«TOWARDS NAKBA: THE FAILURE OF THE BRITISH MANDATE OF PALESTINE, 1922-1939 A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State ...»
Many Jews from both the Haganah and the Igun fought for the British Army in North Africa. The Arab community was divided on whom to support. Many Arabs joined the British army but a significant portion, including the exiled Grand Mufti Hajj Amin, supported Nazi Germany. By 1943, the Axis army in North Africa had surrendered.
By 1942, David Ben-Gurion had completed his rise to power. Ben-Gurion was determined to establish Palestine itself as the center of global Zionism with himself as its leader. Ben-Gurion felt that Weizmann was too dependant on British policymakers and diplomacy for achieving Zionist goals. He challenged Weizmann’s authority by claiming that any policies that he advocated had to be approved by Ben-Gurion. Weizmann resented Ben-Gurion’s overt assertion of power but there was little he could do; BenGurion controlled Hisadrut and the Hagannah. With the internal Zionist discourse moving towards the declaration of a Jewish state and Jabotinsky dead in 1940, Weizmann was the only obstacle left in Ben-Gurion’s way. In Ben-Gurion’s perception, Weizmann could not be allowed to negotiate the terms for the Jewish state because he would concede too much to the British and Arabs.
In 1944, the mainstream Zionist Haganah and the Revisionist Irgun began to fight each other. Following the assassination of Lord Walter Edward Guinness in Egypt, the leadership of the Haganah decided to clamp down on Irgun activities in Palestine. Nearly 1,000 Irgun members were arrested and deported by the British authorities to Cyprus.
The mainstream-dominated Jewish Agency seized the opportunity to have Revisionists not affiliated with the Irgun arrested and deported. Despite the serious harm caused to the Irgun by the Haganah, the Irgun was not destroyed; later, it took its revenge on the British. The Irgun, however, never retaliated against the Haganah or the mainstream Zionist leaders.
During the war, the British did not allow any Jews fleeing Europe to immigrate into Palestine. The Mandate government continued to adhere to the policy set forth with the MacDonald White Paper of 1939. By 1945, the Irgun and the Haganah had set aside their differences to resist British rule in Palestine. The same year the Haganah seized Camp Atlit on the Palestinian coast, where the British held Holocaust survivors who attempted to illegally enter Palestine. In 1946, members of Lehi, the terrorist wing of Irgun, bombed the center of the Mandate government at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. It was the first major attack by the Zionists against the British government.
Seeing that they could no longer control the Zionists in Palestine, Clement Attlee’s Labour government decided to abandon the Mandate.
The Palestinian nationalists were never able to recover from the exile of Hajj Amin and the original members of the Arab Higher Committee. Jamal al-Husseini, from the same prestigious family as Hajj Amin, reconstituted the Committee in 1946 but it never garnered massive support. Arab armed resistance against the Zionists continued to be unorganized. The most decisive, and telling, clash between the Zionists and the Palestinian Arabs came in 1948 in the city of Jaffa, home to over 55,000 Arabs. The Irgun and elements of the Haganah engaged the Arab militias. The Arabs were crushed and the city was incorporated into Tel Aviv; most of the Arabs fled to the Gaza Strip, under Egyptian rule at the time.
The British mandate officially ended on May 14, 1948 with the establishment of the state of Israel. For the Zionists it was the achievement of Theordor Herzl’s dream.
Chaim Weizmann served as the nation’s first president with his associate David BenGurion as the Prime Minister. For the Arabs the declaration of the state of Israel was Nakba, the Arabic word for catastrophe. The Palestinian nationalist movement had failed to stop the Zionists from establishing a Jewish state. In 1967, the Zionists achieved Hajj Amin’s nightmare and claimed Jerusalem.
The current Israeli-Palestinian conflict has its roots in the British mandate period of 1922-1939, but particularly in the conflicts between the Zionists and Arab nationalists during the turbulent years between the 1929 riots and the 1936 Arab revolt. The fracture between the mainstream and Revisionist Zionists created the Haganah and the Irgun that later constituted the Zionist war machine that crushed the combined forces of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. The removal of Hajj Amin and his associates gutted the Arab nationalist movement. In retrospect, the decisive advantage that the Zionists had over the Arab nationalists was stratification: as the case of Jabotinsky demonstrates, removing the leader did not stop the movement. In contrast, the Arab nationalists had a central authority based on traditional family hierarchy and prestige. During the mandate period, Hajj Amin was the center of Palestinian Arab nationalism; without him, it did not hold together.
What of the British experience in Palestine? It would be easy to say that British were the evil imperialists who completely destroyed the Middle East. This assertion would be false. British policy in Palestine was part of a wider collective of interests in the Middle East and beyond. No decision made by any Prime Minster, Colonial Secretary, or High Commissioner was simple; there was always another territory or commitment to factor in. The British governments from Asquith through Attlee and the colonial offices from Winston Churchill through Arthur Creech Jones did not understand who the Zionists and Arabs were. Because of this lack of understanding, the mandate failed.
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Nicholas Ensley Mitchell was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the youngest son of Herman and Florence Mitchell. He received his Baccalaureate degree from Louisiana