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British Mandate of Palestine
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British Mandate of Palestine

The British Mandate of Palestine was a swathe of territory in the Middle East, formerly belonging to the Ottoman Empire, which the League of Nations entrusted to the United Kingdom to administer in the aftermath of World War I.

Table of contents
1 Establishment of British League of Nations mandate
2 Palestinian Arabs opposition to Jewish immigration
3 Great Uprising
4 The Holocaust
5 Division of Palestine by United Nations
6 Population of the British Mandate of Palestine
7 British High Commissioners for Palestine
8 Related articles
9 For further reading
10 External links

Establishment of British League of Nations mandate

Prior to the end of World War I, Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire. With the Allied defeat of the Central Powers, the United Kingdom was granted control of Palestine by the Peace Conference of Versailles, which also established the League of Nations. During World War I, the British had made two promises regarding territory in the Middle East. Britain had promised the local Arabs, through Lawrence of Arabia, independence for a united Arab country covering most of the Arab Middle East, in exchange for their supporting the British and Britain had promised to create and foster a Jewish national home as laid out in the Balfour Declaration.

The banks of Jordan had distinct ethnic identities and were historically different administrative regions, although patterns changed over time ([1]). The British had previously promised the Hashemite family lordship over land in return for their support in the Great Arab Revolt during World War I.

In 1920 at the San Remo conference in Italy, the League of Nations mandate over Palestine and Transjordan was assigned to Britain. This territory at this time included all of what would later become the State of Israel, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, a part of the Golan Heights, and the Kingdom of Jordan. The population of this area was mainly Arab, although with a significant Jewish minority (approaching 10%), and Bedouin and Druze.

The document defining Britain's obligations as Mandate power copied the text of the Balfour Declaration concerning the establishment of a Jewish homeland, including that Declaration's deliberate ambiguity. Many articles of the document specified actions in support of Jewish immigration and political status. However, it was also stated that the large, mostly arid, territory to the east of the Jordan River, then called Transjordan, could be administered differently. A government under the Hashimite Emir Abdullah was soon established in Transjordan. In September 1922, the British government presented a memorandum to the League of Nations stating that Transjordan would be excluded from all the provisions dealing with Jewish settlement, and this memorandum was approved. From that point onwards, Britain administered the part west of the Jordan as Palestine, and the part east of the Jordan as Transjordan. Technically they remained one mandate but most official documents referred to them as if they were two separate mandates. Transjordan remained under British control until 1946.

In 1923 Britain transferred a part of the Golan Heights to the French mandate of Syria, in exchange for the Metula region.

Palestinian Arabs opposition to Jewish immigration

During the 1920s, 100,000 Jewish immigrants entered Palestine, and 6,000 non-Jewish immigrants did so as well. Immigration was controlled by the General Federation of Jewish Labour, which selected between applicants on the grounds of their political creed. Land purchased by Jewish agencies was leased on the condition that it be worked only by Jewish labour, and that the lease should not be held by non-Jews.

Initially Jewish immigration to Palestine met little opposition from the local Arabs. However, as anti-Semitism grew in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jewish immigration (mostly from Europe) to Palestine began to markedly increase, to much Arab resentment.

There was violent opposition from the Palestinian Arab population at large. In some cases, land purchases by the Jewish agencies from absentee landlords led to the eviction of the Palestinian Arab tenants, who were replaced by the Jewish kibbutzim. The Palestinian Arabs prior to World War I had the status of peasants (felaheen), and did not own their land although they might own the trees that grew on that land. When Jews, who grew up with European laws, purchased land they did not always realise that the villagers on that land owned the trees. This was often a source of misunderstanding and conflict. The olive tree is particularly important here as it can remain productive for over 1,000 years.

