History of Palestine under the British Mandate
Following its occupation by British troops in 1917–1918, Palestine was governed by the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration. In July 1920 a civilian administration headed by a High Commissioner replaced the military administration. The first High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel, a Zionist and a recent British cabinet minister, arrived in Palestine on 20 June 1920 to take up his appointment from 1 July.
Following the arrival of the British, the inhabitants established Muslim-Christian Associations in all the major towns. In 1919 they joined to hold the first Palestine Arab Congress in Jerusalem. Its aimed primarily at representative government and opposition to the Balfour Declaration.
The formal transfer of Jerusalem to British rule. A native priest reads the proclamation from the steps of the Tower of David
The Zionist Commission formed in March 1918 and became active in promoting Zionist objectives in Palestine. On 19 April 1920, elections took place for the Assembly of Representatives of the Palestinian Jewish community. The Zionist Commission received official recognition in 1922 as representative of the Palestinian Jewish community.
One of the first actions of the newly installed civil administration in 1921 had been to grant Pinhas Rutenberg—a Jewish entrepreneur—concessions for the production and distribution of electrical power. Rutenberg soon established an electric company whose shareholders were Zionist organisations, investors, and philanthropists. Palestinian-Arabs saw it as proof that the British intended to favour Zionism. The British administration claimed that electrification would enhance the economic development of the country as a whole, while at the same time securing their commitment to facilitate a Jewish National Home through economic—rather than political—means.
Samuel tried to establish self-governing institutions in Palestine, as required by the mandate, but the Arab leadership refused to co-operate with any institution which included Jewish participation. When Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Kamil al-Husayni died in March 1921, High Commissioner Samuel appointed his half-brother Mohammad Amin al-Husseini to the position. Amin al-Husseini, a member of the al-Husayni clan of Jerusalem, was an Arab nationalist and Muslim leader. As Grand Mufti, as well as in the other influential positions that he held during this period, al-Husseini played a key role in violent opposition to Zionism. In 1922, al-Husseini was elected President of the Supreme Muslim Council which had been established by Samuel in December 1921. The Council controlled the Waqf funds, worth annually tens of thousands of pounds and the orphan funds, worth annually about £50,000, as compared to the £600,000 in the Jewish Agency's annual budget. In addition, he controlled the Islamic courts in Palestine. Among other functions, these courts had the power to appoint teachers and preachers.
The 1922 Palestine Order in Council established a Legislative Council, which was to consist of 23 members: 12 elected, 10 appointed, and the High Commissioner. Of the 12 elected members, eight were to be Muslim Arabs, two Christian Arabs, and two Jews. Arabs protested against the distribution of the seats, arguing that as they constituted 88% of the population, having only 43% of the seats was unfair. Elections took place in February and March 1923, but due to an Arab boycott, the results were annulled and a 12-member Advisory Council was established.
In October 1923, Britain provided the League of Nations with a report on the administration of Palestine for the period 1920–1922, which covered the period before the mandate.
1930s: Arab armed insurgency
In 1930, Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam arrived in Palestine from Syria and organised and established the Black Hand, an anti-Zionist and anti-British militant organisation. He recruited and arranged military training for peasants and by 1935 he had enlisted between 200 and 800 men. The cells were equipped with bombs and firearms, which they used to kill Zionist settlers in the area, as well as engaging in a campaign of vandalism of the settlers-planted trees and British constructed rail-lines. In November 1935, two of his men engaged in a firefight with a Palestine police patrol hunting fruit thieves and a policeman was killed. Following the incident, British police launched a manhunt and surrounded al-Qassam in a cave near Ya'bad. In the ensuing battle, al-Qassam was killed.
The Arab revolt
Arab revolt against the British
The death of al-Qassam on 20 November 1935 generated widespread outrage in the Arab community. Huge crowds accompanied Qassam's body to his grave in Haifa. A few months later, in April 1936, the Arab national general strike broke out. The strike lasted until October 1936, instigated by the Arab Higher Committee, headed by Amin al-Husseini. During the summer of that year, thousands of Jewish-farmed acres and orchards were destroyed, Jewish civilians were attacked and killed, and some Jewish communities, such as those in Beisan and Acre, fled to safer areas. (Gilbert 1998, p. 80) The violence abated for about a year while the British sent the Peel Commission to investigate. (Khalidi 2006, pp. 87–90)
During the first stages of the Arab Revolt, due to rivalry between the clans of al-Husseini and Nashashibi among the Palestinian Arabs, Raghib Nashashibi was forced to flee to Egypt after several assassination attempts ordered by Amin al-Husseini.
