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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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Unlike in 1929, Ben-Gurion was unworried about Arab violence. He argued that the Haganah would prevent the Arabs from destroying any Zionist settlements. During the revolt, the number of Kibbutzim expanded, as the Arabs were unable to resist the Haganah and the Irgun. For Zionists, Arab violence and resistance as chief concerns had been replaced by the advance of anti-Semitism in eastern Europe. With Jews fleeing Eastern Europe and the United States tightening its quotas on Jewish immigration, Palestine became a safe haven. Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann focused their attention on increasing the quota of Jews who could enter Palestine; all the while, the Arab revolt continued.

Within three months, the strike threatened British control of Palestine. In July, the British government reported that “seven attacks were made on the Iraq Petroleum Company’s pipeline in the plain of Jezreel and the Beisan valley.” 148 The pipeline ran from Kirkuk in Iraq to Haifa, where the oil was loaded onto carriers for shipment throughout the British Empire. Strategically speaking, Palestine was the most important junction of the pipeline because it was the loading depot. Any attack required the shutting Weizmann, The Letters and papers of Chaim Weizmann Series B, p. 89.

Report by His Britannic Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration on the Administration of Palestine and Transjordan for the Year 1936 ( London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1937), p.15.

down of the pipeline in Iraq, which subsequently disrupted British petrol reserves.

Attacks on the pipeline thus posed a major threat to British interests in the Middle East.

Hajj Amin called the end of the strike in October 1936 but the violence continued.

In June of 1937, Arab militants attempted to assassinate the inspector-general of the Palestine police force R.G.B. Spicer. In September of the same year, Galilee District Commissioner L.Y. Andrews and British Constable P.R. McEwen were assassinated by Arab militiamen. The Mandate government blamed the Arab Higher Committee for the riots and the murders of British officials. The British Mandatory papers record that the members of the Arab Higher Committee were arrested and deported from Palestine. 149 The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin al- Husseini fled to Lebanon; he never returned to Palestine. The Mandate government under Arthur Grenfell Wauchope banned the Arab Higher Committee. The principal militant leaders also began to disappear, were killed, or lost influence. Aref Abdul Razeq, for example, fled to Syria, while Abu Durra was captured by the Arab Legion of Transjordan. 150 Without the leadership of Arab Higher Committee and the rebel leaders, organized Arab nationalist resistance in Palestine collapsed. The remaining Arab nationalists splintered into various militias and continued to attack Jewish settlements through 1939.

–  –  –

In 1936, Stanley Baldwin’s government appointed a Royal Commission of Inquiry under Earl Peel, former secretary of India, to investigate the causes of the Arab Report by His Britannic Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration on the Administration of Palestine and Transjordan for the Year 1937 ( London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office,1938), p. 21. Ahmed Hilmi Pasha, Dr. Hussein Khalidi, Faud Effendi Saba, Hajj Rashid Effendi Ibrahim, and Yacoub Effendi Ghoussein were arrested and deported to the Seychelles Islands in October of 1937; Jamal Effendi alHusseini fled to Syria.

A.W. Kayyali, Palestine: A Modern History (London: Croom Helm; 1978 ), p. 223.

revolt in Palestine and to recommend changes in policy. Against the backdrop of intermittent Arab violence and Jewish reprisal, the Peel Commission delivered its recommendations for Palestine in 1937. The Peel Commission attributed to the revolt to

two primary and six subsidiary causes:

The underlying causes of the disturbances of 1936 were-The desire of the Arabs for national independence;

(2) their hatred and fear of the establishment of the Jewish National Home.