The British government put severe limitations on Jewish immigration to Palestine. Immigration was allowed, but up to a certain quota. Both Arabs and Jews disliked this policy, each side for its own reasons. Tensions led to widespread violent disturbances on several occasions, notably in 1921, 1929 and 1936-1939. The 1929 disturbances were primarily violent attacks by Arabs on Jews (see Hebron). For 1936-9 see the following section. In response to numerous Palestinian Arab attacks on Jewish communities, the Haganah was formed on June 15th, 1920. Beginning in 1936, several Jewish groups such as Etzel (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Gang) conducted their own campaign of violence against British and Arab targets.

Great Uprising

Main article: Great Uprising'

In 1936 the British proposed a partition between Jewish and Arab areas, which was rejected by both the Arabs and the Zionist Congress.

In 1936-1939 the mandate experienced an upsurge in militant Arab nationalism, that became known as the Great Uprising. The Palestinian Arabs felt they were being marginalized in their own country, but in addition to non-violent strikes they resorted to terrorism, that left hundreds of Jews dead. The Jewish organization Etzel replied with its own terrorist campaign, with marketplace bombings and other violent acts that killed hundreds. Eventually, the uprising was put down by the British, with the help of the Jewish self-defence organization, Haganah.

The British placed restrictions on Jewish land purchases in the remaining land, allegedly contradicting the provision of the Mandate which said "the Administration of Palestine ... shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency ... close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not acquired for public purposes." According to the Israeli side, the British had by 1949 allotted over 8500 acres (34 km²) to Arabs, and about 4000 acres (16 km²) to Jews.

The Holocaust

As in most of the Arab world, there was no unanimity amongst the Palestinian Arabs as to their position regarding the combatants in WWII. Many signed up for the British army, but others saw an Axis victory as their best hope of wresting Palestine back from the Zionists and (as they saw it) their British protectors. Some of the leadership went further, especially the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al-Husseini (by then expelled from Palestine) who on November 25, 1941 formally declared jihad against the Allied Powers and spent much time thereafter in what was then Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia, recruiting Bosnia's Muslims and Kosovo's ethnic Albanians into Nazi SS units. Even though Arabs were only marginally higher than Jews in Nazi racial theory, the Nazis naturally encouraged Arab support as much as possible as a counter to British hegemony throughout the Arab world.

Arabs who opposed the persecution of the Jews by the hands of the Nazis included Habib Bourguiba in Tunisia, and Egyptian intellectuals such as Tawfiq al-Hakim and Abbas Mahmoud al-Arkad (Source: Yad Vashem)

The Holocaust, the killing of approximately 6 million European Jews by the Nazis, had a major effect on the situation in Palestine. During the war, the British forbade entry into Palestine to European Jews escaping Nazi persecution, placing them in detention camps or deporting them to other places such as Mauritius. This was a calculated move to maximise support for their cause in World War II; the Jews were unlikely to support the deeply anti-Semitic Axis, so the British considered it more important to get Arab backing. The British authorities were also paranoid about the possibility of German agents entering Palestine on a refugee boat, though there is apparently not a single known example.

Opposing this policy, which continued after the war's end, and as a result of their general opposition to British control of Palestine, in 1946 the Zionist rebel group Irgun blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the headquarters of the British administration, killing 92 people. In a more tempered move, the accepted Jewish leadership decided to begin an illegal immigration (haa'pala) using small boats operating in conditions of secrecy. About 70,000 Jews were brought to Palestine in this way between 1946 and 1947, and a similar number were captured and imprisoned by the British while sailing.

Seeing that the situation was quickly spiraling out of hand, the British announced their desire to terminate their mandate and to withdraw by May 1948. This decision threw Palestine into the middle of civil and ethnic unrest.

Division of Palestine by United Nations

Main article: 1947 UN Partition Plan

The United Nations, the successor to the League of Nations, attempted to solve the dispute between the Palestinian Jews and the Palestinian Arabs. The UN appointed a committee, the UNSCOP, composed of representatives from several states. None of the Great Powers were represented, in order to make the committee more neutral. UNSCOP considered two main proposals. The first called for the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states in Palestine, with Jerusalem to be placed under international administration. The second called for the creation of a single federal state containing both Jewish and Arab constituent states. A majority of UNSCOP favoured the first option, although several members supported the second option instead and one member (Australia) said it was unable to decide between them. As a result the first option was adopted and the UN General Assembly largely accepted UNSCOP's proposals, though they made some adjustments to the boundaries between the two states proposed by it. The division was to take effect on the date of British withdrawal.

