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United Nations: V. Mandated Palestine: The 'Jewish National Home'
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Posted on December 17, 2001

The course of the Mandate

While the Mandate in principle required the development of self-governing institutions, its preamble and operative articles left no doubt that the principal thrust would be the implementation of the Balfour Declaration and the establishment of the "Jewish national home". British policy in Palestine during the period of the Mandate was directed to this end but, on facing strengthening Palestinian resistance, from time to time was adjusted to the force of circumstance. The basic policy was elaborated in 1922 (in the "Churchill Memorandum") and a pattern developed, by which an outburst of violent Palestinian resistance would be followed by an official inquiry Commission which would recommend modifications, but pressure from the Zionist Organization would veer official policy back to its main direction. This was the prevalent pattern in the 1920s but, as the Palestinian resistance strengthened, British policy was obliged to take into consideration the fact that the Palestinian people would not acquiesce in the alienation of their rights. By the end of the 1930s, Palestine became the scene of full-scale violence as the Palestinians rebelled for independence, the Zionists retaliated to hold the ground they had gained, and the British Government strove to control a situation, created by the Mandate, which was fast sliding into war.

The start of the Mandate

The British Mandate acquired jurisdiction de jure over Palestine in September 1923 following conclusion with Turkey of the Treaty of Lausanne. Before this, the de facto administration was first in the form of a military government from December 1917 to June 1920, with a civilian High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel, taking office on 1 July 1920. In March 1921, ministerial responsibility for Palestine (along with other Mandated Territories), was transferred from the Foreign Office to the Colonial Office under Sir Winston Churchill.

The Balfour Declaration was first officially made public in Palestine only in 1920 after the installation of the civilian administration, having been kept officially confidential until then to minimize the chances of disorder caused by the protests that were anticipated from the Palestinians. Of course, the nature and object of the Declaration and the policy it sought to introduce had quickly become common knowledge. It had led quickly to violent conflict in Palestine. In London, a delegation from the Moslem-Christian Association of Palestine tried in 1921 and 1922 to present the Palestinian case to counter the sustained influence of the Zionist Organization on British authorities in both London and Jerusalem.

The "Churchill Memorandum"

The British Government moved to elaborate its policy in a statement (referred to as the "Churchill Memorandum") of 1 July 1922:

This statement disclaimed any intent to create "a wholly Jewish Palestine" or to effect "the subordination of the Arab population, language or culture in Palestine". But, at the same time, the statement, to assuage the Jewish community, made it clear that:

"... The Balfour Declaration, reaffirmed by the Conference of the Principal Allied Powers at San Remo and again in the Treaty of Sèvres, is not susceptible of change ... in order that this community should have the best prospect of free development and provide a full opportunity for the Jewish people to display its capacities, it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance. That is the reason why it is necessary that the existence of a Jewish national home in Palestine should be internationally guaranteed, and that it should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection ...

"For the fulfilment of this policy it is necessary that the Jewish community in Palestine should be able to increase its numbers by immigration. This immigration cannot be so great in volume as to exceed whatever may be the economic capacity of the country at the time to absorb new arrivals". 64/

The "Churchill Memorandum" thus reaffirmed the Balfour Declaration, and the "historic connection" of the Jews with Palestine, asserting their presence was "as of right and not as sufferance". Immigration was to be subject only to the economic absorptive capacity of Palestine. Despite the assurances to the Palestinians, there was no doubt left that the principal object of the Churchill policy was to establish the "Jewish national home".

