British Administration: Palestinian Mandate (1922-48)

British Palestine mandate
Figure 1.--Here Jewish Boy scouts and Girl Guides greet Winston Churchill as he goes to plant a tree on Mount Scopus near Jerusalem on the site of what would be the Hebrew University (March 1921). The man doffing his hat is Sir Herbert Samuel. Between Sammuel and Churchill wearing a bowler hat is Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, Leo Amery. Source: Central Zionist Archives.

After World War I, Feisal who would become King of first Syria and then Iraq, proposed to the Zionist leader Chaim Weizman, a mutual partnership in developing a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Arabs leaders subsequently rejected this understanding, claiming that the Allies had not met their commitment to the Feisal's father Sherif Hussein. Arabs mobs conducted the first major anti-Jewish riots in Palestine (1920). The British introduced Western legal concepts to Palestine. One of the actions taken was abolishing “dhimmitude”.Under this system, non-Muslim dhimmis lived in a system of institutionalised subgegation. Political rights were denied to all but Muslims. Changing this system was a major concern of Palestianians and other Arabs. As the number of Zionist immigrants increased and the area of land expanded, conflicts began to develop with the Arabs. Here Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, played a central role. Both sides blamed the other as scattered acts of viloence occurred. There were more Arabs attacks on Jewish settlements than Jewish attacks, but there were viloence perpetrated by both sides. The worst attack occurred at Hebron where Arabs massacred 69 Jews (1929). With Jews being murdered by Arabs, David Ben-Guruon organized the Hagana--the Jewish Defense Force. The Hagana began military training in secret. The British tried to defuse the situation, arresting both Arabbs and Jews and confiscating weapons. Jews claimed that because of the importance of the Arabs in British colonial policy, that the British generally favored the Arabs. Here we are not sure, but it is a topic we need to persue. Even a neutral polic, however, favored the Arabs. Palestine was suronded by Arab states or colonies to become Arab states. Thus if the Jews in Palestine had no weapons they would be defenless if the neighboring Arab states invaded. The "Arab Revolt" led by the Grand Mufti targetted both the British and the Jews (1936-39).

Britain and the Arabs

Britain had a history with the Arabs before World War I. The first experiebce was dealing with the Barbary Pirates (corsairs) in the Mediterranean Sea, primarily by paying tribute (18th century). This created a problen for the new Americn Reoyblic after the Revplution. Indeoendence meant that they no longer enjoyed the protection of the British flag and Royal Navy. The next encounter was the Royal Navy's effort to end the Arab slave trade in the Indian Ocean (19th centyry). Another issue was the sea routes to India. This at first include a land passage across the istmus of Suez. The British and French then built a canal (1869). This made the Canal and Egypt a major security issue for Britain. At the same time, the Great Powers including Britain became increasingly concerned about the treatmnt of minority Christian within the Ottoman Empire. In many cases this mean attack onChristians in the Ottoman Arab lands. The relationship with the Arabs would fundamentally change when First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher and First Lord of the Amiralty Winston Churchill began converting the fleet from coal to oil. Britain had coal it did not oil. And thus a search was on for oil in the Empire. The first oil the British had access to was Persia (Iran). Persia was not a colony, but heavily influenced by the British. British geologists believed that neighboring Mesopotamia might also have oil. At the time Mesopotamia was an Ottoman province. After World War I, oil was found in many other Arab countries. America at the time was self sufficent in oil, but did not yet have a huge oil industry. [McBeth, p. 57.] Oil was also flowing in the Russian Caucasus, Romania, Btitish Burma, the Dutch East Indies, and Mexico. Venezuela would come on line during the War. .

World War I (1914-18)

World War I broke out in Europe (August 1914). Palestine at the beginning of the War was a part of the Ottoman Empire. The population was largely Arab with some Jewish settlements as a result of the European Zionist movement. The Germans sought to bring the declining Ottoman Empire into the War to draw Russian and British resources from the two main fronts of the War. The Ottomans joined the Central Powers (October 1914). They had suffered significan territorial losses in the Balkans and the Caucauses at the hands of the Russians and saw allying themselves with the Germans was one way of regaining lost territory from the beleagered Russians. The War quickly turned into a disaster when the Ottoman army invading the Russian Causcasses was decisively defeated. The Ottomons launched an offensive from Palestine soon after entering the War (November 1914). They crossed the Sinai and at some locations reached the Suez Canal, but were beaten back by the British. The British encoraged an Arab Revolt in Arabia which developed into a major threat to the Ottomans. The Arab Revolt assisted by T.E. Lawrence helped weakened the Ottomon position in Arabia and Palestine. Palestine turned from an Ottoman backwater into the frontline of World war I. The British made commitments to the Arabs about an independent Arab state after the War. They made condflictging commitments to their French ally. Zionists were initially split by the War. There were Zionists in all the major beligerant powers. The Balfour Declaration would largely change this. Thr British mounted a major offensive Against the Ottomans in Palestine. The British Egyptian Expeditionary Force commanded by Field Marshall Edmund Allenby af first made little progress against the Ottomons. The British finally took Jerusalem (December 1917). Australian Light Cavalry played an important role. The Ottoman Army in the Levant was was finally broken at the Battle of Megiddo (September 1918). The British with the Arab Army on its right then moved to seize Damascus. The British during the War made conflicting commitments to the Arabs, Zionists, and even the French. The result was that after the War they found maintaing order in the Palestine Mandate a very difficult undertaking. The Palestinian Arabs were unwilling to participate in Mandate institutions.

Sykes-Picot Agreement (February 1916)

Sir Mark Sykes and Charles Picot during World War I negotiated the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This set out the British-French colonial spheres in the Middle East. The Agreemeht signed in 1916 essentially divided the Middle East which had been dominated by the Ottoman Empire into areas of influence for France, Britain and others. The French would seize control over much of the Levant, Syria and Lebanon. Most of Palestine was to have been under international control. Though the wording of the agreement mentions the possibility of cessions by either side to an Arab state. The Agreement stirred up a controversy for a variety of reasons. It meant thst Britain was not honoring the promises Sir Henry McMahon made to to Sheriff Hussayn (1915). The Sykes-Picot agreement specifically excluded the districts 'west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo' as listed in the Hussayn-McMahon agreement, extending the line south so that Palestine was excluded from Arab control. The Sykes Picot Areement also excluded two substantial areas that would be under direct British and French control.

