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British Mandate of Palestine

The Palestine Mandate, was a set of protocols or articles that formed a multilateral legal and administrative agreement. They were part of the Laws of Nations, and thus were not a mere geographical territory or area. The territorial jurisdiction of the mandate was subject to change by treaty, capitulation, grant, usage, sufferance or other lawful means.

The mandate is sometimes referred to as the The Mandate for Palestine, the British Mandate for Palestine, or the British Mandate of Palestine, etc. It was a League of Nations Mandate that had been created by the Principle Allied and Associated Powers after the First World War. The Ottoman Empire was split up by the Treaty of Sèvres. That treaty never officially entered into force. The terms of the original settlements were significantly remodeled by the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne, after the Chanak Crisis. The provisions regarding Palestine remained unchanged, but many of the other provisions regarding Wilsonian Armenia and the proposed autonomous region of Kurdistan were eliminated.

The purported objective of the League of Nations Mandate system was to administer parts of the recently defunct Ottoman Empire, which had been in control of the Middle East since the 16th century, "until such time as they are able to stand alone. The terms of the Sykes-Picot Agreement involved such things as ports, tariffs, and trade. In the case of Syria and Palestine, the mandatory power actually used armed force to overthrow the indigenous government.

Early History

Ancient to modern history

This territory was inhabited by the Canaanites, then the Israelites, and then it became part of the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman Empires with periods of independence or autonomy for the Jews. When the Roman Empire split, the region was ruled by the Eastern Roman Empire, also called the Byzantine Empire. After that, it was a specific region demarcated by its people, and it was ruled by the Sassanians, Omayyads, Crusaders and Mamelukes, and then by the Ottoman Empire from 1517 to 1922.

The Ottomans gained control of the Middle East under Selim I (1465–1520), and incorporated the region into an administrative unit, the eyalet of Syria. The name "Palestine" disappeared as the official name of an administrative unit, and much of the region became part of the vilayet (province) of Damascus-Syria until 1660. Then it became part of the vilayet of Saida (Sidon), briefly interrupted by the 7 March 1799–July 1799 French occupation of Jaffa, Haifa, and Caesarea. On 10 May 1832 it became one of the Turkish provinces which was annexed by Muhammad Ali. His was a briefly imperialistic Egyptian empire which was still nominally Ottoman. In November 1840 direct Ottoman rule was restored.

World War I

As Great Britain moved toward war, the need to secure the Suez Canal while safeguarding the people and territories of the empire became evident. The canal was a vital means of transport. The Turkish Caliph of Islam was expected to call for a military jihad. If left unchecked, the Moslem subjects of India and the Far East might join the war on the side of the Central Powers.

During World War I, the British waged the Sinai and Palestine Campaign under General Allenby. At the same time, the intelligence officer T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") was stirring up the Arab Revolt in the region. The British defeated Ottoman Turkish forces in 1917 and occupied Palestine and Syria. The land was under British military administration for the remainder of the war.

The British military administration ended starvation with the aid of food supplies from Egypt, successfully fought typhus and cholera epidemics and significantly improved the water supply to Jerusalem. They reduced corruption by paying the Arab and Jewish judges higher salaries. Communications were improved by new railway and telegraph lines.

In the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, Britain and France had proposed to divide the Middle East between them into spheres of influence, with "Palestine" as an international enclave.

After Sykes-Picot, the British had made two promises regarding the territory in the Middle East it was expecting to acquire. Britain had promised the local Arabs, through Lawrence, independence for a united Arab country covering most of the Arab Middle East, in exchange for their support of the British; and in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 had promised to create and foster a Jewish national home in Palestine. The British had, in the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, previously promised the Hashemite family lordship over most land in the region in return for their support.

In October 1919, British forces in Syria and the last British soldiers stationed east of the Jordan were withdrawn and the region came under exclusive control of Faisal bin Hussein from Damascus.

On 23 November 1918, a military edict was issued dividing Ottoman territories into occupied enemy territories (OET). The Middle East would be divided into three OETs, and OET-South extended from the Egyptian border of Sinai into Palestine and Lebanon as far north as Acre and Nablus and as far east as the River Jordan. A temporary British military governor (General Moony) would administer this sector. At that time General Allenby assured Amir Faisal "that the Allies were in honour bound to endeavour to reach a settlement in accordance with the wishes of the peoples concerned and urged him to place his trust whole-heartedly in their good faith.

Establishment of the Mandate

Partitioning of the Ottoman Empire

As early as 1915, France, Italy and Great Britain secretly began the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. In 1916 the British and the French reached an agreement on their spheres of influence in the Middle East after the downfall of the Ottoman Empire, the Sykes-Picot Agreement. In a meeting at Deauville in 1919, David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau revised it, with Palestine and the Vilayet of Mosul falling into the British sphere in exchange for British support of French influence in Syria and Lebanon. The open negotiations began at the Paris Peace Conference, continued at the Conference of London and took definite shape only after the San Remo conference in April 1920. There the Allied Supreme Council granted the mandates for Palestine and Mesopotamia to Britain, and those for Syria and Lebanon to France. In August 1920 this was officially acknowledged in the Treaty of Sèvres.

Practical and Legal Basis of the Mandate

United States Secretary of State Robert Lansing was a member of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace at Paris in 1919. He explained that the system of mandates was simply a device created by the Great Powers to conceal their division of the spoils of war, under the color of international law. If the territories had been ceded directly, the value of the former German and Ottoman territories would have been applied to offset the Allies claims for war reparations. He also explained that Jan Smuts had been the author of the original concept.

