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«TOWARDS NAKBA: THE FAILURE OF THE BRITISH MANDATE OF PALESTINE, 1922-1939 A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State ...»

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PALESTINE, 1922-1939

A Thesis

Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the

Louisiana State University and

Agricultural and Mechanical College

in partial fulfillment of the

requirements for the degree of

Master of Arts


The Department of History


Nicholas Ensley Mitchell

B.A., Louisiana State University, 2005

August 2007

Table of Contents








Orientalism, British Imperialism, and Zionism

The Empire and the Impact of the First World War


Arab Nationalism and the First World War

Faisal, Greater Syria, and Palestine


Early Zionism

The Zionist Project: Weizmann and Jabotinsky

The Balfour Declaration

The Impact of Partition: Zionism Divided


The 1929 Riots

After 1929: Haganah and Irgun

The Peel Commission and its Aftermath




–  –  –

1. Table 1: Provenance of Jewish Immigrants into Palestine 1.1.1924-31.12.1929....76

2. Table 2: The British Tables of Immigration from Europe in 1934

–  –  –

1. Map1: The British Empire, 1905

2. Map 2: British Territory in the Middle East after World War One

3. Map 3: Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916)

4. Map 4: Peel Commission Plan for Partition of Palestine (1937)

–  –  –

In 1922, with the issuance of the Churchill White Paper, the British government committed itself to assuming the responsibilities of the Balfour Declaration and create a bi-national state in the Mandated territory of Palestine. By 1939, the British, represented by the Mandatory Authority, found themselves trapped between a Palestinian-based Zionist movement, itself torn between two competing factions, and a Palestinian Arab nationalist movement whose leadership had collapsed. The internal split between Revisionist Zionism under Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Mainstream Zionism under Chaim Weizmann and, later, David Ben-Gurion prevented the British government from negotiating with a cohesive Zionist organization. The collapse of the highly centralized Palestinian Arab nationalist resistance, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin al-Husseini, in 1937 deprived the British government of a cohesive Arab movement with which they could negotiate. This thesis argues that the factional differences within the broader Arab-Zionist conflict caused the British to fail in accomplishing their goal of a bi-national state in Palestine.

–  –  –

The purpose of this thesis is to illuminate the role that the British played in fomenting the current state of hostilities in the modern Middle East. From 1920 to 1939, the expressed purpose of the British Mandate of Palestine was to create a bi-national state, Arab and Jewish, in Palestine. 1 This thesis asserts that the British failed to achieve their goal because of 1) the fracturing of the Zionist Organization by 1925 and 2) the collapse of Arab nationalist leadership by 1937. Simply stated, there was no one with whom the British could negotiate peace.

Naomi Shepard, Bernard Wasserstein, Bernard Joseph, and A.W. Kayyali assert that the British Mandate failed because the British were unable to reconcile Jewish and Arab nationalism; this assertion is true, to a point. 2 I argue that the failure of the Mandate is more complex than the clash of nationalisms and that there were deeper divisions within the Jewish and Arab nationalist movements that must be explored. The evidence suggests that there existed throughout the Mandate period within Zionism a deep and crippling divide; this division is evident from the writings of the head of the Jewish agency in Palestine and influential Zionist Chaim Weizmann, as well as those of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and David Ben-Gurion. I have used the evidence presented by Zvi Elpeleg, Phillip Mattar, Yehuda Taggar, Bernard Lewis, and Muhammad Muslih, as well as my own research into the British Mandatory Government papers and the writings of Chaim See: The Churchill White Paper, July 1, 1922 courtesy of http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/mideast/brwh1922.htm; Correspondence with the Palestine Arab Delegation and the Zionist Organization. (London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1922), p. 31 item 4.

Naomi Shepherd, Ploughing Sand: British Rule in Palestine, 1917-1948 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1999); Bernard Wasserstein, The British in Palestine (London: Royal Historical Society, 1978); Bernard Joseph, British Rule in Palestine (Washington D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1948); A.W.

Kayyali, Palestine: A Modern History (London: Croom Helm, 1978).

Weizmann to sketch a portrait of the powerful Palestinian Arab nationalist movement that collapsed after the exile of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin al-Husseini in 1937. 3 It is paramount to note that the British Empire was a collection of colonial administrations. Like all empires, the British had individual administrations in charge of colonial oversight. It cannot be said that the British Empire itself did anything; rather, the colonial governments were the British actors in a given territory. Rule in the British Empire varied in method and degree from territory to territory. In dominions like Canada, British direct rule was virtually non-existent while in territories like the Gold Coast, British rule was absolute. In regards to Palestine, the British actor was the Mandate government itself.

The first chapter of this thesis explains the wider context in which British policy toward Jewish and Arab nationalism evolved. The second chapter focuses on the rise of Pan-Arab nationalism and the rule of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The third focuses primarily on the formation of Zionism from its roots in the ghettos of Europe through Theodore Herzl’s political Zionism to the internal split under Chaim Weizmann and Ze’ev Jabotinksy and the rise of David Ben-Gurion. The fourth chapter examines the clashes between Jewish and Arab nationalists and the way in which the British Mandate government attempted, and failed, to create a single Palestinian state.

What differentiated Palestine from the rest of Britain’s colonies can be summed up in one word: Jerusalem. Palestine was and continues to remain one of the most Zvi Elpeleg, The Grand Mufti: Hajj Amin al-Hussaini, Founder of the Palestinian National Movement (Portland: Frank Cass, 1993); Philip Mattar, The Mufti of Jerusalem: Al- Hajj Amin al-Husayni and the Palestinian National Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988); Muhammad Muslih, The Origins of Palestinian Nationalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988); Yehuda Taggar, The Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine Arab Politics, 1930-1937 (New York: Garland, 1986); Bernard Lewis, From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

important pieces of territory in the world. Palestine is a symbol within the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish discourses. Whoever controls Jerusalem, guards the holy places.

