BECK index

Palestine and Zionism 1700-1950

by Sanderson Beck

Palestine 1600-1922
Zionism and Herzl 1839-1904
Zionism 1905-20
Palestine under the British 1920-39
Palestine under the British 1939-47
Israel and War 1948-50

This chapter has been published in the book Mideast & Africa 1700-1950.
For ordering information, please click here.

Palestine 1700-1922

Ottoman and Persian Empires 1300-1700

The Muslim Turks persecuted Jews and Christians in Palestine. By 1700 the Jewish population at Safed had increased to 16,000. In 1697 Rabbi Judah he-Hasid led 1,500 Ashkenazim from his native Poland, Germany, and Moravia; five hundred died before they reached the holy city of Jerusalem on October 14, 1700.

In the 18th century the Bedouin Zahir al-Umar al-Zaidani rose to become a wealthy trader and tax farmer. He developed a base of power in Galilee as Acre prospered. He monopolized the export of cotton, grain, olive oil, and tobacco. During the Russo-Ottoman War of 1768-74 he rebelled and took over Damascus; but after the Ottoman fleet captured Acre in August 1775, Zahir was killed. The next year the Bosnian Mamluk Ahmad al-Jazzar gained the regional power and governed Sidon and Damascus until 1804. In 1799 his troops defended Acre against an attack by Napoleon’s French forces. At that time Jerusalem was the largest city south of Acre, but it still had less than 10,000 people. Sulaiman Pasha al-Adil had been in Jazzar’s household, and he governed 1805-19. His successor Abdallah Pasha ruled until 1832 and fought the rural clans.

Egyptian troops led by Muhammad ‘Ali’s oldest son Ibrahim began invading Palestine in 1831, and they destroyed Acre in 1832. The Greek monk Neophytos wrote a chronicle from 1821 to 1841 and described several uprisings. He noted that the people of Jerusalem responded to the news about Acre by celebrating with great joy. In 1834 a head tax was imposed on all Muslims fourteen and older except for the ‘ulama and foreigners, and in April a revolt erupted led by Ahmad al-Qasim from Jabal Nablus. On May 19 some notables and sheiks in Nablus, Jerusalem, and Hebron told the Egyptian governors that they could not fill the quotas of conscripts because the peasants had fled from their villages to the mountains. In this urban-rural conflict the peasants briefly occupied and looted Jerusalem. In July the Egyptian soldiers ravaged and burned rebel villages and captured Nablus. The Egyptians won the final battle at Hebron on August 4, killing and conscripting men and raping women. In 1838 the Egyptian rulers allowed the British to open diplomatic missions in Damascus and Jerusalem. In 1839 the British, Russians, Prussians, and Austrians combined to expel the Egyptian army from Syria and Anatolia. The British navy blockaded the coast of the Levant and bombarded Beirut. The Ottoman army attacked in the winter and drove out the Egyptians in 1840. However, they delayed reasserting administrative control, and by 1845 it was too late.

Palestine was exempted from compulsory military service until 1862. Provincial administration was reformed by the Vilayet Law of 1864. The Palestine Exploration Fund was founded in 1865 with leading scientists. In 1872 a southern region around Jerusalem became an independent district with subdistricts that included Hebron, Jaffa, and Gaza. The Electoral Law went into effect in 1876. Thousands of Muslim soldiers from Palestine were killed in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. The number of Jews in Palestine increased from 13,900 in 1872 to 26,000 in 1880, when the region also had about 400,000 Muslims and 43,000 Christians. By 1895 about 28,000 Jews were a majority in Jerusalem, and this increased to 35,000 by 1905 and 45,000 in 1914. That year Palestine registered 722,000 residents.

After the 1908 Ottoman reforms Arabs in Palestine could express their opinions more freely, and in May 1911 three delegates in the Jerusalem sançak parliament criticized Zionism. The Christian newspapers Al-Karmil in Haifa and Filastin of Jaffa also analyzed and objected to Zionism. The Decentralization Society was outside of Palestine, and in February 1913 they proposed an Arab-Jewish détente. However, the Zionists were reluctant to join with Arabs against the Ottoman empire, and the Arab leaders in Palestine also opposed contacts with Zionists. Restrictions on Jewish immigration were being released, and most anti-Zionist newspapers were shut down briefly. In this period before the Great War liberal politicians worked for constitutional reforms within the Ottoman system.

At the beginning of the Great War in September 1914 the Ottomans sent troops to Palestine commanded by Cemal Pasha, and they were reinforced by their German and Austrian allies. In January 1916 Mark Sykes and Georges-Picot reached a secret agreement that Palestine was to be governed by a condominium of the French, Russian, and British allies. In June the British established military headquarters in Cairo and began equipping 150,000 men of the British Expeditionary Force. On December 22 they captured the Ottoman post at al-Arish, and they over-ran Rafa in January 1917. By March they had occupied Gaza. Delayed by Turkish defenses, General Edmund Allenby was put in command. On April 19 the Committee on Territorial Terms of Peace led by Lord Curzon favored the British control of post-war Palestine. The British occupation led to the Arabs’ greatest fear, the success of the Zionist movement expressed in the Balfour Declaration on November 2. Allenby’s Anglo-Egyptian Expeditionary Force took Jaffa on November 16 and Jerusalem on December 9. Two days later Allenby declared martial law.

In his famous “Fourteen Points” in January 1918 US President Woodrow Wilson promised the other nationalities now under Turkish rule “undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development.”1 That same month Commander David George Hogarth assured King Hussein that “Jewish settlement in Palestine would only be allowed in so far as would be consistent with the political and economic freedom of the Arab population.”2 The British Government promised the “consent of the governed” in its Declaration to Seven Arabs on June 16. Northern Palestine remained under Ottoman control until Haifa fell on September 23, 1918. After the Ottoman surrender in October, the Anglo-French declaration on November 7 promised “the complete and definite emancipation of the peoples so long oppressed by the Turks and the establishment of National Governments and administrations deriving their authority from the initiative and free choice of the indigenous populations.”3

Emir Faisal bin al-Hussein was hoping to unite Arabs in a Greater Syria, and Palestinian delegates attended a General Syrian Congress at Damascus in June and spoke out against the Balfour Declaration. Faisal was criticized for making an agreement with Chaim Weizmann on January 3 which promised to implement the Balfour Declaration, though he had attached a hand-written note to the Agreement stipulating agreement to Arab independence by the powerful nations at the Paris Peace Conference. The British refused to let a Palestinian delegation go to the Paris Peace Conference.

In February 1919 the Muslim-Christian Association held its first national congress in Palestine, and they opposed Jewish immigration and the Jewish national home with demonstrations in Jerusalem and Damascus. That month they authorized Faisal to represent them but only to demand Palestinian autonomy within an independent state of Syria. In March 1919 the military authorities estimated the Palestinian population as 551,000 Muslims, 65,300 Jews, 62,500 Christians, and 5,050 others.

The British and French refused to join an American commission led by Dr. Henry King and Charles Crane that went to Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria in June. The Arabs in Jerusalem met them and demanded complete independence for Syria, autonomy for Palestine within Syria, and rejection of Zionist immigration and a Jewish nation in Palestine. The King-Crane Commission report recommended an American or British mandate over Greater Syria, but delegates at the Paris Peace Conference did not discuss this, and it was not published until 1922.

On June 28, 1919 the Treaty of Versailles and the Covenant establishing the League of Nations were signed. In September the British and French leaders agreed that the British should withdraw from Syria as French troops moved into the northern zone laid out in the Sykes-Picot Agreement except that Mosul was to remain British. On March 7, 1920 a General Syrian Congress that included Palestinian delegates proclaimed Faisal king of an independent Syria. That month the Chief Administrator in Jerusalem, General Louis Bols, complained that the Zionist Commission and US Judge Louis Brandeis were interfering and prejudicing his administration by introducing Hebrew as an official language, setting up a Jewish judiciary and special traveling privileges for the Zionist Commission while accusing him and his officers of anti-Zionism. The first Arab protest that was violent broke out on Easter Sunday.

In April 1920 the Supreme Council of the Paris Peace Conference met at San Remo and divided the Mideast into British and French mandate territories. The British appointed the committed Zionist Herbert Samuel to head a civilian government in Jerusalem on July 1, and on August 26 an Immigration Ordinance fixed the quota for Jews at 16,500 in the first year. The French defeated Faisal’s army at Maisalun on July 24 and occupied Damascus, making Syria a French mandate. This ended Arab hopes for a Greater Syria, and at Cairo in March 1921 Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill chaired a conference that confirmed the new regional order. Faisal was offered the throne of Iraq, and his brother Abdullah was given Transjordan under British authority.

On June 3, 1922 the British Government issued the Churchill Memorandum which referred to Palestine becoming as Jewish as England is English. On July 24 the Supreme Council of the League of Nations approved the British mandate over Palestine, and Transjordan was excluded from a stipulation regarding the creation of a Jewish national home. The 1922 census of Palestine found 589,177 Muslims, 83,790 Jews, 71,464 Christians, and 77,617 others.

