THE end of World War I brought bitter disappointment and a pervasive sense of foreboding to the Palestinians, as news spread of the secret agreements between the Western powers and particularly of the Balfour Declaration. The Palestinians were terrified by the prospect of a Jewish national home in their country. This was what they had suspected to be the aim of Zionism since the 1880s, but in spite of its weakness the Ottoman government had itself, at least, been opposed to Zionism. Now the paramount imperial power in the world, Great Britain, had taken Zionism under its wing. The wording of the Balfour Declaration added insult to injury by referring to the Palestinians as the "non-Jewish communities," even though they constituted 92 percent of the population. The Palestinians categorically rejected the proposition that Jewish association with Palestine in biblical times gave contemporary European Zionists a political title that overrode the Palestinians' birthright to their ancestral homeland. They were outraged at the cynicism of Britain in giving their country to a third party. Their disillusionment and feeling of betrayal were all the greater because of Britain's wartime promises to Sharif Hussein and the Arab wartime alliance with Britain against Constantinople.


In June 1919 the Treaty of Versailles and the Covenant of the League of Nations were signed. The future of the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire was ostensibly to be governed by Article 22 of the covenant, emanating from the lofty Wilsonian principle of self-determination. Article 22 stipulated that the well-being of the Arab provinces was "a sacred trust of civilization." The communities inhabiting them were to be recognized as "independent nations" subject to the rendering of administrative assistance by a Mandatory. The wishes of the communities themselves would be "a principal consideration" in the selection of the Mandatory.

The Palestinians reacted to the Balfour Declaration and the proposed Mandate system by identifying themselves more closely with the pan-Arab national movement led by Sharif Hussein, whose son Emir (Prince) Faisal had installed himself in Damascus. In July 1919 Palestinian delegates attended a pan-Arab congress there at which Faisal was elected king of a state comprising Palestine, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Syria. Faisal's rule in Damascus was short-lived; by July 1920 he had been deposed by the French, who proceeded to impose their rule on Lebanon and Syria in accordance with an agreement made with Britain.

During 1919-20 the Palestinians pinned their hopes on the King-Crane Commission of Inquiry, dispatched in May 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson to ascertain the wishes of the region's inhabitants regarding their future. In August 1919 the commission reported on the depth of Palestinian fear of Zionism. Noting that the Zionists "looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine by various forms of purchase," they recommended serious modification of the Zionist program. Nothing came of the report, however, because of Wilson's disabling illness and the Senate's failure to endorse his signature on the Versailles treaty, which resulted in the disengagement of the United States from the postwar settlement. The following April riots broke out in Palestine, in which five Jews were killed and two hundred wounded. A British commission of inquiry attributed the riots to Palestinian "disappointment at the non-fulfillment of the promise of independence" and "fear of economic and political subjection" to the Zionists.

Undeterred, the British proceeded forthwith to implement the Balfour Declaration while still in military occupation of the country and before their status there had been approved by the League of Nations. They inaugurated their regime by dismissing the Palestinian mayor of Jerusalem for opposing the Zionist program. The Mandate for Palestine was "allotted" to Britain in April 1920 by the Supreme Council of the Peace Conference at San Remo without any reference to the wishes of the Palestinians. In July the British appointed Sir Herbert Samuel, an avowed Zionist, as first high commissioner of a new civilian administration. Without Palestinian consent, Samuel announced in August a quota of 16,500 Jewish immigrants for his first year in office. In May 1921 Palestinian protests against Zionist mass immigration resulted in new riots, in which 46 Jews were killed and 146 wounded. Another British commission of inquiry confirmed that fear of the consequences of Zionist immigration was the reason for the disturbances.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians had begun to organize themselves. Christian-Muslim associations were formed throughout the country. These associations in turn elected delegates to a national congress, which elected an Executive Committee. Three national congresses were held between January 1919 and August 1922. All three congresses expressed fear of Zionist political objectives and rejected the Balfour Declaration. Demanding the cessation of Zionist mass immigration and of the transfer of Palestinian land to Zionist ownership, they called for a government on the basis of proportional representation. In 1921 and 1922 the Palestinians also sent three delegations to London to present their case.

