After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in WWI, the British gained control of Palestine in 1920 forming ‘Mandatory Palestine’. They held control until 1948. One of the major battles the British government had while governing Palestine was balancing Arab and Jewish interests: it must have been like trying to parent two quarrelsome siblings (which in a sense it was). During this period, they issued three influential White Papers (that is, Policy Papers) in 1922, 1930, and 1939. This article seeks to explore the relationship between Britain and the Jewish people, and how this makes the establishment of the country of Israel even more amazing!

The 1922 White Paper, called the Churchill White Paper, was published on 3 June 1922, as a reaction to the growing tensions in Palestine. Tensions increased due to exaggerated and unauthorised statements regarding the famous Balfour Declaration. It states that “His Majesty’s Government views 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”1. The Jewish and Arab populations took these statements, especially the phrase “National Homeland”, and exaggerated their meaning. For example, Chaim Weizmann, a Russian born Jew and Zionist leader with Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion, addressed the English Zionist Federation on 19 September 1919 saying, “By a Jewish National Home I mean the creation of such conditions that as the country is developed we can pour in a considerable number of immigrants… that Palestine shall be as Jewish as England is English or America American”2.

Consequently, the Churchill White Paper was issued to define the phrase “National Homeland”. The definition it established and its consequential conclusions astonished me. It states:

“[The Jewish] community, then, with its town and country population, its political, religious, and social organizations, its own languages, its own customs, its own life, has in fact “national” characteristics. When it is asked what is meant by the development of the Jewish National Home in Palestine, it may be answered that it is not the imposition of Jewish nationality upon the inhabitants of Palestine as a whole, but the further development of the existing Jewish community… This, then, is the interpretation which His Majesty’s Government place upon the Declaration of 1917…”3

This shows that in 1922 Britain had no intention of establishing an independent country for the Jews. While the Balfour Declaration and the 1922 White Paper are steps in the general direction of creating a country, they also show that in Britain’s later opinion, a “national homeland” was not an independent country. Instead they define a “national homeland” as a community with a “national characteristic”. Furthermore, they said that they wanted to “develop this existing community… in order that it may become a centre in which the Jewish people as a whole may take, on grounds of religion and race, an interest and a pride”3. This point is further emphasised when considering Britain’s stand on Jewish immigration throughout the White Papers.

Regarding migration, the 1922 White Paper states:

“In order that this community should have the best prospect of free development and provide a full opportunity for the Jewish people to display its capacities, it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance”.

What is Britain saying? Firstly, it is emphasising again that they intended to develop a community not a country; and secondly, it is stating that Jewish people in Palestine need to understand that they have the right to be there as opposed to a ‘permission’ being given. However, in contrast to this statement, and presumably to try to add weight to the Arab side of the balance, the same ‘right’ does not seem to apply to Jews migrating to Palestine. Instead there is a caveat on free migration which states, “it is essential to ensure that the immigrants should not be a burden upon the people of Palestine as a whole”3. It seems, therefore, that while the Jewish people in Palestine were told that they were there as a right, those migrating to Palestine were only allowed in if they were not a sufferance.

So what can we learn from the 1922 White Paper about the relationship between Britain and the Jews? Well for me, it shows that the relationship wasn’t as ‘peachy’ as I grew up thinking it to be. In my ignorance I did not realise that the British powers of 1922 were actually similar to the governmental powers of today’s 21st century. A promise was made in the Balfour Declaration of a “National Homeland”; however, in reality it was discovered that this was going to be more difficult than expected; consequently they redefined ‘Homeland’ as ‘Community’. As Bible believers, this is just another reason that makes the fact that Israel is a country today even more amazing!

References:

  • Jewish Virtual Library, “Pre-State Israel: The Balfour Declaration”, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org
  • 2001, “Chaim Weizmann – A Brief Biography & Quotes”, www.palestineremembered.com
  • Jewish Virtual Library, “British White Papers: Churchill White Paper” www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org