The British Mandate in Palestine: The Strange Case of the 1930 White Paper

European Journal of Jewish Studies

After the “Wailing Wall” riots and pogroms that swept Palestine in August 1929, a British Commission of Inquiry reported that the Zionist project in Palestine could not proceed without encroaching upon the rights of the Palestinians, creating a class of landless Arabs. The minority Labour government endorsed these conclusions, in its White Paper of October 1930. But in a period of severe economic crisis, with Britain fearful of the Zionist lobby in the United States, and dependent upon Zionist finance to maintain its rule over Palestine, the government retreated from its own policy, in unique constitutional circumstances.

  • 8

    Kolinsky“Premeditation in the Palestine Disturbances” 20; House of Commons Debates (hcd) 233 December 23 1929 col. 1902.

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  • 9

    See Friesel“Through a Peculiar Lens” 433; Wasserstein The British in Palestine 155; Ari Joshua Sherman Mandate Days: British Lives in Palestine 1918–1948 (New York: Thames & Hudson 1998) 77 85 253.

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  • 11

    In 1929the Yishuv numbered some 200000 in contrast to over 900000 Palestinian Arabs.

  • 12

    Cf. Norman Rose‘A Senseless Squalid War’: Voices from Palestine 1945–1948 (London: The Bodley Head2009) 31.

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  • 13

    Chancellor to Passfield January 17 1930co 733/183/77050 The National Archives Kew (hereafter tna). Some scholars believe that a senior official of the Palestine administration composed this memorandum. But no one has been able to determine his identity.

  • 14

    Phillip MattarThe Mufti of Jerusalem (New York: Columbia University Press1988) 48–49 118–19; and Ilan Pappe The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty: The Husaynis 1700–1948 (Berkeley: University of California Press 2010) 236 245 248; also Izzat Tannous The Palestinians (New York: i.g.t. Publishing 1988) 159. Al-Burāq was the name of the Prophet Muhammad’s steed which according to legend was tied by the Prophet to the Western Wall before he ascended to heaven.

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  • 16

    ShermanMandate Days83. The Shaw Commission Report was published in London by hmso in March 1930 as Cmd. 3530 (uk Government “Report of the Commission on the Palestine Disturbances of August 1929” [Shaw Report] Cmd. 3530 [London: hmso 1930]).

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  • 17

    Shuckburgh Minute of May 9 1930in co 733/191/77253 tna; Shuckburgh had founded the Middle East Department in the Colonial Office in 1921.

  • 18

    The Hope-Simpson Report October 1 1930: uk Government “Palestine: Report on Immigration Land Settlement and Development by Sir John Hope-Simpson” (Hope-Simpson Report) Cmd. 3686 (London: hmso 1930) xi conclusion 141–153 available online at http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/E3ED8720F8707C9385256D19004F057C; see also the Snowden Committee Report of September 23 1930 cp 309 in Cab 24/215/9 tna. In 1931 an official inquiry by Lewis French a Palestine government official found that just 570 Arab families had lost (i.e. sold) their lands; see Kenneth W. Stein The Land Problem in Palestine 1917–1939 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 1984) 110 117 157 and v. The relatively low number of landless Arab families that made claims was due to the fact that (a) many had since found more lucrative occupations in the towns and did not want to return to agriculture and (b) many village heads (mukhtars) withheld information about the sales in order to protect the identity of the Arab sellers who if discovered were vilified publicly as traitors; ibid. 156–157.

  • 19

    Chancellor to Passfield January 17 1930co 733/183/77050 tna.

  • 24

    James RentonThe Zionist Masquerade: The Birth of the Anglo-Zionist Alliance 1914–1918 (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave MacMillan2007) 24.

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  • 25

    Chaim WeizmannTrial and Error: The Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann (New York: Schocken Books1949) 331; Mrs. Webb’s earlier descriptions of the Jews of London’s East End in the 1880s contained “explicitly anti-Semitic pronouncements” cf. Joseph Gorny “Beatrice Webb’s Views on Judaism and Zionism” Jewish Social Studies 40(2) (1978): 95–116.

