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From Time Immemorial – The Joan Peters Project

Summary of Chapter 13: A Hidden Movement: Illegal Arab Immigration

By Paulette Volgyesi

March 14, 2018



Joan Peters opens her chapter with quotes from British officials:


“Arab immigration into Palestine? Why, it did not exist. There was no such thing. No one ever kept track of that.

-Veteran archivist, British Public Record Office, 1979

This chapter deals with the undocumented entry of illegal waves of Arab immigrants, from neighbouring Syria (Hauranese), TransJordan (Eastern Palestine – originally planned to be part of the Jewish Homeland), Egypt and other neighbouring Arab and African countries into Jewish-settled areas of Western Palestine.

Why was illegal Arab immigration dismissed as “insignificant” or “about 1% of the population”? It remained unchallenged and unrecorded by the British mandatory Government as shown by the lack of evidence in the Public Record Office in London.

There were hundreds of references in both the Colonial and Foreign Office records of Jewish immigration, both legal and illegal. Except for a few compulsory references filed in annual Reports to the Administration – no records of incoming Arabs could be found.

However, an examination of the “private” and “secret” correspondence files of the Mandatory Government reveals evidence that the British were aware of the magnitude of this illegal immigration and the possible political ramifications. The chapter is filled with references to memoranda and other correspondence obtained from the British Foreign Office archives.

No mention was made, and no records found, either in official reports or in correspondence files, concerning 30,000 – 36,000 Hauranese who immigrated to Palestine in 1934.

As a result of anti-Jewish riots and strikes in 1936, many of these immigrants “applied urgently and pleadingly to be sent back to their homes for the reason that there was no work…and they did not wish to be involved in more trouble”.


Dozens of memos and “confidential” communications were also exchanged in May 1936, following the Arab riots, related to the desire for “repatriation” by numbers of Sudanese, Egyptian, Syrian, South Arabian and Somali illegal immigrants who “entered Palestine without permission”. Although their entry was ignored and undocumented, their hasty departure to avoid trouble was noted in some detail in private correspondence.


The British Consul in Syria, Colonel Gilbert MacKereth was one of the few dissenting officials who tried to implement an identity card system to track and deal with illegals. He failed due to opposition from the British Government.


The strategy of incitement to violence by Arab leaders to further their political aims of preventing the establishment of a Jewish state was very successful during the British administration. In 1920 Haj Amin al- Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem was responsible for the Arab riots in which 5 Jews were killed, 211 injured and property destroyed. The leader of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud was trying to create an independent and powerful Arabia reaching to the Mediterranean. This could not be achieved if the six million Jews from Central Europe were allowed to enter Palestine. Agitators in Damascus were promoting an insurrection in Palestine to the same end.


There was a great deal of traffic in arms from Syria and Iraq into Palestine. As well many unemployed Arabs and those living in poverty were encouraged to migrate. The goal was to create a general state of public disorder, out of which Palestinian Arabs could achieve their own political aims and prevent the establishment of a Jewish state.


Even as the Mandate was embraced by Britain and Lloyd George in April1920, with the instruction to “facilitate Jewish immigration” and “close settlement by Jews on the land ….to secure the establishment of the Jewish national home,” by August of that year a first “Jewish immigration quota” was fixed. From that time the preoccupation of Palestine’s administration would be concentrated solely on limiting the immigration of the Jews. As a British report attested, for “Arab immigration”, a “different” set of rules applied.


The British Government was both well aware of “illicit” Arab immigration and resented the challenge to its one-sided selective “system” of immigration into Western Palestine. Even when the illicit immigrants were “thugs” and “terrorists” entering Palestine for the purpose of wreaking terror in the officials’ own midst – the government deemed the outbreaks “nationalism” and resisted security measures that might have controlled the situation.

The British Government’s one-sided policy was the result of fear of offending Arab leaders, who did not want a Jewish state in Palestine for central European Jews, whom the Arabs regarded as “alien invaders”. They were also afraid of the increasingly close associations of the Arabs with Britain’s European rivals.


The Arab immigrants’ virtually free access to the Jewish-settled areas of Western Palestine - throughout the British administration of the Mandate - would distort critical future political and demographic assessments prevailing until today and - literally - would prevent the rescue of thousands of Jews from Europe. “Those places were taken instead by Arab immigrants - whose own origins and history of immigration would be obliterated - since officially, “there was no such thing as Arab immigration”. Jewish immigration was very much impeded paving the way for the Arab newcomers to gain the status of “indigenous native population since time immemorial”.

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