Zionism and Herzl 1839-1904

Between 1827 and 1875 the wealthy financier and philanthropist Moses Montefiore traveled from London seven times to Palestine. In 1839 the Sephardic rabbi Judah Alkalai, who lived near Belgrade, published a Ladino-Hebrew textbook called Pleasant Paths (Darchei Noam) in which he advocated establishing Jewish colonies in the holy land as a necessary step toward redemption. In his 1843 booklet The Offering of Judah (Minchat Yehuda) he called for at least 22,000 to return to the holy land as the initial stage. That year the Orthodox rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, who preached to a Polish congregation in East Prussia, published An Honest Faith (Emunah Yesharah) in which he urged the colonization of Palestine without delay. He also proposed forming a society of rich Jews to finance the colonizing of Zion, settling Jews in the holy land, training them in self-defense, and establishing an agricultural school in Israel. They founded the Society for the Colonization of the Land of Israel. In 1870 Montefiore persuaded Adolphe Crémieux to found the Alliance Israelite Universelle, which provided the initial subsidy for the Jewish agricultural school Hope of Israel (Mikveh Israel) that was established near Jaffa.

Moses Hess was from an Orthodox Jewish family in Bonn, and in 1862 his Rome and Jerusalem warned that a national homeland was the Jews’ last chance to be transformed into a normal people with their own nation; but only two hundred copies were sold in the first five years, and it was not published in Hebrew until 1899. In 1876 George Eliot’s novel Daniel Deronda was published about a Jew with a wealthy mentor who devotes himself to a national center for Jews and the return to Palestine. Perez Smolenskin wrote a series of essays for HaShahar from 1875 to 1877 under the heading “A Time to Plant,” arguing that they should choose Palestine even if they had to build in its waste lands because it is a symbol of their nationhood. He published a periodical in 1878 and was a leader in the Haskalah (Enlightenment) and Hibbat Zion (Love of Zion) movements. He also urged raising funds for a mass emigration to Palestine.

Czar Alexander II of Russia had tolerated Jews more than before, but he was assassinated on March 13, 1881. Alexander III believed that policy had failed. Pogroms against Jews in southern Russia and the Ukraine began, and on May 3, 1882 Alexander III issued a new series of anti-Jewish decrees. The May Laws closed further rural areas to Jewish settlement. Moshe Lilienblum hid in a basement from Russian mobs for two days, and he began writing articles urging Jews to move to the land of their fathers.

Leo Pinsker published his essay Auto-emancipation (Selbstemanzipation) in September 1882, arguing that Jews needed their own nation. Groups called the Lovers of Zion (Chovevei Zion) adopted the credo that they had to establish a government in their own land of Israel to attain salvation. Pinsker emerged as the leader, and he summoned a national conference for Chovevei Zion societies in 1884. A central office was established in Odessa with Pinsker as president. By 1890 Chovevei Zion was registered as an association by the Russian government, and the Society for the Support of Jewish Agriculturists and Artisans in Palestine and Syria was being tolerated by the government in St. Petersburg.

Lovers of an Ancient Tongue formed branches of their society and were led by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda who went to Palestine in 1882. He began using the Hebrew-in-Hebrew method of teaching at the first Hebrew school in 1903, the year the Association of Hebrew Teachers was formed to promote Hebrew education in Palestine.

In the fall of 1882 Baron Edmund de Rothschild met with Joseph Feinberg, a co-founder of Rishon Le Zion, and offered 30,000 francs to drill a well there. Rothschild insisted on keeping his contributions secret, and by 1890 he had contributed $6 million to purchase land, training, machinery, livestock, waterworks, dispensaries, synagogues, and homes for the elderly. Rothschild also sent overseers to control how the money was spent. Residents complained that crops changed from grapes to almonds and from olives to wheat. Rothschild visited Palestine in December 1898 and was impressed by progress he saw, and he decided not to phase out his subsidies. He expected the farmers to meet their responsibilities, but he would continue to provide schools and communal buildings. He turned the management over to the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association (PICA).

Theodor Herzl was born on May 2, 1860 in Budapest in an affluent banking family. He attended the University of Vienna and earned a doctorate in law in 1884, but he only practiced law for a short time before turning to writing plays and essays. In 1887 he became a senior editor of Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung and then four years later became the Paris correspondent for the Neue Freie Presse. In 1894 he wrote the play Das Neue Ghetto about a Jewish lawyer who fails but urges others to get out of the ghetto.

On June 2, 1895 Herzl met with Baron Maurice de Hirsch, who was helping Jews settle in Argentina. They disagreed, and in July he returned to Vienna as the feuilleton (gossip) editor of the Neue Freie Presse. Herzl wrote an “Address to the Rothschilds” and showed it to Jewish leaders. His friend, Dr. Max Nordau, had written The Conventional Lies of Our Civilization in 1884, and he urged him to publish it. Herzl expanded it into his famous pamphlet, The Jewish State (Der Judenstaat), which was published in Vienna on February 14, 1896, followed soon by English and French translations. He asserted that the world needed a Jewish state because of anti-Semitism. Instead of the gradual migrations to Argentina and Palestine, he suggested they plan for and create a nation. To do this he proposed the Society of Jews for legal work and the Jewish Company to raise money from wealthy Jews. He envisioned a modern Jewish state with science, technology, and social principles. Private initiative would be encouraged, and women would have full equality.

Herzl and the Polish count Philip Michael de Nevlinski went to Constantinople in June 1896 and met with Sultan Abdulhamid II, but he said he did not want his empire “vivisected.” Herzl went to Paris and was given an interview with Edmond de Rothschild on July 18. Herzl threatened to create agitation among the masses if support was refused. When he returned to Vienna, Herzl was greeted almost as a Messiah by many Jews. On July 21 he wrote to Jacob de Haas in London about organizing the masses. Members of the German Kadima urged him to summon a Zionist congress in Munich, but the site was changed to Basle, Switzerland, where the conference began on August 29, 1897. They had a Zionist flag, and Herzl began his speech to the 204 representatives by saying, “We are here to lay the foundation stone of the house which is to shelter the Jewish nation.”4 They formed the World Zionist Organization and elected Herzl president. Anyone could join by paying the annual fee equivalent to one shekel. They met again the following year, and attendance increased to 349. Herzl in September met with the German ambassador in Vienna and then the foreign minister, Prince Bernhard von Bülow, who was not favorable but arranged a meeting with Kaiser Wilhelm II on October 18. Herzl proposed a chartered company protected by Germany, but a second meeting on November 2 produced little.

The Fourth Zionist Congress met in London in August 1900 as people were concerned about the deteriorating situation for Jews in Russia and Rumania. Herzl met with Sultan Abdulhamid II again on May 17, 1901, and he suggested that wealthy Jews might help pay off the Ottoman debt if a Jewish land settlement company was given a charter in Palestine. However, the Rothschilds and Montefiores declined to support this. Herzl was able to get the Zionist Action Committee to approve a deposit of letters guaranteeing three million francs in Ottoman banks by the Jewish Colonial Trust; but when Herzl returned to Constantinople, he learned that the Turks had used this to leverage a loan from French financiers led by Foreign Minister Maurice Rouvier. Discouraged Herzl wrote the novel Old-New Land (Altneuland) about an attorney in Vienna who has suffered from anti-Semitism and goes around the world on a yacht with a German aristocrat. They visit the backward settlements and Zionist villages in Palestine, but twenty years later they return and find them very progressive.

The humanist philosopher Martin Buber joined the Zionist Organization in 1898 and urged them to consider their effect on the Arab population in Palestine. In 1901 Herzl appointed him editor of the movement’s weekly Die Welt (The World). The same year Buber founded the Democratic Faction to work for the transformation of the World Zionist Organization. In the 1920s Buber began promoting a binational Jewish-Arab state, and in 1925 he helped found Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace). In 1938 Buber left Germany and came to Jerusalem to teach anthropology and sociology at Hebrew University. He corresponded with Mahatma Gandhi about the use of nonviolence in the Jewish struggle; but he criticized Gandhi’s advice that Jews should stay in their European countries and resist to the death. Buber joined the group Ichud which advocated a bi-national state of Jews and Arabs in Palestine.

Herzl’s efforts were criticized by the Russian Asher Ginzberg, who wrote under the name Ahad Ha’Am. He reported on the Jewish situation in Palestine, and to cultivate a spiritual ideal in 1899 he founded the B’nai Moshe inside the Chovevei Zion. In the Zionist Congress their elitist group was called the Fraction, and they passed the resolution affirming “the education of the Jewish people in a national spirit.” At the Fifth Zionist Congress on December 29, 1901 at Basle they set up the Jewish National Fund.

Herzl met with Joseph Chamberlain in April 1903 at London, and he proposed a colony in British East Africa. Meanwhile the Russian government was suppressing Zionist efforts to raise money or hold meetings. At the Sixth Zionist Congress at Basle on August 22, 1903 Herzl proposed the colony in East Africa. The Congress was divided, and an investigating commission won the votes of barely more than half the delegates. Herzl’s political Zionism and authoritarian decision-making was criticized, and Russian leaders especially objected to the African project. Herzl suffered heart attacks, and he died on July 3, 1904. Six thousand people attended his funeral in Vienna, and on August 16, 1949 his remains were flown to Israel, where they were buried in a tomb on Mount Herzl by Jerusalem.

