Zionism and the British Mandate

Pre-University Paper 2007 52 Pages

Didactics - English - Applied Geography



I. Introduction

II. Zionism and the British Mandate
1. Zionism
1.1. Definition
1.2. Forerunners
1.3. Theodor Herzl
1.3.1. Life
1.3.2. Zionist work
1.4. Other Zionist mainstreams
2. Palestine
2.1. Palestine under Ottoman rule
2.2. Palestine during World War I
2.3. The Balfour Declaration
2.4. The Mandate
2.5. Early riots and hostilities
2.6. The civil administration
3. Zionist politics in Palestine
3.1. Reactions after Jaffa
3.2. Zionist organization and policy
4. Escalation of the ‘war’
4.1. The screen incident
4.2. Outburst of violence
5. Terror
5.1. Reactions
5.2. The Passfield White Paper
5.3. Arab nationalism
5.4. The Arab Rebellion
5.4.1. Start and strike
5.4.2. Zionist policy and reaction
5.4.3. The Peel Commission
5.4.4. Suppression
5.4.5. The British White Paper
6. World War II
6.1. Zionist policy
6.1.1. General line
6.1.2. Means to fight the White Paper
6.1.3. Cooperation with the British Army
6.2. Terror against the British
6.3. The end of the War
7. A Jewish state
7.1. Jewish terror
7.2. The end of the Mandate
7.2.1. Britain’s position
7.2.2. The partition plan
7.2.3. The ‘War of Independence’

III. Conclusion

IV. Appendix
A) Annotations
B) Maps
C) Sources

I. Introduction

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(Gate of the Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem, Jerusalem; 14.8.2006; own pictures)

“I will put my breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil…” (Ezekiel 37:14)

Since the beginning of the diaspora in 70 AD, when both Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, the Jewish people has always yearned and prayed for this promise in the book of Ezekiel to come true. Yet it took almost two thousand years of suffering and discrimination peaking in the worst crime of mankind - the holocaust - until the Jewish people obtained the opportunity to form a Jewish state in 1948.

Nevertheless, already one and a half centuries before its proclamation there had been visionaries and modern ‘prophets’ calling the Jewish people back to the country of their historical roots: Israel.

II. Zionism and the British Mandate

1. Zionism

1.1. Definition

Although it is correct to claim that all these forerunners were Zionists1 it is false to pretend that all Zionists have supported a mass immigration of all Jews to the state of Israel. For example American Zionist Jews like Richard J.H. Gottheil, the President of the American Zionist Federation believed that Zionism did not mean that all Jews were to return to Palestine. Instead he regarded Zionism as a source of self-confidence and self-acceptance for those Jews who stayed in their countries of birth especially in America where lots of Jews have felt assimilated. Thus it is difficult to formulate a definition that matches to all Zionist groups. According to Solomon Schechter, a conservative American Zionist, there is only one unanimously accepted principle of Zionism, namely, “that it is not only desirable but necessary, that Palestine (…) should be (…) a home for at least a part of the Jews, who would lead there an independent national life”2. Consequently everybody who nowadays accepts the existence of Israel as a Jewish state has a right to call himself a Zionist.