Balfour Declaration (November 1917)

Britain had a history of relations with the Arabs. Relations with the Jews dd not emerge until World War I. Largely as a result of the Zionist movement, there was a small Jewish community in Ottoman Palestine. For the Ottomans, Jews were more reliable than Arabs, so they had no problem with Zionist movement. World War I endangered the Suez Canal, a vital British life line. Thus Palestine was of considerable strategic importance. The key document in Israel's creation was the Balfour Declaration in which Britian committed to a Jewish 'homeland' for the Jews in Palistine (1917). The author was British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour. His carefully crafted statement was an ambiguous document, but carefully worded. It was not a commitment for a Jewish state. Notice the use of 'homeland' rather than state. It was, however, a substantial commitment from the world power about to seize Palestine. At the time the British offensive in Palestine was moving toward Jerusalem. A great deal has been written about the Balfour Declaration. Lord Balfour at the time was a leading Conservative politician and the Foreign Secretary. The Government motives are entirely clear. But given that in 1917 the two key countries for the British War effort were Britain and America (the two countries with large Jewish populations), the idea that gaining support of Jews in those countries was seen as important. Wilson had Jewish advisers and many Jews had important positions in the the new Soviet Government. Historians have also suggested finance, propaganda, and Christian evangelism as factors. Balfour's statement was included in a letter to Lionel Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron of Rothschild, of the Jewish banking family. Rothchild was an important British Jewish leader and played a role in financing the British war effort. Two important Zionist leaders (Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow) were seeking British support for aJewish homeland, particularly important as it became increasingly clear that the British were going to end Ottomon rule of Palestine. Balfour may hve been ffectd by his intense Christian religiosity and belief that Jews in Jerusalem were needed for Cgrist;s seconf coming. Aprecise understnding of his an the Government's thinking may never be known.

Reorganization of the Ottoman Levant (1919-20)

The Allies after World War occupied I the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Part of the Allied force was the irregular Army Army which the British had helped form and arm. British military authorities took control. The Arabs convened the General Syrian Congress in Damascus (July 1919). The Congress demanded that the Allies recognize Syria as an independent Arab state. The Arabs at the time were thinking not only of modern Syria, but also of Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. The Congress recognized Emir Faisal as king. When the Allied governments did not act on the Congress' demand, the Congress unilaterally proclaimed Syrian independence and confirmed Faisal as King (March 1920). Arab authorities in Mesopotamia (Iraq) took similar actions and declared independence as a monarchy under Abdullah. The League of Nations Council rejected both declarations. United States President Wilson in preparation for the Versailles Peace Talks formed the King Crane Commission. They were tasked to determine the views of the local population. Arab testifying promoted the idea of annexing the Palestine Mandate to Syria. When this failed Arabs began to organize a national movement to resist the terms of the Mandate. Some Arabs expressed strident;y anti-Semeric views. At the commission hearings, Aref Pasha Dajani expressed this opinion about the Jews, "Their history and their past proves that it is impossible to live with them. In all the countries where they are at present, they are not wanted ... because they always arrive to suck the blood of everybody...." The Jews in Palestine were less inclined to see situation in similar terms, but many saw a conflict as inevitable and not just with Palestinins, but with the wider Arab community. David Ben Gurion, who would come lead the Yishuv Jewish community in Palestine (Yishuv) commented at a meeting of the governing body of the Jewish Yishuv, "But not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question.... We as a nation, want this country to be ours, the Arabs as a nation, want this country to be theirs." (1919) Zionists presented their case to the Paris Peace Conference. Ultimately, the British plan dividing the Levant with France was adopted. The principal issues cosidered was the concerns of the colonial powers, Britain and France. The views and wishes of the local population, either the mjority Arabs or the minority Jews were given much consideration.

San Remo Conference (April 1920)

The Allied powers held a conference in San Remo, Italy to decide on the future of the largely Arab territories seized from the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. Representatives of Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, and Belgium attended the conference. The Arabs and other groups in the territories like the Kurds and Jews were not invited to participate. Members of the supreme council of the Allies took the leading parts in the Conference. The representatives discussed how ro execute provisions of the 1919 Versailles Treaty. The elements of a peace treaty with Turkey were approved. And mandates for the Middle East territories were allotted. The representatives divided the concerned territories according to their stage of economic and political development and their location. They wre then assigned to individual powers. Iraq and Palestine were assigned to Britain. Syria along with Lebanon was assigned to France.

Palestine after the War

The Arabs in Palestine were suspicious about British intentions. They were aware of the Balfour Declaration abd commitment to a Jewish Homeland. We are not sure about attitudes among Christian Arabs. Rumors circulated within the aran community. Some saw the British as modern-day Crusaders. There were no important Muslim voices endorsing the delineation of Palestine (1920). Important Muslim leasers protested. Muslims west of the Jordan generally desired to be part of the kingdom proclaimed by the Syrian Natiinsal Congress to be ruled by Emir Feisal. There was no real sence of Palestinian nationality at the time. Many saw thmselves as southern Syrians. A young anti-Semitic Amin al-Husayni strongly advocated becoming part of the new Arab Syrian kingdom. With the French occupatiion and ouster of Emir Feisal (July 1920), this option was no longer available. Then the idea of a Palestinian entity began to take hold. Amin al-Husayni began to emerge as a Palestinian leader, in part by assainating rivals with more moderate outlooks.

Arab/Jewish Attitudes Toward Each Other

The Koran is the fundamental foundation of Muslim society. Thus we need to look at what the Koran says about Jews to fully understand modern attitudes. It is useful to look at Arab attitudes toward the Jews bot in historical times and in the modern era (19th and early 20th century) before the conflict in Palestine became pronounced. One important aspect to bear in mind is that the Jews since the Islamic era (7th century) have been a small minority in Aran countries without political power. The Arabs thus for centuries were the dominant power and even after conquest by the Ottoimans, the Islamic religion was dominant. Thus while there was a varying spirit of toleration, there was no traditin in the Arab world of accepting Jews on a basis of equality, either morally or before the law. Until World War I, most of the Aab world was a colonial dependency or protectorate of either the Ottoman or different European powers. It is useful to look at what Arab political or religious leaders had to say about the Jews as well as what Jews had to say about the Arabs.

