58. British Mandatory Palestine

World War I ended and victors Britain along with the other Allied Powers started to divide the territory of the Axis nations among themselves to suit what was convenient to them. As a result, the Ottoman Empire was reduced only to the region of ‘Anatolia’ – the area from where it had begun its expansion. (Anatolia roughly comprises of most of modern-day Turkey). However, after the loss of the Ottoman Empire to the Allied Powers, the region of Anatolia and its capital Constantinople naturally fell under their sway. This was precisely the thing that fomented anger among the native Turks; produced a zealous surge of nationalism in them, which later snowballed into a major revolution and consequently led to the formation of present-day independent Turkey.

As per the arrangement under the division of the Axis territory, the region of Syria (present-time Syria and Lebanon together) was handed over to France while the land of Palestine (Jordan, Israel along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip of today) was handed over to Britain.

The British government appointed ‘Herbert Samuel’, a British Jew as the first High Commissioner for Palestine. It was for the first time in the last two thousand years that the responsibility of administering the land of Palestine was with a Jew. His appointment enthused the Jews who believed the move to be consistent with the sections of the ‘Balfour Declaration’.

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Sir Herbert Samuel, the first High Commissioner for Palestine appointed by the British

By this time, the second wave of immigration of the Jews from the diaspora to Jerusalem, also known as the ‘Second Aliyah’, was over and the city of old Jerusalem that spread across an area of merely one square kilometer, faced high pressure to accommodate the new arrivals from all corners of the world. These newly arrived Jews created their settlements adjacent to the old city of Jerusalem. However, they were far from being homogenous. Jews who emigrated from a particular region would generally stay close by, and the construction of their houses would bear peculiar characteristics of those respective regions. As a result, all the newly created Jewish settlements had unknowingly developed a disorganized character.

The Zionist Organization had established its ‘Palestine Office’ in the city of ‘Jaffa’ on the Mediterranean coast to facilitate the registration of the returning Jews and to organize the allotment of permanent residences to them finely.

Right next to Jaffa, a new city was being created with proper building of residential complexes using modern techniques. Within no time, the new city turned into a major cultural and financial centre of the Jews. The city also bagged the honour of being the first city in Israel to have all its citizens as Hebrew-speaking Jews. This city was later named ‘Tel Aviv’.

After taking over Jerusalem, Britain began with ‘town planning’of the city to solve to the problem of the settling of the newly arrived Jews. A plan was put in place to build houses similar in type and appearance using the latest methods. However, for preserving the historical connect of this ancient city to an extent, sandstone was used in the construction of all these houses built using advanced technology.

In the meantime, the discussions held during the ‘Paris Peace Conference’, led to the creation of the ‘League of Nations’ (the precursor to the ‘United Nations’). This organization formed after the end of World War I was intended to prevent happening of such international conflicts in the future and for preserving world peace. In 1922, the League of Nations too recognized the policy adopted by Britain (‘British Mandate’) on Palestine. In consequence, from that point in time, Palestine was recognized and referred to as ‘British Mandatory Palestine’.

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British Mandate for Palestine

Though the ‘League of Nations’ was a concept proposed by US President Woodrow Wilson during the World War I, it was voted upon and rejected by the US Senate. Therefore, the United States herself was never a part of the ‘League’. Thus, the United States issued an independent approval to Britain’s Palestine policy.

Meanwhile, by the end of the world war, Russia was experiencing simmering resentment among the masses against the ruling Czar, and the conditions had deteriorated. The seething discontent of many years had erupted to take the form of the ‘Russian Revolution’. The Czardom had ended, and the government was taken over by a socialist ‘Soviet’ government representing the labour classes. This was the time that saw a rise in the hatred for Jews who had lived in large numbers for many years in Russia and Eastern Europe. Under the circumstances, from 1920 onwards, number of Jews set out from there to reach Jerusalem. This is considered as the ‘Third Aliyah’.

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The Third Aliyah brought with it young Jews skilled largely in road construction, home building, carpentry, etc.

The third wave of Aliyah mainly included young Jews skilled in agriculture and at artisanship. For a few years then, the Zionist and other Jewish leaders had launched a training programme for the Jews staying in diaspora so that it would be easy for them to take up agriculture and other trades and skills when they return to Israel. ‘David Ben-Gurion’ and ‘Yitzhak Ben-Zvi’, who respectively went on to become the first Prime Minister and the second President of independent Israel, had come up the ranks from this training programme known as the ‘HeHalutz’. HeHalutz was implemented for the Jewish people in the United States and more than 25 countries across Europe. Most of the Jews who arrived in Jerusalem during the Third Aliyah were trained under the HeHalutz programme.

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However, though a Jew, High Commissioner Herbert Samuel did not take a pro-Jewish approach. Contrary to what the Jews felt, he imposed ‘quota system’ and many other restrictions on Aliyah of the Jewish people to project the British policy on Palestine to be non-partisan in nature to the non-Jews. One of the many restrictions imposed on the Jews was a bar on Jewish settlements to the east of the Jordan River, but the same bar did not apply to the Arabs. In spite of all these curbs, the number of the Jews in Jerusalem had crossed 90 thousand.

For thousands of years, the land of Jerusalem had remained under the rule of Muslims and therefore had a majority population of Arabs and other Muslims for the last many centuries. Now suddenly with the Jews returning to Jerusalem in such large numbers, the local Arabs resentfully began to treat them as aliens.

However, as the British policy on Palestine was ambiguous, it proved to be a root cause of many conflicts to come in the future. (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar