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

In: 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.

  • 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 1929, the Yishuv numbered some 200,000, in contrast to over 900,000 Palestinian Arabs.

  • 12

    Cf. Norman Rose, ‘A Senseless, Squalid War’: Voices from Palestine, 1945–1948 (London: The Bodley Head, 2009), 31.

  • 13

    Chancellor to Passfield, January 17, 1930, co 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 Mattar, The Mufti of Jerusalem (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 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

    Sherman, Mandate Days, 83. 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, 1930, in 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, 1930, co 733/183/77050, tna.

  • 24

    James Renton, The Zionist Masquerade: The Birth of the Anglo-Zionist Alliance, 1914–1918 (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), 24.

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  • 25

    Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error: The Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann (New York: Schocken Books, 1949), 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 Skidelsky, Politicians and the Slump: The Labour Government of 1929–31 (London: Macmillan, 1967). 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

    Weizmann, Trial and Error, 333. 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. Smith, The Roots of Separatism in Palestine: British Economic Policy, 1920–1929 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1993), 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 Gorny, The British Labour Movement and Zionism, 1917–1948 (London: Frank Cass, 1983), 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

    Gorny, The British Labour Movement and Zionism, 80, 98; and Norman Rose, The Gentile Zionists (London: Frank Cass, 1973), 17.

  • 42

    Cabinet meeting of November 6, 1930, Cab 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, 1930, in 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

    Rose, The Gentile Zionists, 25; 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

    Rose, The Gentile Zionists, 26–27.

  • 56

    Segev, One Palestine, 337. 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. Mathews, Confronting an Empire, Constructing a Nation: Arab Nationalists and Popular Politics in Mandate Palestine (London and New York: I.B. Taurus, 2006), 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 75,000 more Jews into Palestine over the next five years, and none after that without Arab agreement.

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