That indeed this was the intention was reiterated by Churchill several years afterwards, when he said that the intention of the 1922 White Paper was "to make it clear that the establishment of self-governing institutions in Palestine was to be subordinated to the paramount pledge and obligation of establishing a Jewish national home in Palestine". 65/ Faced with this determined effort concerted between a Great Power and a Jewish organization that had demonstrated its strength and influence, the Palestinian people refused to acquiesce in the scheme. They refused to join in the Churchill plan of setting up a legislative council to further these schemes, and they protested against the policy that strengthened the drive towards a Jewish "national home" in Palestine despite the strong opposition of the Palestinians, who declared:

"... We wish to point out here that the Jewish population of Palestine who lived there before the War never had any trouble with their Arab neighbours. They enjoyed the same rights and privileges as their fellow Ottoman citizens, and never agitated for the Declaration of November 1917. It is the Zionists outside Palestine who worked for the Balfour Declaration ...

"We therefore here once again repeat that nothing will safeguard Arab interests in Palestine but the immediate creation of a national government which shall be responsible to a Parliament of all whose members are elected by the people of the country - Moslems, Christians and Jews ...

"... [Otherwise] we see division and tension between Arabs and Zionists increasing day by day and resulting in general retrogression. Because the immigrants dumped upon the country from different parts of the world are ignorant of the language, customs and character of the Arabs, and enter Palestine by the might of England against the will of the people who are convinced that these have come to strangle them. Nature does not allow the question of a spirit of co-operation between two peoples so different, and it is not to be expected that the Arabs would bow to such a great injustice, or that the Zionists would so easily succeed in realizing their dreams ..." 66/

The "Churchill policy" secured the road for the Zionist Organization towards its goal of a Jewish State in Palestine made possible by the Balfour Declaration.

Two of the principal means advocated by the Zionist Organization for achieving the national home were large-scale immigration and land purchase. A third was the denial of employment to Palestinian labour.

The King-Crane Commission had reported that Jewish colonists were planning a radical transformation of Palestine:

"The fact came out repeatedly in the Commission's conference with Jewish representatives, that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase". 67/

Large scale immigration had started under the aegis of the Balfour Declaration soon after the war ended, and had already led to violent opposition by Palestinians in 1920 and 1921. With the endorsement of the Churchill policy, immigration accelerated, reaching a peak in 1924-1926, but soon sharply declined. At this point, Weizmann records:

"The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was built on air ... every day and every hour of these last 10 years, when opening the newspapers, I thought: Whence will the next blow come? I trembled lest the British Government would call me and ask: 'Tell us, what is this Zionist Organization? Where are they, your Zionists?' ... The Jews, they knew, were against us; we stood alone on a little island, a tiny group of Jews with a foreign past."

The table below shows immigration figures during the 1920s.

Immigration into Palestine, 1920-1929 68/

Recorded Immigration




1920 (September-October)

5 514



9 149



7 844



7 421



12 856



33 801



13 081



2 713



2 178



5 249

1 317

Thus during the decade about 100,000 Jewish immigrants entered Palestine, far short of the numbers envisaged by the Zionist Organization, but substantial enough to make a marked impact in a country where the total population in 1922 was officially estimated at about 750,000. 69/ In absolute terms the Jewish population more than doubled, and in percentage terms rose from below 10 per cent to over 17 per cent during this period [Zionist sympathizers often argue that Palestine was empty, click here for more details].

Immigration was virtually under the control of Zionist organizations, as described in the report of an official Commission:

"... We were informed by the Chief Immigration Officer that in the allocation to individuals of the certificates which are supplied in blank to the General Federation of Jewish Labour, it is the practice of that body to have regard to the political creed of the several possible immigrants rather than to their particular qualifications for admission to Palestine. It is clearly the duty of the responsible Jewish authorities to select for admission to Palestine those of the prospective immigrants who are best qualified on personal grounds to assist in the establishment of a Jewish national home in that country: that political creed should be a deciding factor in the choice between applicants is open to the strongest exception". 70/

Similarly, a number of Jewish organizations such as the Colonisation Department of the Zionist Organization, financed by the Keren ha-Yesod [JNF], were actively engaged in acquisition of land both for individual immigrant families as well as for the Yishuv or Jewish settlements. Several of these organizations had been operating since the nineteenth century, notably the Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association (PICA)*. With the British occupation of Palestine in 1918 all land transactions were suspended. The registers were reopened in 1920, at which time it was estimated that Jewish land acquisitions stood at about 650,000 dunums** or 2.5 per cent of the total land area of 26 million dunums). 71/ By the end of the decade this figure had nearly doubled to 1,200,000 dunums, just below 5 per cent. 72/


