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From Time Immemorial – The Joan Peters Project

Summary of Chapter 16: Jews in Palestine as “Illegals” and as War Allies

By Miriam Baichman

March 14, 2018


The Balfour Declaration (1917) speaks definitively of “…the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. Four years later, The Mandate for Palestine repeats the identical phrase five times. Notwithstanding the promise of both documents, here is yet another chapter further detailing the process by which the British almost killed the dream of such a Jewish national home, despite the protestations of various individuals and organizations. In this chapter we read how, between 1921 and 1948, the British as the Mandatory literally turned the spirit and the terms of the Mandate on their heads. We also read about the Jews’ extraordinary reaction to the challenge posed by Britain’s continued commitment to the Nazified Arabs (to the severe detriment of Jewish immigration) during WWII—while at the same time fighting the Nazis on Britain’s behalf. 

The summarizer of the previous chapter, Rene Goldman, commented there that the book had so far not analyzed Winston Churchill’s attitude towards aforementioned injustices. This chapter includes some tantalizing hints thereto.


Schadenfreude Alert: Today, Britain on its home turf passively submits in a stubbornly unacknowledged struggle with the same atavistic, supremacist culture it had appeased—with devastating consequences for the Jewish people—in Mandatory Palestine.

- Editor

The recurring theme of this book: the numerous roadblocks placed by the British to prevent the Jews from openly and freely immigrating to their promised homeland as outlined in the Mandate is the primary focus of Chapter 16. As early as 1921, efforts to thwart the Mandate were evident as Jewish immigrants with “valid passports” were denied entry. Dr. Chaim Weizmann, as well as Churchill, himself, claimed that British antipathy towards Jews and Arab pressure to halt Jewish immigration were the chief causes for the slow movement of Jewish immigrants to Palestine.

Ms. Peters offers a multitude of examples which definitively demonstrate the interference of the British with the immigration of Jews to their Jewish National Home in an attempt to placate the Arabs and deter them from allying with the Nazis. While Jewish immigration, which had risen substantially as Hitler came to power, was thwarted, the British looked the other way when 30,000 Hauranis (Arabs from Southwestern Syria or Northwest Jordan) arrived in 1934. In fact, the Palestine Administration set up a system which deducted “[a number for] illegal settlers who might enter the labour market on a half-yearly basis from the Jewish quota; it was a practice that would be rigidly applied afterward to the Arab-approved 1939 White Paper quota of Jewish immigrants to the Jewish-settled area of Western Palestine during and after World War II”. High Commissioner Wauchope at the time, as a way of not offending the Arabs, suggested that the illegal Hauranis leave of their own volition, but clearly demanded that the Jewish illegals settlers be deported regardless of their current hardships. Although efforts to block the Mandate were evident as far back as 1921, the label ‘illegal’ for Jewish immigrants was not used in British reports until the 1930s.


With the White Paper, which was initiated by Churchill in 1922 in response to the Jaffa riots, the notion of “economic capacity” further hindered and slowed Jewish immigration. Now Jewish immigration was based on the “capacity of the country to absorb new arrivals”. However, the Jews began to find ways around all the restrictions imposed on them. As a way to deter this, the Palestinian government lifted many of the restrictions but new minimums for entry were raised from 500 to 1,000 pounds and even to 2,000 pounds.

The League of Nations Permanent Mandate Commission opposed the attempt to reduce Jewish immigration and considered it illegal. Furthermore, in 1939 the commission viewed the new White Paper under Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as a “violation of the Palestine Mandate”. Commission’s Report claimed that, “The newest and harshest restrictions laid down by the White Paper, along with its stated recognition of Arab rule, ran counter to the British Mandatory obligations of fulfillment of the Jewish National Home [Italics the author’s]”.

Winston Churchill (who in article 25 of the Palestine Mandate document had peremptorily severed some 78% of the Mandate east of the Jordan River from the National Home) spoke up forcefully in the parliamentary debate against the 1939 White Paper and is quoted thus extensively in the chapter. Even President Roosevelt protested: “Frankly, I do not see how the British Government reads into the original Mandate or into the White Paper of 1922 any policy that would limit Jewish immigration”.

Nonetheless, the British Mandatory government had begun to equate any Jewish immigration with “illegal” immigration. The British government feared Arab uprisings should the area be overrun by Jews, and went so far as to instruct its ambassador in Munich to inform the German government of the Jewish methods of escape and ask them to intervene.

All Jewish immigration began to be considered “illegal”, to the extent that in a British Colonial Office communique the writer actually equated the “anti-social behavior” of Jewish immigration to their National Home—regardless of the horrors the immigrants faced in Europe—with the “anti-social” behavior of the Germans.

Despite Churchill’s and other members of Parliament’s expressed disagreement with the White Paper’s proposal that Arabs could “veto” Jewish immigration if they wished, the British, and Chamberlain in particular, felt that this proposal would quell Arab revolts. Besides fearing Arab rebellion, the British worried about the Arabs aligning with Hitler and the Axis. The White Paper was approved by a 268 to 179 vote. By war’s end, of all the Jewish refugees that managed to reach their homeland only 51,000 were granted permission to remain there, which translated to less than 1% of the Six Million who were killed. In total approximately 400,000 Jews settled in Palestine under British rule. Peters writes that had the British been more vigilant and controlled illegal Arab immigration, the Jewish population would have proved to be a majority and according to the Mandate could have resulted in the creation of a Jewish State much sooner. In effect, the Jews fleeing Hitler’s massacre might have had a home to flee to and could have been saved.


As hope for a Jewish National Home began to falter, and with the enforcement of the 1939 White Paper (part and parcel of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy – Editor), “violent reprisals” by the Jewish underground resistance, the Irgun, began to occur. Nevertheless, approximately 26,000 Palestinian Jews volunteered to serve the British Allied cause as the war against the Nazis and the Axis raged. Many more (134,000) had volunteered, but in order to appease the Arabs, the British only accepted the same number of Jewish volunteers as Arab volunteers. Once fewer Arabs enlisted and conditions for the allies got worse, the British took in more Jewish volunteers. While Arabs continued to attack and provoke the Jews, the Jews by and large did not retaliate. The British counted on that and continued to appease the Arabs. The Jews found themselves conflicted between supporting the Allies and rescuing the fleeing “illegal Jewish immigrants.

The Jews in the main, aside from a few small violent groups, remained peaceful. But when in a demonstration against the White Paper a policeman was killed a British warned that if there were a repeat “…it would be on the heads of the Jews”. To that, David Ben Gurion replied,

"We deeply deplore and condemn unreservedly the fatal shooting of a British constable. With all due deference I must, however, take exception to your statement this morning that the blood that may be shed will be on the heads of the Jews…The Jewish demonstration of yesterday marked the beginning of Jewish resistance to the disastrous policy now proposed by His Majesty’s Government [Italics the author’s]. The Jews will not be intimidated into surrender even if their blood be shed. In our submission, the responsibility for what may occur in this country in the course of enforcing the new policy will rest entirely on the Government."

Peters suggests that efforts to have a peace agreement between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine were rejected and thwarted by the British and American governments. Not only were these governments courting the oil-rich Arabs and encouraging Arab dependency on them for progress and development, but the fear that Jewish ascendancy and stability in the Middle East would spread beyond their borders frightened the British and threatened their control in the Middle East.

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