LESSON 3: The Mandate Era 1920-1947


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DOCUMENT 1: The British Mandate for Palestine (1922)

In contrast to promises made by the British during the war, after WWI, the League of Nations formally divided the non-Ottoman region of Greater Syria (the region which approximately covers today’s countries of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel) between the British and the French. The French were assigned administrative responsibility for the territory which today includes Syria and Lebanon. The British were assigned the territory to the south which included what are today Israel and Jordan.


The Council of the League of Nations:

Whereas the Principal Allied Powers [British Empire, French Republic, Italy and Japan] have agreed, for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, to entrust to a Mandatory selected by the said Powers the administration of the territory of Palestine, which formerly belonged to the Turkish Empire [Ottoman Empire], within such boundaries as may be fixed by them; and

Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917 [the Balfour Declaration], by the Government of His Britannic Majesty [the British Government], and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country; and

Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country; and

Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have selected His Britannic Majesty as the Mandatory for Palestine; and . . .

Whereas His Britannic Majesty has accepted the mandate in respect of Palestine and undertaken to exercise it on behalf of the League of Nations in conformity with the following provisions:

Article 1. The Mandatory shall have full powers of legislation and of administration.

Art. 2. The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country [region] under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home . . . and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.

Art. 3. The Mandatory shall, so far as circumstances permit, encourage local autonomy.

Art. 4. An appropriate Jewish agency shall be recognised as a public body for the purpose of advising and co-operating with the Administration of Palestine [in this case the British Government]. . . . The Zionist organization . . . shall be recognised as such agency.

Art. 6. The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage . . . close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.

The British further subdivided the territory assigned to them into two parts, limiting the area designated for a Jewish national homeland to the west of the Jordan River. The area east of the Jordan River, Transjordan, was given to Abdullah bin Hussein (the future King of Jordan) to become an Arab state.

The Avalon Project : The Palestine Mandate. Web.

Life During the Mandate: Background

The British Mandate for Palestine was intended to be temporary; both Jews and Arabs had been promised sovereign states by the British.

During the British Mandate period, Jews continued to immigrate and develop the land. They were drawn to the Mandate by Zionist ideals and to escape persecution in Europe that preceded the Holocaust.

During the same period, the Arab population nearly doubled from natural increase and immigration from neighboring Arab countries.

The Jewish population formed community organizations, labor unions, political bodies, an English-language newspaper, and built roads, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure in preparation for statehood.

Jewish immigrants arriving in Mandate Palestine during the 1930s.

Background image: Zionist Organization Of America, Funder/Sponsor. Build the Jewish homeland now. Palestine restoration fund $3,000,000. [New York: publisher not identified] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/2015646411/>. This poster was used to solicit funds from American Jews for the development of their homeland. At the time, "Palestine" referred to Mandate Palestine that was administered by the British.

Life During the Mandate, continued

As Jewish immigration to the Mandate increased, Arab opposition to the idea of a Jewish state and to British rule increased and became more violent. To address these concers, the British sharply limited the number of Jews they would allow into Mandate Palestine.

In 1936, Arab leaders in Mandate Palestine formed the Arab High Command, calling for a strike of all Arab workers and a boycott of Jewish products. They demanded an end to both Jewish immigration and land purchases as well as the establishment of an independent Arab state. The strike, which lasted six months, was the beginning the larger Arab Revolt that continued until 1939. This period was marked by often intense violence throughout the region.

Palestine disturbances during summer 1936; inhabitants searched for arms.

Image above: Palestine disturbances. American Colony . Photo Dept, photographer. Palestine disturbances during summer 1936. Jaffa. Summer 1936. Inhabitants searched for arms. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/mpc2010003506/PP/>.

Background image: This stamp reflects Arab nationalist aspirations in the Palestine Mandate. American Colony. Photo Dept, photographer. Arab stamp, "Palestine for the Arabs". Sept. 23. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/mpc2004003008/PP/>.

DOCUMENT 2: The Peel Commission (1937)

In response to the Arab Revolt the British Government sent a delegation led by Lord Earl Peel to assess the situation and to propose a solution. Lord Peel and his colleagues recorded their findings in a 400-plus page document called “The Report of the Palestine Royal Commission” (also known as the Peel Commission). Below are excerpts from this report which described the conditions in the region at the time and outlined a plan for dividing the territory of the Palestine Mandate between the Jews and Arabs. See map below. Ultimately, the plan was never implemented.


