palestine will break down’ (telegram reproduced in Cohen ed. 1987: 167). The British were tiring of a responsibility that no longer seemed worth the candle, and in February 1947, the Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin announced the government’s intention to give responsibility for Palestine over to the United Nations. By the autumn of that year the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine had voted to end the British Mandate, and on 29 November the UN passed Resolution 181: a plan for a post-Mandate Palestinian state structured around ‘partition with economic union’ (UN Resolution 181, 1947; see also Krämer 2008: 305-6).



Portrait of Palestine, produced by Anglo-Scottish Pictures for the Colonial Office, was re-edited from a six-reel COI travelogue entitled The Holy Land. It also includes some 176 feet of material from a film called The Land of Promise, made by Dr. Leo Hermann’s Urim Palestine Film Co. Ltd., of Jerusalem (scenes from this film are those showing Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Jewish farming, industry and settlements). The Colonial Office requested the Holy Land reels in May 1946, and they were delivered to Anglo-Scottish in July. The completed film was distributed through MGM for five years starting on 1 March 1947 (COI script, IWM: COI 171 FM.1/290, 1947).

The film is a broad-brush introduction to the land and its people, and follows a narrative that links progress with Jewish immigration. As with many films on Palestine (for instance Palestine Police, 1946), it begins by introducing the country through references to biblical and antique history. Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem are visited, and sequences of Jerusalem feature the typical emphasis on the venerable and picturesque diversity of the city, with Arab sheikhs, Jews, Samaritans, and Christians of various denominations all presented in turn. A further section on Jerusalem’s diverse peoples gives the first, vague indication that there are other issues in Palestine which are not being discussed: after mentioning that Jerusalem’s Orthodox Jews are a ‘separate community to most of the European Zionist immigrants’, the narration notes that here, in Old Jerusalem, ‘the Orthodox Jews and the Arabs live side by side in peace.’

This loaded phrase is echoed later by some further, similarly suggestive understatements. Having been introduced to the Bedouins of Beersheba, we are informed that they have been ‘comparatively undisturbed by the tension and uncertainty of the last 25 years.’ This ‘tension and uncertainty’ – apparently experienced during a period exactly corresponding with the British Mandate – is left wholly unexplained, but a connection is indicated to the circumstances, again unexplained, that have lead ‘the ordinary people of Palestine’ to ‘ask nothing better than to be left in peace.’ Later we are told that oranges make up half the export trade of Palestine ‘in normal times’.      

The second half of the film shows the development of Palestine as a modern nation, comparing Arab peasants and their traditional techniques with the modern techniques and modernist cities of Jewish immigrants. ‘The way of the future,’ whether in farming or industry, is throughout associated with these immigrants. A shot of a hydro-electric dam, followed by discussion of the newly effective forms of crop irrigation that are being introduced is the cue for another statement which begs more questions that it answers, as the narrator informs us that ‘whatever the political future of Palestine, the British government is determined that on the land, both Arab and Jew alike should enjoy the benefits of Western science.’ Arab Palestinians are also shown enjoying the benefits of Western education: at an Arab college, students are being taught ‘the subject matter and methods of modern education…They are casting off the ways of centuries to become citizens of the modern world.’

The film ends with sequences of a ‘new all-Jewish hospital’, and of the modern streets and teeming beaches of the new city of Tel Aviv, where people are shown swimming, sunbathing and playing ping-pong. To incongruous scenes of general beach-party happiness, the narration concludes with the film’s only direct reference to the political situation in Palestine, a reference which is nevertheless rather obscure and distorted: ‘The Jews claim Palestine as their ancient home. The Arabs have lived there for a thousand years. Palestine’s problem is whether these two kindred races can be reconciled and can live and work together in peace.’ (It is noteworthy that this is presented as Palestine’s problem, not Britain’s.)

The overall impression given by the film is one of extreme vagueness. A hazy picture of a semi-biblical country on the way to joining the modern world is built up, but is strangely undermined by veiled references to some sort of trouble, and by some contradictory references to the British, including what appears to be the suggestion (regarding irrigation and ‘Western science’) that whatever happens, the British government will be around to make sure everyone is dealt with fairly (a suggestion that no-one involved could seriously have believed in 1947, or indeed 1946). The Mandate period is implicitly referred to twice with the phrase ‘25 years’: once in the context of ‘tension and uncertainty’, once in the context of the great success of trade from Haifa’s ports. Nothing firm is said about any conflict, or about the political prospects for the country; all serious issues are rigorously skirted round. Ideologically speaking the film appears to represent the liberal imperial ideal of the British discreetly overseeing the transformation of an ancient land into a modern powerhouse, but even this common narrative of benevolent British administration is etiolated, and the film finally retreats into anodyne non-committal which is almost totally neutral.

