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Civil Ensign 1927 – 1948 (British Mandate of Palestine 1922 – 1948)

Red Ensign

Last modified: 2023-12-09 by martin karner
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[Civil Ensign 1927-1948 (British Mandate of Palestine)] 1:2
image by Željko Heimer
Flag adopted 1927, abolished 15th May 1948

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In 1927 it was found that there was no legal procedure by which a merchant ship owned by an inhabitant of Palestine could be registered. Palestinians were not British subjects, and only ships owned by a British subject could be placed on the British Register. The Palestine Shipping Register was established, and an Admiralty Warrant of 27th October 1927 authorised, "the Red Ensign of HM Fleet defaced on the fly thereof by the word PALESTINE in a white circular field, to be used on board vessels belonging to the inhabitants of Palestine".
In 1944 the only flag that represented the area that roughly corresponds to modern Israel was the defaced Red Ensign. It was for use only at sea, and was internationally recognised as the ensign of a ship registered in Palestine. I think that Haifa was the only port ever used for registry. Introduced in 1927, revoked in 1948, at which time there were six vessels on the register. Three were in the Mediterranean, two tramping in the West Indies and one on an extended voyage in South America. It was used legally until 15th May 1948, and illegally after that.
David Prothero
, 26 June 1997, 16 August 2000, 7 March 2001 and 4 March 2002

Palestinian Government Regulation No. 917 of 16 December 1927 which determined the use of the Palestinian Civil Ensign, was not enforced until May 1935 when the SS Har-Karmel was registered.
Raphael Dror Grinker, 13 September 2008

Abolition of the Civil Ensign 1948

When the British withdrew from Palestine on 15th May 1948 the Departmental Flags and the flag of the High Commissioner were cancelled, but the Palestine Red Ensign posed some problems.
On 16th February 1948 the High Commissioner had written to the Colonial Office that the warrant for the Palestine Red Ensign could be revoked from the end of the Mandate or, if the Admiralty agreed, from the date on which a successor state was set up, if that was requested by the United Nations Organisation. The Admiralty did not favour the latter proposal since Palestinian ships, would be under a British Ensign, and thus able to claim the protection of the Royal Navy, even if they were being used in quasi-military operations, or carrying arms or immigrants into Palestine.
On 29th April 1948, Circular 1829 informed Consuls that after 15th May 1948 ships registered at ports in Palestine should be treated as foreign vessels. On 20th May 1948, the Jewish Agency in London protested that Palestine vessels at sea had been left without a flag, and asked that use of the defaced Red Ensign should be permitted until they returned to their Home Port. It was verbally agreed that this would be allowed. However it was then found that although three of the ships on the register were in the Mediterranean, and would soon be transferred to the British Register, the other three were on extended voyages and would not be returning to their home port for some time. The Foreign Office suggested that the Jewish Agency should arrange for these vessels to be placed on the Jewish State Register.
On 24th May 1948, the Military Branch wrote that Clearance Papers would declare that these ships did not fly the flag of any state recognised by HM Government. On 27th May 1948, the Military Branch reported that ships were still using the defaced Red Ensign and that one shortly arriving Tel Aviv might be liable to attack. It was agreed that such ships were not entitled to the protection of the Royal Navy.
On 4th September 1949, Foreign Office Circular 0126 asked HM Representatives to draw to the attention of foreign governments, that the Palestine Red Ensign had been revoked on 15th May 1948.
Source: Public Record Office ADM 1/21248.
David Prothero, 16 August 2000 and 4 March 2002

Since the Israeli flag was not adopted at May, it was possible that until it was adopted some ships (and those which were at sea) used it after 15 May. However, Jewish owned ships usually hoisted the Zionist (later Israeli) flag on their masts even before May. Illegal immigrants' ships hoisted only the Zionist flags no matter where those were registered. Four out of five Palestinian ports (Acre, Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jaffa) was on May or soon after under Israeli control as also well register offices in Haifa. The fifth port was under Egyptian control (Gaza), so the main problem was probably with Arab owned ships of former Palestinians residents.
Dov Gutterman, 16 August 2000