British Mandate - Introduction

The early 20th century was a turning point for the Zionists, who sought to create a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. The end of World War I, the imminent dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, and several agreements made by Britain would effectively pave the way for a Jewish Palestine.

In 1916, the Sykes-Picot agreement split the Ottoman Empire between France and Britain in anticipation of its downfall at the end of World War I. Under this agreement, Palestine would have been slated for international administration, according to the United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine (UNISPAL) in “The Origins and Evolution of the Palestine Problem.”
Then, the Anglo-French declaration of 1918 negated the Sykes-Picot agreement by stating that France and Britain were to help the indigenous populations establish their own governments in Syria and Mesopotamia. Because Palestine was considered as being under Syrian control, it passed into Britain’s sphere of influence.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was issued by Britain to the Zionist Organization of the World and was a turning point in the Zionist’s bid for Palestine; it stated that Britain supported the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine and would put forth its best efforts to achieve this purpose.  

Palestine had been under British military occupation since December 1917. The establishment of the League of Nations in 1919 and the mandate system was instrumental to the Zionist agenda. The mandate system allowed for a Mandatory Power to govern under the name of the League of Nations in order to secure the well-being of the indigenous people – the Palestinians - inhabiting the Mandated Territory. 

The British Mandate became effective in September 1923. The Balfour Declaration was included in the document regulating the Mandate: The British government was to help facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine.

The Mandate was supposed to have been created as a tool to protect the interests of the indigenous population – the Palestinians. But the fact that the Balfour Declaration was included in the Mandate document calls into question the validity of the mandate itself. How could the rights of the indigenous population be respected and protected when the same document calling for that also gives Britain the authority to facilitate the creation of a national home for the Jews?

The Zionist Organization under the leadership of its president Dr. Chaim Weizmann helped draft the Mandate document and insisted that the phrase “Recognizing the historic rights of the Jews to Palestine,” be included in the preamble.  Lord George Curzon contested this phrase and it was changed to “historical connection,” even though Lord Curzon still disapproved.

“I told Dr. Weizmann that I could not admit the phrase “historical connection” in the preamble. … It is certain to be made the basis of all sorts of claims in the future. I do not myself recognize that the connection of the Jews with Palestine, which terminated 1,200 years ago, gives them any claim whatsoever...,” Lord Curzon was quoted as saying in the UNISPAL report. As Curzon had predicted, the “historical connection” claim has become a constant refrain of the Zionists.

While the Mandate was in place, Jewish immigration to Palestine and Jewish share of land and economy increased tremendously. UNISPAL reports that 100,000 Jews immigrated to Palestine in the 1920s and about 232,000 immigrated in the 1930s. By 1939, Jews comprised nearly 30 percent of the total population of Palestine. The growing Jewish population clashed with Palestinians. The longer the mandate was in place the more prevalent violence became. The Jews eventually formed the paramilitary group the Haganah – the forerunner to today’s Israeli military – as well as the terrorist groups the Stern Gang and the Irgun Zvei Leumi group (the Irgun) in preparation for their ultimate conquest of Palestine.

After several years and several attempts to control the tense situation in Palestine, the English government decided to withdraw from the area.  Britain declared the Mandate in Palestine “unworkable” in February 1947 and Palestine was handed over to the United Nations. The U.N. attempted to resolve the conflict by issuing resolution 181, partitioning Palestine into two separate states in November 1947. The resolution was not agreed upon by both parties and was never put into effect. Britain decided to terminate the Mandate on May 14th 1948, and the State of Israel was declared.