The US Senate refused to ratify the Covenant of the League of Nations, in part over a dispute regarding the legality of the mandates. Senator Lodge, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee had attached a reservation which read: 'No mandate shall be accepted by the United States under Article 22, Part 1, or any other provision of the treaty of peace with Germany, except by action of the Congress of the United States.' Senator Borah, speaking on behalf on the 'Irreconcilables' stated 'My reservations have not been answered.' He completely rejected the proposed system of Mandates as an illegitimate rule by brute force. Under the plan of the US Constitution, Article 1, the Congress was delegated the power to declare or define the Law of Nations in cases where its terms might be vague or indefinite. The US government subsequently entered into individual treaties to secure legal rights for its citizens, and to protect property rights and businesses interests in the mandates. In the case of the Palestine Mandate Convention, it subjected the terms of the League of Nations mandate to eight amendments. It did not agree to mutual defense, or pledge itself to maintain the territorial integrity of any mandates.

The Official Journal of the League of Nations, dated June 1922, contained an interview with Lord Balfour in which he explained that the League's authority was strictly limited. The article related that the 'Mandates were not the creation of the League, and they could not in substance be altered by the League. The League's duties were confined to seeing that the specific and detailed terms of the mandates were in accordance with the decisions taken by the Allied and Associated Powers, and that in carrying out these mandates the Mandatory Powers should be under the supervision--not under the control--of the League.'

Each of the Principle Allied Powers had a hand in drafting the proposed mandate - although some, including the United States, had not declared war on the Ottoman Empire and did not become members of the League of Nations.

The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement did not call for Arab sovereignty, but the French and British agreement did call for 'suzerainty of an Arab chief' and 'an international administration, the form of which is to be decided upon after consultation with Russia, and subsequently in consultation with the other allies, and the representatives of the Sherif of Mecca. Under the terms of that agreement, the Zionist Organization needed to secure an agreement along the lines of the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement with the Sherif of Mecca.

At the Peace Conference in 1919, Prince Faisal, speaking on behalf of King Hussein, did not ask for Arab independence. He recommended an Arab State under a British Mandate instead.

The Zionist Organization also asked for a British mandate, and asserted the 'historic title of the Jewish people to Palestine'.

A Confidential Appendix to the report of the King-Crane Commission observed that 'The Jews are distinctly for Britain as mandatory power, because of the Balfour declaration' and that the French 'resent the payment by the English to the Emir Feisal of a large monthly subsidy, which they claim covers a multitude of bribes, and enables the British to stand off and show clean hands while Arab agents do dirty work in their interest.' The Faisal-Weizmann Agreement called for British mediation of any disputes. It also called for the establishment of borders, after the Peace Conference, along the lines of a map the Zionist Organization had submitted at Versailles. The area east of the Hedjaz Railway, including most of Transjordan, was not included in the map of the territory that the Zionists had originally requested at Versailles.

The Zionist Organization's claim of title and their request for a strictly British mandate undermined the plans of the French and Italian delegations. They had aimed to establish their own control over Palestine under the justification of the pre-War Protectorate of the Holy See and the French Religious Protectorate of Jerusalem.

At the 1920 San Remo conference of the Allied Supreme Council, the Mandates were assigned. The precise boundaries of all territories, including that of the British Mandate of Palestine, were left unspecified, to "be determined by the Principal Allied Powers and were not completely finalized until four years later. During that time, His Majesty's government had power and jurisdiction within Palestine and the other Occupied Enemy Territories either by capitulation, grant, usage, sufferance or other lawful means recognized under the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907).

To many observers it seemed as though the boundary of Britain's Mandate for Palestine was to extend eastward to the western boundary of its mandate for Mesopotamia. However, the area east of a line from Damascus, Homs, Hamma, and Alleppo - including most of Transjordan - had been pledged in 1915 as part of an undertaking between Great Britain and the Sharif Hussein of Mecca. The area east of the Jordan river 'was included in the areas as to which Great Britain pledged itself that they should be Arab and independent in the future'. At the 1919 Peace Conference the Zionist Organization's claims did not include any territory east of the Hedjaz Railway. The Faisal-Weizmann Agreement provided that the boundaries between the Arab State and Palestine should be determined by a Commission after the Paris Peace Conference.

The proposed Arab State and Jewish National Home called for separate boundaries and administrative regimes in the sub-districts of historical Cisjordan (Western Palestine) and Transjordan (Eastern Palestine). The Palestine Order in Council provided that:

'The High Commissioner may, with the approval of a Secretary of State, by Proclamation divide Palestine into administrative divisions or districts in such manner and with such subdivisions as may be convenient for purposes of administration describing the boundaries thereof and assigning names thereto.'


The land east of the Jordan, the future Transjordan, had been part of the Syrian administrative unit under the Ottomans. It was part of the captured territory placed under the United Kingdom's Occupied Enemy Territory Administration (OETA). At the San Remo conference it was assigned to the British, on the grounds that it had been part of historical Palestine.

At the Battle of Maysalun on 23 July 1920 the French removed the newly-proclaimed nationalist government of Hashim al-Atassi and expelled King Faisal from Syria. British Foreign Secretary Earl Curzon wrote to the High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel, in August 1920, stating, "I suggest that you should let it be known forthwith that in the area south of the Sykes-Picot line, we will not admit French authority and that our policy for this area to be independent but in closest relations with Palestine. Samuel replied to Curzon, "After the fall of Damascus a fortnight ago...Sheiks and tribes east of Jordan utterly dissatisfied with Shareefian Government most unlikely would accept revival and subsequently announced that Transjordan was under British Mandate. Without authority from London, Samuel then visited Transjordan and at a meeting with 600 leaders in Salt announced the independence of the area from Damascus and its absorption into the mandate, quadrupling the area under his control by tacit capitulation. Samuel assured his audience that Transjordan would not be merged with Palestine. The foreign secretary, Lord Curzon, repudiated Samuel's action.

