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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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Theodore Herzl was an assimilated Jewish nationalist while Achad Ha’am was a pan-Jewish thinker. Together they formed the two pillars on which the early Zionist Herzl, April 24, 1903.

Achad Ha’am, “The Jewish State and Jewish Problem,” 1897.

discourse rested. Theodor Herzl died in 1904 never having set foot in the Jewish state he pictured in his mind. Ha’am died in 1927 in Tel Aviv. Ha’am lived long enough to see the beginning of Herzl’s “Judenstaat” and the synthesis of both of their ideas by the succeeding generation of Zionists in the Mandate of Palestine. Herzl’s idea of the Jewish State became the goal of the Zionism project while Ha’am’s cultural Zionism provided the paradigm of Jewish self-actualization.

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The coming of the First World War saw the rise of the next two dominant Zionist thinkers: Chaim Azriel Weizmann and Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Zionism itself moved from the ghettos and meeting halls of central and Eastern Europe into the corridors of power in the British Empire. Zionism changed, intellectually, from being a fringe political ideology to being a major nationalist movement. From World War One on, Zionists focused their settlement efforts on the only land, in their perception, that appealed to the Jewish people, “Aretz Yisrael,” or Palestine.

Within the historiography on the British Mandate of Palestine, Chaim Weizmann is unanimously considered to be the person directly responsible for the establishment of the national Jewish home specifically in Palestine. Weizmann was one of Theodore Herzl’s earliest followers, yet was also a friend of Achad Ha’am. In many ways in twentieth-century Zionism, Weizmann embodied the merging of Herzl and Ha’am’s ideas. Weizmann’s Zionism was a centrist ideology, borrowing from both Herzl and Ha’am and from both the left and the right. He advocated a grassroots Zionism within the small communities in Europe. He also argued that if the Zionist project were to work, it would have to be backed by a major European power. To Weizmann, this power was the British Empire.

Weizmann, an Ashkenazi from modern-day Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire, received a doctorate in chemistry in 1899 from the University of Freibourg in Switzerland and became a British citizen in 1910. During the First World War, Weizmann was in charge of the British naval laboratories. He invented the process of industrial fermentation which provided the British with a cheap source of gun powder for its naval vessels. From his position he began to make contacts in the upper echelons of the British government, including Lord Arthur Balfour and David Lloyd George, and advocated the Zionist cause.

Weizmann was firmly committed to the idea of Eretz Israel, Hebrew for the land of Israel, and re-establishing a Jewish presence there. In a letter to Lord Maurice Hankey, then secretary of the British War Council, Weizmann emphasized the re-establishment of a Jewish presence versus the establishment of a Jewish presence. He wrote, “Instead of ‘establishment’, would it not be more desirable to use the word ‘re-establishment’? By this small alteration the historical connection with the ancient tradition would be indicated and the whole matter put in its true light.” 95 The “true light” Weizmann is referring to is legitimacy. He did not wish for the Jewish presence in Palestine to be seen simply as another incursion of Europeans into a land in which they did not belong.

Weizmann wanted the Jewish settlements in Palestine to be perceived as the repatriation of the Jewish people to their homeland.

Chaim Weizmann, The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann Series A, Volume 7 (Jerusalem: Israel University Press, 1984), p. 534.

Weizmann was aware of the potential threat the establishment of a Jewish national home posed to Jews living abroad. It could, potentially, threaten the legal status of Jews in Europe. He did not want Palestine to become the destination for forced Jewish

immigration. In the same letter to Secretary Hankey, Weizmann wrote:

The last lines of the declaration could easily be interpreted by ill-wishers as implying the idea that, with the re-establishment of the Jewish national home, only those Jews will have a right to claim full citizenship in the country of their birth who in addition to being loyal and law-abiding citizens would also totally disassociate themselves from the Jewish national home, showing no interest in, or sympathy with, its successful development. This unnatural demand is surely not in the mind of H.M Government, and in order to avoid any misunderstanding I respectfully suggest that the part of the declaration in question be replaced by the words: ‘The rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in other countries of which they are loyal citizens. 96 Weizmann also differentiated between the concept of the Jewish nation and a Jewish race. He defined the Jewish nation as comprising various ethnic groups separated by language and historical experiences but unified by common ancestry and religion. He did not believe in the concept of the Jewish race, which implied a biological qualifier. In the last suggestion to Secretary Hankey, Weizmann writes “May I also suggest ‘Jewish people’ instead of ‘Jewish race’.” While Weizmann was seen by most British policy makers as the leader of the Zionist movement, many Zionists themselves pledged their allegiance not to Weizmann but to his rival Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky. The historiography put forward Shepherd, Wasserstein, and Kayyali relegate Jabotinsky’s influence to a peripheral concern in the great framework of Zionism while Joseph fails to mention him at all. 97 The facts of Jabotinsky’s accomplishments in creating the Revisionist Movement and in fathering the Ibid See: Shepherd Ploughing Sand, Wasserstein pp 43, 44, 46, 49, 63-4, 76, 91-2, 137, 227; Kayyali p. 77 Irgun, which is examined later, do not support this assertion. Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s impact on Zionism, and on the state of Israel, resonates to this day. 98 Jabotinsky was born in Odessa in modern-day Ukraine. He was a journalist by trade and spoke fluent English, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Russian. One of the major events that helped shape Jabotinsky into an influential Zionist was the Kishinev Pogrom of