The source of this otherwise rather baffling vagueness can be found in the Central Office of Information file on the film’s production (COI script, op. cit.; following quotes taken from documents in this file.). The original commentary, commissioned on 11 July 1946 (less than a fortnight before the King David Hotel bombing), was by David Martin. His letter accepting the commission includes the condition that he be identified as the author on the film’s credits. His name does not however appear, and a note in the file indicates that, although he was paid, the treatment he submitted ‘was not in fact used.’

An unidentified alternate commentary, heavily edited by an unidentified hand, is in the COI file. This commentary is very probably Martin’s original. The film’s final commentary is based mostly on this document, and a comparison between the removed and altered passages of this original text and the final version which accompanies the film is enlightening. It shows the transformation of a script which (perhaps rather crudely) attempted to raise some of the issues in Mandate Palestine into a commentary which utterly elides them. Indeed the altered script displays the systematic erasing, distorting or playing down of any reference to historical facts, and indeed to anything which might indicate a broader set of events in play. The original text baldly presents the situation as a difficult confrontation between the European modernity of the Jewish Zionist immigrants and an age-old Arab way of life (supplemented by a few references to Arab nationalism). The final version has studiously removed any such implication. In fact the most surprising thing is that the few remaining statements which do imply that some kind of problem is afoot in Palestine – e.g. the reference to ‘tension and uncertainty’ – slipped through and remained in the final version.

A descriptive note in the COI file is telling: the film was apparently ‘not intended as a vehicle for political discussion but as a background against which the happenings in Palestine can be viewed.’ If this was the position intended for the film, it seems probable that Martin’s initial script was read with dismay, and that the drastic alterations are thus an attempt to move back toward what had been hoped for at commission – a wholly non-political film. However, the question remains as to why such a film would have been desirable in the first place.

A Colonial Office file on propaganda for Palestine may provide an answer (‘Propaganda Palestine: Film of Jerusalem’ 1944-46, NA: CO 732/88/20; information and quotes that follow taken from documents in this file). In October 1944 Lord Gort, the High Commissioner in Palestine, was apparently anxious to make a propaganda film about Jerusalem – his idea was for a film which would neutrally display the good works that the British had undertaken through representing ‘scenes in [the] Holy Land divorced from present-day controversy.’ The proposal was viewed as a low priority given the general circumstances, and quickly rejected. However, after a 1945 edition of the American March of Time newsreel series (‘Palestine Problem’) drew strong letters of complaint from the Arab Office in London and from the General Secretary of the Arab League, it seems that Gort’s idea may have been reconsidered. (Both letters complained, to the Colonial Office and the British Embassy in Cairo respectively, about the strong pro-Zionist bent of the film, and warned that allowing it to be shown in the Middle East was inviting trouble.) Papers detailing Gort’s earlier suggestion were forwarded to the Colonial Office in February 1946. By May the production of Portrait of Palestine was underway.

It thus seems likely that the fallout from the complaints submitted by the Arab League and the Arab Office was the revival of Gort’s idea: a politically neutral film to be released in the run up to disengagement to ‘serve as background propaganda,’ as one CO official puts it, and to act as a counterbalance to the March of Time newsreel. It can thus be seen why Martin’s commentary was deemed unacceptable, and the purpose of the emendations becomes clear.

However, against a rapidly swirling pattern of failed negotiations, Zionist and American intransigence, and an ongoing security crisis in the territory, the attempt to cleave to a non-political remit was never likely to be wholly successful. The decision to ‘correct’ Martin’s commentary, rather than completely scrap it, seems fateful: several important implications remain in place, and the result is a confused and self-contradictory film which withdraws from concrete statements about the political situation but does not manage to gloss over the problems in the territory. Finally, it ends up presenting only a drastically enfeebled form of the newly standard post-war ideological position – Britain as the benevolent imperial power helping a new nation to its feet – that by mid-1947 could not have been held in relation to Palestine by any British official body, whether political, administrative or military.

Francis Gooding (Nov 2009)


What follows below are the more significant alterations to the original script documents found in COI 171 FM.1/290, in comparison to the final commentary that appears on the film. Struck-out passages indicate where the editorial hand has put a line through the text; replacement passages, corrections or marginalia in handwriting on the original script are represented in italics; the final version appearing on the film is below its counterpart passage, and is in bold.

Original text inc. changes: ‘Dark evil-smelling and fly-bitten narrow? are the streets of Jerusalem the Golden. They have been destroyed and rebuilt 18 times in the course of history. Now – since 1918 when the British took Palestine from the Turks – much of Jerusalem is being rebuilt again.’