The Cairo Conference was convened by Winston Churchill, then Britain's Colonial Secretary, to resolve the problem. With the mandates of Palestine and Iraq awarded to Britain, Churchill wished to consult with Middle East experts. At his request, Gertrude Bell, Sir Percy Cox, T. E. Lawrence, Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, Sir Arnold T. Wilson, Iraqi minister of war Jaʿfar alAskari, Iraqi minister of finance Sasun Effendi (Sasson Heskayl), and others gathered in Cairo, Egypt, in March 1921. The outstanding question was the policy to be adopted in Transjordan to prevent anti-French military actions from being launched within the allied British zone of influence. The Hashemites were Associated Powers during the war, and a peaceful solution was urgently needed.

The two most significant decisions of the conference were to offer the throne of Iraq to Emir Faisal ibn Hussein (who became Faisal I of Iraq) and an emirate of Transjordan (now Jordan) to his brother Abdullah ibn Hussein (who became Abdullah I of Jordan. Transjordan was to be constituted as an Arab province of Palestine. The conference provided the political blueprint for British administration in both Iraq and Transjordan, and in offering these two regions to the sons of Sharif Husssein ibn Ali of the Hedjaz, Churchill believed that the spirit, if not the letter, of Britain's wartime promises to the Arabs might be fulfilled.

After further discussions between Churchill and Abdullah in Jerusalem, it was mutually agreed that Transjordan was accepted into the mandatory area with the proviso that it would be, initially for six months, under the nominal rule of the Emir Abdullah and would not form part of the Jewish national home to be established west of the River Jordan.

That agreement was formalized before the mandate officially went into effect. In September 1922, the British government presented a memorandum to the League of Nations stating that Transjordan would be excluded from all the provisions dealing with Jewish settlement, and this memorandum was approved on 23 September. A clause was added to the charter governing the Mandate for Palestine which allowed Great Britain to postpone or permanently withhold all of the provisions which related to the 'Jewish National Home' on lands which lay to the east of the Jordan River.

From that point onwards, Britain administered the part west of the Jordan, 23% of the entire territory, as "Palestine", and the part east of the Jordan, 77% of the entire territory, as "Transjordan." Technically they remained one mandate but most official documents referred to them as if they were two separate mandates. Transfer of authority to an Arab government took place gradually in Transjordan, starting with the recognition of a local administration in 1923 and transfer of most administrative functions in 1928. Britain retained mandatory authority over the region until it became fully independent as the Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan in 1946.


The precise geographical boundaries of the Mandate have historically been disputed, with conflicting and shifting British promises to Jewish and Arab interests made in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, and the Churchill White Paper of 1922. The San Remo conference did not precisely define the boundaries of the mandated territories. The boundary between the British and French mandates was defined in broad terms by the Franco-British Boundary Agreement of December 1920 . That agreement placed the bulk of the Golan Heights in the French sphere. The treaty also established a joint commission to settle the precise border and mark it on the ground. The commission submitted its final report on 3 February 1922, and it was approved with some caveats by the British and French governments on 7 March 1923, several months before Britain and France assumed their Mandatory responsibilities on 29 September 1923. Under the treaty, Syrian and Lebanese fishing and water rights on Lakes Huleh, Tiberias, and the Jordan River were to be the same as those exercised by the citizens of the Palestine Mandate. In accordance with the same process, a nearby parcel of land that included the ancient site of Dan was transferred from Syria to Palestine early in 1924. The Golan Heights thus became part of the French Mandate of Syria. American President Woodrow Wilson protested British concessions in a cable to the British Cabinet. When the French Mandate of Syria ended in 1944, the Golan Heights became part of the newly independent state of Syria.

Drafting The Mandate

The British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, together with the Italian and French governments rejected early drafts of the mandate because it had contained a passage which read:
'Recognizing, moreover, the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and the claim which this gives them to reconstitute it their national home...'
The Palestine Committee set up by the Foreign Office recommended that the reference to 'the claim' be omitted. The Allies had already noted the historical connection in the Treaty of Sèvres, but they had recognized no legal claim. They felt that whatever might be done for the Jewish people was based entirely on sentimental grounds. Further, they felt that all that was necessary was to make room for Zionists in Palestine, not that they should turn 'it', that is the whole country, into their home.

Lord Balfour suggested an alternative which was accepted:

'Whereas recognition has thereby [i.e. by the Treaty of Sèvres] been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine, and to the [sentimental] grounds for reconstituting their National Home in that country ...'

The Vatican, the Italian, and the French governments continued to press their own legal claims on the basis of the former Protectorate of the Holy See and the French Protectorate of Jerusalem. The idea of an International Commission to resolve claims on the Holy Places had been formalized in Article 95 of the Treaty of Sèvres, and taken up again in article 14 of the Palestinian Mandate. Negotiations concerning the formation and the role of the commission were partly responsible for the delay in ratifying the mandate. Great Britain assumed responsibility for the Holy Places under Article 13 of the mandate. However, it never created the Commission on Holy Places to resolve the other claims in accordance with Article 14 of the mandate.

League of Nations ratification

The San Remo Resolution adopted on 25 April 1920 incorporated the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. It was the basic document upon which the Mandate for Palestine was constructed. In June 1922, the League of Nations approved the Palestine Mandate, to come into effect when a dispute between France and Italy over the Syria Mandate was settled. That occurred in September 1923.