1.2. Forerunners

Yet it took a long time until such a principle could be formulated. In the wake of Jewish emancipation caused by the French Revolution1, which spread in the following years across Europe, many Jews became optimistic about a peaceful future in Europe. Another consequence was the German Jewish Reform that decided to give up some of the traditional customs in order to redefine Judaism as mere religion. Already at that time pre-Zionist activists like the Rabbis Yehudah Alkalai (1798-1878; The third redemption) and Zvi Hirsch Kalischer (1795-1874; Seeking Zion) the return to the biblical land of Israel where the Jews needed to settle in order to experience their religious redemption. Later Moses Hess (1812- 1875; Rome and Jerusalem) wrote of the necessity of a Jewish state in former Palestine. Yet these precursors had very little influence on their contemporaries as the Jewish majority experienced a time of relative tranquility because anti- Semitism as ideology had not yet been introduced. This attitude, however, changed -at least for Eastern European Jews- with the Russian pogroms caused by the murder of Tsar Alexander II. in 1881. Thousands of Jews were displaced or fled the country, hundreds killed and some joined revolutionary groups. Those who fled settled mostly in Germany or moved farther west while others found a home in Palestine2. At that time a larger number of Jewish intellectuals presented several programs to save the Jewish people and culture e.g. Eliezer Ben-Yehudah3 (1842- 1925; A letter from Ben Yehuda 1880) who successfully advocated the revival of Hebrew as a living language necessary for the preservation of Jewish culture. Another representative of that generation is Leo Pinsker (1821-1891), a fairly assimilated Jew, who believed that the current situation of the Jewish people was unbearable as anti-Semitism would lead to its annihilation. Similar to Herzl later, he did not demand that Palestine had to serve as redeeming state but any other might fit as well, assuming it would be a nation of Jewish majority.

1.3. Theodor Herzl

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1.3.1. Life

Herzl (1860-1904) was born in Budapest where he lived until 1878 when his family moved to Vienna. There he studied law at the university and received his doctorate in 1884. Having worked for a year as civil servant he quit and began his career as feuilletonist. Soon, in 1892, he joined the Neue Freie Presse, the most- read Viennese newspaper, for which he went to Paris as correspondent. In his early years he had hardly received Jewish education resulting in his view that humanity was improving with its progress and that a peaceful life of Jews and Christians was possible through assimilation. In an article he wrote that anti-Semitism and hatred of the Jews had always been a welcome means of directing the revolutionary wrath of the masses away from the real problems of society. Thus he regarded the Jewish people almost as a natural scapegoat. Still he believed in a better mutual recognition between Christians and Jews in the future. This view was wrecked by the Dreyfus affair. Alfred Dreyfus, a French captain of Jewish origin serving in the General Staff, was suspected and charged with spying for Germany. Although there was little proof (he was later proved innocent and released), he was dismissed in disgrace and sent to a prison island. This scene, when Dreyfus was fired and the crowd chanted “A bas les Juifs”1 (French: Down with the Jews), is said to have changed Herzl into the Zionist he will be always remembered for. The rest of his life he devoted completely to the Zionist cause believing his political Zionism to be the best way to accomplish his solution of the Jewish problem:

a Jewish state.

First he tried to persuade influential and rich Jews like Baron Maurice de Hirsch2 and the Rothschilds3. In 1896 appeared his pamphlet: Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). Moreover, he founded Die Welt, a weekly Zionist paper, one year before more than 200 delegates of the whole Jewish world summoned in Basel for the first Zionist Congress in 1897 where the World Zionist Organization came into existence. There Herzl presented his ideas, and concluded that ”Zionism seeks to secure for the Jewish people a publicly recognized, legally secured home in Palestine”4. In 1902 he published the utopian novel Altneuland (Old-Newland), in which he described in several volumes harmonious life in a future Jewish state without hate or oppression against the Jews. As he believed in the willingness of existing authorities to cooperate, he invested much energy in negotiations with the Sultan of Turkey, Kaiser Wilhelm II., the King of Italy and even Pope Pius X. Nevertheless, his only success nearly destroyed the Zionist movement. The British Government offered Herzl a vast part of Uganda, East Africa, for an independent Jewish settlement in 1903. He described this temporary proposal to the seventh Congress as a place where displaced Jewish people could rest until Palestine’s gates would open for mass immigration. The assembly accepted his suggestion only closely as many Eastern European Zionists like Chaim Weizmann opposed. This issue could have led to an internal split but the matter was dropped as Britain withdrew its offer one year later. Yet this incident was deciding for future Zionist policy as it showed its paramount aim would remain a territorial state and only in Palestine. One year thereafter Herzl died, exhausted due to his almost feverish activities.