The partition plan was rejected out of hand by the Palestinian Arabs, although much of the land reserved for the Jewish state had already been acquired by Jews, had a Jewish majority, or was under state control. Most of the Jews accepted the proposal, in particular the Jewish Agency, which was the Jewish state-in-formation. Numerous records indicate the joy of Palestine's Jewish inhabitants as they attended the U.N. session voting for the division proposal. Up to this day, Israeli history books mention November 29 (the date of this session) as the most important date in Israel's acquisition of independence.

Several Jews, however, declined the proposal. Menachem Begin, Irgun's leader, announced: "The partition of the homeland is illegal. It will never be recognized. The signature by institutions and individuals of the partition agreement is invalid. It will not bind the Jewish people. Jerusalem was and will for ever be our capital. The Land of Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And for ever". His views were publicly rejected by the majority of the nascent Jewish state. Palestinian Arabs, on the other hand, claim that this publicly expressed acceptance was mainly propaganda for the consumption of Western nations, and that Begin's statement more accurately reflected the real intentions of the founders of the State of Israel.

On the date of British withdrawal the Jewish provisional government declared the formation of the State of Israel, and the provisional government said that it would grant full civil rights to all within its borders, whether Arab, Jew, Bedouin or Druze. The declaration stated:

We appeal ... to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.
Thus, upon creating the state - any inhabitans inside the newly formed State of Israel, wether Palestinian Jews or Palestinian Arabs, became Israeli. (bearing Israeli citizenship) The Palestinian Arabs left out of the lines (due to Arab countries' invasion to Palestine in the 1948 war) became just 'Palestinians', a term that could imply a wrong truth about Palestine.

Palestinians do not give way to this, and claim that despite the assurances of equal rights for all, the State of Israel continues to discriminate in numerous ways in favour of Jews against others up until this day. For example, they point to Israeli immigration laws, which give preference to Jews in immigration. Such a policy is uncommon among Western democracies, although both Western (Germany), and Arab states (Algeria) behave in a similar way.

Palestinians consider a far more accurate statement of the intention of the founders of Israel to be that of Chaim Weizmann, who reportedly said:

[Our intention is to] finally establish such a society in Palestine that Palestine shall be as Jewish as England is English, or America is American.

Population of the British Mandate of Palestine

In 1922 the British undertook the first census of the mandate. The population was 752,048, comprising 589,177 Muslims, 83,790 Jews, 71,464 Christians and 7,617 persons belonging to other groups. After a second census in 1931, the population had grown to 1,036,339 in total, comprising 761,922 Muslims, 175,138 Jews, 89,134 Christians and 10,145 people belonging to other groups. There were no further censuses but statistics were maintained by counting births, deaths and migration. Some components such as illegal immigration could only be estimated approximately. In 1945 a demographic study showed that the population had grown to 1,764,520, comprising 1,061,270 Muslims, 553,600 Jews, 135,550 Christians and 14,100 people of other groups.

        Total        Muslim         Jewish      Christian        Other
1922 752,048 589,177(78%) 83,790(11%) 71,464(10%) 7,617(1%) 1931 1,036,339 761,922(74%) 175,138(17%) 89,134(9%) 10,145(1%) 1945 1,764,520 1,061,270(60%) 553,600(31%) 135,550(8%) 14,100(1%)

British High Commissioners for Palestine

NameTerm
Sir Herbert Louis Samuel1920-1925
Herbert Onslow Plumer1925-1928
Sir John Herbert Chancellor1928-1931
Arthur Grenfell Wauchope1931-1938
Sir Harold MacMichael1938-1944
John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort1944-1945
Sir Alan G. Cunningham1945-1948

Related articles

For further reading

External links