Zionism 1905-20

At the Seventh Zionist Congress at Basle in 1905 David Wolffsohn was elected to succeed Herzl as president. He was from the German Chovevei Zion and had been Herzl’s emissary to Russian Jews. The projected colony in East Africa was rejected, and the Palestine office in Jaffa was set up under Dr. Arthur Ruppin. Chaim Weizmann proposed that Hebrew be recognized as the official language of the Zionist movement, and the resolution passed. German membership in the Zionist Federation increased from 1,300 in 1901 to 8,000 in 1914, and the Russian movement grew even faster. The Lithuanian rabbi Samuel Mohilever had founded the spiritual center Merkaz Ruchani, which was called “Mizrachi.” Ahad Ha’Am led the cultural Zionists. He visited Palestine in 1900 and persuaded hundreds of Jewish farm workers to elect delegates to petition Rothschild to relax PICA’s policies controlling Jewish farms, but their appeal failed at first. Marxists and socialists were also prominent, especially in Russia, where in 1903 Jews were nearly half of the delegates to the Second Russian Social Democratic Party Congress. Nachman Syrkin argued that socialism would solve the Jewish problem in the future. The student Ber Borochov was expelled from the Social Democratic Party for Zionist deviation, and he began formulating Marxist Zionism. After the failed revolution in 1905 he left Russia and went to the United States until the revolution in March 1917. He came back and attended a Workers (Poalei) of Zion convention but died of pneumonia in December.

The period of immigration to Palestine from 1904 to 1914 is called the Second Aliyah. Many fled from the pogroms in Russia after the revolt was suppressed in October 1905. Yosef Vitkin taught school in Galilee and appealed to Jews to come despite the difficulties, and about 30,000 Jews were added between 1905 and 1914. David Ben-Gurion nearly died of malaria, and he estimated that as many as eighty percent who came returned to Europe or went on to America. He and other Labor Zionists emphasized the class struggle. Aaron David Gordon became the leading prophet of the religion of labor, and he worked as a farmer and wrote in his spare time.

The Anglo-Palestine Bank grew at Jaffa, and after the Young Turk reforms of 1908 Ruppin’s Palestine Office in Jaffa was able to operate with Ottoman support. The Jewish Colonial Trust had £225,000 in capital and invested £36,000 in the Anglo-Palestine Bank. Ruppin proposed using the Jewish National Fund to buy two million dunams of land in Judea and Galilee and sell farms to Jewish immigrants on easy terms. The Palestine Land Development Company acquired land and divided it into plots for farmers. Immigrants were given shelter and agricultural training in the settlements, and contract cooperatives also developed in the towns. Tel Aviv was founded in 1909, and that year the first kibbutz Degania was founded on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Health care coverage began in 1911 with 2,000 people in the Sick Fund (Kupat Cholim). In 1912 Henrietta Szold founded the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, and they raised money for hospitals and clinics in Palestine. Oppressive labor conditions brought pressure for reforms on the PICA farms. Manya Shochat pioneered a collectivist venture that refused to hire Arab labor. As Ottoman law became lax, banditry became a problem. Ben-Zvi and others organized a secret society of Jewish watchmen called Bar-Giora, and they were trained in self-defense and grew into the Watchmen (HaShomer). By 1914 this guild had a hundred men in Jewish Palestine with four squads in Judea.

Eliezer Ben Yehuda published newspapers in Hebrew. He criticized Orthodox Jews, and pietists stoned his office. He began working on a modern Hebrew dictionary and completed three volumes that were extended to seventeen after his death. When the Haifa Technical Institute proposed teaching all technical subjects in German in 1913, Ben Yehuda and the Hebrew Teachers’ Association announced a strike in all Hilfsverein schools. After four months in February 1914 the Institute’s board of governors changed their policy to make Hebrew the exclusive language in all Technion courses. After the 1908 reforms Jews could send delegates to the Ottoman parliament; but few Jews were Ottoman citizens, and even fewer Zionists were elected. By the time the Great War started, the Zionist Organization had 127,000 dues-paying members.

On December 27, 1914 Beha-a-Din, the Turkish governor of Jaffa, ordered 6,000 Jews expelled, and on that day 700 were arrested and shipped to Alexandria. Within a month 7,000 Jews fled from Palestine. In a few weeks 12,000 Jews had applied for Ottoman citizenship, and the same number applied in the next year. During the Great War young and old Jewish men were drafted and made to work paving roads or quarrying stone while living in unhealthy barracks with inadequate food. Those who became ill were imprisoned. During the first two years of the war about 8,000 Jews died of starvation or hunger-related diseases. Beha-a-Din became secretary for Jewish affairs, and he ordered the Anglo-Palestine Bank closed along with Zionist newspapers, political offices, and schools. All Zionist activity was banned, and Jewish land titles were questioned. Arabs pillaged Jewish villages, and hundreds of Jews were taken in chains to prisons in Damascus or to work in the granite pits of Tarsus.

In 1914 the Zionist Organization established a Bureau for Zionist Affairs in Copenhagen, but most Zionist organizations supported their nation in the war. Arthur Ruppin knew the Zionist German foreign minister Arthur von Zimmermann, and he was allowed to distribute funds from German Jews. Henry Morgenthau was the US ambassador in Constantinople, and he was able to persuade Ahmad Djemal to relieve the repression by the spring of 1915. By March about 15,000 Jews had fled to Egypt, where they were housed in refugee camps at Gabbari and Mafruza supported by Jewish communal funds. The Russian journalist Vladimir Jabotinsky had been covering the war in Europe, and he and the war veteran Joseph Trumpeldor recruited Jewish volunteers to fight against the Turks; about five hundred formed the Zion Mule Corps. In March 1917 Djemal Pasha anticipated a British invasion by ordering all remaining Jews to evacuate Jaffa and Tel Aviv.

Aaron Aaronsohn in 1906 had won international recognition for discovering a weather-resistant wheat, and four years later he set up an experimental station at Atlit to study dry-farming. During the war he and his associates became spies in Palestine for British intelligence. They relayed useful information on Turkish defenses to the British military for the NILI until a carrier pigeon was captured by the Turks. Na’aman Belkind was caught going to Egypt, and Aaronsohn was captured and tortured. His daughter Sarah Aaronsohn turned herself in to spare her father. She and Reuven Schwartz committed suicide, and Belkind and Lishanski were hanged in Damascus.

Zionist Commission Chairman Chaim Weizmann acted diplomatically with Lloyd George, Arthur James Balfour, Jan Christiaan Smuts, and others to secure British protection of the Zionists in Palestine and a Jewish homeland. Louis Brandeis had become chairman of the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs in 1914, and two years later he became the first Jewish US Supreme Court Justice. He used his influence on his friend Balfour and with President Wilson. The British War Cabinet voted for the declaration on October 31 over the objections of Edwin Montagu and Curzon. Presented as a letter to Edmund de Rothschild on November 2, 1917, the Balfour Declaration stated,

His Majesty’s Government view with favour
the establishment in Palestine
of a national home for the Jewish people,
and will use their best endeavours
to facilitate the achievement of this object,
it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done
which may 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.5

Millions of copies of this statement were circulated, and leaflets were dropped from airplanes over German and Austrian towns. The Ottoman Interior Minister Talaat Pasha announced that he would cancel restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine.

The Zionist Organization of America was founded in 1917 with individual members, and they strongly supported the Balfour Declaration. Weizmann met with King George V on March 7, 1918. Weizmann also had a series of meetings with Emir Faisal, and they signed an agreement on January 4, 1919 guaranteeing Jews the right to immigrate freely into Palestine and settle with the reciprocal assurance that Arab tenant farmers would be protected and assisted economically. On February 6 Faisal asked the Peace Conference for Arab independence while he recognized Palestine as an enclave of the Zionist Jews. Weizmann addressed the Peace Conference on February 27, but only Menachem Ussishkin spoke in Hebrew. Ussishkin went to Palestine in November and became chairman of the commission.

During the Great War the number of Jews in Palestine fell from 85,000 to 55,000. In 1919 Jews were still less than ten percent of the population of Palestine, and they owned only two percent of the land. Many Jews supported the revolution in Russia; but later Zionists were suspected of disloyalty by the Communist Party, and in February 1919 Zionist periodicals and organizations were banned in the Soviet Union. Moderate leaders of the Poalei Zion founded the socialist Unity of Labor Party (Ahdut Ha’avoda).

After the war about 100,000 Jews were murdered in the Ukraine, and this stimulated much Jewish emigration. Trumpeldor inspired many to join the Labor Battalion (G’dud HaAvodah). In February 1920 some Arab Bedouins attacked the Jewish settlements of Metulla and Tel Chai, and Trumpeldor was killed. About 560 laborers joined the Battalion and worked in communes. In late February thousands of Arab protestors marched in Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa, Bethlehem, and other places. In March the Syrian National Congress offered Faisal the throne of a united Syria. A Muslim pilgrimage on the Jericho road arrived in Jerusalem on April 4 during the week of Passover and Easter, and the crowd wounded 160 Jews. Musa al-Husayni, the Arab mayor of Jerusalem, was dismissed, and several were given prison sentences, including the Jewish self-defense leader Jabotinsky. Also in April more than seventy percent of registered Jewish voters elected a National Assembly (Asefat HaNivcharim).