1.3.2. Zionist work

In his most important work Der Judenstaat he argues that the Jews are one people and would always be oppressed and discriminated against. Consequently he estimates assimilation as impossible except by intermarriages which needed support from the majority; this, however, is regarded as unrealistic. Thus he calls for a mass emigration or exodus to either Palestine or Argentine which would in his opinion end anti-Semitism. For its realization he suggests the creation of two organizations: the Jewish Company and the Society of the Jews. The first is supposed to be in charge of providing capital and imposing the decisions of the latter which he envisions as cultural and scientific organ. Furthermore he outlines the economical possibilities. First he claims especially laborers are needed whose achievements will attract better-off classes, which would in the course of time create a perfect market. In order to occupy the land he advises the creation of local groups, controlled by the Company and Society, which are in charge of “an accurate scientific investigation of all natural resources of the country; the organization of a strictly centralized administration; the distribution of the land ”1. Besides, Herzl recommends a democratic monarchy or an aristocratic republic as forms of the state. According to him, foreign governments would either support Zionism voluntarily or under the pressure of anti-Semitism. Moreover he claims mass emigration would support their economy as other citizens would have to fill the gaps the Jews left. In his conclusion he repeats that anti-Semitism would cease and all enemies would leave the Jews in peace regarding them as a nation like all other countries.

It is most problematic in his argumentation that Herzl doesn’t deal with the people already living in the future Jewish state properly. He portrays them as a kind of obstacle that makes an infiltration of the country impossible because when felt threatened they would expel or oppress the Jews. In this respect his ideas appear self-centered and ignorant towards the consequences for the natives.

1.4. Other Zionist mainstreams

Besides the messianic conception that the Jewish people needed a national home to solve their problems, there were of course other ideas, too. For example Ahad Ha- am (Asher Zvi Ginsberg; 1856-1927) did not believe in the redeeming function of a political state, he rather advocated a cultural Zionism. Thus instead of mass immigration he imagined (according to Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, page 267), only a net of the Jewish elite living in colonies should be established in Palestine in order to create a spiritual center where Judaism could be preserved and renewed. Moreover, Ginsberg was the first Zionist to express the idea that a Jewish state would never be “normal”1. So he drew a fine line between the existing Hibbat Zion (Hebr.: love of Zion) he followed and European Zionism2. This idea did not only lead into conflict with Herzlian Zionism but also with religious Jewry as all of his assumptions were based on a strong agnosticism.

Religious Zionism again contains countless branches. The Polish Jew Samuel Hayyim Landau (1892-1928), for example, stood for a religious socialism meaning that both the acceptances of the Torah (Hebrew: Law) and of Avodah (Hebr.: Labor) were vital for a national rebirth. In general one can describe religious Zionism as a mix of religious orthodoxy and modern nationalism. Therefore they had to face two fronts: the secular Jews neglecting the importance of the Torah in legislation and the ultra-orthodox that accused them of heresy and opposed a Jewish state anyway. Yet these two groups shared one aim: both wanted to live in the biblical Israel, at that time called Palestine.

2. Palestine

2.1. Palestine under Ottoman rule

In 1517 the Ottomans conquered Palestine linking the country to the fate of their empire comprising the whole Middle East. Consequently Palestine shared the decline of the Ottoman Empire and decayed from the 17th century on. The only Jews living there at that time were mostly traders or members of strictly religious communities. In spite of the generally wide-spread opinion that the situation in Palestine was very calm and peaceful before the first Zionists arrived, there is plenty of evidence of conflicts especially in the 19th century. Due to the prevailing spirit of Imperialism many of the Palestinian residents felt uncomfortable realizing European powers taking foot by buying and sponsoring buildings. Whether they just wanted to save historical heritage or if they aimed to increase their countries prestige is difficult to judge. Nevertheless, it is a fact that there were hostilities and fights between the different religions. An incident in Lydda, a small town, portrays the situation very well. On 2nd of Mai 1877 a fanatical Muslim mob of approximately 400 hundred armed people shouting their hatred against Christians roamed through the town. At one point they destroyed the local Greek church. The local Christians could not do anything but hide until the authorities sent ten policemen on horse-back and 40 soldiers who managed to dissolve the mob1. It shows that the Ottoman administration was unable to protect all the inhabitants of the country in advance. Yet their authority seemed to have been more or less accepted as this relatively small number of officials could solve the problem.