* PICA was the Palestinian section of ICA (Jewish Colonisation Association) led by Baron Maurice de Hirsch. The aim of ICA was to support Jewish emigration from Europe and Asia to other parts of the world; to create agricultural settlements in North and South America; and to obtain authorization and autonomy for these settlements.

** 1 dunum = approx. 1,000 sq. metres or 1/4 acre (1 sq. mile = approx. 2,560 dunums).

A strict policy of what in today's terms would be described as racial discrimination was maintained by the Zionist Organization in this rapid advance towards the "national home". Only Jewish labour could service Jewish farms and settlements. The eventual outcome of this trend was a major outbreak of violence with unprecedented loss of life in 1929, which was investigated by the Shaw Commission. Another commission headed by Sir John Hope Simpson followed to investigate questions of immigration and land transfers. Certain observations of the Hope Simpson Commission are of interest, particularly on labour and employment policies.

The Commission went into great detail in its report, dividing Palestine into areas according to cultivability, and estimating total cultivable land at about 6.5 million dunums of which about a sixth was in Jewish hands. 73/

The report described in some detail the employment policies of the Zionist agencies quoting some of their provisions:

"The effect of the Jewish colonization in Palestine on the existing population is very intimately affected by the conditions on which the various Jewish bodies hold, sell and lease their land.

"The Constitution of the Jewish Agency: Land Holding and Employment Clauses ...

"(d) Land is to be acquired as Jewish property and ... the same shall be held as the inalienable property of the Jewish people.

"(e) The Agency shall promote agricultural colonization based on Jewish labour ... it shall be deemed to be a matter of principle that Jewish labour shall be employed ..."

"Keren Kayemet draft lease: Employment of Jewish labour only

"... The lessee undertakes to execute all works connected with the cultivation of the holding only with Jewish labour. Failure to comply with this duty by the employment of non-Jewish labour shall render the lessee liable to the payment of compensation ..."

"The lease also provides that the holding shall never be held by any but a Jew ..."

"Keren ha-Yesod agreements: Employment of labour

The following provisions are included:

'Article 7 - The settler hereby undertakes that ... if and whenever he may be obliged to hire help, he will hire Jewish workmen only.'

"In the similar agreement for the Emek colonies, there is a provision as follows:

'Article 11 - The settler undertakes ... not to hire any outside labour except Jewish labourers.'" 74/

Commenting on the Zionist attitude towards the Palestinians, the report noted the Zionist policy of allaying Arab suspicions:

"Zionist policy in regard to Arabs in their colonies. The above-quoted provisions sufficiently illustrate the Zionist policy with regard to the Arabs in their colonies. Attempts are constantly being made to establish the advantage which Jewish settlement has brought to the Arab. The most lofty sentiments are ventilated at public meetings and in Zionist propaganda. At the time of the Zionist Congress in 1931 a resolution was passed which 'solemnly declared the desire of the Jewish people to live with the Arab people, to develop the homeland common to both into a prosperous community which would ensure the growth of the peoples'. This resolution is frequently quoted in proof of the excellent sentiments which Zionism cherishes towards the people of Palestine. The provisions quoted above, which are included in legal documents binding on every settler in a Zionist colony, are not compatible with the sentiments publicly expressed." 75/

At the same time, the Commission, rejecting Zionist arguments in support of their discriminatory policies, considered that they violated the Mandate:

"Policy contrary to article 6 of Mandate ... The principle of the persistent and deliberate boycott of Arab labour in the Zionist colonies is not only contrary to the provisions of that article of the Mandate, but it is in addition a constant and increasing source of danger to the country." 76/

The report noted in the strongest terms the effect on indigenous Palestinians of Zionist policies.

"The effect of the Zionist colonization policy on the Arab. Actually the result of the purchase of land in Palestine by the Jewish National Fund has been that land has been extraterritorialized. It ceases to be land from which the Arab can gain any advantage either now or at any time in the future. Not only can he never hope to lease or to cultivate it, but, by the stringent provisions of the lease of the Jewish National Fund, he is deprived for ever from employment on that land. Nor can anyone help him by purchasing the land and restoring it to common use. The land is in mortmain and inalienable. It is for this reason that Arabs discount the professions of friendship and goodwill on the part of the Zionists in view of the policy which the Zionist Organization deliberately adopted." 75/

"Land available for settlement. It has emerged quite definitely that there is at the present time and with the present methods of Arab cultivation no margin of land available for agricultural settlement by new immigrants with the exception of such undeveloped land as the various Jewish agencies hold in reserve." 77/

These developments in Palestine at the end of the 1920s - the 1929 Palestinian revolt and the reports of the Shaw and Hope Simpson Commissions - heightened awareness of the dangerous situation in Palestine as the Zionist drive towards a Jewish State met increasing Palestinian opposition. While reinforcing its military strength in Palestine, Great Britain issued a new statement of policy, called the Passfield White Paper of October 1930, in an effort to control the pressures that were building.* While criticizing both Jewish leaders for exerting pressure to obtain official compliance with Zionist wishes in matters of immigration and land transfers, and Palestinians for demanding self-determination which "... would render it impossible;... to carry out, in the fullest sense, the double undertaking", 78/ the 1930 policy, attempted to introduce an important change in emphasis from the Churchill paper which gave first priority to establishing the Jewish State. The Passfield paper commented:


* Named after the then Colonial Secretary Lord Passfield.

"... attempts have been made to argue, in support of Zionist claims, that the principal feature of the Mandate is the passages regarding the Jewish national home, and that the passages designed to safeguard the rights of the non-Jewish community are merely secondary considerations qualifying, to some extent, what is claimed to be the primary object for which the Mandate has been framed ...

"It is a difficult and delicate task of His Majesty's Government to devise means whereby, in the execution of its policy in Palestine, equal weight shall at all times be given to the obligations laid down with regard to the two sections of the population and to reconcile those two obligations where, inevitably, conflicting interests are involved". 79/

The paper announced a renewed attempt to establish a legislative council. Further it gave notice of intent to reassert authority over the vital issues of immigration and land transfers, which had been dominated by the Jewish Agency, working heavily against Palestinian interests. 80/ Reflecting awareness of the intensifying conflict the paper concludes with a suggestion of realization that Palestinian grievances had justification, but were faced with inimical circumstance:

"To the Arabs His Majesty's Government would appeal for a recognition of the facts of the situation, and for a sustained effort at co-operation in obtaining that prosperity for the country as a whole by which all will benefit. From the Jewish leaders, His Majesty's Government ask a recognition of the necessity for making some concessions on their side in regard to the independent and separatist ideals which have been developed in some quarters in connection with the Jewish national home ..." 81/

The Passfield White Paper drew strong criticism from the Zionist Organization and its supporters, and soon was virtually negated by a letter written in 1931 by the British Prime Minister to Dr. Weizmann, again giving paramountcy to the goals of Zionism rather than "equal weight" to the rights of the people of Palestine. Stating that the letter was meant "to meet certain criticisms put forward by the Jewish Agency", the letter reasserted that "the undertaking of the Mandate is an undertaking to the Jewish people and not only to the Jewish population of Palestine". 82/

The "MacDonald letter" made clear that Palestine would be governed in accordance with the Churchill policy of 1922, and that the restrictions suggested by Lord Passfield on Jewish immigration and land transfers would not be applied.