The Mandate period of Palestine is a story with multiple factions. The Palestinian Arab nationalists, who were cut off from their ideological center in Syria by the Sykes-Picot agreement, wanted to create their own state free from foreign rule. The many Zionist factions all wanted to create a Jewish homeland but all had their own designs for how that homeland would be built. In this atmosphere of competing nationalist interests sat the British Mandate government who was charged by the League of Nations and the LloydGeorge government to create a bi-national state in Palestine.

–  –  –

The subject of this chapter is the British Empire before the establishment of the Mandate of Palestine. I use the works of Bernard Porter, Ronald Hyam, Bernard Lewis, and Daniel Yergin to set the context in which the British Empire enters the Middle East.

The first section examines Orientalism and how it influenced the British, Arab, and Zionist perceptions of themselves and each other. The second section examines the expansion of the British Empire after 1858, the impact of the First World War, and the establishment of the Mandate system under the League of Nations.

Porter, Hyam, Lewis, and Yergin assert that the same theme of economic and military security against foreign competition that spurred the expansion and consolidation of the British Empire underscored British expansion in the Middle East. 4 On the most basic level, the pursuit of empire was about securing what the British needed to maintain their economic and military superiority over their European and American competitors.

By the First World War, the British needed oil and the biggest supply was located in the Middle East.

–  –  –

Orientalism, with its assumptions of the “otherness” of the East, was a vital component of British imperialism. So too, was what Rudyard Kipling famously called “the White Man’s Burden.” In his call to Americans to “take up the white man’s burden” in the Philippines, Kipling expressed the British ideal of the civilizing mission: that See: Bernard Porter, The Lion’s Share: A Short History of British Imperialism, 1850-1995, 4th edition (New York: Longman, 1996); Ronald Hyam, Britain’s Imperial Century, 1815-1914 (New York: Palgrave

MacMillan, 2002); Bernard Lewis, From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East (Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 2004) Ch. 16; Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991).

imperial rule actually served the needs of the subjected people. In Kipling’s formulation, imperial officials worked not for their own personal or even for national gain but rather to elevate the less developed peoples to modernity. Imperialism was not about markets, territory, or glory but about civilization- to save the non-European people from their own degrading backwardness and give them order and peace. The civilizing mission was a

European undertaking that dictated that the Europeans must civilize the rest of the world:

to elevate the darker races from eastern mysticism and heathenry into the morality and rationality of western culture. Ronald Hyam writes, “British cultural arrogance was accompanied by a brash cultural aggression inspired with a passion to ‘improve’ other peoples.” 5 The civilizing mission was inherently paternalistic. The British colonial officials embraced the civilizing mission whole-heartedly.

In 1900, the British saw the East through the lenses of Orientalism. Edward Said describes Orientalism as “a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient’s special place in European Western experience.” 6 The West has been preoccupied with the East for centuries. Said explains: “The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other.” 7 The Orientalist paradigm is based on comparisons between eastern and western cultures. In literature, art and both scientific and historical studies, Europeans portrayed the East as despotic, mystic, and barbaric while in European accounts the West is modern, rational, and the embodiment of civilization. Clearly, Orientalism rests on the assumption of the superiority of western culture and institutions Hyam, p. 75.

Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1979), p. 1.

Said, p. 1.

over their eastern counterparts. What and who comprises the Orient (and the Occident), however, changes over time. In the period covered in this thesis, the mid-nineteenth century though the early decades of the twentieth century, the “Orient” began at Constantinople.

Orientalism both demonized and romanticized the Arab-speaking people of the Middle East. As early as the first crusade the Arab was seen as the primary threat to European civilization. The Western imagination conjured all sorts of images of the Arab as a sexually perverse creature who would abduct Christian (i.e. European) women to enslave them in the harems of the sultans and take the prettiest boys to be their sex slaves or eunuchs in gold laden places. The reality was radically different. “Arab” covered many different societies, cultures, ethnicities, and religions. Ruling elites, largely westerneducated, lived in urban areas like Medina, Damascus, Jaffa, and Baghdad. Most Arabs, however, lived in small villages. Many Arabs still lived in Bedouin caravans constantly crisscrossing the deserts; others were doctors, diplomats, and scientists, living in urban and industrial centers. The realities of “the Arab” were far from the fearsome desert warriors feared in Europe.

In the Middle East, Arab nationalism was a response not only to European encroachment, but also to the rapid westernizing of the Ottomans who had begun to identify themselves linguistically as Turks by the middle of the nineteenth century.

Exposed to European nationalism, Ottoman ruling elites began to abandon their traditional form of government in favor of western style reforms. For example, they adopted a French style civil and criminal code and adopted a formal flag and national anthem. The Sultanate created a parliamentary body and established secular universities.

The Ottomans also allowed non-Muslims to serve in the Ottoman army. 8 Within the Arab paradigm European Jews were regarded as Europeans rather than being an indigenous people in Diaspora. In the Orientalist paradigm, however, European Jews, even though they lived in the west and spoke western languages, were an eastern people. This view of Jews as “eastern” was largely due to intersection of Christianity and Judaism in the Bible at Judea. Anyone who could read a Bible knew that the Jews did not come from Europe.

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