At that time a group of 11 Hungarian Jews bought a large tract of land for agricultural colonization which they called Petah Tikva (Hebr.: Gate of Hope). Though they failed and had to abandon their project it is remembered as the first Zionist attempt to improve the land.

Two years later, in 1882, the first big wave of Zionist immigrants arrived in Palestine fleeing the pogroms in Eastern Europe or seeking better conditions for life than in Yemen. Until 1903, a total of 35,000 Jews was to enter the country which the Zionists called the first aliyah2 (Hebr.: ascent). Facing this unprecedent- ed stream of immigrants, the Ottoman government restricted land sale and immigration in the following years to avoid a further political destabilization. For the same reason it divided Palestine into the district of Nablus, Acre and Jerusalem which was attached directly to Istanbul. Nevertheless, more and more Jews flooded in, receiving support from European countries and since 1897 also from the World Zionist Organization (WZO). In 1901 the fifth Zionist Congress created the Jewish National Fund (JNF) an organization that was responsible for land acquisition for the WZO. One of its aims was that the purchased land would be cultivated by Jews exclusively (principle of Hebrew labor) which contributed to the fear of Arabs that the Zionists were planning to drive them out of Palestine. After the pogroms of 1903 the second aliyah (1904-1914) brought about 40,000 Jewish settlers and refugees to Palestine. Some of them started to cultivate the land and thus improved the country’s fertility. Among these were the first to establish a kibbutz3 in the area of the Jordan. Moreover, in 1909 Zionists founded the city of Tel Aviv (Hebr.: Hill of Spring) north of Jaffa, the first Jewish city. Because of all these relatively rapid changes it is not astonishing that the Arabs started to worry. Besides, those who could read were influenced by the anti-Zionist newspaper Filastine. The authorities opposed Zionism, too. They were, however, according to Tom Segev: One Palestine, Complete; p. 17f, “prudent to express their disapproval only towards Zionists not towards Jews as most of the Jews who lived in Palestine before 1880 were due to their ultra-orthodox faith against Zionism as well”. In some respect this attitude is justified as there were cases when Zionists bought land and sent the tenants away without any recompense. Moreover it is recorded that Zionists bought the consent of Arab land owners. Thus the atmosphere in Palestine was tense. Yet the Ottoman Empire had to deal with several other internal problems, including the Young Turk movement. Besides, its foreign policy foreshadowed a crisis. At last, a conflict with Russia and England seemed inevitable4.

2.2. Palestine during World War I

In November 1914 the Entente Cordiale declared war on the Ottoman Empire, a clear ally of imperial Germany. Throughout the war most of the fronts remained the same, excluding the Russian front and Palestine. The Turks saw a chance that, given a German victory, they might be able to restore their empire especially by expelling the British from Egypt. Therefore in Jerusalem they declared a jihad. The opinions concerning the result of the war were very split among Zionists. Some like David Ben-Gurion anticipated an Ottoman victory. Thus they favored the enlisting of Jews in the army hoping for more rights for the Jews1. Others, particularly western European citizens proposed instead to support the Allies. In general the government regarded the Zionists as a problem which resulted in increasing persecution.