The Palestine Mandate was an explicit document regarding Britain's responsibilities and powers of administration in Palestine. It included the Balfour Declaration:

Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might 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
Many articles of the document specified actions in support of Jewish immigration and political status. Although Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which referred to the rights of the indigenous population, was mentioned in the preamble, the document further ignored the political rights of the Arabs.

Interwar period


Following its occupation by British troops in 1917–1918, Palestine had been controlled by the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration of the United Kingdom Government. Anticipating the establishment of the Mandate, in July 1920, the military administration was replaced by a civilian one, headed by a High Commissioner. The first High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel arrived in Palestine on 20 June 1920, and complied with a demand from the head of the military administration, General Sir Louis Bols, that he sign a receipt for ‘one Palestine, complete’: Samuel famously added the common commercial escape clause, ‘E&OE’ (errors and omissions excepted).

In October 1923, Britain provided the League with two reports on the administration of Palestine and Iraq for the period 1920–1922. The Secretary General's statement accepting the reports says: "The mandate for Palestine only came into force on 29 September 1923. The two reports cover periods previous to the application of the mandates.

The Arab political status in the Mandate

The Arab leadership repeatedly pressed the British to grant them national and political rights, such as representative government, over Jewish national and political rights in the remaining 23% of the Mandate of Palestine which the British had set aside for a Jewish homeland. The Arabs reminded the British of president Wilson's Fourteen Points, the Covenant of the League of Nations, and British promises during World War I.

The British however made acceptance of the terms of the Mandate a precondition for any change in the constitutional position of the Arabs. A Legislative Council was proposed in The Palestine Order in Council, of 1922 which implemented the terms of the mandate. It stated that:

No Ordinance shall be passed which shall be in any way repugnant to or inconsistent with the provisions of the Mandate.
For the Arabs this was unacceptable, as they felt that this would be "self murder". During the whole interwar period the British, appealing to the terms of the Mandate, which they had designed themselves, rejected the principle of majority rule or any other measure that would give an Arab majority control over the government of Palestine.

The Yishuv

During the Mandate the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine, grew from one-sixth to almost one-third of the population.


According to official records, 367,845 Jews and 33,304 non-Jews immigrated legally between 1920 and 1945. It was estimated that another 50–60,000 Jews and a small number of non-Jews immigrated illegally during this period. Immigration accounts for most of the increase of Jewish population, while the non-Jewish population increase was largely natural. These figures have been supported by later studies, though estimates of Arab immigration have been disputed.

Initially, Jewish immigration to Palestine met little opposition from the Palestinian Arabs. However, as anti-Semitism grew in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jewish immigration (mostly from Europe) to Palestine began to increase markedly, creating much Arab resentment.

The British government placed limitations on Jewish immigration to Palestine. These quotas were controversial, particularly in the latter years of British rule, and both Arabs and Jews disliked the policy, each side for its own reasons. In response to numerous Arab attacks on Jewish communities, the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization, was formed on 15 June 1920 to defend Jewish residents. Tensions led to widespread violent disturbances on several occasions, notably in 1921, 1929 (primarily violent attacks by Arabs on Jews — see 1929 Hebron massacre) and 1936–1939. Beginning in 1936, several Jewish groups such as Etzel (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Gang) conducted their own campaigns of violence against British military and Arab targets. This prompted the British government to label them both as terrorist organizations.

Infrastructure and development

Rashid Khalidi made a comparison between the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine, and the Palestinain Arabs on the one hand, and between the Palestinian Arabs and other Arabs on the other hand. Between 1922 and 1947 the annual growth rate of the Jewish sector of the economy was 13.2 %, mainly due to immigration and foreign capital, while that of the Arab was 6.5 %. Per capita these figures were 4.8 % and 3.6 % respectively. By 1936 the Jewish sector had eclipsed the Arab one, and Jewish individuals earned 2.6 times as much as Arabs. Compared to other Arab countries the Palestinian Arab individuals earned slightly better. In terms of human capital there was a huge difference. For instance the literacy rates in 1932 were 86 % for the Jews against 22 % for the Palestinian Arabs, but Arab literacy was steadily increasing. In this respect the Palestinian Arabs compared favorably to Egypt and Turkey, but unfavorably to Lebanon. On the scale of the UN Human Development Index determined for around 1939, of 36 countries, Palestinian Jews were placed 15th, Palestinian Arabs 30th, Egypt 33rd and Turkey 35th. The Jews in Palestine were mainly urban, 76.2 % in 1942, while the Arabs were mainly rural, 68,3 % in 1942. Overall Khalidi concludes that the Palestinian Arab society, while being overmatched by the Yishuv, was as advanced as any other Arab society in the region and considerably more as several.

From the 1920s to the start of the Second World War, the Mandate territory underwent enormous economic and cultural development. The institutions founded in this period included an elected assembly, the Asefat Hanivharim, the National Council for welfare, education, and religious service Vaad Leumi in 1920, a centralized Hebrew school system in 1919, the Histadrut labor federation in 1920, the Technion university in 1924, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1925.

Palestinian Arab leadership

The British granted the Palestinian Arabs a religious leadership, but they always kept it dependent. The office of “Mufti of Jerusalem”, traditionally limited in authority and geographical scope, was refashioned into that of “Grand Mufti of Palestine”. Furthermore a Supreme Muslim Council (SMC) was established and given various duties like the administration of religious endowments and the appointment of religious judges and local muftis. In Ottoman times these duties had been fulfilled by the bureaucracy in Istanbul.

