The British Mandate Period 1920-1948

The Balfour Declaration promises a Jewish Homeland in Palestine.

"The Balfour Declaration, made in November 1917 by the British Government...was made a) by a European power, b) about a non-European territory, c) in flat disregard of both the presence and wishes of the native majority resident in that territory...[As Balfour himself wrote in 1919], 'The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant (the Anglo French Declaration of 1918 promising the Arabs of the former Ottoman colonies that as a reward for supporting the Allies they could have their independence) is even more flagrant in the case of the independent nation of Palestine than in that of the independent nation of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country...The four powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desire and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land,'" Edward Said, "The Question of Palestine."

Wasn't Palestine a wasteland before the Jews started immigrating there?

"Britain's high commissioner for Palestine, John Chancellor, recommended total suspension of Jewish immigration and land purchase to protect Arab agriculture. He said 'all cultivable land was occupied; that no cultivable land now in possession of the indigenous population could be sold to Jews without creating a class of landless Arab cultivators'...The Colonial Office rejected the recommendation." John Quigley, "Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice."

Were the early Zionists planning on living side by side with Arabs?

In 1919, the American King-Crane Commission spent six weeks in Syria and Palestine, interviewing delegations and reading petitions. Their report stated, "The commissioners began their study of Zionism with minds predisposed in its favor...The fact came out repeatedly in the Commission's conferences with Jewish representatives that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase...

"If [the] principle [of self-determination] is to rule, and so the wishes of Palestine's population are to be decisive as to what is to be done with Palestine, then it is to be remembered that the non-Jewish population of Palestine—nearly nine-tenths of the whole—are emphatically against the entire Zionist program...To subject a people so minded to unlimited Jewish immigration, and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land, would be a gross violation of the principle just quoted...No British officers, consulted by the Commissioners, believed that the Zionist program could be carried out except by force of arms.The officers generally thought that a force of not less than fifty thousand soldiers would be required even to initiate the program. That of itself is evidence of a strong sense of the injustice of the Zionist program...The initial claim, often submitted by Zionist representatives, that they have a 'right' to Palestine based on occupation of two thousand years ago, can barely be seriously considered." Quoted in "The Israel-Arab Reader" ed. Laquer and Rubin.

Side by side - continued

"Zionist land policy was incorporated in the Constitution of the Jewish Agency for Palestine...'land is to be acquired as Jewish property and...the title to the lands acquired is to be taken in the name of the Jewish National Fund, to the end that the same shall be held as the inalienable property of the Jewish people.' The provision goes to stipulate that 'the Agency shall promote agricultural colonization based on Jewish labor'...The effect of this Zionist colonization policy on the Arabs was that land acquired by Jews became extra-territorialized. It ceased to be land from which the Arabs could ever hope to gain any advantage...

"The Zionists made no secret of their intentions, for as early as 1921, Dr. Eder, a member of the Zionist Commission, boldly told the Court of Inquiry, 'there can be only one National Home in Palestine, and that a Jewish one, and no equality in the partnership between Jews and Arabs, but a Jewish preponderance as soon as the numbers of the race are sufficiently increased.' He then asked that only Jews should be allowed to bear arms." Sami Hadawi, "Bitter Harvest."

Given Arab opposition to them, did the Zionists support steps towards majority rule in Palestine?

"Clearly, the last thing the Zionists really wanted was that all the inhabitants of Palestine should have an equal say in running the country...[Chaim] Weizmann had impressed on Churchill that representative government would have spelled the end of the [Jewish] National Home in Palestine...[Churchill declared,] 'The present form of government will continue for many years. Step by step we shall develop representative institutions leading to full self-government, but our children's children will have passed away before that is accomplished.'" David Hirst, "The Gun and the Olive Branch."

Denial of the Arabs' right to self-determination

"Even if nobody lost their land, the [Zionist] program was unjust in principle because it denied majority political rights...Zionism, in principle, could not allow the natives to exercise their political rights because it would mean the end of the Zionist enterprise." Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, "Original Sins."

Arab resistance to Pre-Israeli Zionism

"In 1936-9, the Palestinian Arabs attempted a nationalist revolt...David Ben-Gurion, eminently a realist, recognized its nature. In internal discussion, he noted that 'in our political argument abroad, we minimize Arab opposition to us,' but he urged, 'let us not ignore the truth among ourselves.' The truth was that 'politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves...The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country, while we are still outside'...The revolt was crushed by the British, with considerable brutality." Noam Chomsky, "The Fateful Triangle."

Gandhi on the Palestine conflict—1938

"Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French...What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct...If they [the Jews] must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs...As it is, they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them. I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regard as an unacceptable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds." Mahatma Gandhi, quoted in "A Land of Two Peoples" ed. Mendes-Flohr.

Didn't the Zionists legally buy much of the land before Israel was established?

"In 1948, at the moment that Israel declared itself a state, it legally owned a little more than 6 percent of the land of Palestine...After 1940, when the mandatory authority restricted Jewish land ownership to specific zones inside Palestine, there continued to be illegal buying (and selling) within the 65 percent of the total area restricted to Arabs.

Thus when the partition plan was announced in 1947 it included land held illegally by Jews, which was incorporated as a fait accompli inside the borders of the Jewish state. And after Israel announced its statehood, an impressive series of laws legally assimilated huge tracts of Arab land (whose proprietors had become refugees, and were pronounced 'absentee landlords' in order to expropriate their lands and prevent their return under any circumstances)." Edward Said, "The Question of Palestine."

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