In 1922 the British government issued a White Paper (statement of policy) explaining its objectives in Palestine: The intention was not that Palestine as a whole should be converted into a Jewish national home, but that such a home should be established in Palestine; Jewish immigration would continue and be regulated by "the economic absorptive capacity" of the country; Transjordan would lie outside the scope of the Balfour Declaration. The Palestinians rejected the 1922 White Paper because Zionist mass immigration, which had a declared political objective, would be regulated solely by economic criteria - the very reason why the Zionist leadership accepted it.

The terms of the Mandate were approved by the League of Nations Council in July 1922 without the consent of the Palestinians. Article 2 made the Mandatory responsible for placing the country under such "political, administrative, and economic conditions as [would] secure the establishment of the Jewish national home . . . and the development of self-governing institutions." Article 4 allowed for the establishment of a Jewish agency, representing the Jews of the world, to advise the Mandatory. Article 6 stipulated that the Mandatory, "while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population [were] not prejudiced, [should] facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions ... and close settlement by the Jews on the land."

The Mandate as a whole was seen by the Palestinians as an Anglo-Zionist condominium and its terms as instruments for the implementation of the Zionist program; it had been imposed on them by force, and they considered it to be both morally and legally invalid. But the isolation of the Palestinians was complete inasmuch as all the neighboring Arab countries had themselves recently fallen under foreign occupation – Lebanon and Syria under the French, and Transjordan and Iraq under the British (Egypt had been under British occupation since 1882). The one factor that favored the Palestinians was the status quo in regard to the demography and ownership of the country: The Palestinians constituted the vast majority of the population and owned the bulk of the land. Inevitably the ensuing struggle centered on this status quo. The British and the Zionists were determined to subvert and revolutionize it, the Palestinians to defend and preserve it; hence the Palestinians' instinctive and persistent feeling that they were on the defensive, reacting to the actions and designs of their opponents. The main issues of conflict concerned mass immigration, land transfer, and representative government. The Zionists and the British clearly aimed at using mass immigration to change the demographic balance between Zionist immigrants and Palestinian residents, and land transfer to change the landownership balance between the two groups. The Palestinians' only hope lay in the application of representative government. But neither the British nor the Zionists at any time during the Mandate accepted the democratic principle as applicable to Palestine, because its observance would have entailed acknowledging the presence of a Palestinian majority, which would have prejudiced the development of the Jewish national home.

The years between 1923 and 1929 were relatively quiet, with a dramatic decline in Zionist immigration occurring in 1927-28. But the Jewish national home continued to grow. From 1918 to 1929 some sixty new Zionist colonies were established, Zionist landownership rose from 2.04 percent of the total area of the country (in 1919) to 4.4 percent (in 1929), and the proportion of the Jewish population rose (largely through mass immigration) from 9.7 percent to 17.6 percent during the same period.


The pent-up feelings of the Palestinians were released by two contemporaneous events. In August 1929 the Jewish Agency (envisaged in the Mandate), representing all the Jewish communities in the world and including both Zionists and non-Zionists, was created. The appearance of some world-famous Jewish figures as members of the Jewish Agency increased Palestinian fears of Zionist political influence on Britain. The other event was an unprovoked and unprecedented political demonstration held at the Wailing Wall adjacent to the Muslim Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary). The demonstrators were militant right-wing secular members of the Zionist Revisionist Party, so called because it advocated the "revision" of the Mandate to include the forcible colonization of Transjordan in addition to Palestine. (This party had been founded in 1925 by the Polish Zionist Vladimir Jabotinsky.) The demonstration was perceived as evidence of Zionist designs on the mosques of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa inside the sanctuary, and gave rise to violent clashes in which 133 Jews were killed and 339 wounded.