Following the Arab rejection of the Peel Commission recommendation, the revolt resumed in autumn of 1937. Over the next 18 months, the British lost control of 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) organised 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”(Black 1991, p. 14) by conducting raids on Arab villages. (Shapira 1992, pp. 247, 249, 350) The Jewish militia Irgun used violence also against Arab civilians as "retaliatory acts", attacking marketplaces and buses.
By the time the revolt concluded in March 1939, more than 5,000 Arabs, 400 Jews, and 200 British had been killed and at least 15,000 Arabs were wounded. The Revolt resulted in the deaths of 5,000 Palestinian Arabs and the wounding of 10,000. In total, 10% of the adult Arab male population was killed, wounded, imprisoned, or exiled. (Khalidi 2001, p. 26) From 1936 to 1945, while 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, 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 radicalised segments of the Jewish population, who after the war would no longer cooperate with the British.
The revolt had a negative effect on Palestinian Arab 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".
Jewish demonstration against White Paper in Jerusalem in 1939
In 1937, the Peel Commission proposed a partition between a small Jewish state, whose Arab population would have to be transferred, and an Arab state to be attached to Jordan. The proposal was rejected outright by the Arabs. The two main Jewish leaders, Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion, had convinced the Zionist Congress to approve equivocally the Peel recommendations as a basis for more negotiation. In a letter to his son in October 1937, Ben-Gurion explained that partition would be a first step to "possession of the land as a whole". The same sentiment was recorded by Ben-Gurion on other occasions, such as at a meeting of the Jewish Agency executive in June 1938, as well as by Chaim Weizmann.
Following the London Conference (1939) the British Government published a White Paper which proposed a limit to Jewish immigration from Europe, restrictions on Jewish land purchases, and a program for creating an independent state to replace the Mandate within ten years. This was seen by the Yishuv as betrayal of the mandatory terms, especially in light of the increasing persecution of Jews in Europe. In response, Zionists organised Aliyah Bet, a program of illegal immigration into Palestine. Lehi, a small group of extremist Zionists, staged armed attacks on British authorities in Palestine. However, the Jewish Agency, which represented the mainstream Zionist leadership, still hoped to persuade Britain to allow resumed Jewish immigration, and cooperated with Britain in World War II.
World War II
Allied and Axis activity
Australian soldiers in Tel Aviv in 1942
On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on the British Commonwealth and sided with Germany. Within a month, the Italians attacked Palestine from the air, bombing Tel Aviv and Haifa, inflicting multiple casualties.
In 1942, there was a period of great concern for the Yishuv, when the forces of German General Erwin Rommel advanced east across North Africa towards the Suez Canal and there was fear that they would conquer Palestine. This period was referred to as the "200 days of dread". This event was the direct cause for the founding, with British support, of the Palmach – a highly trained regular unit belonging to Haganah (a paramilitary group which was mostly made up of reserve troops).
As in most of the Arab world, there was no unanimity amongst the Palestinian Arabs as to their position regarding the belligerents in World War II. A number of leaders and public figures saw an Axis victory as the likely outcome and a way of securing Palestine back from the Zionists and the British. Even though Arabs were not highly regarded by Nazi racial theory, the Nazis encouraged Arab support as a counter to British hegemony. SS-Reichsfuehrer Heinrich Himmler was keen to exploit this, going so far as to enlist the aid of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husseini, sending him the following telegram on 2 November 1943:
To the Grand Mufti: The National Socialist movement of Greater Germany has, since its inception, inscribed upon its flag the fight against the world Jewry. It has therefore followed with particular sympathy the struggle of freedom-loving Arabs, especially in Palestine, against Jewish interlopers. In the recognition of this enemy and of the common struggle against it lies the firm foundation of the natural alliance that exists between the National Socialist Greater Germany and the freedom-loving Muslims of the whole world. In this spirit I am sending you on the anniversary of the infamous Balfour declaration my hearty greetings and wishes for the successful pursuit of your struggle until the final victory – Reichsfuehrer S.S. Heinrich Himmler
The Mufti al-Husseini would spend the rest of the war in Nazi Germany and the occupied areas in Europe.