Chapter XX. The Force of Circumstances.

1. Before submitting the proposals...we will briefly restate the problem of Palestine.

2. Under the stress of the World War [WW I] the British Government made promises to Arabs and Jews in order to obtain their support. On the strength of those promises both parties formed certain expectations.

3. The application to Palestine of the Mandate System...implied the belief that...the Arabs and the Jews respectively would prove to be mutually compatible.... That belief has not been justified, and we see no hope of its being justified in the future. . . .

5. An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country [region]. About 1,000,000 Arabs are in strife, open or latent, with some 400,000 Jews. There is no common ground between them.

7. This conflict has grown steadily more bitter. It has been marked by a series of five Arab outbreaks, culminating in the rebellion last year....

9. Meanwhile the whole situation is darkened by uncertainty as to the future. The conflict, indeed, is as much about the future as about the present. Every intelligent Arab and Jew is forced to ask the question “Who in the end will govern Palestine?”

19. Manifestly the problem cannot be solved by giving either the Arabs or the Jews all they want. The answer to the question “Which of them in the end will govern Palestine?” must surely be “Neither”... But while neither race [people] can justly rule all of Palestine, we see no reason why...each race [people] should not rule part of it.

20. Partition seems to offer at least a chance of ultimate peace. We can see none in any other plan.

Chapter XXII. A Plan of Partition.

5. ...two sovereign independent States would be established--the one an Arab State ... the other a Jewish State....

As part of this plan, the area around Jerusalem would remain a Mandate.

10. and 11. [A new Mandate should be created to protect the Holy Places] ensuring free and safe access to them for all the world...

36. If Partition is to be effective...there should be a transfer of land and, as far as possible, an exchange of population.

39. . . . in the area allocated [in this plan] to the Jewish State there are now about 225,000 Arabs. In the area allotted to the Arab State there are only some 1,250 Jews.... The existence of these minorities clearly constitutes the most serious hindrance to the smooth and successful operation of the Partition [plan]...It is the far greater number of Arabs who constitute the major problem; and, while some of them could be re-settled on the land vacated by the Jews, far more land would be required for the re-settlement of all of them....

49. Steps should be taken to prohibit the purchase of land by Jews within the Arab Area or by Arabs with the Jewish Area.... No Jewish immigration into the Arab Area should be permitted.

"Palestine Royal Commission ("Peel Commission") - UK Report/Non-UN Document (1 July 1937)." United Nations. Web.

Background image: Group of the members of the Royal Commission photographed in the garden of the King David Hotel immediately after their first official sitting when H.E. the High Commissioner was the first witness brought before them. American Colony (Jerusalem). Library of Congress. Photo Dept., 1936. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/matpc.18240

DOCUMENT 3: The White Paper (1939)

In 1939, the British government took a new position with regard to the future of the Palestine Mandate, marking a reversal from previous plans, all of which had included the creation a national home for the Jewish people. This white paper, the partition plan as outlined by the Peel Commission or of the creation of a single independent state within 10 years, one in which an Arab majority would live alongside a Jewish minority. In addition, strict limits were placed on Jewish immigration into the Mandate just as conditions for European Jews were rapidly deteriorating under the Nazis and many Jews were seeking refuge outside of Europe. The Jewish community in the Palestine Mandate rejected this proposal while Arabs accepted it. Even though it was never formally approved by the British government, it was the working policy in the Mandate between 1939-1945.

Excerpt: The [Peel Commission] and previous Commissions . . . have drawn attention to the ambiguity of certain expressions in the Mandate [which incorporated the language of the Balfour Declaration], such as the expression “a national home for the Jewish people,” and they have found in this ambiguity...a fundamental cause of unrest and hostility between Arabs and Jews....

I. The Constitution

4. It has been urged that the expression “a national home for the Jewish people” [as stated in the Balfour Declaration and in the Palestine Mandate] offered a prospect that Palestine might in due course become a Jewish State or Commonwealth.... But...His Majesty’s Government believe that the framers of the Mandate in which the Balfour Declaration was embodied could not have intended that Palestine should be converted into a Jewish State against the will of the Arab population of the country....