Palestine under the British 1920-39

On April 25, 1920 the Supreme Council of the Peace Conference at San Remo awarded the Palestine Mandate to Britain. Four days later the British announced they would replace the military regime in Palestine with a civilian government. General Allenby’s administrator for Palestine continued until he was succeeded by Louis Bols. Prime Minister Lloyd George selected Herbert Samuel, a Jew, as civil high commissioner, and his appointments were respected as being fair to both sides. Zionists were pleased by his open-door immigration policy, and he appointed the anti-Zionist Ernest T. Richmond to formulate Arab policy. Samuel would serve for five years while the Jewish population increased to 108,000 by 1925. On May 1, 1920 some Jewish Communists marched in Jaffa in a Zionist labor parade, and Arabs reacted with a riot that spread to the countryside and killed 47 Jews and 48 Arabs. Samuel put a ban on Jewish immigration but lifted it in July while imposing controls such as available employment. Also in 1920 the kibbutz Kiryat Anavim (City of Grapes) was initiated near Jerusalem.

Zionist leaders meeting in London in July 1920 elected Chaim Weizmann president of the Zionist Organization. Six men from the eleven on the presidium were assigned to Palestine to head the departments of political affairs, immigration, labor, colonization (agriculture), education, and health. In October the 314 members of the National Assembly from twenty parties began meeting in Jerusalem. They elected an executive of 36 men and women called the Va’ad Le’umi. In December the various labor groups joined to form the Histadrut or the General Federation of Jewish Labor. This led in March 1921 to the organizing of the Haganah (Defense) organization which functioned secretly without the approval of the British authorities. That spring Weizmann began the Karen HaY’sod in the United States, and it raised $2 million by the end of the year. He set $150 million as his goal, but in the next eight years Weizmann raised only $20 million. Because the Jews had their own resources, the British leased them only 83,000 dunams; but they gave Arab farmers 397,000 dunams from the state domain.

In 1920 Raghib al-Nashashibi became mayor of Jerusalem, replacing Musa Kazim al-Husayni, who led a delegation of Arabs to London to protest Jewish immigration in August 1921. They negotiated there for a year and visited the League of Nations in Geneva, publishing the book, The Holy Land: The Muslim-Christian Case against Zionist Aggression. Also in 1921 Hajj Amin al-Husayni became Mufti in Jerusalem. In December the British recognized the Supreme Muslim Council as the counterpart of the Rabbinical Council of the Jews, and in 1922 the remaining Muslim property owners elected Amin president over their rivals, the Nashashibi faction.

In May 1922 the Churchill White Paper officially restricted the Jewish homeland to the area west of the Jordan River and Jewish immigration to the economic capacity of the country. In July the British government published this as their policy, and the Council of the League of Nations approved on September 29. The official languages of Palestine were to be English, Arabic, and Hebrew. The British passed an organic law to govern the Palestine Mandate that was signed by George V on August 10, 1922 and was proclaimed by Samuel in Jerusalem on September 1.

On September 29, 1923 the British mandate in Palestine and the French mandate in Syria went into effect. The Mandate Treaty gave the “Jewish question” of Zionist national self-realization a special status in Palestine. An independent judiciary was to protect the rights of natives and foreigners and to assure the rights of the various religious communities. Representatives of each religion were to be elected to the legislative council, which could not pass any law violating the terms of the mandate. Taxes and revenue legislation were left to the British, and the high commissioner could veto any legislation. The Arabs boycotted the primary elections, and the Government cancelled the final voting. High Commissioner Samuel nominated an advisory council instead of a legislature. The former mayor of Jerusalem, Musa Kazim al-Husayni, had led an Arab delegation to England to protest the Jewish homeland, and he said his people would never recognize a Jewish Agency. The Arabs refused to set up their agency, and so Samuel chose the subordinate administrative officers.

Palestine was divided into the north, south, and Jerusalem, which also served as the capital. The High Commissioner appointed the mayors and could remove them. Taxes on the citizens of Palestine paid for the Mandate government until 1929 when violence increased. The six judges on the court of appeals were two Englishmen, two Muslims, one Christian, and one Jew. In the first ten years the Government planted a million trees, and the Zionists also planted millions. An international airport was built at Lydda, and the harbor at Haifa was enlarged. Education was improved, and by 1929 about 30,000 Arab children were in government schools. Jews were employed more in public works because most Arabs were poor and illiterate. The Supreme Muslim Council under the presidency of the Mufti of Jerusalem supervised religious laws, and the Sephardic chief rabbi presided over Jewish religious tribunals. Jews had begun electing a Rabbinical Council in February 1921.

On June 30, 1924 the Haganah had the ultra-Orthodox leader, Israel de Haan, assassinated for having taken such extreme positions against Zionism. Students had boycotted his classes at the law school, and David Ben-Gurion accused him of treason. In 1925 Berl Katznelson founded Davar newspaper for Histradut, and he was editor until his death in 1944. In April 1925 Jabotinsky while in Paris founded the right-wing Revisionist Party that was soon established in Palestine. In June the Hebrew University began operating on Mount Scopus.

Poland’s finance minister Wladyslaw Grabski nationalized industries and dismissed so many Jews that between 1924 and 1927 about 65,000 Poles emigrated to Palestine, increasing the Jewish population in Palestine to 154,000 in 1929. Herbert Plumer replaced Samuel in 1926, and he also was considered fair. In 1927 delegates formed the United Kibbutz (HaKibbutz HaMe’uchad). Children were given special care, and men and women had more time for discussions, debates, and lectures. Also in 1927 the Third Histadrut Convention established the Confederation of Palestine Labor. That year was financially difficult for the Zionist Organization, and they stopped subsidizing newspapers and political parties. The Palestine Arab Workers Society had begun at Haifa in 1925, but they were not really functioning until the Jaffa and Jerusalem branches formed the Arab Laborers’ Federation in 1929. On January 1, 1928 the Knesset Israel began representing Jews in Palestine. On July 19 Harry Luke succeeded Plumer as High Commissioner, and violence soon followed.

For Yom Kippur on September 24, 1928 the Jewish sexton placed a screen to separate men and women by the Wailing Wall of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. A General Muslim Congress met in November and appealed to the Supreme Muslim Council, but on June 11, 1929 the High Commissioner told them the Jews were entitled to worship there without being disturbed. The Jewish Revisionist youth group conducted a peaceful march on August 16, and after meetings and speeches a week later the Muslims gathered with weapons in the courtyard to hear the Mufti. At noon they attacked the Jewish quarters and killed sixty people. That afternoon Arabs also attacked the Orthodox Jewish community at Hebron. The violence spread to Safed, Haifa, Jaffa, and Tel Aviv. After five days 133 Jews and 87 Arabs had been killed.

Colonial secretary Sidney Webb investigated the violence, and John Hope Simpson also filed a 185-page report on October 20, 1930. Webb was made Lord Passfield and published a 23-page White Paper recommending limits on Jewish immigration. Chaim Weizmann protested by resigning his presidency of the Jewish Agency (the new name of the Zionist Organization), and he met with Prime Minister Malcolm MacDonald on November 6. They agreed to modify the policy, and a letter was published on February 13, 1931. As a result of these shifting policies both the Arabs and Jews came to believe that pressure they exerted could change the conditions of the Mandate.

After 1929 Mandate authorities blocked Jabotinsky from returning to Palestine. The Revisionists withdrew from the Zionist movement, and in 1931 their youth formed the National Military Organization (Irgun A’vai Le’umi) to retaliate against Arab marauders. In 1930 two Jewish labor parties and the Kibbutz Hameuchad federation merged to form Mapai, the Party of the Workers of the Land of Israel.

Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in January 1933 led to persecution of Jews and a large increase of German Jews migrating to Palestine. In the spring of 1933 Mapai labor leader Chaim Arlosoroff went to Germany to negotiate the transfer of German-Jewish property to facilitate the emigration of Jews, but he was murdered in Tel Aviv that summer. Between 1932 and 1935 the Jewish population in Palestine increased from 185,000 to 370,000. Yet despite massive Jewish immigration the number of Muslims in Palestine was increasing even faster to 960,000 by 1935. By then seven hundred Arab cooperatives were functioning, and the percentage of Arab children attending school increased from two in 1920 to thirteen in 1936. More than 90% of Jewish males were literate compared to about one quarter of Arab males. David Ben-Gurion was general secretary of Histadrut from 1921 to 1935 when he became chairman of the Jewish Agency’s executive. He believed that Jews had been persecuted in Europe because they were weak and a small minority. He therefore advocated building up the size and strength of the Jewish population in Palestine. However, President Weizmann of the Jewish Agency in September 1936 advised parity so that both units would have equal rights.