In ruling the Palestinian Arabs the British preferred to deal with elites, rather than with political formations rooted in the middle or lower classes. For instance they ignored the Palestine Arab Congress. The British also tried to create divisions among these elites. For instance they chose Hajj Amin al-Husayni to become Grand Mufti, although he was young and had received the fewest votes from Jerusalem’s Islamic leaders. Hajj Amin was a distant cousin of Musa Kazim al-Husainy, the leader of the Palestine Arab Congress. According to Khalidi, by appointing a younger relative, the British hoped to undermine the position of Musa Kazim. Indeed they stayed rivals until the death of Musa Kazim in 1934. Another of the mufti's rivals, Raghib Bey al-Nashashibi, had already been appointed mayor of Jerusalem in 1920, replacing Musa Kazim whom the British removed after the Nabi Musa riots of 1920, during which he exhorted the crowd to give their blood for Palestine. During the entire Mandate period, but especially during the latter half the rivalry between the mufti and al-Nashashibi dominated Palestinian politics.

Many notables were dependent on the British for their income. In return for their support of the notables the British required them to appease the population. According to Khalidi this worked admirably well until the mid-1930s, when the mufti was pushed into serious opposition by a popular explosion. After that the mufti became the deadly foe of the British and the Zionists.

According to Khalidid before the mid-1930s the notables from both the al-Husayni and the al-Nashashibi factions acted as though by simply continuing to negotiate with the British they could convince them to grant the Palestinians their political rights. The Arab population considered both factions as ineffective in their national struggle, and linked to and dependent on the British administration. Khalidi ascribes the failure of the Palestinian leaders to enroll mass support to their experience during the Ottoman period, when they were part of the ruling elite and were accustomed to command. The idea of mobilising the masses was thoroughly alien to them.

There had already been rioting and attacks on and massacres of Jews in 1921 and 1929. During the 1930s Palestinian Arab popular discontent with Jewish immigration and increasing Arab landlessness grew. In the late 1920s and early 1930s several factions of Palestinian society, especially from the younger generation, became impatient with the internecine divisions and ineffectiveness of the Palestinian elite and engaged in grass-roots anti-British and anti-Zionist activism organized by groups such as the Young Men's Muslim Association. There was also support for the growth in influence of the radical nationalist Independence Party (Hizb al-Istiqlal), which called for a boycott of the British in the manner of the Indian Congress Party. Some even took to the hills to fight the British and the Zionists. Most of these initiatives were contained and defeated by notables in the pay of the Mandatory Administration, particularly the mufti and his cousin Jamal al-Husayni. The younger generation also formed the backbone of the organisation of the six-month general strike of 1936, which marked the start of the great Palestinian Revolt. According to Khalidi this was a grass-roots uprising, which was eventually adopted by the old Palestinian leadership, whose 'inept leadership helped to doom these movements as well'.

The Great Arab Revolt (1936–1939)

The death of the Shaykh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam at the hands of the British police near Jenin in November 1935 generated widespread outrage and huge crowds accompanied Qassam's body to his grave in Haifa. A few months later, in April 1936, a spontaneous Arab national general strike broke out. This lasted until October 1936. During the summer of that year thousands of Jewish-farmed acres and orchards were destroyed, Jews were attacked and killed and some Jewish communities, such as those in Beisan and Acre, fled to safer areas. After the strike, one of the longest ever anticolonial strikes, the violence abated for about a year while the British sent the Peel Commission to investigate.

In 1937, the Peel Commission proposed a partition between a small Jewish state, whose Arab population had to be transferred, and an Arab state to be attached to Jordan. The proposal was rejected by the Arabs and by the Zionist Congress (by 300 votes to 158) but accepted by the latter as a basis for negotiations between the Executive and the British Government.

In the wake of the Peel Commission recommendation an armed uprising spread through the country. Over the next 18 months the British lost control of Jerusalem, Nablus, and Hebron. British forces, supported by 6,000 armed Jewish auxiliary police, suppressed the widespread riots with overwhelming force. The British officer Charles Orde Wingate (who supported a Zionist revival for religious reasons) organized Special Night Squads composed of British soldiers and Jewish volunteers such as Yigal Alon, which "scored significant successes against the Arab rebels in the lower Galilee and in the Jezreel valley by conducting raids on Arab villages. The squads used excessive and indiscriminate force The Jewish militias the Stern Gang and Irgun used violence also against civilians, attacking marketplaces and buses.

The Revolt resulted in the deaths of 5,000 Palestinians and the wounding of 10,000. In total 10 percent of the adult male population was killed, wounded, imprisoned, or exiled . The Jewish population had 400 killed; the British 200. Significantly, from 1936 to 1945, whilst establishing collaborative security arrangements with the Jewish Agency, the British confiscated 13,200 firearms from Arabs and 521 weapons from Jews.

The attacks on the Jewish population by Arabs had three lasting effects: First, they led to the formation and development of Jewish underground militias, primarily the Haganah ("The Defense"), which were to prove decisive in 1948. Secondly, it became clear that the two communities could not be reconciled, and the idea of partition was born. Thirdly, the British responded to Arab opposition with the White Paper of 1939, which severely restricted Jewish land purchase and immigration. However, with the advent of World War II, even this reduced immigration quota was not reached. The White Paper policy also radicalized segments of the Jewish population, who after the war would no longer cooperate with the British.