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 communiqué by the War Office announced the formation of the Jewish Brigade Group of the British Army. The Jewish brigade then was stationed in Tarvisio, near the border triangle of Italy, Yugoslavia, and Austria, where it played a key role in the Berihah's efforts to help Jews escape Europe for Palestine, a role many of its members would continue after the brigade was disbanded. Among its projects was the education and care of the Selvino children. Later, veterans of the Jewish Brigade became key participants of the new State of Israel's Israel Defense Forces.
From Palestine Regiment, two platoons, one Jewish, under the command of Brigadier Ernest Benjamin, and another Arab were sent to join allied forces on the Italian Front, having taken part of final offensive there.
Besides Jews and Arabs from Palestine, in total by mid-1944 the British had assembled a multiethnic force consisting of volunteer European Jewish refugees (from German-occupied countries), Yemenite Jews and Abyssinian Jews.
The Holocaust and immigration quotas
In 1939, as a consequence of the White Paper of 1939, the British reduced the number of immigrants allowed into Palestine. World War II and the Holocaust started shortly thereafter and once the 15,000 annual quota was exceeded, Jews fleeing Nazi persecution were interned in detention camps or deported to places such as Mauritius.
Starting in 1939, a clandestine immigration effort called Aliya Bet was spearheaded by an organisation called Mossad LeAliyah Bet. Tens of thousands of European Jews escaped the Nazis in boats and small ships headed for Palestine. The Royal Navy intercepted many of the vessels; others were unseaworthy and were wrecked; a Haganah bomb sunk the SS Patria, killing 267 people; two more were sunk by Soviet submarines. The motor schooner Struma was torpedoed and sunk in the Black Sea by a Soviet submarine in February 1942 with the loss of nearly 800 lives. The last refugee boats to try to reach Palestine during the war were the Bulbul, Mefküre and Morina in August 1944. A Soviet submarine sank the motor schooner Mefküre by torpedo and shellfire and machine-gunned survivors in the water, killing between 300 and 400 refugees. Illegal immigration resumed after World War II.
After 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.
Beginning of Zionist insurgency
Jerusalem on VE Day
, 8 May 1945
The Jewish Lehi (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) and Irgun (National Military Organisation) movements initiated violent uprisings against the British Mandate in 1940s. On 6 November 1944, Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet Zuri (members of Lehi) assassinated Lord Moyne in Cairo. Moyne was the British Minister of State for the Middle East and the assassination is said by some to have turned British Prime Minister Winston Churchill against the Zionist cause. After the assassination of Lord Moyne, the Haganah kidnapped, interrogated, and turned over to the British many members of the Irgun ("The Hunting Season"), and the Jewish Agency Executive decided on a series of measures against "terrorist organisations" in Palestine. Irgun ordered its members not to resist or retaliate with violence, so as to prevent a civil war.
After World War II: Insurgency and the Partition Plan
The three main Jewish underground forces later united to form the Jewish Resistance Movement and carry out several attacks and bombings against the British administration. 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 interning illegal Jewish immigrants in Cyprus. In 1948 the Lehi assassinated the UN mediator Count Bernadotte in Jerusalem. Yitzak Shamir, future prime minister of Israel was one of the conspirators.
The negative publicity resulting from the situation in Palestine caused the Mandate to become widely unpopular in Britain, and caused the United States Congress to delay granting the British vital loans for reconstruction. The British Labour party had promised before its election to allow mass Jewish migration into Palestine but reneged on this promise once in office. Anti-British Jewish militancy increased and the situation required the presence of over 100,000 British troops in the country. Following the Acre Prison Break and the retaliatory hanging of British Sergeants by the Irgun, the British announced their desire to terminate the mandate and to withdraw by no later than the beginning of August 1948.