1903. The Pogrom was the first government-sanctioned action against the Jews in the twentieth century. Following the discovery of a dead Russian child in a Jewish neighborhood in the town north of Kishinev called Dubarsari, anti-Semitic news papers accused the Jews of killing the child. Once the violence started, the Russian police stood by as mobs murdered Jews in the streets of Kishinev. The pogrom lasted three days. The pogrom both convinced Jabotinsky to join the Zionist movement and fostered within him a sense of militancy. He challenged the Jewish people in a fiery speech entitled “Instead of excessive apology.” He wrote, We constantly and very loudly apologize... Instead of turning our backs to the accusers, as there is nothing to apologize for, and nobody to apologize to, we swear again and again that it is not our fault. Isn't it long overdue to respond to all these and all future accusations, reproaches, suspicions, slanders and denunciations by simply folding our arms and loudly, clearly, coldly and calmly answer with the only argument that is understandable and accessible to this public: 'Go to Hell!'?... We do not have to account to anybody, we are not to sit for anybody's examination and nobody is old enough to call on us to answer. We came before them and will leave after them. We are what we are, we are good for ourselves, we will not change and we do not want to. 99 Jabotinsky felt that the Jewish people were beyond the scrutiny and reproach of non-Jews and he reviled Jewish submission as a survival tactic. He asserted that Jews, because of See Schetchtman, Vol. 2, pp. 405-577.

Ze’ev Jabotinsky, “Instead of excessive apology,” 1911; http://www.csuohio.edu/tagar/boris.htm their long history and contributions to European culture, had the right to be proud. Jews had no reason to deny their heritage.

In 1914, Ze’ev Jabotinsky put forth the idea, which was backed by Chaim Weizmann, of the creation of a Jewish volunteer corps to serve with the British military in the Ottoman theater of the First World War. By 1915, 500 Jews had joined. In 1917, the Jewish Legion was officially designated the 38th and 39th divisions of the Royal Fusiliers; it comprised Ashkenazim from the United States, Britain, Russia, and Canada.

The division served in the Jordan Valley and notably participated in the Battle of Megiddo in 1918.

The legacy of the Jewish Legion was profound. Jewish participation in the British military campaigns in the Jordan Valley tightened the relationship between the World Zionist Congress and the British government. The Jewish Legion also enhanced Jabotinsky’s personal credibility. Many Jews, especially in Eastern Europe, were drawn to Zionism because Jabotinsky was lauded as a man of both words and actions. Finally, the Jewish Legion introduced militancy into the Zionist movement. Trained Jewish soldiers formed the first armed defense of Jewish settlements in Palestine. Zionists increasingly concluded that they had the right, responsibility, and ability to defend themselves and the Jewish communities from attack.

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The British government recognized the growing strength of the global Zionist movement and as we saw in Chapter 1 endorsed the settlement of Jews in Palestine to undermine the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman war effort. The British government turned to Chaim Weizmann and his friend Lord Walter Rothschild to assist them in drafting the policies that would provide the legal framework for Jewish

immigration. Weizmann wrote in a letter to Lord Balfour:

We have submitted the text of the Declaration on behalf of an Organization which claims to represent the national will of a great and ancient, although scattered people. We have submitted it after three years negotiations and conversations with prominent representatives of the British Government and of the British Nation. We have, with the knowledge and approval of the Government, carried out an extensive propaganda for a Jewish Palestine. We, therefore, humbly pray that this declaration may be granted to us. This would enable us still further to counteract the demoralizing influence with the enemy press is endeavoring to exercise by holding out vague promises to the Jews and finally make the necessary preparations for the constructive work which would have to begin as soon as Palestine is liberated. 100 The Balfour Declaration, the product of Zionist and British negotiation, was issued on November 2, 1917, and actually addressed one of Weizmann’s confidants Lord


Dear Lord Rothschild, I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist

aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet:

"His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

Yours sincerely, Arthur James Balfour 101 With this declaration, the British Government made public its endorsement of the idea of Jewish settlement in Palestine.

Weizmann, Letters, Series A, Volume 7, p. 522.

Complete Text of The Balfour Declaration, November 2, 1917;


The news of the British endorsement of a Jewish settlement in Palestine elated members of the Zionist movement. In a letter to his Egyptian colleague Alexander Aaronsohn Weizmann wrote, “We are doing our utmost to secure a Jewish Palestine under British auspices. Your heroic sufferings are the greatest incentive in our difficult work. Our hopes are great. Chazak We’ematz (Hebrew: Be strong and of good courage) until Eretz Israel is liberated.” 102 Weizmann viewed his and global Zionism’s efforts to settle in Palestine as a form of both national and regional liberation. From a Zionist perspective, under Ottoman ruled Palestine had declined from a center of Semitic culture and religious life into a rustic, derelict backwater. Jewish settlement, according to Weizmann, would elevate Palestine culturally and economically. The Zionists argued that they would build western-style universities and hospitals and establish large scale industry in Palestine that would raise the Arab population from poverty and rescue the inhabitants from illiteracy.

Britain’s Mandate of Palestine officially began in 1920, although the League of Nations did not formally recognize the British Mandate governing over Palestine and Transjordan under class A status until 1922. The first step in the Zionist program had been achieved: international sanction of Jewish settlement of Palestine. In July 1922, the Lloyd George Government issued a White Paper, which stated British policy in the new Mandate of Palestine. Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, sent a

telegraph to the administering government of Palestine:

His Majesty’s Government to affirm Declaration of November 1917, which is not susceptible of change. A national Jewish Home will be founded in Palestine. The Jewish people will be in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance.

–  –  –

Churchill thus explicitly affirmed the wartime promises of both the Balfour Declaration. But as the next section of his telegram makes clear, he recognized

that the British could not negotiate with the Zionists alone:

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