Final commentary: ‘And in Jerusalem, in spite of the changes of recent years, the streets in the heart of the old city remain untouched.’


‘In Jerusalem itself , the Jews outnumber the rest of the population by two to one. But these are Orthodox Jews whose ancestors have lived in Jerusalem for thousands of years. They are a separate community from the European Zionist immigrants. The Orthodox Jews and the Arabs live side by side in Jerusalem in peace.’

‘In old Jerusalem are the Orthodox Jews, some of whose ancestors have lived there for hundreds of years. They are a separate community to most of the European Zionist immigrants. In the Old City, the Orthodox Jews and the Arabs live side by side in Peace’ [There is an instruction on the final commentary script to delete this last sentence, though it does appear in the film. Note changes: addition of ‘some’; from ‘thousands’ to ‘hundreds’ of years; addition of ‘most’.]


‘The ordinary people of Palestine ask nothing better than to be left in peace. The Bedouins of Beersheba would far prefer a quiet and prosperous life to the tension and uncertainty in which they have been living for the last 25 years. Oddly enough, the quietest time they have known in this period was during the war. Now, once again, they find their country a battlefield. For Allies they look across their borders to the other Arab countries that are free.’

‘The ordinary people of Palestine ask nothing better than to be left in peace. These Bedouins lead a quiet and prosperous life comparatively undisturbed by the tension and uncertainty of the past 25 years.’


 ‘The Zionists have Western Science, through the Jews, has brought water and prosperity to miles of barren countryside. The British Government are determined that, whatever decision is reached for the political future of Palestine, the benefits of Western Science shall be increasingly brought to improve the lot of Arabs and Jews alike.

 ‘Whatever the political future of Palestine, the British Government is determined that on the land both Arab and Jew alike shall enjoy the benefit of Western Science.’


‘…the Settlers have proved what European colonisation science and technique can do for a barren land.’

‘The Zionist settlers apply scientific European methods to barren land’ 


 ‘During the war the Germans killed 6,000,000 Jews. They left 400,000 homeless, wanting to leave Europe. In Palestine many some of these have already found a welcome and the chance to lead constructive lives.’ [This passage is then struck out entirely, and the following note is inserted in the margin: ‘? Better omit, as they’ve mostly got in during & since the war by illegal immigration.’]


‘…the Governments Arab College, where young Arabs are casting off the ways of centuries and learning to compete with the Jews’

‘At the Government Arab College, they are not only learning the Western Alphabet, but the subject matter and the methods of modern education. They are casting off the ways of centuries to become citizens of the modern world. They are absorbing the processes of Western Science.’


‘Whatever the decision of the Arab GREAT Powers, whatever the strategic considerations, however many the conferences, the basic problem of Palestine remains this: Will the tide of Jewish immigration continue to rise, or will it spend itself on the rocks of Arab nationalism? It is a battle of wills between two peoples. Can these two great Semitic peoples, the Arabs who have lived in Palestine for 1000 years, the Jews who claim Palestine as their ancient spiritual home, learn to accept each other and to live and work together in harmony?’

‘The Jews claim Palestine as their ancient home. The Arabs have lived there for a thousand years. Palestine’s problem is whether these two kindred races can be reconciled, and can live and work together in peace.’


Works Cited

Cohen, Michael J. ed. The Rise of Israel: Jewish Resistance to British Rule in Palestine 1944-47 (New York: Garland, 1987).

Cohen, Michael J. and Kolinsky, Martin, eds. Demise of the British Empire in the Middle East: Britain’s Responses to Nationalist Movements 1943-55 (London: Frank Cass 1998)

Krämer, Gudrun A History of Palestine (Oxford: Princeton 2008)

Roger Louis, Wm. The British Empire in the Middle East 1945-1951: Arab Nationalism, The United States and Postwar Imperialism (Oxford: Clarendon 1984)

Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry: Report to the United States Government and His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, 1946. Accessed at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/angpre.asp

Sela, Avraham ‘Britain and the Palestine question 1945-48: The dialectic of regional and international constraints’, in Cohen and Kolinsky eds. 1998, pp. 220-47

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181,  November 29, 1947. Accessed at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/res181.asp

IWM: COI 171 FM.1/290, 1947

NA: CO 732/88/20 (‘Propaganda Palestine: Film of Jerusalem’, 1944-46)




Technical Data

Running Time:
16 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
1538 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Ministry of Information
commentary spoken
Irwin, John
commentary spoken
McCarthy, Denis
Proctor, Charles
musical director
Hollingsworth, John
musical director
Williams, Edward
Production company
Anglo-Scottish Pictures
Production company
British Information Services, Middle East