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  • 28

    See Robert SkidelskyPoliticians and the Slump: The Labour Government of 1929–31 (London: Macmillan1967). A European banking crisis in May 1931 led to a balance of payments crisis and a financial crash in Britain. By 1932 unemployment in Britain rose to 3.75 million 25 percent of the total workforce.

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  • 34

    WeizmannTrial and Error333. For background see Chaim Weizmann The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann (hereafter Weizmann Letters) ed. Camillo Dresner (Jerusalem and New Brunswick: Transaction Books Rutgers University Press and Israel University Press 1978) vol. 14 introduction ix–xxxii.

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  • 35

    See Barbara J. SmithThe Roots of Separatism in Palestine: British Economic Policy 1920–1929 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press1993) 33–38 48–51 58; cf. likewise Cohen “Was the Balfour Declaration at Risk” 79–98; Cohen Cohen “Zionism and British Imperialism ii” 115–139.

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  • 37

    Joseph GornyThe British Labour Movement and Zionism 1917–1948 (London: Frank Cass1983) 79. On British governments’ fears of the influence of the Zionist lobby in the United States see Cohen Churchill and the Jews 113 186–203; see also Gabriel Sheffer “British Colonial Policy-Making Towards Palestine (1929–1939)” Middle Eastern Studies 14(3) (1978): 315; in 1983 Harold Beeley Foreign Secretary Bevin’s principal adviser on Palestine from 1945 to 1949 later recalled that Bevin had two preoccupations when dealing with Palestine. The first was his fear that it would “poison Anglo-American relations.” The second was “the danger of alienating the Arabs” cited in Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon Imperial Endgame: Britain’s Dirty Wars and the End of Empire (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan 2011) 385 n. 73.

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  • 38

    GornyThe British Labour Movement and Zionism80 98; and Norman Rose The Gentile Zionists (London: Frank Cass 1973) 17.

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  • 42

    Cabinet meeting of November 6 1930Cab 66/30 in Cab 23/65 tna; also Weizmann Report to Oskar Wasserman November 13 1930 in Weizmann Letters ed. Dresner vol. 15 39–42.

  • 44

    Weizmann-Wasserman Report November 13 1930in Weizmann Letters ed. Dresner vol. 15; Rose The Gentile Zionists 11 20–22; and Sir John Hope-Simpson to Sir John Chancellor February 26 1931 the Chancellor Papers file 6 ff. 56–59 Bodleian Library Oxford.

  • 47

    RoseThe Gentile Zionists25; Weizmann Trial and Error 334; and Gorny The British Labour Movement and Zionism 100. The other members of the sub-committee apart from Henderson (chairman) and Passfield were Albert Victor Alexander First Lord of the Admiralty and Thomas Shaw Secretary of State for War.

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  • 54

    RoseThe Gentile Zionists26–27.

  • 56

    SegevOne Palestine337. I wish to thank Dr Segev for supplying me with transcripts of some of Chancellor’s letters. Chancellor’s comment about Arab fears is in his letter of October 26 1930 f. 123; his letter to Davidson of March 7 1937 is in 19: mf 8 ff. 110–113; both in the Chancellor Papers Bodleian Library Oxford. Davidson was a civil servant and a Conservative Party politician. In March 1937 he was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

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  • 57

    Weldon C. MathewsConfronting an Empire Constructing a Nation: Arab Nationalists and Popular Politics in Mandate Palestine (London and New York: I.B. Taurus2006) 84.

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  • 61

    See Michael J. Cohen“Appeasement in the Middle East: The British White Paper on Palestine, May 1939,” The Historical Journal 16(3) (1973): 571–596. The immigration quota provided for the entry of 75000 more Jews into Palestine over the next five years and none after that without Arab agreement.

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