What was the Hope-Simpson report?
In 1930, upon the recommendation of the Shaw Commission investigating the 1929 Arab riots, the British authorities decided “…an expert inquiry would have to be made into the questions of immigration, land settlement, and development.” A commission was established headed by Sir John Hope-Simpson, who was Vice-Chairman of the League of Nations Refugee Settlement Commission in Greece. Hope-Simpson spent a relatively short amount of time in Palestine reviewing the situation in June 1930.
Hope-Simpson’s main concern was that there was not sufficient land to support continued immigration. According to his report, Arab farmers were suffering from severe economic difficulties. Many were tenant farmers who owed large amounts of money and lacked the means to ensure successful agricultural endeavors. Others were simply unemployed. The report indicated that the Jewish policy of hiring only Jews was responsible for the deplorable conditions in which the Arabs found themselves.
Due to these conditions, Hope-Simpson recommended the cessation of Jewish immigration. Only after new agricultural methods would be introduced in Palestine, would room be made for an additional number of immigrants.
In response, Jewish leaders in the Yishuv argued that Hope-Simpson had ignored the capacity for growth in the industrial sector. Stimulating economic growth through increased demand would most likely benefit the Arab economy as well. Hope-Simpson disagreed, seeing the future of Palestine in agriculture, not in industry. Jews also claimed that since they had made a principle of using Jewish labor only, the cessation of immigration would in fact have no effect on Arab unemployment.
The Hope-Simpson Report was published in August 1930(Palestine, Report on Immigration, Land Settlement and Development, Sir John Hope Simpson, Command Paper No. 3686, His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1930). At the same time, the Passfield White Paper was issued, clarifying British intentions in Palestine.
Although Hope-Simpson concluded that Jewish immigration and land ownership was negatively impacting the Arab population and should stop, it is difficult to see how the available facts supported that conclusion. Statements in the Hope-Simpson report itself and other sources, outside the Hope-Simspon report, are supportive of the Zionist position and not the Commission’s conclusions or the restrictive British immigration policy that followed:
- The Hope-Simpson Commission report said the British practice of ignoring the uncontrolled illegal Arab immigration from Egypt, Transjordan and Syria had the effect of displacing the prospective Jewish immigrants.
- Hope-Simpson is quoted as saying, “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.”
- Many issues were raised about Hope-Simpson’s methodology, in particular the land surveys he used to reach his conclusions. Among the issues criticized were air vs. land-based cultivatable land analysis, mistakes in interpretation due to harvesting of crops just prior to the survey, ambiguities in the process of land acquisition, the vague status of some state lands, and Zionist compensation to squatters which was not legally required. In these and other cases, Hope-Simpson seems to have always drawn pro-Arab conclusions even when the supporting facts were less than complete or solidly based.
- The British Governor of the Sinai from 1922-36 observed: “This illegal immigration was not only going on from the Sinai, but also from Transjordan and Syria, and it is very difficult to make a case out for the misery of the Arabs if at the same time their compatriots from adjoining states could not be kept from going in to share that misery.”
- Transjordan’s King Abdullah, in his memoirs, says: “It is made quite clear to all, both by the map drawn up by the Simpson Commission and by another compiled by the Peel Commission, that the Arabs are as prodigal in selling their land as they are in useless wailing and weeping”
- In 1931, Lewis French, the British Director of Development for Palestine, conducted a survey of landlessness. He eventually offered new plots to any Arabs who had been “dispossessed.” British officials received more than 3,000 applications, of which 80 percent were ruled invalid by the Government’s legal adviser because the applicants were not landless Arabs. This left only about 600 landless Arabs, 100 of whom accepted the Government land offer. (Report on Agricultural Development and Land Settlement in Palestine by Lewis French, (December 1931, Supplementary; Report, April 1932) and material submitted to the Palestine Royal Commission.)