French Mandate over Syria (July 1920)

French troops occupied Damascus (July 1920) implementing the terms of the mandate. The French ordered Emir Faisal to leave Syria. He was thus forced into exile. The British proceeded to install him as King of Iraq. French rule in Syria was authoritative. There was not attempt to include the local population in the administration or to promoye the growth of local government as persued by the British. Local leaders encouraged resistance to the French. After a serious revolt (1925), French military government began to move toward a degree of self-government. This had been an element of the League Mandated, but largely ignored by French authorities. The French joined the Aleppo and Damascus provinces of Syria (1935). The French then made Lebanon an independent republic under French control (1936).

Provisional Mandate

The League of Nations granted Britain a provisional mandate over Palestine. Palestine was delinated , as extending west and east of the Jordan River. The area of the mandate given to Britain at the San Remo Conference was that of historic Palestine as described in the Old Tesament and viewed by Zionists. They foresaw a Jewish state with an eastern border to the West of Amman an Arab city.

British Administration

Britain after the War began replacing the military administration with a civil administration. Sir Herbert Samuel was appointed High Commissioner. Samuel had been an advocate for a Jewish homeland during the War. He was Jewish, but not religious. One historian suggests that the British approach was to essentially maintain the existing social order inherited from the Ottomans. "The Mandatory government tried to preserve and even to reinforce the local traditional system among the Palestinian community. This was aimed at minimizing the cost of the British control and maintaining social and political stability." Miller] The British had, however, a substantial impact on Palestinian village life. The British efforts proved to be counter productive. Nationalist feeings and conflicts conflicts increased. Arab society was buffeted by a mix of demographic, economic, and political changes. This was not what the Mandatory government expected. The British had cnsiderable experience with colonial rule. An Arab author suggests they thus sought to control the education system. [Al-Hag, p. 48.]


One of the issues the the British had to decide as they began to administer Palestine under the League of Nations Mndate just how to give a fair representation to the three basic groupx, the majority Muslim Arab, Arab Christian, and Jewish communities. A major problem here was the Arab view of society. The Arab Muslim view was that they as dictated by the Koran the right to control society. They saw Chritins an Jews as groups to be tolerated, but only as second class citizens. The British on the other hand blieved that Christians and Jews should have equal rights and not be considered second-class citizens as peoscribe in the Koran. The Arab term was 'dhimmī'. And as a result, one of the sharpest Muslim Arab criticisms of the British was unfair Arab representation in the governing bodies of the British Mandatory government. The two most important bodies were the Advisory Council and the Legislative Council. They were created in 1920 and 1922 respectively. Arab represention was not proprtional. Arabs had only 7 of the 20 on the Advisory Council and 10 out of the 23 seats in the Legislative Council. Arabs complaints wre not acted on. Throughout the Mandate, the arab demand '... proportional representation continued to be made but was never granted.' [Tibawi, p. 13.] An Arab author complians that each effort to adjust and introduce an improved Arab representation, it would end up onwhat was described as the 'Sadler-Morant patter'. [Tibawi, p. 30.] By this was meant that new Arab apointees complained that they were unable to function and had to resign. An Arab author insists, "The Government did not seriously wish to secure real representation of the people.' [Tibawi, p. 30.] Arab sources charge that tbe British chose junior or inexperience and unqualified candidates rather than Arab individuals and that this reputed professionally irresponsible and politically motivated tactic would and did result in 'irreparable damage to the esprit de corps" of Mandate depatments. [Tibawi, p. 30.] And throughout the Mandatory government, the rank or qualification of the Arab elected, he would be 'answerable to the British deputy director and director'. [Tibawi, p. 31.) This may well be correct, but it was a Mandatory Government not an independent goverment. And qualifications are a factor. Another factor is the wllingness of arab candidates to fufill their duties on a secular, not dicrimnatory basis. This is not to say the Arabs did not have a real complaint. It is to say that it it was not as simple as most Arab authors suggest.

Palestinian Education

One of the important reforms rg=hat Britin instituted in Palestine was education. This was a major departure for the British. Britain was the major colonial power in the world, but British colonial policy did not inclue founding and funding public school systems, xcept in the ominions with British populations. And it was a departure for the Arabs who gave little attention to education beyond Mosque schools for a small number of boys who rceived Koranic religious instruction. The Ottomoms had opened schools in the cities, but a limited number of boys and vurtually no girls attended. The British began a much more expansive public school system. Not only would schools be opened in the city to eucate many nore boys, but schools would also be opened for girls. In addition, schools would be opened in rural areas. And the children would be tught in Arabic. No Arab country had ever experienced anything like this. It could not, however, be done immeiately. Schools had to be built and teachers trained. The lack of trained Arab teachers was the major impediment. Another major problem is that many Palestinians did not want to send their children, especially girls, to a secular public school. This different attitide toward education wa a major difference between Arabs and Jews. Despite the many diffuculties, the Palestiniona by the end of the British Mandated were the best educated Arab people.