The revolt had a negative effect on Palestinian national leadership, social cohesion and military capabilities and contributed to the outcome of the 1948 War because "when the Palestinians faced their most fateful challenge in 1947–49, they were still suffering from the British repression of 1936–39, and were in effect without a unified leadership. Indeed, it might be argued that they were virtually without any leadership at all".

World War II and post-war end of Mandate

Allied and Axis activity

As in most of the Arab world, there was no unanimity amongst the Palestinian Arabs as to their position regarding the combatants in World War II. Palestinians, by this point, were tired of outside forces controlling their destiny. Most preferred to be neutral in what they perceived as 'other people's conflict'. However, most youth signed up for the British army, primarily because Britain was the 'mother country', but a few saw an Axis victory as the likely outcome and a way of securing Palestine back from the Zionists and the British. Al-Husseini spent the rest of the war serving with the Waffen SS in the German-conquered Bosnia.

Even though Arabs were not highly regarded by Nazi racial theory, the Nazis encouraged Arab support as much as possible as a counter to British hegemony throughout the Arab world.

Arabs who opposed the persecution of the Jews at the hand of the Nazis included Habib Bourguiba in Tunisia and Egyptian intellectuals such as Tawfiq al-Hakim and Abbas al-Akkad. (Source: Yad Vashem). The mandate recruited soldiers in Palestine. About 6,000 Palestinian Arabs and 26,000 Palestinian Jews joined the British forces. This Army Division acted in the Mediterranean theatre.

On 10 June 1940, during early stages of World War II, Italy declared war on the British Commonwealth and sided with Germany. Within a month, the Italians attacked Palestine from the air. Many attacks continued from the air and on the ground.

In 1942, there was a period of anxiety for the Yishuv, when the forces of German General Erwin Rommel advanced east in North Africa towards the Suez Canal and there was fear that they would conquer Palestine. This period was referred to as the two hundred days of anxiety. This event was the direct cause for the founding, with British support, of the Palmach — a highly-trained regular unit belonging to Haganah (which was mostly made up of reserve troops).

On 3 July 1944, the British government consented to the establishment of a Jewish Brigade with hand-picked Jewish and also non-Jewish senior officers. On 20 September 1944, an official communique by the War Office announced the formation of the Jewish Brigade Group of the British Army. The brigade fought in Europe.

The Holocaust and the Jewish Revolt

The Holocaust had a major effect on the situation in Palestine. During the war, the British forbade entry into Palestine of European Jews escaping Nazi persecution, placing them in detention camps or deporting them to places such as Mauritius.

Starting in 1939, the Zionists organized an illegal immigration effort, known as Aliya Beth, conducted by "Hamossad Le'aliyah Bet", that rescued tens of thousands of European Jews from the Nazis by shipping them to Palestine in rickety boats. Many of these boats were intercepted. The last immigrant boat to try to enter Palestine during the war was the Struma, torpedoed in the Black Sea by a Soviet submarine in February 1942. The boat sank with the loss of nearly 800 lives. Illegal immigration resumed after World War II.

Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet Zuri, members of the Jewish Lehi underground, assassinated Lord Moyne in Cairo on 6 November 1944. Moyne was the British Minister of State for the Middle East. The assassination is said by some to have turned British Prime Minister Winston Churchill against the Zionist cause. The ban on illegal immigration continued.

As a result of the assassination of Lord Moyne, the Haganah kidnapped, interrogated, tortured and turned over to the British many members of the Irgun and Lehi. This period is known as 'The Hunting Season'. Irgun ordered its members not to resist or retaliate with violence, so as to prevent a civil war.

Following the war, 250,000 Jewish refugees were stranded in displaced persons (DP) camps in Europe. Despite the pressure of world opinion, in particular the repeated requests of US President Harry S. Truman and the recommendations of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry that 100,000 Jews be immediately granted entry to Palestine, the British maintained the ban on immigration. The Jewish underground forces then united and carried out several terrorist attacks and bombings against the British. In 1946, the Irgun blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the headquarters of the British administration, killing 92 people.

Following the bombing, the British Government began imprisoning illegal Jewish immigrants in Cyprus. Those imprisoned were held without trial and included women and children. Most were holocaust survivors.

The negative publicity resulting from the situation in Palestine meant the mandate was widely unpopular in Britain, and caused the United States Congress to delay granting the British vital loans for reconstruction. At the same time, many European Jews were finding their way to the United States. An increasing growing influence in American politics, many Zionist backers won over sympathizers in the American and other Western governments. The Labour party had promised before its election to allow mass Jewish migration into Palestine. Additionally the situation required maintenance of 100,000 British troops in the country. In response to these pressures the British announced their desire to terminate the mandate and withdraw by May 1948.

United Nations Partition Plan

The British Peel Commission proposed a Palestine divided between a Jewish and an Arab State, but in time changed their position and sought to limit Jewish immigration from Europe to a minimum. This was seen by Zionists and their sympathisers as betrayal of the terms of the mandate, especially in light of the increasing persecution in Europe and was met with a popular uprising and guerrilla war from Jewish terrorist groups, often viewed as one of several factors that led the British to hand the problem over to the United Nations.

The UN, the successor to the League of Nations, attempted to solve the dispute, creating the UNSCOP (UN Special Committee on Palestine) on 15 May 1947. After spending three months conducting hearings and general survey of the situation in Palestine, UNSCOP officially released its report on 31 August. A majority of nations (Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay) recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states, with Jerusalem to be placed under international administration. A minority (India, Iran, Yugoslavia) supported the creation of a single federal state containing both Jewish and Arab constituent states. Australia abstained. On 29 November, the UN General Assembly voted 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions, in favour of the Partition Plan, while making some adjustments to the boundaries between the two states proposed by it. The division was to take effect on the date of British withdrawal. Both the United States and Soviet Union agreed on the resolution. In addition, pressure was exerted on some small countries by Zionist sympathizers in the United States. The five members of the Arab League who were voting members at the time voted against the Plan, as did the United Kingdom.

