Mandate Memories

The British Mandate for Palestine and Trans-Jordan was based in Jerusalem on July 1, 1920 before the official mandate began on 29 September 1923. It had replaced the British military occupation under the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration which governed from Jerusalem from 1917-1918.

Between 1920-1948 there were ten British High Commissioners for Palestine and Trans-Jordan, with headquarters in the Armon HaNatziv in the Talpiot section of Jerusalem.

The first High Commissioner was a Jew, Sir Herbert Samuel, who governed from 1920-1925. His position as a British Jew was difficult. Serving His Majesty’s government he was obligated to fulfill the decisions of Whitehall, mostly favorable to the Arabs in Palestine. But of all the ten High Commissioners, Sir Herbert Samuel was the most respected by the Jewish community in Palestine. He presided at the opening of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus with pride. The beachfront seaside promenade in Tel-Aviv is named for him.
He was followed by a succession of High Commissioners and acting High Commissioners.

Field Marshal Lord Plumer from 1925 to 1928. Sir Harry Charles Luke (acting) from July 31, 1926 to December 6. He in turn was followed by Sir John Chancellor from 1928-1931 and by acting Commissioner Sir Mark Aitchison Young from November 1, 1931 to November 29. Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope governed from 1931-1938 and was followed by acting Commissioner William David Battershill from September 1938 to November of that year. From 1938-1944 Palestine was governed by Sir Harold MacMichael, then by Field Marshal the Viscount Gort from 1944-1945, and finally the last of the British High Commissioners, Sir Alan Cunningham who ruled from Jerusalem in 1945-1948. When the Union Jack was lowered for the last time the flag of the Star of David was raised in proclamation of the Jewish State of Israel.

The years 1928-1938 were extremely troubling. The Arabs increased their riots and pogroms on the Jewish population and in 1929 the infamous massacre of Jews who had lived in Hebron for centuries aroused the world-wide cries of protest against the British blind-eye which did nothing to stop the Arab massacre of Jews.

It was at that time that Jewish resistance groups were formed to retaliate against Arab attackers. First the Haganah and soon after the Etzel and the Lechi. Each group responded separately from one another retaliating against both British soldiers and local Arab gangs under the command of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the Hitler ally Haj Amin El-Husseini.

Things worsened in 1944-1945 under the Mandate authorities, High Commissioners Sir Harold Mac Michael and Field Marshal the Viscount Gort. They were strictly enforcing British policy to deny entry into Palestine of more Jews. The results of the Holocaust enflamed the Jewish community which demanded that the gates of Palestine be opened immediately to admit survivors. The conflict between the Jews and the British authorities intensified and Jewish military groups often kidnapped British soldiers and hanged them. The bombing and destruction of Jerusalem’s famous King David Hotel by Jewish militants was the final straw which ultimately ended British rule in Palestine.

The matter was handed over to the United Nations which on 27 November 1947 declared the partition of Palestine into two states for two peoples.
77 percent of Palestine was given to the Emir Abdullah of Trans-Jordan and the remaining 23 percent was divided between Jews and Arabs. The Arabs rejected the partition plan while the Jews reluctantly accepted it

. On the 14th of May 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the reborn Jewish homeland to be called the State of Israel. The declaration of independence was signed in Tel-Aviv a few hours before the beginning of the holy Sabbath.

The next day Israel was invaded and bombed by six Arab nations. There were many Jewish casualties until an armistice was signed in Rhodes, led by the UN mediator, the Swedish diplomat Folke Bernadotte. He was later assassinated by a band of Jewish militants and was succeeded by the American Ralph Bunche.

The history of British rule in Palestine was corrupt with favors being granted to the Arabs who met with the High Commissioners sipping tea in the Palace of the Commissioners.

Britain’s policies everywhere under its rule was based upon divide and conquer. First India and Pakistan, causing wars between Hindus and Muslims. Then Eire and North Ireland causing atrocious wars between Catholics and Protestants. And finally the war which has never ended between Jews and Muslim Arabs over the rights of ownership of the land.

British foreign policy has left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Jewish people. And Mandate memories, never to be forgotten, brings shame upon the land where the “sun never sets on the British empire”.

Happily, that empire no longer exists. But in many ways, two-faced England continues as it did from 1920-1948. Some things never change.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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