The British Mandate: Reaction

What was the reaction in Palestine to the British Mandate?

The overriding issue for Jews and Arabs was the future of Palestine in general and Jerusalem in particular. Zionist success in Eretz Yisrael led to rising tension between Jews and Arabs that erupted into bloody riots in 1920 and 1929, followed by the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939.

In 1920, Arab riots during the Pesach (Passover) holiday resulted in 5 Jews killed and 211 wounded, and Jewish property was destroyed, while Arab casualties were 4 killed and 21 wounded. The Arab mobs were incited by rumors that the Jews were taking over Muslim holy sites and had attacked Arabs. In June 1920, the Hagana (Jewish self-defense organization) was formed by Vladimir Jabotinsky as a result of British inability to protect Jewish residents. Had it not been for the preliminary organization of Jewish defence, the number of victims would undoubtedly have been much greater. The British military authorities did not stop the Arab rioters, however they did arrest the Jewish defenders, including Jabotinsky, and sentenced them to prison terms.

A British Commission of Enquiry was appointed, under the Chairmanship of the Chief Justice of Palestine, Sir Thomas Haycraft, to investigate the causes and circumstances of the riots. From the Haycraft Commission report:

  • The racial strife was begun by the Arabs, and rapidly developed into a conflict of great violence between Arabs and Jews, in which the Arab majority, who were generally the aggressors, inflicted most of the casualties.
  • The raids on five Jewish agricultural colonies arose from the excitement produced in the minds of the Arabs by reports of Arabs being killed by Jews in Jaffa. In two cases unfounded stories of provocation were believed and acted upon without any effort being made to verify them.

The British used the rioting as a pretext for limiting Jewish immigration and used other measures to suppress the Zionists, despite the abundant evidence of Arabs as the source of the disturbances. There were many reasons for this including British strategic objectives involving other Arab states in the region.

Although the British attempted to imprison Haj Muhammed Amin al-Husseini, an ardent anti-Zionist dedicated to theeradication of the Jewish presence in Palestine and a major figure behind the April 1920 riots, in the wake of the riots, none of his sentence was served, as Husseini fled to Transjordan, and was soon after given amnesty by the British. In 1921 British High Commissioner Samuels appointed Husseini as mufti (chief Muslim religious jurist) of Jerusalem. In 1922 Samuels augmented Husseini’s power by appointing him president of the newly constituted Supreme Muslim Council (SMC), which was given wide powers over the disbursement of funds from religious endowments, fees, and the like. By heading the SMC, Husseini controlled a vast patronage network, giving him power over a large constituency. He was the most prominent Arab figure in Palestine during the Mandatory period and was the person most responsible for poisoning the relations between the Jewish and Arab populations.

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