The partition plan was rejected out of hand by the leadership of the Palestinian Arabs and by most of the Arab population. Most of the Jews accepted the proposal, in particular the Jewish Agency, which was the Jewish state-in-formation. Numerous records indicate the joy of Palestine's Jewish inhabitants as they attended the U.N. session voting for the division proposal. Up to this day, Israeli history books mention 29 November, the date of this session, as the most important date leading to the creation of the Israeli state.

Meeting in Cairo in November and December 1947, the Arab League then adopted a series of resolutions aimed at a military solution to the conflict. The United Kingdom refused to implement the plan arguing it was not acceptable to both sides. It also refused to share with the UN Palestine Commission the administration of Palestine during the transitional period, and decided to terminate the Mandate on May 15th, 1948.

Several Jewish organizations also opposed the proposal. Menachem Begin, Irgun's leader, announced: "The partition of the homeland is illegal. It will never be recognized. The signature by institutions and individuals of the partition agreement is invalid. It will not bind the Jewish people. Jerusalem was and will for ever be our capital. The Land of Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And for ever". His views were publicly rejected by the majority of the nascent Jewish state.

Termination of the Mandate and 1948 War

The British had notified the U.N. of their intent to terminate the mandate not later than 1 August 1948., but Jewish Leadership led by future Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared independence on 14 May. The State of Israel declared itself as an independent nation, and was quickly recognized by the Soviet Union, the United States, and many other countries, but not by the surrounding Arab states. Over the next few days, approximately 1,000 Lebanese, 5,000 Syrian, 5,000 Iraqi, 10,000 Egyptian troops invaded Israel. Four thousand Transjordanian troops, commanded by 38 British officers who had resigned their commissions in the British army only weeks earlier (commanded by General Glubb), invaded the Corpus separatum region encompassing Jerusalem and its environs, as well as areas designated as part of the Arab state by the UN partition plan. They were aided by corps of volunteers from Saudi Arabia, Libya and Yemen.

The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, 14 May 1948 stated:

We appeal ... to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.

In an official Cablegram from the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States to the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the UN Secretary-General on 15 May 1948, the Arab states publicly proclaimed their aim of creating a "United State of Palestine" in place of the Jewish and Arab, two-state, UN Plan. They stated the UN plan was invalid, as it was opposed by Palestine's Arab majority, and maintained that the absence of legal authority made it necessary to intervene to protect Arab lives and property. On the date of British withdrawal the Jewish provisional government declared the formation of the State of Israel, and the provisional government said that it would grant full civil rights to all within its borders, whether Arab, Jew, Bedouin or Druze.

Mandatory borders and 1949 Armistice

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the State of Israel retained nearly all the territory that would have been assigned to it in the 1947 UN Partition Plan, as well as conquered half of the land intended to become the Arab state of Palestine and a portion of the territory intended for international administration around Jerusalem. The remaining half of the land that had been intended to become Palestine along the West Bank of the Jordan River was annexed by Jordan, as was most of the Jerusalem enclave; the Gaza Strip along the Mediterranean coast, also included in the Arab state territory, was captured by Egypt.


Demographics, 1920

In 1920, the majority of the approximately 750,000 people in this multi-ethnic region were Arabic-speaking Muslims, including a Bedouin population (estimated at 103,331 at the time of the 1922 census and concentrated in the Beersheba area and the region south and east of it), as well as Jews (who comprised some 11% of the total) and smaller groups of Druze, Syrians, Sudanese, Circassians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Hejazi Arabs.

In 1922, the British undertook the first census of the mandate. The population was 752,048, comprising 589,177 Muslims, 83,790 Jews, 71,464 Christians and 7,617 persons belonging to other groups. After a second census in 1931, the population had grown to 1,036,339 in total, comprising 761,922 Muslims, 175,138 Jews, 89,134 Christians and 10,145 people belonging to other groups. There were no further censuses but statistics were maintained by counting births, deaths and migration. Some components such as illegal immigration could only be estimated approximately. The White Paper of 1939, which placed immigration restrictions on Jews, stated that the Jewish population "has risen to some 450,000" and was "approaching a third of the entire population of the country". In 1945, a demographic study showed that the population had grown to 1,764,520, comprising 1,061,270 Muslims, 553,600 Jews, 135,550 Christians and 14,100 people of other groups.

Year Total Muslim Jewish Christian Other
1922 752,048 589,177(78%) 83,790(11%) 71,464(10%) 7,617(1%)
1931 1,036,339 761,922(74%) 175,138(17%) 89,134(9%) 10,145(1%)
1945 1,764,520 1,061,270(60%) 553,600(31%) 135,550(8%) 14,100(1%)

By district

The following table gives the demographics of each of the 16 districts of the Mandate.