The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in 1946 was a joint attempt by Britain and the United States to agree on a policy regarding the admission of Jews to Palestine. In April, the Committee reported that its members had arrived at a unanimous decision. The Committee approved the American recommendation of the immediate acceptance of 100,000 Jewish refugees from Europe into Palestine. It also recommended that there be no Arab, and no Jewish State. The Committee stated that "in order to dispose, once and for all, of the exclusive claims of Jews and Arabs to Palestine, we regard it as essential that a clear statement of principle should be made that Jew shall not dominate Arab and Arab shall not dominate Jew in Palestine." U.S. President Harry S Truman angered the British Government by issuing a statement supporting the 100,000 refugees but refusing to acknowledge the rest of the committee's findings. Britain had asked for U.S assistance in implementing the recommendations. The U.S. War Department had said earlier that to assist Britain in maintaining order against an Arab revolt, an open-ended U.S. commitment of 300,000 troops would be necessary. The immediate admission of 100,000 new Jewish immigrants would almost certainly have provoked an Arab uprising.
These events were the decisive factors that forced Britain to announce their desire to terminate the Palestine Mandate and place the Question of Palestine before the United Nations, the successor to the League of Nations. The UN created UNSCOP (the UN Special Committee on Palestine) on 15 May 1947, with representatives from 11 countries. UNSCOP conducted hearings and made a general survey of the situation in Palestine, and issued its report on 31 August. Seven members (Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, and Uruguay) recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states, with Jerusalem to be placed under international administration. Three members (India, Iran, and Yugoslavia) supported the creation of a single federal state containing both Jewish and Arab constituent states. Australia abstained.
On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly, voting 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions, adopted a resolution recommending the adoption and implementation of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union as Resolution 181 (II)., 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. The partition plan required that the proposed states grant full civil rights to all people within their borders, regardless of race, religion or gender. It is important to note that the UN General Assembly is only granted the power to make recommendations, therefore, UNGAR 181 was not legally binding. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union supported the resolution. Haiti, Liberia, and the Philippines changed their votes at the last moment after concerted pressure from the U.S. and from Zionist organisations. The five members of the Arab League, who were voting members at the time, voted against the Plan.
The Jewish Agency, which was the Jewish state-in-formation, accepted the plan, and nearly all the Jews in Palestine rejoiced at the news.
The partition plan was rejected out of hand by Palestinian Arab leadership and by most of the Arab population.[qt 1][qt 2] Meeting in Cairo on November and December 1947, the Arab League then adopted a series of resolutions endorsing a military solution to the conflict.
Britain announced that it would accept the partition plan, but refused to enforce it, arguing it was not accepted by the Arabs. Britain also refused to share the administration of Palestine with the UN Palestine Commission during the transitional period. In September 1947, the British government announced that the Mandate for Palestine would end at midnight on 14 May 1948.
Some Jewish organisations also opposed the proposal. Irgun leader Menachem Begin announced, "The partition of the Homeland is illegal. It will never be recognised. The signature by institutions and individuals of the partition agreement is invalid. It will not bind the Jewish people. Jerusalem was and will forever be our capital. Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And for ever." These views were publicly rejected by the majority of the nascent Jewish state.
Termination of the Mandate
British leaving Haifa in 1948
When the UK announced the independence of Transjordan in 1946, the final Assembly of the League of Nations and the General Assembly both adopted resolutions welcoming the news. The Jewish Agency objected, claiming that Transjordan was an integral part of Palestine, and that according to Article 80 of the UN Charter, the Jewish people had a secured interest in its territory.
During the General Assembly deliberations on Palestine, there were suggestions that it would be desirable to incorporate part of Transjordan's territory into the proposed Jewish state. A few days before the adoption of Resolution 181 (II) on 29 November 1947, U.S. Secretary of State Marshall noted frequent references had been made by the Ad Hoc Committee regarding the desirability of the Jewish State having both the Negev and an "outlet to the Red Sea and the Port of Aqaba." According to John Snetsinger, Chaim Weizmann visited President Truman on 19 November 1947 and said it was imperative that the Negev and Port of Aqaba be under Jewish control and that they be included in the Jewish state. Truman telephoned the US delegation to the UN and told them he supported Weizmann's position. However, the Trans-Jordan memorandum excluded territories of the Emirate of Transjordan from any Jewish settlement.