These two causes were the same as those of all the previous outbreaks and have always been inextricably linked together. Of several subsidiary factors, the more important were-the advance of Arab nationalism outside Palestine;

(2) the increased immigration of Jews since 1933;

(3) the opportunity enjoyed by the Jews for influencing public opinion in Britain;

(4) Arab distrust in the sincerity of the British Government;

(5) Arab alarm at the continued Jewish purchase of land;

(6) the general uncertainty as to the ultimate intentions of the Mandatory Power. 151

About the state of the Jewish project, the Commission stated:

The Jewish National Home is no longer an experiment. The growth of its population has been accompanied by political, social and economic developments along the lines laid down at the outset. The chief novelty is the urban and industrial development. The contrast between the modern democratic and primarily European character of the National Home and that of the Arab world around it is striking. The temper of the Home is strongly nationalist. There can be no question of fusion or assimilation between Jewish and Arab cultures. The National Home cannot be halfnational. Crown Colony government is not suitable for such a highly educated, democratic community as the National Home and fosters an unhealthy irresponsibility. 152 The Peel Commission noted the disparity between Jewish and Arab infrastructure. By 1937 the Zionists had established Hebrew University and had begun construction on the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. Economically, Jewish businesses flourished in Report of the Royal Palestine Commission 1937[ Peel Commission Report], Ch. 4, http://domino.un.org/unispal.nsf/0/08e38a718201458b052565700072b358?OpenDocument Peel Commission Report, Ch. 5.





Tel Aviv and Haifa. In short, the Jewish community was completely self-sufficient. Arab communities, on the other hand, had not prospered, in part because of the selling of land to the Zionists, which financially benefited only the landowners. The Arabs were also heavily dependent on Jewish medical services.

The Peel Commission acknowledged that the problem in Palestine was the strength of both Jewish and Arab nationalism. Anti-Semitism in Europe was encouraging Jewish immigration into Palestine, which the Palestinian Jews felt obligated to absorb.

The Commission placed some blame on Arab landowners for the expansion of Jewishowned land. Despite edicts from the Grand Mufti not to sell their land, they did anyway.

The report also stated that the Arabs themselves had benefited from the Jewish social services such as hospitals and universities.

The Peel Commission asserted that the Arabs and the Jews in Palestine could not

be reconciled. The report therefore recommended the partition of Palestine:

The natural principle for the Partition of Palestine is to separate land and settled from the areas in which the Jews have acquired land and settled from those which are who are wholly or mainly occupied by Arabs. This offers a fair and practicable basis for Partition, provided that in accordance with the spirit of British obligations, (1) a reasonable allowance is made within the boundaries of the Jewish State for the growth of population and colonization, and (2) reasonable compensation is given to the Arab State for the loss of land and revenue. 153 The Commission went on to recommend the exchange of populations between the Jewish territory and the Arab territory: “If Partition is to be effective in promoting a final settlement it must mean more than drawing a frontier and establishing two States. Sooner or later there should be a transfer of land and, as far as possible, an exchange of The Peel Commission Report, Ch. 22 section 3.

population.” 154 The Commission envisioned a population exchange of approximately 225,000 Arabs and 1,250 Jews.

Map 4 shows the proposed partition:

Map 4: Peel Commission Plan for Partition of Palestine (1937). 155 The Commission asserted that partition would benefit the Arabs because it would grant them their independence, free them from the fear of Jewish domination, guarantee the protection of the Muslim holy places, and prevent their own impoverishment. The benefit The Peel Commission Report, Ch. 22, section 10.

Map courtesy of http://www.passia.org/palestine_facts/MAPS/Royal_Commission_plan_for_the_partition_of_Palestine_19

37.htm for the Jews was that partition established a Jewish state free from Arab domination in which Jews constituted the majority, and with no restrictions on immigration.

The Peel Commission report admitted that the Mandatory government had failed in its original aim, to establish a bi-national state in Palestine, because of the competing national interests of the Jews and the Arabs. The British government under Neville Chamberlain accepted the Peel Commission’s recommendations. All that was left was to salvage the Mandate by creating two states that would exist on good terms with the British Government, ensuring the protection of the Suez Canal and the Iraqi pipeline.

