The 1930 Passfield Paper was Britain’s attempt to curb the growing Jewish migration in a hope to please the Arab leaders. However, the ever-increasing Jewish persecution in central and eastern Europe meant that Jewish migration (legal or not) was still on the rise. In 1935 the Jewish annual migration was 66,000, a record for the 1930s. This increased migration continued to agitate Arab leaders leading to the Arab Revolt.

Arab Uprising 1936

Violence began in April 1936, when six prominent Arab leaders overcame their rivalries and joined forces, creating the Arab High Command. The first stage of the violence lasted seven months until November 1936. This consisted mainly of strikes and terrorist attacks against the Jews and British. To assess the reasons for the violence (as if it wasn’t obvious) Britain set up the Peel Commission which arrived in Palestine on 11 November 1936. They released their report in July 1937, which advised that “The underlying causes of the disturbances of 1936 were – (1) The desire of the Arabs for national independence, (2) Their hatred and fear of the establishment of the Jewish National Home.”1 The Peel Commission went on to recommend that the mandate be abolished and offered instead partition of the country between the two people: The Jewish State was to be the coastal strip from Mount Carmel to south of Be’er Tuvia, as well as the Jezreel Valley and Galilee. The Arab State was from Judah, Samaria and the Negev. And Britain was to control the zone between Jaffa and Jerusalem.

Britain accepted the recommendations. This acceptance, however, initiated the second stage of the Arab rebellion because there was no way that they wanted to lose any more ground to the Jews. Violence erupted more aggressively than before, and as a result of the conflict over 262 Britons, 400 Jews and 5,000 Arabs were killed2. Eventually Britain shelved the Peel Commission—giving in to Arab terrorism—and quashed the revolt in 1939, however, they also simultaneously rewarded the Arabs by publishing the 1939 White Paper in the same year.

The role of the 1939 White Paper3 was to clarify Britain’s stance in relation to the Mandates by discussing The Constitution, Immigration and The Land. Here is a summary of the three sections.

Section 1: The Constitution

The main point of this section was to clarify or define the intentions of the phrase “a national home for the Jewish people” used in earlier policies including the 1922 White Paper and the Balfour Declaration. The 1940 White Paper stated “His Majesty’s Government therefore now declares unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish State. They would indeed regard it as contrary to their obligations to the Arabs under the Mandate”. It is important to note that the British also had no intention to set Palestine up as an Arab state. Hence the Paper stated, “It should be a State in which the two peoples in Palestine, Arabs and Jews, share authority in government in such a way that the essential interests of each are shared.” In fact, later in the Paper they declared that their goal was to complete this political solution within 10 years.

Section 2: Immigration

This section describes the conundrum Britain faced regarding Jewish migration. The British had two options: “(i) to permit further expansion of the Jewish National Home [i.e. community] indefinitely by immigrations” or “(ii) to permit further expansion of the Jewish National Home [i.e. community] by immigration only if the Arabs are prepared to acquiesce in it”. These two options are of course offered in political terms, but if we get straight to the point this is saying (i) allow immigration, or (ii) put a stop to it—but make it the Arab’s fault. So, what decision did they make? The White Paper says, “Therefore His Majesty’s Government, after earnest consideration…has decided that the time has come to adopt in prin- ciple the second of the alternatives”. To adopt this policy, they set a quota of 5000 Jews a year for the next five years, then none after that, unless the Arabs would agree to more. 25,000 over five years is a minuscule amount compared to the 30,000 to 60,000 a year of the mid 1930s.

Section 3: The Land

The problem regarding land in Palestine was that the Arab population was growing quickly, but the land they cultivated was decreasing as it was being sold to Jews. As a solution to this the White Paper said, “The policy of the Government will be directed towards the development of land and the improvement, where possible, of methods of cultivation”.

The feelings I get after reading this White Paper are very similar to those I got when reading the White Papers of 1922 and 1930—the British were giving in to Arab demands more and more. Why did they do this? Well, as Britain grew in power and as war loomed, Britain needed to ensure they had peace in their own traditional colonies and territories and more importantly, they needed to keep the powerful Arab nations on their side. Consequently, they gave in to the Arabs’ demands. How ironic it was that the majority of Arab powers sided with Germany in the war.

This policy, especially the constitution and migration sections must have really cut into the heart of the Jews both in Palestine and those in Europe fleeing Hitler. The Jewish Agency for Palestine issued a five paragraph response to the White Paper4. They said, “The new policy for Palestine laid down… denies to the Jewish people the right to rebuild their national home… It transfers the authority over Palestine to the present Arab majority”. They describe the British as “surrendering to Arab Terrorism”, which they essentially did, as described above. In their final paragraph they describe the situation as “the darkest hour of Jewish history”. Sadly however, as we know, Jewish years became darker as World War II developed and the Axis strength grew—a light, however, was to shine at the end of the tunnel. God was about to bring many Jews home and give them a state as He had promised long ago in the Scriptures of truth.

Jewish women demonstrate against the British White Paper outside King David Hotel 1936

References:

  1. Jewish Virtual Library, “British Palestine Mandate: Text of the Peel Commission Report (July 1930)”, found online http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/text-of-the-peel-commission-report
  2. Hughes, M (2009), The Banality of Brutality: British Armed Forces and the Repression of the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936-39, English Historical Review Vol. CXXIV No. 507, pp314-354
  3. Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library, “British White Paper of 1939”, online at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/brwh1939.asp
  4. Jewish Virtual Library, “British White Papers: Zionist Reaction to the White Paper (1939)” online at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/zionist-reaction-to-the-white-paper-of-1939