Dr. Weizmann's words on these developments are of interest:

"... The Passfield White Paper may be regarded as the most concerted effort - until the White Paper of 1939 - on the part of a British Government to retract the promise made to the Jewish people in the Balfour Declaration. That attack, too, was successfully repulsed.

"... On February 13, 1931, there was an official reversal of policy. It did not take the form of a retraction of the White Paper - that would have meant a loss of face - but of a letter addressed to me by the Prime Minister, read in the House of Commons and printed in Hansard. I considered that the letter rectified the situation - the form was unimportant - and I so indicated to the Prime Minister.

"I was to be bitterly attacked in the Zionist Congress of that year for accepting a letter in place of another White Paper. But whether I was right or not in my acceptance may be judged by a simple fact: it was under MacDonald's letter to me that the change came about in the Government's attitude, and in the attitude of the Palestine administration, which enabled us to make the magnificent gains of the ensuing years. It was under MacDonald's letter that Jewish immigration into Palestine was permitted to reach figures like 40,000 for 1934 and 62,000 for 1935, figures undreamed of in 1930".83/

This sudden reversal of British policy, coming as it did after Palestinian hopes for fair play had been raised by the Passfield White Paper, did little to improve the deteriorating situation in Palestine.

The start of the notorious Nazi persecution of Jews in Europe brought repercussions to Palestine which were to exacerbate the mounting tensions. While the majority of European Jews fleeing the Nazi terror chose the United States and Britain, large numbers sought refuge in Palestine. Immigration thus sharply increased, as shown by the following figures:

Immigration into Palestine 1930-1939 84/


Jewish Immigrants


4 944


4 075


9 553


30 327


42 359


61 854


29 727


10 536


12 868


16 405

Compared to the 100,000 in the 1920s, Palestine received about 232,000 legal immigrants in the 1930s. The Jewish population in 1939 numbered over 445,000 out of a total of about 1,500,000 - nearly 30 per cent compared to the less than 10 per cent 20 years before. Similarly, by the end of 1939, Jewish holdings of land had risen to almost 1.5 million dunums compared to the 650,000, of the total area of 26 million dunums, held at the start of the Mandate.

Between 1930 and 1936, the British Administration tried to initiate measures, such as the establishment of elected municipal councils, and later, a legislative council (with a large majority of appointed members) in an attempt to reduce political friction. These measures were ineffective. The drive of political Zionism to establish a settler State in Palestine was met by violent resistance from the Palestinians, and this situation simmered until it boiled over in 1936


64/ British Government, Palestine: Statement of Policy - Cmd. 1700 (1922), pp. 19-20.

65/ Report of United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (A/648), p. 21.

66/ Moore, John Norton, The Arab-Israeli Conflict (Princeton, University Press, 1974), pp. 22 ff.

67/ British Government, The Political History of Palestine under the British Administration (Memorandum to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine), Jerusalem, 1947, p. 3.

68/ Ibid., Palestine Royal Commission Report - Cmd. 5479 (1937), p. 279.

69/ Ibid., Report and General Statement of the Census of 1922, Jerusalem, 1922, p. 3.

70/ Ibid., Report of the Commission on the Palestine Disturbances - Cmd. 3530 (1930), pp. 104-105.

71/ Palestine, Government of, A Survey of Palestine, Jerusalem, 1946, vol. I, p. 244.

72/ British Government, Palestine: Report on Immigration, Land Settlement and Development - Cmd. 3686, p. 39.

73/ Ibid., p. 23.

74/ Ibid., pp. 52-53.

75/ Ibid., p. 54.

76/ Ibid., p. 55.

77/ Ibid., pp. 141-142.

78/ Ibid., Palestine: Statement of Policy, Parliamentary Papers - Cmd. 3692 (1930), pp. 4-5.

79/ Ibid., pp. 10-11.

80/ Ibid., pp. 18-21.

81/ Ibid., pp. 22-23.

82/ Moore, op. cit., pp. 143-149 (text of letter).

83/ Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 335.

84/ RIIA, Great Britain and Palestine, p. 61.

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