Treaty of Serves (August 1920)

The Treaty of Serves was the pPeace treaty ending World War I between the Ottoman Empire and the Allies. It was signed at Sevres, France (August 19, 1920). The signatories included the Ottoman Empire (transitioning into Turkey) on the one hand and the Allies (excluding Russia and the United States) on the other. The treaty essentially liquidated the Ottoman Empire and virtually indid Turkish sovereignty. The Treaty implemented the decesions taken at the San Remo Conference. There were several provisions related to the Middle Eastern territories of the former Ottoman Empire. Turkey renounced sovereignty over Mesopotamia (Iraq), Syria, Plaestine, and the Hejaz (Arabian Peninsula). Palestine (at the time including Jordan) became a British mandate. Syria (including Lebanon) became a French mandate. The future of the Kingdom of Hejaz would be decided in a dynastic struggle between the Hashemites and Saudis. Turkey retained Anatolia but committed to granting autonomy to Kurdistan. Armenia became a separate republic under international guarantees, but of course the Armenian population in Anatolia had been decimated in the Turkish engineered genocide. Smyrna (modern Izmir) and adjacent areas was placed under Greek administration. A plebiscite was to determine its future. Turkey also ceded parts of Eastern Thrace and certain Aegean islands to Greece and the Dodecanese and Rhodes to Italy. In Europe Turkey only retained Constantinople (modern Istambul) and surrounding area. This included the Zone of the Straits (Dardanelles and Bosphorus) which was neutralized and internationalized. The Allies also obtained control over the Turkish economy with the capitulation rights. While signed, many aspects of the Treaty were never implemented. The treaty was accepted by the Ottoman government of Sultan Mehmed Vahdettin VI at Istanbul. The rising nationalist government of Kemal Atatürk at Ankara rejected it. Atatürk's military forces proved decisive. He negotiated a separate treaty with the Soviet Union. And he scored victories in the Turkish-Greek War 91920-22), driving the Greeks from western Anatolia. Britain and France would have had to have renewed the War to force acceptance of the Treaty. Instead they negotiate a new treaty in 1923--the Treaty of Lausanne. The provisions affecting the former Ottoman territories held (Articles 94 and 95). Here there was a clear differentiation concerning Palestine. Article 94 specified that the Mandates being created for Iraq and Syria specified that the existence of the communities living there would be provisionally recognized as independent nations Article 95 included no such commitment for Palestine.

Arab Resort to Violence: Anti-Jewish Riots (1920-21)

After World War I, Feisal who would become King of first Syria and then Iraq, proposed to the Zionist leader Chaim Weizman, a mutual partnership in developing a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Arabs leaders subsequently rejected this understanding, claiming that the Allies had not met their commitment to the Feisal's father Sherif Hussein. Arabs mobs conducted the first major anti-Jewish riots in Palestine (1920-21). The first Arab riots occurred in Jerusalem around Passover--"Bloody Passover (March 1920). Attacks on Jews had occurred in Muslim and Christian countries for centuries. Unfounded rumors of Jewish attavks on Arabs caused the riots. British military authorities did not at first intervene to protect Jews after the Arab attacks begun. The British did arrest Vladimir Jabotinsky and other Jews for organizing a self-defense league. Arab violence spread to other areas. Arabs killed Joseph Trumpeldor and others defending Tel Hai, a settlement in the Upper Galileeb (April 1920). Jews seeing that the British authorities were not defending them, founded the Haganah (June 15, 1920). While there is no conclusive evidence that Haj Amin al-Husseini was responsible for initiating the riots, there is ample evidence that he became one of the leaders urging Palestinians to kill Jews and loot their homes. Further violence occurred in Jaffa. Arabs brutally murdered Jewish author Y. Brenner in Jaffa. This was followed by attacks on Rehovot, Petah Tikva, and other Jewish areas (May 1921). When the violence subsided, the Jewish death toll was 47 with 140 wounded. Among those killed was Yosef Hayyim Brenner, the respected socialist pioneer and author. Arab casualties totaled 48 killed and 73 wounded. Almost all the Arab casualties were at the hands of the British military trying to restore order. The Jews learned an important lesson. They were vulnerable to Arab violence and had virtually no self defense capabiklity. main lesson was the power of the Arab masses and the relative ineffectiveness of the Jewish defense. Sir Herbert Samuel, British High Commissioner, in an effort to restore order, attempted to appease the Arab rioters. He ordered a temporary halt to Jewish immigration. He also began negotiations with the Arab Executive Committee. One outcome of the effort to restore order was the White Paper issued by Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill (June 1922). The Haycraft Commission investigated the violence and found, "The racial strife was begun by the Arabs, and rapidly developed into a conflict of great violence between Arabs and Jews, in which the Arab majority, who were generally the aggressors, inflicted most of the casualties."

Cairo Conference (1921)

The British at the end of World War I seized Aran-populated countries frim the Ottoman Empire. The British seized Palestine abd advanced to Damascas. A second offensive in Mesoptamia seized what was to become Iraq. Britain and France after World War I divided up the Arab lands seized from the Ottoman Empire at the Cairo Conference. The division followed the lines of the Sykes-Picot Treaty. The British created Trans Jordan under Emir Abdullah and installed King Faisal in Iraq. Syria was placed under French control. The British and French also endorsed the Balfour Declaration. The League of Nations approved the British Mandate of Palestine (July 7, 1922),

League of Nations

President Wilson saw at the center of a new international order, a League of Nations. As soon as he returned home from the Versailles Peace Conference, he launched upon a cross-country tour to promote the Treaty and U.S. membership in the League. He told Americans, "At the front of this great treaty is put the Covenant of the League of Nations. It will also be at the front of the Austrian, treaty and the Hungarian treaty and the Bulgarian treaty and the treaty with Turkey. Every one of them will contain the Covenant of the League of Nations, because you cannot work any of them without the Covenant of the League of Nations. Unless you get the united, concerted purpose and power of the great Governments of the world behind this settlement, it will fall down like a house of cards. There is only one power to put behind the liberation of mankind, and that is the power of mankind. It is the power of the united moral forces of the world, and in the Covenant of the League of Nations the moral forces of the world are mobilized." [Wilson]

Winston Churchill: Colonial Secretary (1921)

Winston Churchill had played a major role in Parliament during World War I. A few years after the War, Prime-Minister Lloyd George appointed Churchill to be Secretary of State for the Colonies and was given special instructions to deal with the new Middle eastern mandates--Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq). Lloyd George was especially unterested in reducing the administrative cost. Here Arab resort to violence was having the affect of keeping administrative costs high. Another goal was to carry out the pledge made in the Balfour Doctrine. A middle East Department was established in the Colonial Office under John Shuckburgh, an excerienced India hand, to assist Churchill. Churchill also sought ought T.E. Lawrence to advise him about the Arabs. Churchill was a strong proponent of the Balfour Doctrine. He spoke with French President Alexandre Millerand who was critical of British support for a Jewish national homeland, fearing it would 'disturb' the Arab world. Churchill continued to support the commiment and was impressed with Sammuel's even-handed approach. Churchill's vision for the World War I mandates was that Emir Feisal would be the king of Iraq and Abdullah the king of Trans Jordan. The remaining area of western Palestine between the Jordan River and Mediterranran would be the Jewish national homeland as promised by the World War I Balfour Declaration. [Gilbert, pp. 46-47.]