In 1917, supported by the Arab revolt, the British under General Allenby attacked Gaza but were expelled twice. In October 1917 they succeeded in the conquest of Be’ersheba and afterwards Gaza. The war especially hurt the civil population as tens of thousands were deported and died of disease or hunger. Thus Palestine’s population of about 800,000 decreased by 100,000.

On December 9 the British received Jerusalem’s surrender and in 1918 they entered Damaskus that had been conquered by Thomas Edward Lawrence2 before. These facts created huge hopes for two peoples claiming Palestine their home.

2.3. The Balfour Declaration

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Chaim Weizmann1 (1874-1952), a doctor of chemistry of the University of Geneva, was to achieve this important document. In 1904 he went to England where he taught in Manchester University and started to create connections to politicians, e.g. Lord Balfour. In 1915, he was transferred to London where he researched in a laboratory of the admiralty. There he discovered a method to gain acetone, vital for the production of artillery shells, from maize. On November 2, 1917 the Balfour Declaration was published as a kind of reward for Weizmann’s efforts. In fact it took Weizmann a great effort to persuade the British to issue a declaration supporting Zionist activities in Palestine. Yet he had good prerequisites due to his contacts through Scott. Furthermore Lord Balfour and David Lloyd George were Christians that believed in the prophesied return of the Jewish people. It is a surprising fact that Weizmann, who at that time not even officially represented Zionism, let alone whole Jewry, was obviously regarded as its leader. Furthermore, he exploited the illusion of its world-dominating power. The Russian revolution was seen as a Jewish revenge for the pogroms. Consequently it was thought important to gain their goodwill in order to influence the outcome of the war. In this context it is interesting that the process quickened when Weizmann passed the information that Germany was considering a declaration of support for Zionism. The British then asked the American President Wilson for his approval. Due to good Zionist public relations, the White House did not disapprove of, as opponents had suspected. Yet the U.S.A. apparently underestimated its importance as President Wilson just told his staff, he had no objections to the British request. So the British promised to establish “a national home” for the “Jewish people”2 in Palestine. For the Zionists this was no complete victory as the British government expressed several cautions. First they did not promise explicitly to give all Palestine to the Jews but to create a home for them in Palestine, i.e. giving them only a part. Moreover, Palestine was not described as only home so that all the other Jewish communities could not be questioned. Yet the Balfour Declaration did not call Palestine an Arab state and just spoke of “non-Jewish communities”2 whose rights were not determined to avoid prejudice. Last but not least it is a promise of one country to a much divided people about a land that was already inhabited. So it is no wonder that the Arabs felt discriminated against and treated unjustly.

The Balfour Declaration already foreshadows the conflicts the British faced during their mandated time in Palestine. It is a declaration without clear decision as they left much unclear, e.g. the definition of a national home and the concrete role and rights of non-Jews, especially Arabs, in the Jewish national home. Yet it at least is a clear statement and obligation of the British to support the Zionist cause. This again led to the problem that already the British high commissioner of Egypt promised Sir Henry MacMahon had promised independence for the Arabs, who, having lived there the last five hundred years, of course regarded Palestine as theirs. This created the paradox that in the last year of the war both the Jewish and the Arab legions fought under British command side by side. They struggled against the same enemy and for the same country, both prompted by nationalist ideas that caused later a terrible war against each other. Thus the British were to find them later between two fronts unable to follow a clear line - there was none.

2.4. The Mandate

When the Allies decided about the fate of Palestine in 1919, a Zionist Commission had already been cooperating with the British military administration for more than two years. In fact it was enabled to influence the administration’s policy. That made clear that the Zionist’s goal would be a British occupation. As new president of the Zionist World Organization, Weizmann tried to reach his movement’s goal: a Jewish state. Therefore he used his connections and lobbied British officials long before the Versailles peace conference, where the British were granted the mandate by the League of Nations. Now the British were responsible for the ratification of the Balfour Declaration. Thus it was their task to rule Palestine until the Jewish national home was established.



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Title: Zionism and the British Mandate