This plan also failed. The Supreme Muslim Council rejected the plan immediately. There would be no concession to the Jews. Palestine was Arab land and the Jews were colonizers who were unwelcome. The Zionist response was divided at first, as the Commission’s plan brought the World Zionist Organization closer than ever before to obtaining a Jewish State. Both Weizmann and Ben-Gurion were willing to accept the partition in principle; more Jews were fleeing central and eastern Europe. In the end, however, both the mainstream and revisionist Zionists rejected the partition plan because the territory allotted to it, containing Haifa, Tel Aviv, and the surrounding coastal plain, was too small.

The Arab revolt puttered to a conclusion in 1939. The Chamberlain Government was burdened with a Mandate in which the two largest ethnic groups who were increasingly at each other’s throat. Chamberlain charged Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald with redefining British policy in Palestine. All the while, Jewish immigrants continued to pour in from Europe and war with Germany loomed on the horizon. With the current state of hostilities in Palestine firmly in the mind, the British government issued the MacDonald White Paper of 1939 and made a bad situation worse.

The MacDonald White Paper stated that in the view of the British Government, the obligation of creating a national Jewish homeland in Palestine had been met. By 1939, 306,049 Jews had immigrated into Palestine. The total Jewish population was estimated to be 450,000 or roughly a third of the total population of Palestine. The White

Paper read:

The objective of His Majesty's Government is the establishment within ten years of an independent Palestine State in such treaty relations with the United Kingdom as will provide satisfactorily for the commercial and strategic requirements of both countries in the future. The proposal for the establishment of the independent State would involve consultation with the Council of the League of Nations with a view to the termination of the Mandate. The independent State should be one in which Arabs and Jews share government in such a way as to ensure that the essential interests of each community are safeguarded. 156 Neville Chamberlain’s government was prepared to recognize the independence of Palestine by 1947. Whereas the Peel Commission had recommended partition, the MacDonald White Paper returned to the original British policy of creating a single binational state in Palestine. The new Palestinian state would be ruled by a coalition government made up of both Jews and Arabs.

In regards to immigration, the White Paper of 1939 endorsed the polar opposite of the Peel Commission’s recommendation for unrestricted Jewish immigration into the

Jewish part of Palestine. The White Paper stated that:

Jewish immigration during the next five years will be at a rate which, if economic absorptive capacity permits, will bring the Jewish population up to approximately one third of the total population of the country. Taking into account the expected natural increase of the Arab and Jewish The White Paper of 1939, Section 1, paragraph 9, http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/mideast/brwh1939.htm populations, and the number of illegal Jewish immigrants now in the country, this would allow of the admission, as from the beginning of April this year, of some 75,000 immigrants over the next five years. 157 The White Paper allowed for an extra 25,000 Jews to immigrate because of the refugee problem caused by rapidly expanded Nazi influence in Europe. The section on immigration concluded with the statement “After the period of five years, no further Jewish immigration will be permitted unless the Arabs of Palestine are prepared to acquiesce in it.” 158 The Supreme Muslim Council rejected the White Paper. They argued that regardless of the Arab numerical majority, the Jewish population, represented by the Jewish Agency, could stall all aspects of legislation by refusing to participate in the government. Moreover, the existence of the Haganah and Irgun ensured that any legislation passed by an Arab-dominated government passed could not be enforced. The Arabs demanded an immediate cessation of all Jewish immigration and the renunciation of a Jewish national home policy by the British Government in London.

The Jewish Agency also flatly rejected the White Paper of 1939. In the aftermath of the riots of 1936, the Irgun had begun to attack Arab villages. In the wake of the White Paper, the Irgun no longer restrained from attacking the British. Now, the British policy in regards to immigration poisoned Jewish perceptions of British government. The pressure of the Nazi persecution of Jews in Europe added to the resentment the Zionists held towards the British government. No longer did the Jews feel that the British supported their aims or cared about their fate. Only the outbreak of the Second World War diverted Jewish animosity from the British government.

Ibid, Section 2, paragraph 6.

The White Paper of 1939. Section 2, paragraph 7.

–  –  –



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