T.E. Lawrence

T.E. Larence is better known as Lawrence of Arabia. Because of his academic background and linguistic abilities, he was posted to Cairo during the War. There he was chosen to work with the Arabs and played a major role in the Arab Revoly (1917-18). He helped the Arab Revolt launched by Sherif Hussein and his sons. Lawrence helped the Arabs take the Turkish fortress at Aqaba and perfect the guerrilla tactics that largely forced the Turks out of the Arabian Peninsula. Lawrence managed to arrange a commitment from Emir Feisal (Sherif Hussein's eldest son), Emir Feisal agreed that in excange for Arab soverignity over Mesopotamia (Iraq), Jordan, and Syria that his father would not persue claims to Palestine. [Lawrence]

League Mandate (1922)

The League of Nations in the World War I peace settlements was given responsibility for the former German and Ottomon colonies. Mandates to administer these colonies were awarded to Britain and France. Britain was awarded responsibility among other areas Iraq and Palestine. France received Syria and Lebanon. British colonies which were moving toward independence received some of these awards. Australia received New Guinea. Soiuth Africa received South West Africa (Namibia). Japan received tghe Caroline Islands. Several of these areas were matters of significant international dispute in later years. The most important, of course was Palestine. The terms of the British Mandate in Palestine was were approved by the League of Nations Council (July 24, 1922). Formal authorization became effective (September 29, 1923). English, Arabic, and Hebrew were all to be official languages in the Palestine Mandate. The Mandate covered the territory of what is now Jordan, the West Bank, Israel, and Gaza. The terms of the League Mandate for Palestine were estabished by the League of Nations. Article 6 clearly permitted Jewish immigration and settlement. The text read, "The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish Agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes." The United States Senate rejected the Versailles Treaty, primarily because of the League of Nations provisions. Thus the League approval of the mandate did not include any American commitment. The U.s. Congress by a joint resolution endorsed the concept of the Jewish national home (June 30, 1922).

Arab Reaction

Arab spokesmen led by Sharif Husayn and his sons in contrast opposed the terms of the League Mandate in Palestine. The Covenant of the League of Nations explicitly endorsed popular determination. And the Arabs were a clear majority in Palestine. They also pointed out that the League Convenant specifically declared that all obligations and understandings inconsistent with it were abrogated. The Arabs argued with some validity that this meant that both the Balfour Declaration and the Sykes-Picot Agreement were null and void.

British Effort at Conciliation

The British sought to bring about a peaceful accommodation between the Arabs, Jews, and others in Palestine. The first British high commissioner in Palestine was Sir Herbert Samuels. He had the unenviable job of establishing order between the antagonistic communities. From the beginning, Sammuels found that the Palestinian Arab leaders were opposed to any peaceful accomodation with the Zionist community. Samuels who was Jewish had two often conflicting principles: liberalism and Zionism. He attempted to introduced Western legal concepts to Palestine. One of the actions taken was abolishing “dhimmitude”.Under this system, non-Muslim dhimmis lived in a system of institutionalised subgegation. Political rights were denied to all but Muslims. Changing this system was a major concern of Palestianians and other Arabs. Sammuels permitted open Jewish immigration and land purchases. The result was the Third Aliyah (1919-23). During this relatively brief window, thousands of highly committed Zionists entered Palestine. Most had a secular Socialist orientation. They made amajor contribution to the kibutz system--a form of communal faming. Not only did the kibutzes make an important contribution to Jewish farming, but the communities formed allowed for a degree of collective defense that individual family farms would not have. Samuels in accordance with League standards proposed a move toward representarive institutions. He called for a legislative council, an advisory council, and an Arab agency comparable to the Jewish Agency. Had the Palestinian Arabs accepted this proposal, they would have dominated the legislative council and other Mandate institutions. They could have then moved to curtail Jewish immigration and land purchases. The Jews were in no position to oppose Samuel's proposal. They were clearly based on the League Covenant of the League of Nations and the mandatory system. Ironically it was the Palestinian Arabs who rejected Samuels' proposals. They apparently concluded that participation in Mandate institutions would represent acceptance of the Balfour Declaration and a Jewish Homeland. The Arabs rejected all of Samuels proposals, including a legislative council, an advisory council, and an Arab agency. This also essentially meant that there would be no institutional base in which the Arab and Jewish comminities could consult.

Creation of Jordan: The First Partition (1921)

The British changed their minds about the future of the Palestine Mandate soon after World war I. The British were concerned about maintaining order and appeasing the Arabs became an important part of this. Winston Churchill opted for what he described a "Hashemite solution." The Hashemite family were connected to the Hejaz (Saudi Arabia) and had no connection with Palestine. Churchill decided to appease Prince Abdullah by offering him a position of authority in Transjordan. Churchill submitted a memorandum to the Cairo Conference (March 1921). It read in part, " ... establishing a Jewish National Home in Palestine west of the Jordan and a separate Arab entity in Palestine east of the Jordan. Abdullah, if installed in authority in Transjordan, could preside over the creation of such an Arab entity." The British decided to install Abdullah who they had worked with during the war as Emir of Transjordan. The British submitted a memorandum to the League of Nations in wgich they concluded that the provisions of the Mandate document calling for the establishment of a Jewish national home were not applicable to the the area east of the Jordon--Transjordan. This essentially reduced by about 80 percent the Mandate land open to Jewish settlement and a future Jewish Homeland (September 16, 1922). The British decession was an attempt to satisfy Arab complaints about Jewish immigration and any future Jewish homeland. Churchill and the British carried off some legal slight of hand. Transjordan was part of the League of Nations Mandate. It was not within the authority of the British as the Mandate power to unilaterally partition Palestine. The British did just this, although not formally. The British accepted the ithe Arab character and administration aministration of Trans-Jordan, essentially an Arab province of Palestine. The British intended this as a temporary measure, but over time it became a permanent part of League Mandated Plestine and eventually an independent country. Once Trans-Hordan was created, all Jewish migration and settlement was stopped. This was a measure without basis in the Balfour Declaration (1917) or the League Mandate (1922). The British decided on a de facto arrangement to limit Jewish immigration to the 23 percent of Palestine west of the Jordon River. The British action had two primary impcts. First as noted above, it closed off Jewish immigration west of the Jordan River. Second by separating the large area east of the Jordon it meant that the the Jews consituted a a larger part of the population east of the Jordon than they had in the overall Mandate area. The British added an additional 60,000 square km. of desert to Transjordan (1925). This formed a territorial "arm" of land to connect Transjordan with Iraq, separating Syria from the Arabian Peninsula. Palestine continued to be formaly administered by Britain under the Mandate until Transjordan was granted independence (1946).


The Palestinian Arabs at the time of the British mandate were largely illiterate and poor. Most lived in the countryside and made a living through agriculture and herding (mostly sheep and goats). They had no sence of nationality and were badly fractured along clan/family lines. There were a cluster of largely venal families, led by the Husseinis who pursued a campaign of violence and assaination. There was no real sence of public-service other than Islam, only how to gain and benefit from power. Nor was there any sence of relgious toleration and the rights of minorities. Christian Arabs were better educated and wealthier than the Muslim majority. The represented only about 8 percent of the popultion and were terrified of the Muslim majority and as we can see in the modern Middle East, for good reason. The Palistinians were also fracturd along demographic lines. People in the towns looked down on the ruural, largely illiterate fellahin (peasantry) and Bedouins (nomadic tribes). The fellahin for their part looked down on the Bedouins as well as feared them. The leading families were bitterly divided since the beginning of the Mandatory period because of the power struggle and violence pepetrated primatily by the Husseini family. The opposition cenrered on the Nashashibis, another Jerusalem family. The Husseinis organized the Arab Revolt, aided by NAZI funding and used it to target their opponents as wll as the British and Jews. This left a bitter trail heritge blood feuds and treachery that made a united front against the Zionists difficilt. It also left a heritage of nilhistic violence that has spread throughout the Middle East. The Palestine Arabs rejected the British offer to form government if they would accept guarantees for minority rights. Rather the Husseinis dominated the Arab Higher Committee--AHC (1936). They thus dominated the arab community, but there was considerable opposition. This would affect the Indeoendene war when it came. The British outlawed it cafter the assassination of a British official. It was reserected after the War (1945), but it proved ineffective. Notables from the various fctions instead of suppooring the Husseni AHC, set up 'national committees' in the various towns. They attempted to run their communities as the British pulled out and fighting broke out. This proived in effective. The affluent classes where you expect to find an emerging leadership declined to get involved in the fighting. Most expected the invading Arab armies to easily defeat the poorly armed Israelis. Many fled the fighting including AHV menbers as it turned out. One observer reports that vry few sons of the affluent urban participated in the war.


Arab immigration

Jewish Immigration

One of the issues that the British faced after seizing Palistine from the Ottoman Empire and establishing a Mandate regime was Jewish immigration. The British had no real interest in Palistine other than security for the Suez Canal, but in administering Palistine they found themslves mired into the Arab-Jewish differences. Herbert Samuel, a British Jew, was appointed the first High Commissioner of Palestine. Unlike areviling myth, he proceeded to place restrictions on Jewish immigration. He set up two governing concerns: 1) the ‘interests of the present population’ and 2) the ‘absorptive capacity’ of Palistine. [Cohen, p. 172] The Arabs and their British supporters claimed that Jew immigrants were forcing the Arab fellahin (peasantry) off the land. At the time less than a million people lived in an area that now has a population of nine million. Actually it was the British who significanly limited the absorptive capacity of Palestine. Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill approved severing four-fifths of Ottoman Palestine, from mandatory Palestine (35,000 square miles) to create a new Arab state--Transjordan (1921). This was the area east of the Joirdan River. This was a kind of consolation prize for the Hejaz and Arabia which the Saudis seized from Sherif Hussein. Transyordan was awarded to Sherif Hussein’s son Abdullah for his part in the World war I fighting against the Ottomans. He was installed as Transjordan’s emir and moved to flatly prohbit Jews from his new state. The British also placed restrictions on Jewish land purchases in what remained of Palestine. This was a violtion of the provision of the Mandate (Article 6) stating that “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.” British authoritres during the Mandate period allotted most of the 187,500 acres of cultivable land to the Arabs (87,500 acres) and very little to Jews (4,250 acres). [Auman, p. 25.] Ultimately, the British admitted the argument about the absorptive capacity of Palistine was largely specious. The Peel Commission found: “The heavy immigration in the years 1933–36 would seem to show that the Jews have been able to enlarge the absorptive capacity of the country for Jews.” [PRC, p. 300.] A range of factors affected the Jewish population and immigration in Palistine. The Jewish population in Palistine was basically unchnged during World war I, about 83,000-84,000. The arab population, however expanded from 590,000 to 643,000 (1915-22 0 [Census data]. We are not entirely sure why, but assume it was an influx from tribal areas of Atrabia seeking economic opportunity. Fluctuations during the 1920s were due to anti-Jewish economic legislation in Poland and restrictive American emmigration quota enacted by the United states. The fluctuatiins in the 1930s resulted from the NAZI seizure of power in Germany, The peak was in 1935 with the enactmnent if the Nuremberg Laws. British authorities were disturbed by the large numbers and infirmed the Jewish Agency that only a third of the requested quota would be allowed (1936). [Cohen, p. 53.] The British after the Arab Revoly to plascate the arabs established limits on Jewish immigtation in the 1939 White Paper. They commited tocreating an independent Arab state within 10 years. And Jewish immigration would be limited to 75,000 for the next 5 years. Then t would cease completeky. It also prohibited land sales to Jews in 95 percent of Palestine. The Arabs, however, rejected the British proposal out of hand.

Palestinian Economy

One poorly persued topic is the Palestinian economy and the impact of the influx of Jewish settlers to Palestine. Anti-Jewish sentiment among the Arabs existed before the Zionist settlement. There is not doubt that the influx gave rise to increased anti-Jewish sentiment. This is a normal reaction in any country, just as the Irish immigration in America gave rise to anti-Irish sentiment. Into this volitile mix the Grand-Mufti of Palestine promoted violence against the Jews. This dynamic has been fairly well documented. Less well addressed in the economic condition of the Palestinians and the impact of the Jewish Zionist immigration. Palestinans commonly complain that the Jews purchased land from poor Paestinians. The objection here is that the resulting land was lost to the Palestinian community. Palestinian poverty was of course something the Jews did not create or the West. It was a fact when the Britishtook Palestine (1918). It was the result of Ottomon and Arab backwardness and the failure to enter the modern world. We have seen reports that the economic impact of the Jewish immigration was to stimulate the Palestinian economy and the Palestinians thus benefitted economically from the growth in the econonmy. One authot maintains that not only did the Palestinian economy grow more rapidly than was the case during the Ottoman Era, but it grew more rapidly than was the case for neigboring Arab-populated areas like Lebanon, Syria, anJorsdan, and Egypt. Our information on this is still limited. We do know that the Arab population increased, one indicator of a thriving economy. We are not sure, however, of this was the result of a rising birthrate or immigration from neigboring Arab states. This is another topic we hope to persue.

Jewish Agency (1929)

The League Mandate given to the British recognized the "historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine" and called upon the mandatory power to "secure establishment of the Jewish National Home." The League recognized "an appropriate Jewish agency" for advice and cooperation to that end. The League specifically recognized the WZO as the appropriate vehicle. The League formally established the Jewish Agency to facilitate immigration (1929). The League when establishing the Jewish Agency added a proviso that the "rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced." The WZO saw the League approval of the Mandate system as an important step toward the achievement of a Homeland. There was no uninamity within the Zionist community at the time as to just what form a Jewish Homeland would take. A Jewish nation state was not seen as achieveable by many Zionists. Only gradually did this become the movement's goal. It was the experience with the Arabs and British in Palestine and the NAZI Holocaust that led to the proclamation of the State of Israel (1948).

Disturbances (1929)

As the number of Zionist immigrants increased and the area of land expanded, conflicts began to develop with the Arabs. Here Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, played a central role. Both sides blamed the other as scattered acts of viloence occurred. There were more Arabs attacks on Jewish settlements than Jewish attacks, but there were violent actions perpetrated by both sides. The Jews had learned the lesson of the 1920-21 no self-defense preparations. The worst Arab attack occurred at Hebron where Arabs massacred 69 Jews (1929).

The Haganah (1920-48)

The Haganah was the underground military organization of the yishuv in Eretz Yisrael. It was formed 2 years after the British seized Palestine from the Ottoman Empire in World war I (1920). The impetus was the Arab riots (1920-21). For centuries in the Middle Wast there were periodic Arab attacks on Jews. For the most part Jews just had to suffer. Ottomn authorities after sezing Arab lands (16th century) some times intervened. The British were more forth coming, but usuallu only rrived after the attacks. The Jews realized that they would have to organize to porotect themselves. It would have to be an irganization intirely separate from the Vrotish--being an underground group. The Haganah was founded (June 1920). The Haganah during most of the 1920s was a loosly organized grouping of local defense groups in the larger towns and in some of the settlements/kibutzes. After the initial violenced died down (1920-21) this proved baically what was needed. The Arab riots of 1929 changed this. Jewish leaders saw that a more centrally controlled, lrger organizatiin was needed nd greater access to arms. Basically the Jews began creating a secrey army. The Haganah was significantly expanbded. NAlmost all of the youth and adults in the exposed settlements joined/ There were several thousand members in each of the cities. The Haganah organized a comprehensive training program for its members. This included officers' training courses. Secret arms depots were established so that members could arm themselves when needed. Light arms were snuggled in from Europe. THey also created underground facilities to manufacture arms. All this effort payed off with the Arab revolt (1936-39). The haganah was sorely tested. The British were unable to provide security, especilly in the settlements. The Haganah did provide security and matured from an informl militia into a competent, if lightly armed military force. The British did not officially recognize the Hanganah, but in the crisis, the British Security Forces cooperated with it by establishing civilian militia. The Haganah organized Sepcial Night Squads -- SNS (summer 1938). The commander was British Army Captain Orde Wingate whowould make aname for himself during Wirld war II. The Haganah during the arab Revolt help protected over 50 new settlements. The British White Paper of 1939 reflecting the increasing liklihood of War adopted anti-Zionist policies to placate the Arabs. The Haganah set up an illegal immigration effort to assist Jews fleeing NAZI oppression. They also organized demonstrations against the British Anti-Zionist policy.

British Actions

The British tried to defuse the situation, arresting both Arabs and Jews and confiscating weapons. Jews claimed that because of the importance of the Arabs in British colonial policy, that the British generally favored the Arabs. We think this can be seen in the evolution of British policy. Even a neutral policy, however, favored the Arabs. Palestine had a majority Arab population. This would seem to justify establishing an Arab state. The problem with this is that many Muslims believe that this gives them the right to impose their religion and culture on minorities. In addition Palestine was suronded by Arab states or colonies to become Arab states. Thus if the Atbs in Palestine could obtin weapons. Jews in Paestine had more difficulty obraining weapons. And they would be defenless if the neighboring Arab states invaded.