His Majesty’s Government therefore now declare unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish State. They would indeed regard it as contrary to their obligations to the Arabs under the Mandate, as well as to the assurances which have been given to the Arab people in the past.

8. His Majesty’s Government...desire to see established ultimately an independent Palestine State. It should be a State in which the two peoples in Palestine, Arabs and Jews, share authority in government in such a way that the essential interests of each are secured.

II. Immigration

12. Although...the large number of Jewish immigrants who have been admitted so far have been absorbed economically, the fear of the Arabs that this influx will continue indefinitely until the Jewish population is in a position to dominate them has produced consequences which are extremely grave for Jews and Arabs alike and for the prosperity of Palestine.

14. His Majesty’s Government are [also] conscious of the present unhappy plight of large numbers of Jews who seek a refuge from certain European countries, and they believe Palestine can and should make a further contribution to the solution of this pressing world problem. In all these circumstances, they believe that they will be acting consistently with their Mandatory obligations to both Arabs and Jewish...by adopting the following proposals regarding immigration:

(1) Jewish immigration during the next five years will be at a rate which...will bring the Jewish population up to approximately one-third of the total population of the country. . . .

a. For each of the next five years a quota of 10,000 Jewish immigrants will be allowed....

b. In addition, as a contribution towards the solution of the Jewish refugee problem, 25,000 refugees will be admitted...[with] special consideration being given to refugee children and dependents.

(3) After a period of five years no further Jewish immigration will be permitted unless the Arabs of Palestine are prepared to acquiesce in it.

(4) His Majesty’s Government are determined to check illegal immigration, and further preventive measures are being adopted.

The Avalon Project: British White Paper of 1939. Web.

Background Image: Jews protest the 1939 White Paper in Jerusalem.

DOCUMENT 4: United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (1947)

At the end of World War II, the League of Nations (which was formed in the wake of World War I) ceased to exist. In its place, the United Nations (comprised of 50 nations at the outset) was created. In 1947, at the request of the British Government, the UN appointed a special committee of 11 nations to study the situation in Palestine and to make recommendations to the UN General Assembly. On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly, by a 33 to 13 vote, adopted the plan as UN Resolution 181. The Jews accepted the partition plan even though it was less than they believed they had been promised. The Arabs rejected the partition plan and the creation of a Jewish homeland in any part of the area. See accompanying map.


1. The basic premise underlying the partition proposal is that the claims to Palestine of the Arabs and Jews, both possessing validity, are irreconcilable, and that among all of the solutions advanced, partition will provide the most realistic and practicable settlement, and is the most likely to afford a workable basis for meeting in part the claims and national aspirations of both parties.

2. It is a fact that both of these peoples have their historic roots in Palestine, and that both make vital contributions to the economic and cultural life of the country. The partition solution takes these considerations fully into account.

3. The basic conflict in Palestine is a clash of two intense nationalisms. Regardless of the historic origins of the conflict, the rights and wrongs of the promises and counter promises and the international intervention incident to the Mandate, there are now in Palestine some 650,000 Jews and some 1,200,000 Arabs who are...separated by political interests which render difficult full and effective political cooperation....

4. Only by means of partition can these conflicting national aspirations find substantial expression and qualify both peoples to take their places as independent nations in the international community and in the United Nations.

9. It is recognized that partition has been strongly opposed by Arabs, but it is felt that that opposition would be lessened by a solution which definitively fixes the extent of territory to be allotted to the Jews with its implicit limitation on immigration. The fact that the solution carries the sanction of the United Nations involves a finality which should allay Arab fears of further expansion of the Jewish State.

10. In view of the limited area and resources of Palestine, it is essential that...the economic unity of the country should be preserved....

11. Such economic unity requires the creation of an economic association by means of a treaty between the two States. The essential objectives of this association would be a common customs system, a common currency and the maintenance of a country-wide system of transport and communications.


A. Partition and independence

1. Palestine within its present borders, following a transitional period of two years from 1 September 1947, shall be constituted into an independent Arab State, an independent Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem, the boundaries of which are respectively described...below.

"A/364 of 3 September 1947." United Nations. Web.

Additional primary media resource

Background image: The UN votes on partition, November 29, 1947 (Government Press Office, Jerusalem), retrieved from https://www.timesofisrael.com/the-day-that-never-ended/.

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