When we last visited Palestine, the British had drafted the Balfour Declaration, creating new problems in the region. The British has promised the land of Palestine to various parties. Unsure of how to move forward, the British created the Mandate of Palestine placing it under their own authority. Herbet Samuel was appointed British High Commissioner for Palestine in 1925 and remained in that position for five years. Through the mandate, the British controlled Palestine for almost three decades. During this period, they faced multiple protests, riots and revolts from both the Jewish and Palestinian Arab communities. Let’s take a look at some of the events that occurred during this era…
Over the next few episodes, in Season 2, we will dive deep into the events that led to the formation of the State of Israel. Together, we will understand the roots of the Palestine-Israel Conflict, and understand the history of this important region of the Muslim world.
The British Mandate
When we last visited Palestine, the British had drafted the Balfour Declaration, creating new problems in the region. The British has promised the land of Palestine to various parties. Unsure of how to move forward, the British created the Mandate of Palestine placing it under their own authority. Herbet Samuel was appointed British High Commissioner for Palestine in 1925 and remained in that position for five years. Through the mandate, the British controlled Palestine for almost three decades. During this period, they faced multiple protests, riots and revolts from both the Jewish and Palestinian Arab communities. Let’s take a look at some of the events that occurred during this era.
Because the British had promised a home for Jews in Palestine, they allowed immigration and Palestinian citizenship for Jews from around the world. The rising oppression of Jews across Europe caused a large number of Jews to migrate to Palestine.
Previously, we looked at the initial migration of Jews to Palestine before World War I. By 1920, there were now over ninety thousand Jews living in Palestine. The Jewish community has established its own defensive, administrative and agricultural sectors. They were determined to establish their homeland in Palestine. This caused a lot of tension with the local Arabs, building up to a riot.
In 1920, Arab leaders across Palestine were warning their followers against the Jewish immigrants. This sparked a riot around the time of the Jewish festivity known as Nabi Musa. Between the fourth and the seventh of April 1920, a riot broke out in the old City of Jerusalem. Five Jews and four Arabs were killed, and several hundred were injured. This would be the first of multiple clashes between Arabs and Jews in Palestine.
The riot caused the British government to take notice. They realized that the Arabs were frustrated because of the Belfour declarations, and British not fulfilling their promises to them. They saw the Jews as a threat and feared that the British may hand over Palestine to them. In 1922, the British clarified their position, claiming that they supported the existence of the Jewish community in Palestine, but considered them Palestinian. They did not support the creation of a new state as a Jewish national home. They used this opportunity to divide the Mandate of Palestine into two countries; everything west of the Jordan River remained Palestine. Everything east of the Jordan River became a new country, Transjordan.
The Creation of Transjordan
In order to please Prince Abdullah and fulfill their promise to him, the British divided Palestine into two countries. The Eastern half became Transjordan and was handed over to Abdullah, who declared himself King Abdullah. The creation of Trasjordan solved two problems. It gave Abdullah a place to rule over, while preserving British interests in the region. The British continued to rule Transjordan indirectly through the King, protecting their interests in the process. The British representative had the final word regarding foreign relations matters, armed forces, budget and all other essential government activities
Heading back over the River Jordan, in the now smaller Palestine, the Jewish immigration continued. Between 1924 and 1929, a fourth Aliyah (Jewish Migration occurred). This time, over 82,000 immigrants moved to Palestine, mostly from Poland & Hungary. The Jewish settlers were mostly middle class business people. Settling in Palestine, they established the economic sector of the Jewish community there.
Imagine being a Palestinian during this period. First the Ottoman Empire collapses. Then the British divide your country into Palestine and Transjordan. Then there is a mass immigration of Jewish settlers who intend to make your country their new homeland. The stress and pressure from all of these events affected the Palestinian people, and led to a series of riots and massacres.
The tension caused by the changes in the region caused a series of riots, massacres and rebellions throughout the 1929. In August alone, there were riots in Jerusalem, a massacre in Hebron, the destruction of a Mosque in Nabi Akasha, and a massacre in Safed.
The cause of all this?
The primary cause of tension was tension between the Arabs and Jews over access to holy Sites, particularly the Western Wall. The tension was intensified by provocative reportage in Arab and Jewish newspapers. Newspapers from both communities demonized the other, spreading conspiracies and fear. The Arab population, already disturbed by the events occurring around them, grew worried about a Jewish takeover. Due to limited security and police presence in the area, it became easy to get away with violence. Provoked by their fears and the media, the Arabs reacted by attacking the Jewish settlers, leading to riots, destruction and even massacres. In Hebron alone, 67 Jewish settlers were massacred by Arabs due to a rumor that the Jews planned to seize control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
These riots forced the British government to take action, and find a solution to the tension building between the Arab and Jewish citizens of Palestine.
The Hope-Simpson Commission & Passfield White Paper
In response to the riots, the Hope-Simpson Commission was established to investigate the cause of the riots. The commission reported five key points regarding the riot:
- “They [Jews] paid high prices for the land, and in addition they paid to certain of the occupants of those lands a considerable amount of money which they were not legally bound to pay.”
- Arab fears of the destructive impact of Zionist colonization were well-founded, and thus called for controls.
- Zionist labor policy extending to all Jewish enterprises, the displaced Arab farmer could not find non-agricultural employment, making the problem of unemployment among the Arabs “serious and widespread”.
- The Zionist contention that the Arab worker benefited from Jewish immigration was therefore refuted by the report.
- Acknowledgement of illegal immigration by both Arabs and of Jews across Mandate borders and need to discourage such incursions.
This led to the passing of the Passfield White Paper. The paper stated that the development of a Jewish National Home in Palestine is a consideration, which would enjoy continued support, but it was not central to mandate governance. The paper stated that the British intended to fulfill mandate obligations to both Arabs and Jews, and were committed to resolve any conflicts that might surface as a result of respective needs of both Arabs and Jews.
This did not stop Jewish immigration, at all. Between 1929 and 1939, over 250’000 Jews immigrated to Palestine. This became known as the Fifth Aliyah. Most of these Jews were from Eastern Europe, and were professionals. They included doctors, lawyers, and academics. Due to the increased anti-Semitism in Europe, more Jews fled to Palestine every year. This led to rising tension between the Arabs and Jews. To counter this, the British reacted by restricting immigration.
The result was a mass illegal immigration between 1933 and 1948. Over 110,000 immigrants illegally settled in Palestine, increasing the Jewish population to almost half a million. As the treatment of Jews in Europe got worse during World War II, more and more Jews fled to Palestine seeking safety and protection. Out of desperation, many migrated illegally.
The British were unable to control the immigration, or stop it at all. The Arabs grew more worried as the local Jewish community increased in number. Fearing a Jewish takeover, a mass Arab revolt took place in 1936.
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