Immediately after the UN resolution, the 1947-1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine broke out between the Arab and Jewish communities, and British authority began to break down. On 16 December 1947, the Palestine Police Force withdrew from the Tel Aviv area, home to more than half the Jewish population, and turned over responsibility for the maintenance of law and order to Jewish police. As the civil war raged on, British military forces gradually withdrew from Palestine, although they occasionally intervened in favour of either side. As they withdrew, they handed over control to local authorities and locally raised police forces were charged with maintaining law and order. The areas they withdrew from often quickly became war zones. The British maintained strong presences in Jerusalem and Haifa, even as Jerusalem came under siege by Arab forces and became the scene of fierce fighting, though the British occasionally intervened in the fighting, largely to secure their evacuation routes, including by proclaiming martial law and enforcing truces. The Palestine Police Force was largely inoperative, and government services such as social welfare, control of water supplies, and postal services were withdrawn. In April 1948, the British withdrew from most of Haifa but retained an enclave in the port area to be used in the evacuation of British forces, and temporarily retained RAF Ramat David airbase to cover their retreat, leaving behind a volunteer police force to maintain order. The city was quickly captured by the Haganah in the Battle of Haifa. Following the victory, British forces in Jerusalem announced that they had no intention of assuming control of any local administrations, but would not permit any actions that would hamper the safe and orderly withdrawal of British forces from Palestine, and would set up military courts to try persons who interfered. Although by this time British authority in most of Palestine had broken down, with most of the country in control of the Jews and Arabs, the British air and sea blockade of Palestine remained firmly in place.
The British had notified the U.N. of their intent to terminate the mandate not later than 1 August 1948. However, early in 1948, the United Kingdom announced its firm intention to end its mandate in Palestine on 14 May. In response, President Harry S Truman made a statement on 25 March proposing UN trusteeship rather than partition, stating that "unfortunately, it has become clear that the partition plan cannot be carried out at this time by peaceful means... unless emergency action is taken, there will be no public authority in Palestine on that date capable of preserving law and order. Violence and bloodshed will descend upon the Holy Land. Large-scale fighting among the people of that country will be the inevitable result."
Hoisting of the Yishuv flag in Tel Aviv, 1 January 1948
By 14 May 1948, the only British forces remaining in Palestine were in the Haifa area and in Jerusalem. On that same day, the British garrison in Jerusalem withdrew, and High Commissioner Alan Cunningham left the city for Haifa, where he was to leave the country by sea. The Jewish Leadership, led by future Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel, on the afternoon of 14 May 1948 (5 Iyar 5708 in the Hebrew calendar), to come into force at midnight of that day. On the same day, the Provisional Government of Israel asked the US Government for recognition, on the frontiers specified in the UN Plan for Partition. The United States immediately replied, recognizing "the provisional government as the de facto authority."
On 15 May 1948, the Palestine Mandate ended and the State of Israel came into being. The Palestine Government formally ceased to exist, the status of British forces still in the process of withdrawal from Haifa changed to occupiers of foreign territory, the Palestine Police Force formally stood down and was disbanded, with the remaining personnel evacuated alongside British military forces, the British blockade of Palestine was lifted, and all Mandatory Palestine passports ceased to give British protection. The 1948 Palestinian exodus occurred in the period leading up to the end of the Mandate and subsequently.
Over the next few days, approximately 700 Lebanese, 1,876 Syrian, 4,000 Iraqi, 2,800 Egyptian troops crossed over the borders and into Palestine. Around 4,500 Transjordanian troops, commanded partly by 38 British officers who had resigned their commissions in the British army only weeks earlier, including overall commander, General John Bagot Glubb, entered the Corpus separatum region encompassing Jerusalem and its environs (in response to the Haganah's Operation Kilshon)
and moved into areas designated as part of the Arab state by the UN partition plan.