Abba Ahimeir advocated opposing the Mandatory government, and in 1928 he had joined Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Party. His newspaper The People’s Front (Hazit Ha-Am) attacked the labor movement and the Zionist officials. Muslims created the Young Men’s Muslim Association (YMMA) in the late 1920s, and in December 1932 they formed a Youth Congress. The right-wing Betar youth movement held its first world conference at Danzig in 1931 and elected Jabotinsky president. In September 1933 the Arab Executive President Musa Kazim Pasha called for stopping Jewish immigration; but as more German Jews arrived, Arab protestors attacked British public buildings and police stations in Nablus, Jaffa, and Jerusalem. Muslims founded the National Defense Party on December 2, 1934. Fakhri al-Nashashibi gained the support of the Palestine Workers Society in Jaffa, and in March 1935 the Husaynis founded the Palestine Arab Party.

In 1934 the British permitted 42,000 Jews to enter Palestine and 61,000 in 1935. In January 1935 Hajj Amin al-Husayni of the Supreme Muslim Council issued a decree (fatwa) against selling or brokering land. The General Zionists split into two groups known as A and B. Weizmann led the A, and General Zionism B was ideological. In the summer of 1935 Jabotinsky held a plebiscite of his Revisionist Party, and in Vienna they held the first congress of a new Zionist organization that had 713,000 Revisionist voters while the Nineteenth Zionist Congress had 635,000. The Revisionists planned illegal immigration, and by 1939 they brought nearly 15,000 Jews to Palestine. The Revisionists became more radical, and their Betar youth movement grew to 78,000 from 26 countries by 1938.

In April 1936 Arab bandits stopped a bus and killed two Jews, and the next night two Arabs were murdered in revenge. Followers of the militant Sheikh Farhan al-Sa‘ada destroyed Jewish property and crops, killing a few Jewish civilians. The British imposed a curfew in big cities and emergency regulations. On April 25 Mufti Hajj Amin formed the Arab Higher Committee. They called for a tax boycott beginning on May 15, and this was followed by a general strike against the Mandate’s immigration policy. Many Jewish workers replaced cheap Arab laborers in the Jewish citrus groves, and so the Arabs were hurt more than the Jews. Fighting increased, and Committees for the Defense of Palestine sprang up in Arab countries. Volunteers arriving from Syria and Iraq were led by Fawzi al-Qawukji, who had fought in the Ottoman army during the World War. In the summer Qawukji began training Arab nationalists, and they used smuggled Axis weapons to attack Jewish farms and murder civilians. The British persuaded Iraq’s foreign minister Nuri es-Said to come to Jerusalem in July, and he got the Higher Committee to negotiate an end to the fighting. The British had 20,000 troops in Palestine and sent for 10,000 more. A Royal Commission of Inquiry assured the Higher Committee they could present their complaints. The Higher Committee called off the strike on October 11. Qawukji went to Transjordan, and the fighting died down after 1,300 casualties with 197 Arabs, 80 Jews, and 28 British killed.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry was led by Robert Peel, and they arrived on November 11, 1936. The Zionists cooperated, but the Arab Higher Committee boycotted the investigations. Weizmann testified three times and emphasized Jewish accomplishments, and Zionist leaders suggested that economic development could reconcile Arabs and Jews. King Ghazi of Iraq and Ibn Saud of Arabia persuaded the Mufti to end the boycott of the commission, and the Arabs argued against the Jewish homeland. The Mufti testified on January 13, 1937, and he reviewed the Arab independence movement and British promises. Professor Reginald Coupland suggested partition, and Weizmann encouraged this idea that would give Jews a national home with a majority. The Royal Commission report was issued in July and noted that the growing economy had led to a 50% increase in the Arab population since 1921, but they recommended that Jewish immigration be limited to 12,000 annually for the next five years. The report concluded that the most practical solution was to divide Palestine into two self-governing communities with a third mandated British enclave. London had already announced its commitment to the recommendations on July 7.

The Peel Report was rejected by the Mufti, the Nashashibi faction, Jabotinsky’s Revisionists, and Emir Abdullah of Transjordan, but Weizmann and the Zionists were hopeful. On July 7, 1937 the German minister in Baghdad, Fritz von Grobba, implied that they would send arms to the Palestine revolt, but Berlin cancelled his offer. Muslims began organizing in various countries, and in October the World Inter-Parliamentary Congress of Arab and Muslim Countries for the Defense of Palestine met in Cairo. Weapons from German factories began making their way to Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

On September 26 Lewis Y. Andrews, the district commissioner of Galilee and Acre, and a policeman were murdered by Arabs. Four days later the Mandate authorities announced its most stringent emergency regulations. The Supreme Muslim Council and the Arab Higher Committee were abolished, and five leaders were exiled to the Seychelle Islands. Mufti Hajj Amin escaped to Lebanon, and the banned Higher Committee reorganized in Damascus. In October violence began increasing. Snipers cut down British patrols; troop trains were derailed; the Lydda airport was burned; and the oil pipeline from Mosul to Haifa was severely damaged. In 1938 military courts executed 54 people and sentenced many to life in prison. An estimated 16,000 were involved in the insurrection. In July 1938 the British sent two infantry battalions and two Royal Air Force squadrons to Haifa. Hajj Amin sent someone after Fakhri Bey al-Nashashibi, and he was eventually murdered on November 9, 1941 in Baghdad.

The Jewish Self-Defense Corps (Haganah) had 10,000 trained and armed soldiers by 1937 with 40,000 more ready for mobilization. They were supervised by the Histadrut, and 3,000 ghaffirs in the Jewish auxiliary guards were given weapons, the British accepting their parallel membership in the Haganah. A new commission led by John Woodhead interviewed Jewish and British witnesses. Meanwhile desperate Jews trying to flee Nazism learned that at an international conference on refugees held in July 1938 at Evian, France only the Dominican Republic out of 31 nations was willing to modify its immigration quotas. The Woodhead report on Palestine partition was issued on November 9 and called the Peel plan unfeasible because many Arabs would be left in any possible Jewish state. They recommended a partition but with an economic union, which seemed politically tenuous. In December the Mandate government rejected a Jewish request to rescue 10,000 Jewish children from central Europe.

Leaders went to London for Roundtable Talks in February 1939, but Arabs refused to meet in the same room with Jews. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald proposed limiting Jewish immigration to 75,000 in the next five years. The British White Paper was issued on May 18, and Jewish demonstrations began the next day throughout Palestine. The Revisionist Irgun bombed government buildings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The British Labour party met that month and repudiated the White Paper; but the Parliament approved it. The 21st Zionist Congress at Geneva in August was divided. Ben-Gurion led those favoring a militant response, and the Jewish Agency sanctioned clandestine immigration. The British reacted by ordering the remaining ghaffirs to turn in their weapons, and some Haganah recruits were discovered and arrested. The uprising ended in August 1939 with the casualty totals of 3,764 Arabs, 2,394 Jews, and 610 British.

Palestine under the British 1939-47

By 1939 about 275,000 German Jews had fled Nazi rule, and as many Jews had left Poland, Hungary, and Rumania. Jews had become 29% of Palestine’s population. Four days before World War II began on September 1, Chaim Weizmann sent a letter to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain promising that the Jews would stand by Britain. On September 9 Italian planes bombed Tel Aviv, killing 107 Jews, and in the next two years they would kill hundreds by bombing Palestinian cities. Some Arab leaders turned to the German and Italian Axis powers. The exiled Mufti Hajj Amin went to Baghdad in October. He sent Naji Shawkat to Ankara with a letter to the German ambassador Franz von Papen offering to Hitler that the Arab people would like to collaborate with his country. Amin sent another emissary in August 1940, and on October 23 statements from Berlin and Rome offered sympathy for Arab independence. Amin flew to Rome and met with Mussolini on October 27. Then he went to Berlin and met with Hitler on November 30, offering to recruit an Arab legion.

The Jewish Agency mobilized Jewish support for the British war effort. Tilled soil was increased by 70%, and four hundred new factories were built within a year. By 1943 about 63% of the Jewish work force was employed in defense-related occupations. In September 1939 the Va’ad Le’umi began recruiting volunteers for national service. On September 6, 1940 Weizmann was invited to a private lunch with Winston Churchill, who assured him that he would support a Jewish army project. However, this was opposed by Foreign Secretary Halifax and blocked by the new colonial secretary, Lord Moyne. It was not until early 1942 that 11,000 Jews were serving with the British army in the Mideast. Unofficially the Haganah had established the Plugot Machaz Strike Companies (Palmach) by May 1941. Prior to the Allied invasion of Syria on June 8 Palmach volunteers provided reconnaissance of Vichy positions. After Montgomery’s Eighth Army stopped Rommel’s forces at al-Alamein in July 1942, the British closed the Palmach training bases in the fall, making Haganah illegal again.

Jews came clandestinely from central and eastern Europe, but on February 28, 1940 Colonial Secretary MacDonald banned land sales to Jews except along the coast. About 1,900 refugees were on the Patria in Haifa harbor when an explosion on November 25 caused it to sink, killing 240 Jews and 10 British police. Later an investigation showed that the Haganah sabotaged the ship. A few weeks later the SS Salvador was ordered to go back to Bulgaria, but it sank in the Turkish straits, killing another 280 refugees. On February 24, 1942 the Turks ordered the Struma to leave Istanbul harbor, and its sinking lost 428 men, 269 women, and 70 children.

