Palestine During the British Mandate

British Mandate for Palestine (WW I to 1948)

  • It was in the early years of the 20th century that Palestine started to become the troubled spot of differing political interests and challenging territorial claims. The Ottoman Empire was at its hinges and the European powers were digging their feet firmly in the Mediterranean soil and that included Palestine. While World War I was still underway, a conspiracy was also brewing where the British High Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon started secret correspondence with Husayn Ibn Ali, the Ottoman governor of Mecca and Medina and the patriarch of the Hashemite family and convinced him to lead a revolt against the Ottoman Empire that was Germany’s ally and fighting against France and Britain.


    In return for allying with the Britain, McMahon promised Husayn that he would help establishing the Hashemite rule through an independent state in the Middle East in the regions of Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire and that included Palestine. Resultantly, the Arab revolt was led by Husayn’s son Faysal and T.E. Lawrence, whereby Ottomans were defeated and Britain took over most of the areas from the WWI.

    However, Britain made some more promises in the war that conflicted with the Husayn-McMahon correspondence. The Balfour Declaration was issued by the British Foreign Minister Lord Arthur Balfour where he announced that his government supports the idea of establishing “a Jewish national home in Palestine.” There was also a third promise made by Britain and France among themselves where they secretly agreed to divide the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire and control their respective carved regions.

    After the war was over, Britain and France exercised their dominant power in the League of Nations in gaining quasi-colonial control over the former Ottoman territories. These divided regimes were given the name of mandates. Mandate of France included Syria and Lebanon where there was a slightly Christian majority while British mandate included the areas which are now The West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Israel and Jordan. In 1921, Britain further divided their regime in two parts; one became the Emirate of Transjordan with Abdullah, Faysal’s brother as its ruler, and the other was made into the Palestine mandate. This gave Palestine a unified political identity for the first time in history.

    Arabs were infuriated over how British had broken their promises of establishing an independent Arab state while others were not ready to accept the French and British rule as it violated their right to self-determination. The situation was even grimmer in Palestine where British had supported the idea of creating a Jewish state. There was an ever-increasing Jewish immigration going on and Palestinian Arab peasants, political parties and media were resisting Jewish attempts to acquire land in Palestine and establish settlements as they feared that this would lead to the creation of a Jewish state on their land.

    Clashes broke out between Jews and Arabs between 1920 and 1921 where an equal number of people were killed from both sides. There were more violent confrontations and increased tensions when Jews purchased large land areas from absentee Arab landowners and thus the Arabs who were living in these lands were displaced.

    The year of 1928 brought more clashes between Arabs and Jews which included their respective religious rights over al-Buraq (known as the Wailing Wall by the Jews). In August 1929, a Zionist youth organization raised the Zionist flag over the Wailing Wall. Considering this Noble Sanctuary in danger of being overtaken by the Jews, Arabs attacked Jews throughout the country. This communal violence which lasted for a week, 115 Arabs and 133 Jews were killed and a number of them left wounded.

    Hitler rose to power in 1933 and Jewish immigration from Europe increased dramatically. Palestinian resistance continued until Arabs could not take the Zionist settlements and British control any longer which led to the Arab Revolt of 1936-39. The revolt was suppressed by the British who took help from Zionist armies. The one good that came out of the revolt was the British reconsidering their policies regarding how to rule the mandated territory and maintain order in the community with ever-increasing tensions.

    The White Paper came out as a result which put a limitation on the Jewish land purchases and immigration. Zionists took this document as a betrayal by the British and ended their alliance with them. This was also the time where Arabs realized how politically disorganized they were throughout the decade that was crucial to decide the future of Palestine.

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