Photograph from the League of Nations of prayers at the Western or Wailing Wall in Jerusalem in 1929. This image is from the collections of The British National Archives.
NOTE: THIS IS THE SECOND IN A SERIES OF POSTS PROVIDING A COMPREHENSIVE PALESTINE-ISRAEL TIMELINE. THE COMPLETED TIMELINE WILL BE AVAILABLE AS A PDF AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE SERIES.
With the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, the British government established a mandate giving them power over the (Palestinian) territory for a period of 28 years (1920-1948). In essence:
A small territory that had been inhabited by an Arab majority for some 1,200 years was promised by a third party (Great Britain) as a national home to another people (the international Jewish community), the majority of whom lived in Eastern Europe.
The territory that became the Palestine mandate was not a distinctive administrative entity during the Ottoman era. It was regarded as part of southern Syria and was divided between the provinces of Beirut and Damascus and the special administrative unit of Jerusalem.
The territory was only slightly larger than the US State of Massachusetts. Still, since the inception of the mandate, it has generated 5 wars, created over 1 million refugees, and created misunderstanding and bitterness among almost everyone involved.
The last post (Palestine-Israel Timeline: The Beginning) ended with Britain’s issuance of the Balfour Declaration, declaring support for Zionist objectives in Palestine. Today we’ll pick up where we left off in 1917.
1917: The Zionist Organization of America is founded under the leadership of Louis Brandeis.
December 1917: The British capture Jerusalem and detach Palestine from Ottoman rule. The area is placed under British military occupation from 1917 to 1920.
1918-1919: Local branches of Muslim-Christian organizations form in large Palestinian towns.
1919: Thirty or so delegates from local Muslim-Christian organizations gather in Jerusalem and constitute themselves as the first Palestinian Congress. The congress agrees to meet annually and adopts resolutions affecting relationships among the Arab community, the Zionists, and the British.
January 1919: Chaim Weizmann pledges that the Jewish community will cooperate with the Arabs in the economic development of Palestine. In return, Faisal of Syria – the leading Arab personality of the time — recognizes the Balfour Declaration. He consents to Jewish immigration so long as the rights of Palestinian Arabs are protected and Arab demands for the independence of Greater Syria are recognized. Faisal does not agree to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. When the French occupy Syria in 1920, the provisions of the Faisal-Weizmann agreement are violated and the document is rendered void.
1919-1923: The 3rd aliyah brings about 30,000 immigrants to Palestine, mainly from Eastern Europe. (Note: Jewish immigration to Palestine occurred in a series of waves called aliyahs. The first two aliyahs took place before World War I.)
1920: The San Remo Conference awards Britain the mandate for Palestine, and military government is replaced by a civilian administration.
1920: Sir Herbert Samuel, a Jew and an ardent Zionist, is appointed civilian high commissioner. Offering further encouragement to the Zionists, Samuel interprets his task as facilitating the establishment of the Jewish national home. The Zionists interpret the term national home to mean a Jewish state in Palestine. At this time, Arab inhabitants constitute over 85% of the Palestinian population, numbering 668,258 individuals.
1920: The Third Palestinian Congress establishes a standing executive under the presidency of Kazim al-Husayni, a former mayor of Jerusalem. Called the Arab Executive, the group claims to represent all Palestinians, but the British refuse to accept it and it fails to secure either mass support or formal access to the high commissioner’s office.
1920: A Jewish national assembly is constituted and is composed of some 300 delegates who select from among themselves the members of the national council or Va ad Leumi. The council is empowered to make administrative decisions on behalf of the Jewish community and is treated by the mandate government as the legitimate representative of Palestinian Jewry.
1920: Histadrut, the Federation of Jewish Labor, is founded to promote Jewish trade unionism, exerting a decisive influence on the ideology and politics of both the Yishuv (the name of the Jewish community in Palestine before 1948) and the future state of Israel. It institutes a boycott of Arab workers and Arab products.
1920: Haganah, a Jewish defense force, forms in response to Arab riots.
1920: The World Zionist Organization transfers its headquarters to London and Chaim Weizmann becomes its president.
1921: Samuel creates the Supreme Muslim Council as an autonomous body charged with the management of all Islamic institutions within the mandate.
1921: The World Zionist Organization creates the Palestine Zionist Executive.
1922: Hajj Amin, the mufti of Jerusalem and the most prestigious religious figure in Palestine, is elected president of the Supreme Muslim Council. He acquires control of a vast patronage network and transforms his religious authority into the most extensive Arab political organization in Palestine. The mufti urges restraint on his followers and demonstrates a willingness to cooperate with the British in seeking a negotiated solution to the question of Jewish immigration.
1922: The newly created League of Nationsgives formal sanction to the British Mandate and adds provisions that raise Zionist expectations and alarm Arab inhabitants. The terms of the League mandate incorporate the Balfour Declaration and recognize Hebrew as the official language in Palestine.
1922: Samuel proposes a constitution that calls for the creation of a legislative council composed of elected Muslim, Christian, and Jewish representatives plus 11 members nominated by the high commissioner. Arab leaders reject the plan, refusing to serve in any constitutional government that doesn’t annul the Balfour Declaration.
1922: The British government issues a White Paper that serves as the basis for a policy of dual obligation. The ‘paper’ says that the development of a ‘national home’ doesn’t mean the imposition of Jewish nationality on the inhabitants of Palestine as a whole. But it also says that the Jewish people have a right to be in Palestine and that Palestine should “become a center in which the Jewish people as a whole could take pride on the grounds of religion and race.”
1923: Samuel’s constitutional plan is shelved. He attempts to form an advisory council consisting of 10 Arab and 2 Jewish representatives nominated by the high commissioner. Arab nominees refuse to serve.
1924-1926: The fourth aliyah brings 50,000 immigrants to Palestine, primarily from Poland.
1929: The Palestine Zionist Executive is reorganized as the Jewish Agency, a quasi-government of the Jewish community in Palestine. The Chairman of the Jewish Agency is provided regular access to the high commissioner and other British officials.
August 1929: A disturbance erupts over Jewish right of access to the remains of the Western, or Wailing, Wall. Jews regard the wall as a holy site, but Muslims also have deep religious attachments to the wall and its immediate surroundings. At the time of the mandate, the wall was placed under Muslim jurisdiction, but Jewish activists constantly challenge regulations governing its use. Violent confrontations occur when Arab mobs, provoked by Jewish demonstrators, attack two Jewish quarters in Jerusalem and kill Jews. By the time British forces bring the violence under control, 133 Jews and 116 Arabs are dead.
September 1929: London sends the first of many royal investigative commissions, the (Walter) Shaw Commission, to Palestine. The commission concludes that the main source of tension is the creation of a landless class of discontented Arabs along with widespread Arab fear that continued Jewish immigration will result in a Jewish dominated Palestine. Instead of dealing with the Commission’s report, the British decide to send another commission of inquiry to Palestine.