THE BEGINNING OF THE BRITISH MANDATE, 1920

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In April 1920, the Supreme Council of the League of Nations, in a decision reached at the San Remo
Conference, awarded to Britain the control of an uninterrupted territorial swathe running from the Persian
Gulf to the Mediterranean, being administrative control over Palestine, Transjordan and Mesopotamia (Iraq).
Mandate Palestine was to be ruled by a civil administration - replacing the military one in place since 1917 -
headed by a High Commissioner and based in Jerusalem. Though the terms of the Mandate were not
formalized for three years, the military administration was terminated in 1920. The British Mandate was to
last from July 1920 until May 1948.
The establishment of the Mandate came at a time when British approval of the Zionist program of
establishing in Palestine a Jewish national home was becoming apparent. Figures compiled by the British
military administration in 1918 pointed to a Jewish population in Palestine of 58,728 - less than 10% of the
total. Zionist immigration following the establishment of the military administration had not increased
markedly, but with the creation of the Mandate, whose first High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel, was a
Jew and a great supporter of the Zionist platform, Zionist diplomatic efforts were immediately rewarded.
One of Samuel’s first acts was the approval of 16,500 Jewish immigration certificates; the local Zionist
leadership reported to WZO head Chaim Weizmann, that the Mandate was being, “enthusiastically
welcomed” by the community. In 1920, Jewish immigration in fact rose by an unprecedented 450%, leading
many Zionists to believe the British Mandate was to be simply an instrument for the fulfillment of the Balfour
Declaration. Despite these important steps in empowering the Zionist movement, few European Jews were
attracted to the program and even when the Zionist immigration reached these peaks, the vast majority of
emigrating Jews made their way to the US. Of every 1,000 Jews in the world, only four made their way to
Palestine during these immigration waves, impressing upon the WZO the imperative of expanding their
political program abroad.
Since 1914, the WZO had adopted the stricture of so-called, “pure Jewish settlement” in its colonization
efforts and strove to dispense with any reliance on non-Jewish labor or expertise. The concept of ‘Jewish
labor on Jewish land,’ became a motto of the period and was expressed in London when the Interim Zionist
Conference passed the July 1920 resolution to use its influence and funds, “as a means for making the land
of Palestine the common property of the Jewish people [and]... to safeguard Jewish labor.”
In this atmosphere of growing Jewish exclusivity and increasing immigration, the Histadrut was founded
(December 1920). Committed to the WZO’s labor policy, the Histadrut set out to unite and expand the
colonial and production forces of the Zionists, while building a “pure Jewish” administrative system in
Palestine. At its first session it also resolved “to accept responsibility for setting up a country-wide
clandestine and independent defense organization.”
In the face of a confidant and rapidly growing local Zionist movement in Palestine, the Palestinian
leadership assembled numerous delegations and repeatedly petitioned both the local British administration
and London, demanding that Britain live up to its commitments, slow immigration and examine the future of
Palestine according to its demography and history. Their efforts were largely in vain. Leaders who raised
their voices in opposition to British pro-Zionist policy were often removed from office, and the British
prevented the Palestinian National Congress (the national movement’s newly formed council) from holding
its second conference, fearing it might awaken the dissent of the ‘street.’
Zionist land acquisition, guided geographically by the availability of pliant or ‘bribable’ Ottoman landlords,
focused on the arable northern and coastal regions. There, Palestinian tenant farmers were dispossessed
of their livelihoods to make way for an expanding series of settlements as the WZO and its agencies sought
to create the largest contiguous stretch of Jewish ownership possible. By 1921, with over 600,000 dunums
of land already consumed by 71 Jewish colonies, immigration quotas continued to rise, as did tensions.