In March 1930 the report of a British commission of inquiry attributed the 1929 clashes to the fact that the Palestinians "have come to see in Jewish immigration not only a menace to their livelihood but a possible overlord of the future." Another report, issued in October by a British expert, established that there was no additional land available for agricultural settlement by new Zionist immigrants. The British government immediately issued a White Paper that took cognizance of the findings of these two reports and advocated greater attentiveness to Palestinian grievances. Not unexpectedly, the Zionist leadership fiercely criticized the 1930 White Paper, fearing that a British policy of evenhandedness would militate against the achievement of Zionist goals. Bowing to Zionist pressure, the British government virtually withdrew the White Paper in February 1931 and dispatched to Palestine a new high commissioner, General Sir Arthur Wauchope, with instructions to accelerate the development of the Jewish national home.

The retraction of the 1930 White Paper convinced the Palestinians that there could be no legal redress of their grievances, and that expert recommendations based on direct knowledge of the facts and merits of their case could always be annulled by the exercise of Zionist political leverage at the center of power in London. In December 1931 a Muslim congress held in Jerusalem and attended by delegates from twenty-two Muslim states warned against the political dangers of British pro-Zionist policies. Unconcerned, the British replied by sponsoring Zionist mass immigration (mostly from Poland) in ever-larger numbers. Between 1931 and 1936, sixty-four more Zionist colonies were established. Zionist landownership rose from 4.5 percent to 5.4 percent of the total area of the country, and the proportion of the Jewish population rose (largely through immigration) from 17.8 percent to 29.5 percent.

The escalating rate of immigration (30,000 in 1933, 42,000 in 1934, and 61,000 in 1935) was what finally produced panic and desperation among the Palestinians. The massive convergence on Palestine of Jewish immigrants was, of course, a result of the serious deterioration of living conditions for Jews in many European countries. It was also a result of the Zionists' deliberate channeling of Jewish immigration toward Palestine to the exclusion of other countries of possible refuge with much greater absorptive capacities. This Zionist policy played into the hands of powerful conservative elements in the United States and the British dominions, who felt absolved of any moral obligation to liberalize their own immigration legislation so as to allow the reception of substantial numbers of Jewish refugees. It also caused the Jewish leadership in these countries to conform to Zionist preferences and refrain from exerting any pressure on their own governments in the direction of liberalization. Thus Zionist pre-World War II immigration policies in effect kept the doors of the United States and the British dominions virtually closed to large-scale Jewish immigration, and thereby drastically reduced the number of Jews who could have left Europe before it was too late. Paradoxically, the opposition on religious grounds (particularly in Poland) of the mainstream Jewish religious leadership to Jewish emigration under Zionist auspices further inhibited prewar Jewish emigration from Europe, even to Palestine.

The leadership of the Palestinian national movement had passed in 1933 to Haj Amin al-Husseini, mufti (highest Muslim dignitary) of Jerusalem. Haj Amin was coming under increasing pressure from both popular mass sentiment and the intelligentsia for his failure to stand up to the British. The political restlessness of the country was reflected in the rapid formation of five new Palestinian political parties during the period from 1932 to 1935. A general consensus was emerging that political and diplomatic efforts were ineffective and only an armed rebellion directed at Britain could yield results. An early expression of this view led to the death in action against the British, in November 1935, of a Muslim preacher and reformer from Haifa named Izz al-Din al-Qassam, together with his comrades. Theirs was the first Palestinian guerrilla operation, and al-Qassam and his comrades became national martyrs overnight.

In December 1935 in a last-minute attempt to allay Palestinian fears, the British administration in Palestine suggested the formation of a local Legislative Council composed of twenty-eight members, fourteen of whom would be Palestinians. Although the Palestinians then constituted 70.5 percent of the total population, they were willing in their despair to accept the proposal. But when the British House of Commons proceeded to debate the matter, the government was forced to withdraw the Legislative Council proposal because of vehement attacks by pro-Zionist members of Parliament, who argued that it would hinder the development of the Jewish national home. For the Palestinians this was final confirmation, if any were needed, that there could be no appeal, in their case, to the British sense of fair play.