On May 11, 1942 the American Zionist Organization met in New York and approved the Biltmore Program proposed by Ben-Gurion that called for a Jewish state in all of Palestine, a Jewish army, and unlimited immigration into Palestine. Although moderate Jews objected, the Zionist Organization’s General Council endorsed the program on November 10. In 1943 the American Zionist Emergency Council began its successful lobbying campaigns. As Prime Minister Churchill tried to implement some of Weizmann’s suggestions, on December 20, 1943 the Morrison Committee proposed a Jewish state, a Jerusalem territory under the British, and a Greater Syria that would include Syria, Transjordan, southern Lebanon, and Arab Palestine. On July 12, 1944 Churchill sent a memorandum to the war secretary to organize a Jewish army group. After recruiting and training, a combat brigade of 3,400 was shipped to Italy. Jewish immigration continued and by the end of the war about 560,000 Jews made up 32% of Palestine.

The Polish Jew Avraham Stern had organized a paramilitary group during the Arab insurrection of the late 1930s, and in 1941 he contacted the German emissary Otto von Hentig in Vichy Syria, but he was ignored. Stern’s Fighters for the Freedom of Israel (Lech’i) robbed banks to raise funds, and in January 1942 their bomb killed two Jewish police inspectors. A few weeks later the British police shot Stern dead. Nathan Friedmann-Yellin and Dr. Israel Scheib led the violent Lech’i in an effort to drive the British out of Palestine. They tried to murder High Commissioner Harold MacMillan on August 8, 1944, and on November 6 they assassinated Baron Moyne in Cairo. The two youths who did it were hanged after a trial on January 10, 1945. Terrorist attacks by the Stern group and the Irgun alienated the British.

In June 1945 the Jewish Agency demanded that Britain issue 100,000 immigration certificates for the survivors of Hitler’s concentration camps; but the new foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, did not approve. On August 25 the Foreign Office offered only 2,000 unused immigration certificates and a monthly quota of 1,400 if the Arabs agreed. The Zionists were shocked and continued their illegal immigration efforts that brought about 40,000 more Jews to Palestine by 1948. In October 1945 weapons were used to free a few hundred illegal immigrants from a British detention camp. In November the leaders of Haganah and Etzel, which included Irgun and Lech’i, agreed to cooperate in attacks on British installations under the Jewish Resistance Movement led by Ben-Gurion. The Irgun attacked two British police stations, killing nine, and in April 1946 a Stern gang murdered seven British soldiers. By the end of 1947 these two groups claimed that they had killed 373 people, including 300 civilians.

In the fall of 1945 an Anglo-American Committee began an investigation, and the reconstituted Arab Higher Committee testified at hearings in March 1946, opposing Jewish immigration, the Mandate, the Balfour Declaration, and recognizing a Jewish state. The Anglo-American report issued on May 1 described the condition of the Jewish survivors in Europe and recommended authorizing 100,000 immigration certificates. The group rejected partition and proposed moderate Jewish immigration. On the same day US President Harry Truman announced his approval of the immigration. The British asked the Americans to help pay the costs of the Committee. Histadrut leader Golda Meir participated in a hunger strike by 15 Zionist leaders, and on May 8 a ship of refugees was allowed to sail for Palestine.

On June 17, 1946 several Haganah units destroyed ten of the eleven bridges that connected Palestine to other countries. The British response on Saturday, June 29 was called Black Sabbath by the Jews as the British began searching Palestine. They detained many Jewish Agency officials except for Weizmann, who issued a statement on behalf of those arrested. Lech’i continued to commit murder and sabotage with more than a hundred incidents in the next two years. Etzel also began to use killing as a tactic. They had about 2,000 militants led by the intellectual Menachem Begin, who had been in a Siberian labor camp, enlisted in the Anders army, deserted in Palestine, and became Etzel’s commander in December 1943. On July 22, 1946 armed Etzel saboteurs placed explosives in the kitchen of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem that killed 91 people. Ben-Gurion changed his position and repudiated this, ordering Jews to turn in Etzel members.

Meanwhile many thousands of displaced Jews from Europe were trying to get to Palestine. Between 1945 and 1948 the British intercepted 58 of the 63 refugee ships and interned 51,700 displaced persons on Cyprus. In late June 1946 President Truman sent a committee led by Dr. Henry F. Grady to London. The British won them over, and on July 31 the Morrison-Grady Report proposed resettling most of the displaced persons in Europe. They advised changing the mandate to a trusteeship with separate Jewish and Arab provinces and the Negev and Jerusalem remaining under the British, but the Jewish province would have only 17% of the land with 43% in the Mandate and 40% for the Arabs. Jewish and Arab representatives were invited to London to negotiate in September; but the Jews objected, and the Arabs refused to attend as long as the Mufti was banned. So the conference began with only the British and Arabs representing other nations.

On October 6, the Day of Atonement, eleven kibbutz settlements were started. The British replaced General Evelyn Barker on October 22 for having made an anti-Semitic remark, and two weeks later they released more than a hundred Jews who had been detained since June. The 22nd Zionist Congress met at Basle in December. Weizmann urged an end to the use of violence against the British, saying, “If you think of bringing the redemption nearer by un-Jewish methods, if you lose faith in hard work and better days, then you commit idolatry and endanger what we have built.”6 However, Ben-Gurion won over the Mapai moderates, and Weizmann was replaced as president.

On February 14, 1947 British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin announced that he was submitting the Palestine problem to the United Nations. On April 2 they gave it to the UN General Assembly, which appointed delegates from eleven nations to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). The Arabs asked that the problem of displaced persons be separated from the Palestine issue, but this request was rejected. Meanwhile the Mufti Hajj Amin had escaped to Switzerland in the spring of 1945, and then in December he used a disguise to take a plane to the Levant. He was given shelter in Cairo, and in May 1947 the UN General Assembly accredited the Higher Committee as the official representative of the Palestinian Arabs. As the UNSCOP group arrived in Palestine, the Mufti’s followers held anti-Zionist demonstrations in the major cities. Azzam Pasha suggested that Jewish communities in other Mideast countries might be in danger, but this convinced the UNSCOP members that a Jewish minority must not be left under an Arab administration in Palestine.

On May 4, 1947 Etzel reacted to the hanging of four of their men by attacking the prison at Acre and freeing 251 prisoners. Some were recaptured and hanged in July, and two days later in retaliation Etzel hanged two British sergeants. An old American ferry loaded with 4,500 refugees was renamed the Exodus-1947 and fought off a British raiding party. The listing ferry was towed into Haifa harbor. Bevin ordered the refugees returned to Europe, and they were taken to internment camps in West Germany, where 250,000 Jews were living in camps administered by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA). On August 1 Earl G. Harrison published an American report that showed that most of the displaced Jews in Europe wanted to go to Palestine. Funded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Hebrew schools in the camps were educating about 10,000 children.

UNSCOP issued its report on August 31, recommending independence soon with democratic states and economic unity with security and access for holy places. The General Assembly was to solve the problem of the 250,000 Jewish refugees in Europe. Seven nations voted for partition, but India, Iran, and Yugoslavia proposed federation. Britain was to administer Palestine for two years beginning in September, and the economic union was to be maintained for ten years by a customs and currency treaty. The Jewish Agency was cautiously satisfied with the report, but the Arabs were passionately opposed. On September 16 the Arab League’s Political Committee met at Sofar in Lebanon and voted for economic sanctions against Britain and the United States and to supply men and weapons to the Palestinian Arabs. The next day the Arab League threatened war if the United Nations approved either of the UNSCOP reports. On October 13 the Soviet representative, Semyon Tsarpkin, endorsed the UNSCOP partition. That month Jewish Agency Chairman Ben-Gurion visited the refugee camps with General Dwight Eisenhower, who agreed to set up a temporary haven for them in the American Zone of Occupation. A UNRRA poll found that 97% of the Jews wanted to go to Palestine. Yet the British Labour government was still trying to prevent this.

On November 25 the Palestine Committee approved an amended partition plan by a vote of 25-13. The Arab state would have 725,000 Arabs and 10,000 Jews in 4,500 square miles, and the Jewish state would have 498,000 Jews and 407,000 Arabs in 5,500 square miles of which more than half was the Negev Desert. The Permanent Trusteeship around Jerusalem would have 105,000 Arabs and 100,000 Jews. The Jewish state was to pay the Arab state an annual subsidy of £4 million. On November 29 the UN General Assembly approved the partition resolution by a vote of 33-13, giving it the needed two-thirds majority. The next day Arabs reacted to the resolution by burning 300 Jewish homes and 11 synagogues in Aleppo, killing 76 Jews at Aden, and by attacks on the Jewish quarters in Jerusalem, Haifa, and Jaffa. They proclaimed a three-day general strike in Palestine for December 2-4. The British continued to enforce their embargo against Jewish immigration, but they did not use any of their 50,000 troops to stop Arab infiltration. The Iraqi general Taha Hashimi reported in his War Memoirs (Mudhakkarat ‘an al-Harb) that the British informed Arab leaders of their evacuating police stations of the Safed and Nebi Yusha so that they could be quickly occupied by Arab irregulars. Iraqi prime minister Salih Jabr called a meeting of Arab premiers on December 12 in Cairo, and they decided to intervene directly in Palestine.