Demographics of Palestine by district as of 1945
District Muslim Percentage Jewish Percentage Christian Percentage Total
Acre 51,130 69% 3,030 4% 11,800 16% 73,600
Beersheba 6,270 90% 510 7% 210 3% 7,000
Beisan 16,660 67% 7,590 30% 680 3% 24,950
Gaza 145,700 97% 3,540 2% 1,300 1% 150,540
Haifa 95,970 38% 119,020 47% 33,710 13% 253,450
Hebron 92,640 99% 300 <1% 170 <1% 93,120
Jaffa 95,980 24% 295,160 72% 17,790 4% 409,290
Jenin 60,000 98% Negligible <1% 1,210 2% 61,210
Jerusalem 104,460 42% 102,520 40% 46,130 18% 253,270
Nablus 92,810 98% Negligible <1% 1,560 2% 94,600
Nazareth 30,160 60% 7,980 16% 11,770 24% 49,910
Ramallah 40,520 83% Negligible <1% 8,410 17% 48,930
Ramle 95,590 71% 31,590 24% 5,840 4% 134,030
Safad 47,310 83% 7,170 13% 1,630 3% 56,970
Tiberias 23,940 58% 13,640 33% 2,470 6% 41,470
Tulkarm 76,460 82% 16,180 17% 380 1% 93,220
Total 1,076,780 58% 608,230 33% 145,060 9% 1,845,560
Data from the Survey of Palestine

Land ownership of the British Mandate of Palestine

As of 1931, the territory of the British Mandate of Palestine was 26,625,600 dunums, of which 8,252,900 dunums or 33% were cultivable.Official statistics show that Jews privately and collectively owned 1,393,531 dunums of land in 1945. Estimates of the total volume of land that Jews had acquired by 15 May 1948 are complicated by illegal and unregistered land transfers, as well as by the lack of data on land concessions from the Palestine administration after 31 March 1936. According to Avneri, Jews held 1,850,000 dunums of land in 1947. Stein gives the estimate of 2,000,000 dunums as of May 1948.

Land Ownership by district

The following table shows the land ownership of Palestine by district:

Land ownership of Palestine by district as of 1945
District Arab owned Jewish owned Public and other
Acre 87% 3% 10%
Beersheba 15% <1% 85%
Beisan 44% 34% 22%
Gaza 75% 4% 21%
Haifa 42% 35% 23%
Hebron 96% <1% 4%
Jaffa 47% 39% 14%
Jenin 84% <1% 16%
Jerusalem 84% 2% 14%
Nablus 87% <1% 13%
Nazareth 52% 28% 20%
Ramallah 99% <1% 1%
Ramle 77% 14% 9%
Safad 68% 18% 14%
Tiberias 51% 38% 11%
Tulkarm 78% 17% 5%
Data from the Land Ownership of Palestine

Land ownership by type

The land owned privately and collectively by Arabs and Jews can be classified as urban, rural built-on, cultivable (farmed), and uncultivable. The following chart shows the ownership by Arabs and Jews in each of the categories.

Land ownership of Palestine (in dunums) as of April 1st, 1943
Category of land Arab and other non-Jewish ownership Jewish ownership Total Land
Urban 76,662 70,111 146,773
Rural built-on 36,851 42,330 79,181
Cereal (taxable) 5,503,183 814,102 6,317,285
Cereal (not taxable) 900,294 51,049 951,343
Plantation 1,079,788 95,514 1,175,302
Citrus 145,572 141,188 286,760
Banana 2,300 1,430 3,730
Uncultivable 16,925,805 298,523 17,224,328
Total 24,670,455 1,514,247 26,184,702
Data is from Survey of Palestine.

Land Laws of Palestine

British Chief Administrators of Palestine

Name Term
Edmund Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby 1917–1918
Sir Arthur Wigram Money 1918–1919
Sir Louis Jean Bols 1919–1920

British High Commissioners for Palestine

Name Term
Sir Herbert Louis Samuel 1920–1925
Sir Gilbert Falkingham Clayton May–December 1925 (acting)
Herbert Onslow Plumer 1925–1928
Sir Harry Charles Luke (acting) 1928
Sir John Chancellor 1928–1931
Sir Mark Aitchison Young 1931–1932 (acting)
Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope 1932–1937
William Denis Battershill 1937–1938 (acting)
Sir Harold MacMichael 1938–1944
John Vereker, 6th Viscount Gort 1944–1945
Sir Alan Cunningham 1945–1948

See also



  • Bethell, Nicholas The Palestine Triangle : the Struggle Between the British, the Jews and the Arabs, 1935–48, London : Deutsch, 1979 ISBN 023397069X.
  • Eini, Roza El- (2006). Mandated Landscape: British Imperial Rule in Palestine 1929–1948. London: Routledge. ISBN 0714654264
  • Biger, Gideon (2005). The Boundaries of Modern Palestine, 1840–1947. London: Routledge. ISBN 0714656542
  • Louis, Wm. Roger (1969). The United Kingdom and the Beginning of the Mandates System, 1919–1922. International Organization, 23(1), pp. 73–96.
  • Asher Maoz (1994). "Application of Israeli law to the Golan Heights is annexation". Brooklyn journal of international law 20, afl. 2 355–96.
  • Tayseer Maar'i & Usama Halabi (1992). "Life under occupation in the Golan Heights". Journal of Palestine Studies 22 78–93.
  • Morris, Benny (2001) Righteous Victims New York, Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0-679-74475-7.
  • Eyal Zisser (2002). "June 1967: Israel's capture of the Golan Heights". Israel Studies 7,1 168–194.
  • Paris, Timothy J. (2003). Britain, the Hashemites and Arab Rule, 1920–1925: The Sherifian Solution. London: Routledge. ISBN 0714654515
  • Segev, Tom (2000). One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 0-8050-6587-3
  • Sherman, A J (1998).Mandate Days: British Lives in Palestine, 1918–1948, Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-8018-6620-0
  • Stein, Kenneth W. The Land Question in Palestine, 1917–1939. University of North Carolina, 1984. ISBN 0-8078-1579-9

External links

Primary sources

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