Arab Revolt (1936-39)

The Jerusalem Grand Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini was disturbed that Britain was not moving fast enough toward idependence for Palestine, given that steps had been taken in Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt. He decided to pursue a violent path toward indoendence. He helped inspire riots and disorders throughout Palestine insidered by events in Germany (April 1936). Six prominent Arab leaders formed the Arab High Command to to protest Zionist activities, especially land purchases and immigration. The Arab High Command organized a general strike of Arab workers and a boycott of Jewish products (April 1936). Soon the initial peaceful actions escalated into attacks on Jews as well as the British authorities. The NAZIs provided some financial support. This would begin an association between the Arans and NAZIs that would continue into Worlkd War II. Riots occured in Jerusalem and other cities . These dusorders, seen as the first stage of the 'Arab Revolt' continued until November, 1936. Another stage of disorders began in September, 1937. The cause was the Peel Commission which suggested the partition of Palestine. The second stahe was much more violent. There were more intense fifgting with British forces as well as attacks on more Jewish settlements. The British were hard pressed at the time and actually authorized the arming of the Haganah. The British and the Haganah worked togrther. Effecive operations were organized by Charles Orde Wingate who later became famous in Burma. Wingate established Special Night Squads of Jewish volunteers. The British sucessfully defeated the Arab Revolt. Husseini was able to find refuge in Iraq. The British government cocerned about the British position in the Arab world sought to apease Arab opinion with the 1939 White Paper.

Peel Commission (1937)

The British Peel Commission following on the Arab riots suggested spliting Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state (1937). The Jewish area would have about 25 percent of the land. At the time there were about 450,000 Jews in Palestine. The British believed that the much larger and more populous Arab state would not be economically self-sufficient. Thus the British saw a need for te Jewish state to support the Arab state. The Commission was important because it was the first official recognition of partition as a sollution. Most peace outlines since have adopted partition as the sollution. There have been no other possible sollution offered. Obtaining agreement from the parties involved, however, has proven elusive.

British White Paper (1939)

NAZI diplomacy with its anti-British and anti-Semitic approached appealed to the Arabs. Here they met considerable sympathy both because of rising anti-Semitism and opposition to British colonialism. The British attempted to counter this by issuing a White Paper before the War began withdrrawing their support for a Jewish homeland. Palestine's location closed to the Suez Canal made it a possession of some strategic importance. As Europe moved toward war, the British Governent organized a conference of Arabs and Jews to discuss the future of Palestine and difuse the disorders that broke out with the Arab revolt. The meeting became known as the St. James or Round Table Conference of 1939. The British attempted to bring together Arab and Jewish representatives. The Jews were represented by the Jewish Agency (Zionist and non-Zionist groups) led by Chaim Weizmann. The Arabs delegation was led by the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, but te delegation included the more moderate party of the well-known al-Nashashibi family. The Arab delegation included non-Palestinian Arabs (Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Transjordan, and Yemen). The Conference did not go well. Al-Husseini refused to even meet with the Jewish representatives. The resulting British White Paper was crafted to help reverse increasing Arab sympathy with the NAZIs (1939). The Jewish Agency in Palestine rejected the White Paper and charged that it was a deninal of the Balfour Declaration as well as Britain's responsibilities under the League of Nations Mandate. The Jews were especially concerned about the British decession to permanently restrict Jewish immigration, at a time when Jews were being brutalized by the NAZIs and Fasist forces in other European countries.

World War II (1939-45)

Plaestine was part of Ottman Empire for several centuries. The province has a largely Arab population. Zionism was founded in Europe during the 19th century and promoted emmigration to Palestine with the purpose of founding a Jewish homeland. The Ottomons permited small-scale Jewish emmigration. THe Ottomans joined the Cetral Powers in World War I seeking to regain lost territory in the Balkans. As part of the operations of the Arab Army and Col T.H. Lawrence and a 1917 Britih offensive undeder Allenby, Palestine fell. After the War, the British administered Palestine under a League of Nations trusteeship. The rise of Fascism in Europe encouraged many Jews to seek refugee and strengthened the Zionist movement. The British attempted to restrict Jewish immmigration. The expanding Jewish population also resulted in growing anti-Semitism among the Palestinians. This had opposition to British colonial rule caused many Palestinians to sympethize and seek support from the NAZIs.

United Nations Partition (1947)

The League of Nations was dissolved after the World War II. It was suceeded by the new United Nations (June 26, 1945). The terms of the Palestine Mandate still unfulfilled. Article 80 of the U.N. Charter covered the League Mandates including Palestine. Article 80 confirmed that that the rights created by the Mandate and the terms of the Mandate were not to be affected. Britain granted Transjordon independence (1946). This resolved 77 percent of the territory of the League Mandate, turing it over to the Arabs. A United Nations Committee recommended that the rest of Palestine west of the Jordon River be partitioned between an Arab and Jewish state and that Jerusalem be made an international city. This meant essentially that the Jews were receiving a little over 11 percent of the original League Mandate. The Jews accepted the proposal. The Arabs rejected it and threatened war if the Jews declared an independent state.


Palestine because it was the Christias Holy Land was perhaps the most photographed of all the Arab lands. And this only increased with the British mandate. The available imagery helops to illustrate what was occuring in Palestine. Sone of these iumages have captions, but even without captions we can generally create captions to bring out what the images shiw. Some of the images, however, are difficult to assess. Some we discard as having no historucal interest. Others that are interesting we load, hoping that readers may be able to offer some insights into what is being photographed.


Auman, Moshe. “Land ownership in Palestine 1880–1948,” in Michael Curtis, et al., The Palestinians (New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1975).

Cohen, Aharon. Israel and the Arab World (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1970).

Fromkin, David. A Peace To End All Peace.

Gilbert, Martin. Churchill and the Jews: A Life Long Frienship (Henry Holt: New York, 2007), 359p.

Lawrence, T.E. Letter to Churchill's private secretary, January 17, 1921, Churchill papers, 17/14.

League of Nations. "The Palestine Mandate," July 24, 1922. British Oil Policy, 1919-1939 (Psychology Press: 1985).

Miller, Ylana N. "Administrative policy in rural Palestine:The impact of British norms on Arab community life, 1920-48," in J. Migdal ed. Palestinin Society and Politics (Princeton: Princeton Universuty Press, 1980). This journal article was expanded by the author in Government and Society in Rural Palestine, 1920-1948 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985).

Palestine Royal Commission (PTC). The Peel Palistine Royal Commision Report (London: 1937).

Peters, Joan. From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine.

Wilson, Woodrow. Speech at Pueblo, Colorado, September 25, 1919.


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Created: 7:42 PM 7/19/2007
Last updated: 9:53 AM 11/3/2017