Israel and War 1948-50

The British were to evacuate Palestine by February 1, 1948, but this was changed to August 1 and then to May 14. In late January mercenary Arabs began infiltrating into Palestine, and the Liberation Army commander Fawzi al-Qawukji moved his headquarters to Tiberias. On February 6 the Arab Higher Committee of Palestine announced that they would resist in self-defense the oppression by Jews or any power trying to establish a Jewish state in Arab territory. By the end of March they had about 7,000 men in northern Palestine. Most of the 5,000 in the central region were the Higher Committee’s irregulars led by Abd al-Qadr al-Husseini, the Mufti’s nephew. In the south about 2,000 Muslim Brotherhood volunteers came from Egypt. The Jewish forces consisted of about 3,000 youths in the Palmach, 5,000 poorly armed Etzel fighters, and some 900 Lech’i members. The 21,000 Haganah reserves were not yet trained and were not well equipped. Ben-Gurion in 1945 had raised several million dollars to buy surplus American parts that were hidden in kibbutz warehouses underground; but they could not be assembled until the British were gone.

The US State Department feared the coming war and tried to get the United Nations to postpone or cancel partition and adopt a trusteeship. Chaim Weizmann met with President Truman on March 18 and convinced him that he had done the right thing in supporting the founding of Israel. The next day Warren Austin asked the UN Security Council to consider suspending the partition. At the Security Council meeting on March 30 Austin suggested a truce between Arabs and Jews that was accepted, but he no longer argued for a trusteeship. On May 3 the UN General Assembly dropped the American plan and appointed a neutral authority to administer the partition of Palestine. A committee representing several Jewish parties appointed a provisional Zionist Council of State with Ben-Gurion as chairman. They agreed to collect taxes in the Jewish sector as before. They took over offices in north Tel Aviv as a temporary capital and authorized a national loan. They even began printing stamps and paper money.

By the end of March about 25,000 Arabs had left Haifa for Damascus and Beirut. As officials, mayors, and judges departed, thousands of fellahins and urban dwellers left also. Another 20,000 fled in early April. On April 1 the Haganah commander Yigael Yadin met with Ben-Gurion, and they decided to go on the offensive to capture vital Arab towns and high positions. That day a Dakota plane brought weapons from Czechoslovakia to southern Palestine. Qawukji wanted to exclude all Palestinian Arabs from his army, and he came into conflict with the Husseinis, whose troops acted on their own without orders from the Arab League. The Zionists had 1,500 Haganah troops to try to break the Arab hold on the Jerusalem highway, and they used the Czech weapons. Qawukji refused to give arms to Abd al-Qadr, who was killed while surrendering to Jews taking a village. The Haganah was able to send 250 vehicles to Jerusalem to relieve the Jewish population. On April 9 Menachem Begin led an attack on the village of Deir Yasin that killed about 250 people. The Israeli government arrested the Etzel officers responsible, and the massacre was later condemned as a crime by the British historian Arnold Toynbee. Arabs retaliated on April 12 by killing 77 doctors, nurses, teachers, and university students traveling in a convoy to Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital.

The British were planning to leave Haifa on April 18, and both sides prepared to fight for the city of 150,000. Several hundred Jewish troops attacked from the Carmel Heights, and nearly 30,000 more Arabs fled from the city. On April 27 Haganah and Etzel signed an agreement to cooperate with the Zionist Council. As the British withdrew from Galilee, Jewish farms became vulnerable to Arab attacks. Haganah commander Yigal Allon led an attack on the night of May 9 before the Arabs could take Safed, and the more numerous Arab irregulars fled with the Arab inhabitants. Abdullah of Jordan proclaimed himself commander in chief of the Arab forces, and on May 12 the Arab League promised him £3 million. On May 14 Jews captured Jaffa as 70,000 Arab civilians fled. During the last few weeks of the Mandate about 175,000 Arabs left Palestine.

The Jewish cabinet voted 6-4 to reject the truce proposed by the Americans and to declare independence. At 8 in the morning on May 14 the British lowered their flag in Jerusalem, and fighting erupted throughout Palestine that afternoon. At 4 p.m. in a radio broadcast from the Tel Aviv Museum the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel was proclaimed by David Ben-Gurion. The new state of Israel was to be open to all Jews and would extend social and political equality to all citizens regardless of religion, race, or sex, and they promised to guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, education, and culture to all. President Truman announced recognition of Israel at 6:10 in Washington. The next day the British released those detained in the camps on Cyprus, and several hundred of them had been trained by Haganah. On May 16 the Soviet Union also recognized Israel. On May 20 the UN Security Council appointed the president of the Swedish Red Cross, Count Folke Bernadotte, as the UN mediator for Palestine.

As the war began, there were 1,320,000 Arabs and 640,000 Jews in Palestine. The Haganah had about 30,000 men and women. Poised to attack the new Jewish state on five fronts were about 10,000 Egyptians, 4,500 Arab Legionnaires from Jordan, 8,000 Iraqis, 7,000 Syrians, and 3,000 Lebanese. The Arabs also had better guns and air forces which Israel lacked. On May 14 the Iraqis tried to cross the Jordan River with 3,500 combat troops but failed. Their commander, General Tahir, withdrew his 8,000 men to the Samaritan triangle, where they were protected by Qawukji’s irregulars on Mount Gilboa. On May 16 the Syrians invaded Galilee with two hundred armored vehicles, and they attacked Jewish settlements on both sides of the Jordan River. On May 28 Jews broke through the protection in the northern mountains, and five days later they attacked the Iraqis at Jenin but were driven back.

The Egyptian forces gathered at al-Arish. Muhammad Naguib led the Second Brigade toward Gaza and Tel Aviv while General Abd al-Aziz moved the Fourth Brigade toward the Hebron hills, taking Beersheba on May 20 and on May 22 being given Bethlehem by the Arab Legion. Then they attacked the Jewish part of Jerusalem. Yadin pulled 2,000 men from the Jerusalem highway to stop Naguib’s 5,000 troops from taking Tel Aviv. Naguib’s men had trouble fighting the Yad Mordecai kibbutz and Negba. Yadin had his reinforcements attack them on the night of May 29. He put out a press release that they had overwhelmed Egyptian supply lines. The Egyptian commander believed this story and ordered Naguib to halt. The Egyptians had also occupied the Negev Desert.

Jordan’s King Abdullah wanted to extend his realm west of the Jordan River, and he aimed for Jerusalem. The English general John Bagot Glubb commanded the Arab Legion, but he overestimated the Jewish defenses. On May 19 Jewish troops fought their way into Jerusalem to defend the Old City from an attack by the Arab Legion. Glubb’s 2,000 Legionnaires moved against the city from the north. After ten days of fierce fighting the Jewish quarter surrendered, and Glubb called off his attack. In less than a month more than 10,000 shells hit Jerusalem, destroying 2,000 buildings and causing 1,200 civilian casualties.

On May 20 the UN Security Council ordered a one-month truce to begin on June 11 that was proposed by the British representative Alexander Cadogan. Additional weapons were banned, and young men were to gather in United Nations camps; but both sides ignored these provisions. In less than a month of fighting another 75,000 Arabs had fled from Palestine. About 240,000 Arabs moved into the sector now controlled by the Arab Legions, and about 60,000 crossed the Jordan River into Abdullah’s Hashemite kingdom. About 180,000 Arabs took refuge in the Gaza area; 100,000 went into Lebanon and 70,000 into Syria. The Iraqis made the Egyptian General al-Muawi commander in chief. Abdullah objected even though heavy casualties had discouraged him from fighting. However, the Iraqis, Syrians, and Egyptians increased their forces, and the Arab forces grew from 32,000 to 45,000 by July. Egypt’s Prime Minister Nuqrashi Pasha was afraid his government would fall if the cease-fire was extended.

Convoys brought food and medicine to Jerusalem, and Israel also increased its forces considerably. The Czechs had given them an airfield on May 20, and Dakota transports flew back and forth bringing weapons and equipment. English and Americans flew planes to Israel illegally, bringing thousands of tons of ammunition and supplies. The French sold weapons to Israel. Etzel had bought an LST vessel Altalena that sailed to France loaded with 5,000 rifles, 450 machine guns, millions of bullets, and hundreds of Jewish fighters from Europe and North Africa. Ben-Gurion approved its landing on June 20; but when Etzel demanded 20% of the arms, he refused. Etzel attacked the regular forces as the ship tried to land north of Tel Aviv. The ship caught fire, and twelve of the crew were killed. Some cargo was lost, and the French stopped arms shipments. The Israeli cabinet ordered the arrest of some Etzel leaders and abolished its Etzel units. The truce enabled Israel to increase its forces to 60,000 soldiers with much European and American equipment.

Before the truce expired, the Egyptians led by General Naguib attacked Negba on July 8. Negba had been reinforced, and the Jews counter-attacked, forcing the Egyptians back. In the lower Galilee mountains Qawukji’s irregulars attacked, and the Jews fought them off in a week of heavy fighting. The Jews then overran Nazareth and Arab villages. On July 11 Lt. Col. Moshe Dayan’s mechanized infantry captured the Lydda airport and Ramle. Flying fortresses coming from America dropped bombs on Cairo while on the way to Israel.

Cadogan urged an immediate truce, and the UN Security Council approved it unanimously on July 15. The United Nations mediator Bernadotte got this second truce imposed on July 18 with the threat of economic sanctions, and he made an appeal for Arab repatriation. Bernadotte had a staff of 310 European and American military observers and technicians for eighteen planes, four ships, and hundreds of vehicles. The mediator proposed that the two independent entities in Palestine become part of the kingdom of Jordan. He recommended unlimited immigration for two years, and he wanted all Palestinian Arabs to return to their homes. Bernadotte’s plan enraged both the Arabs and the Jews, and he abandoned his schemes. On August 1 Ben-Gurion announced that a peace treaty with Israel could provide for the long-term interests of the Arab and Jewish populations and the stability of Israel. The mediator’s final report on September 16 recognized Israel as “a living, solidly entrenched and vigorous reality.” The next day Bernadotte and a staff member were shot dead by three Jewish soldiers while riding in cars in a neutral zone. The killers were not found, but four hundred Sternists were arrested with their leader, Nathan Friedmann-Yellin.

In late September an All-Palestinian Government was organized at Cairo and set up in Gaza. There the National Palestinian Council elected Mufti Amin as president. Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq recognized this government within two weeks. Egyptians tried to consolidate their gains by reinforcing them with 15,000 new troops and heavy weapons. Israel had planes bring in arms and equipment to an airstrip in the northern Negev. Yigal Allon brought 30,000 troops from the north by October, and the United Nations approved Israel’s bringing provisions to the settlements across the Faluja crossroads. To create a pretext, Israeli troops blew up their own trucks so that Allon could attack. The Israeli air force bombed the Egyptians in the Sinai. Allon’s men invested Huleiqat on October 20, but the British quickly asked for a cease-fire in the UN Security Council. Allon sent three brigades to Beersheba, where the Egyptians quickly surrendered. During the UN truce the Egyptians withdrew from the western Negev. The Muslim Brotherhood instigated violent demonstrations in November, and Prime Minister Nuqrashi Pasha ordered their property confiscated; but he was murdered on December 28 by a Brother. The next day the UN Security Council ordered a cease-fire in all of Palestine.

General Glubb sent an Arab Legion to Bethlehem and Hebron for Jordan, and they replaced the Egyptians. Israel’s Moshe Dayan and Jordan’s Col. Abdullah al-Tel met in November and agreed to a cease-fire that began on December 1. Jordan’s government in Amman refused to recognize the government in Gaza, and demonstrations urged King Abdullah to annex sectors occupied by the Arab Legion. A conference of delegates at Jericho accepted the uniting of Palestine with Jordan on December 1, and Abdullah appointed Sheikh Hassan Muhyi al-Din al-Jarallah as Mufti of Jerusalem to replace Amin. On December 10 Egypt’s King Farouk condemned the Jericho conference.

By the end of 1948 Israel had 100,000 troops with many weapons and heavy equipment, and they had pushed the Egyptians back to al-Arish. The danger of the British invoking their 1936 treaty with Egypt persuaded the Israeli leaders to order Allon to withdraw from the Sinai on January 2, 1949. Five days later Israeli Messerschmitts from Czechoslovakia shot down four British fighters. On January 12 the Egyptians demanded that Israel withdraw from the Rafa heights, and Ben-Gurion ordered Allon to pull back. The United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees was organized on January 1, and they worked with the American Red Cross and the American Friends’ Service Committee until May 1950 when the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East was founded.

Representatives of Egypt and Israel began meeting on Rhodes in January, and the American mediator Ralph Bunche helped them negotiate an armistice agreement signed on February 14 that left the Negev in Israel and the Gaza strip occupied by Egyptian troops. This prepared the way for Bunche to mediate Israel’s agreements with Lebanon on March 23, with Jordan on April 3, and with Syria on July 20. On March 1 Jordan and Israel agreed on armistice lines in Jerusalem. The agreements gave Israel 21% more land than allotted by the partition. The war killed about 6,000 people and wounded about 30,000 with military costs estimated at $500 million. The official estimate of the Arabs displaced needing relief was 940,000. On December 11, 1949 the United Nations General Assembly established the Palestine Conciliation Commission (PCC) to preserve the rights of refugees and their property.

A committee of the Jewish Agency Executive and the Va’ad Le’umi had begun working on a legal code and a constitution in October 1947. The Provisional Council of State was established on March 1, 1948 and two days after independence was declared they elected Chaim Weizmann its president on May 16. Israel held its first elections on January 25, 1949. On February 2 Ben-Gurion declared that Jerusalem was no longer occupied territory. That month Israel passed a fundamental law giving workers the right to organize and strike. The Constituent Assembly met on February 14 and elected Weizmann president of Israel, but the practical leader of the government was Prime Minister Ben-Gurion of the Mapai Party. His cabinet and program were accepted on March 8 by the Assembly which was named the Knesset. To avoid battles of cultural issues such as making the Talmud the law, they postponed adopting a constitution and passed organic laws instead.

The first elected government was installed on March 10. Twenty-one parties competed for 120 seats in the Assembly, and 440,000 voters were 87% of those eligible. The Labor parties won 57 seats, the Center-Right parties 31, and the Religious parties 16; the Communists won four seats, and only three non-Jewish Arabs were elected. The UN Security Council approved Israel’s application for membership on March 11, and Israel became a member of the United Nations in May. On September 1 the PCC divided Jerusalem into the two zones under Israel and Jordan with local authorities responsible for administration with a UN commissioner to protect holy places and prevent immigration that would change the balance.

In the Arab portion of Palestine voter turnout was even higher than in Israel except in 1949 when it was 79%. The four Arab Labor parties received 52% of the vote; the Communists got 22%; Asian Jews got 11% and Mapai 10%. In 1950 about 600,000 Palestinian Arabs became refugees. About 100,000 went to Lebanon, 80,000 to Syria, between 5,000 and 10,000 to Iraq, between 115,000 and 150,000 to the Gaza strip, and between 250,000 to 325,000 to Jordan. The Lausanne Conference took up the refugee issue in late July 1949 and considered allowing 100,000 Palestine Arabs to return, but in early 1950 Israel’s UN ambassador Abba Eban told the General Assembly that Israel rejected the Lausanne proposal. In May the United States, Britain, and France issued a Tripartite Declaration that they might act with or without the UN to prevent a violation of the armistice lines. In April 1950 Jordan annexed the Palestinian territory on the West Bank of the Jordan River which had 420,000 refugees.

On January 1, 1950 the government of Israel moved to Jerusalem, and on January 23 the Knesset proclaimed that Jerusalem had always been their capital. Israel established a civil service commission, and in March they passed a law to encourage capital investments. On May 3 Israeli forces used weapons to drive 12,000 Arabs out of two villages near Hebron so that Jewish settlers could cultivate the area. A Law of Return provided a homeland for all Jews who wanted to come back from the Diaspora. By September about 47,000 Jews came from Yemen. Iraqi Jews had to fly to Cyprus first, but by the end of 1951 about 113,000 had come to Israel, leaving less than 4,000 Jews in Iraq. Jews coming from Egypt had difficulty, and most went to Europe; but about 7,000 made it to Israel. By 1950 about 33,000 Jews came from Turkey. The Jews coming from Muslim countries were 14% of the immigrants in 1948, 47% in 1949, and 71% in 1950.


1. Peel Report (1937), p. 25 quoted in A History of Palestine by Gudrun Kramer tr. Graham Harman and Gudrun Kramer, p. 154.
2. Quoted in The Arab Awakening by George Antonius, p. 268.
3. Peel Report (1937), p. 25 quoted in A History of Palestine by Gudrun Kramer tr. Graham Harman and Gudrun Kramer, p. 153.
4. Quoted in A History of Israel by Howard M. Sachar, p. 45.
5. Ibid., p. 109.
6. Quoted in Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert, p. 139.

Copyright © 2009 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book Mideast & Africa 1700-1950.
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Ottoman Empire 1600-1907
Ottoman Fall and Turkey 1908-1950
Persia (Iran) and Afghanistan 1600-1950
Arabia, Yemen, and Iraq 1600-1950
Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan 1600-1950
Palestine and Zionism 1600-1950
Egypt, Sudan, and Libya 1600-1950
Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco 1600-1950
West Africa and the French 1600-1950
West Africa and the British 1600-1950
Ethiopia and Somaliland 1600-1950
East Africa 1600-1950
Congo, Angola, and Mozambique 1600-1950
Southern Africa 1700-1950
Summary and Evaluation



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Chronology of Asia & Africa to 1800
Chronology of Asia & Africa 1800-1950
Mideast & Africa to 1950

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