Palestine: Part 6 – The White Paper
Palestine: Part 5 – Religious Conflict
British support for Zionism was always controversial and the issue was periodically debated in Parliament. Churchill restricted Jewish migration to Palestine to an annual quota. Certificates allowing migration were distributed by the Jewish Agency. Jews with 1000 Pounds in cash or Jewish professionals with 500 Pounds in cash could emigrate freely. Churchill’s reforms made it hard for Arab Jews, Orthodox Jews and Revisionist Zionists from Poland to migrate to Palestine as the Jewish Agency was dominated by European Zionists, and increasingly by Socialist Zionists. Immigration restrictions did, however mean that Jewish immigrants to Palestine had to prove their loyalty and dedication by spending years preparing for migration. Many immigrants arrived after rigorous preparation including agricultural and ideological training and learning Hebrew.
In 1938–39 the Zionist movement had 1,040,540 members in 61 countries. Total world Jewish population at this time was about 18 million, and the idea of a Jewish state was extremely popular amongst them.
The White Paper of 1939
This policy paper issued by the British government in which, among several key provisions, the idea of partitioning Palestine was abandoned. The paper also provided (as alternative to partition) for creating an independent Palestine to be governed by Palestinian Arabs and Jews in proportion to their numbers in the population by 1939; a limit of 75,000 Jewish immigrants was set for the five-year period 1940-1944 (consisting of a regular yearly quota of 10,000 and a flexible supplementary quota of 25,000); after 1944 the further immigration of Jews to Palestine would depend on permission of the Arab majority (section II); and restrictions were placed on the rights of Jews to buy land from Arabs (section III).
The provisions of the White Paper were opposed both by Jews and Arabs in Palestine. The Arab Higher Committee (the central political organ of the Arab community of Mandate Palestine) argued that the independence of a future Palestine Government would prove to be illusory, as Jews could prevent its functioning by withholding participation, and in any case real authority would still be in the hands of British officials. The limitations on Jewish immigration were also held to be insufficient, as there was no guarantee immigration would not resume after five years.
In place of the policy enunciated in the White Paper, the Arab Higher Committee called for “a complete and final prohibition” of Jewish immigration and a repudiation of the Jewish national home policy altogether. However In 1940, after two weeks of meetings with a British representative, the leader of the Palestinian Arab delegates to the London Conference (called by the British Government to plan the future governance of Palestine and an end of the Mandate) and another delegate agreed to the terms of the White Paper and both signed a copy of it in the presence of the Prime Minister of Iraq.
Zionist groups in Palestine immediately rejected the White Paper and began a campaign of attacks on government property and Arab civilians which lasted for several months. On May 18th, a Jewish general strike was called. On July 13th, authorities announced the suspension of all Jewish immigration into Palestine until March 1940 due to the increase in illegal immigrants arriving.
In response to the White Paper, the right-wing Zionist militant group Irgun began formulating plans for a rebellion to evict the British and establish an independent Jewish state. Irgun’s founder, who had been exiled from Palestine by the British, proposed a plan for a revolt to take place in October 1939, which he sent to the Irgun High Command in six coded letters.
Under the plan, a group of “illegals”, would arrive in Palestine by boat, and the Irgun would help them escape. Next, the Irgun would raid and occupy Government House, as well as other British centers of power in Palestine, raise the Jewish national flag, and hold them for at least 24 hours even at a heavy cost. Simultaneously, Zionist leaders in Western Europe and the United States would proclaim an independent Jewish state in Palestine, and would function as a government-in-exile.
Irgun seriously considered carrying out the plan, but was concerned over the heavy losses it would doubtlessly incur. The plan also called for 40,000 armed Jewish fighters recruited in Europe to sail to Palestine and join the rebellion. The Polish government supported this plan, and began training Jews and setting aside weaponry for them. However, the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 quickly put an end to these plans.
Within Britain there were deep divisions over Palestine policy. Dozens of British soldiers, Jewish militants and civilians died during the Jewish insurgency. The conflict led to heightened antisemitism in the UK and, in August 1947, after the hanging of two abducted British sergeants, to widespread anti-Jewish rioting across the UK. The conflict would cause tension in Britain’s relationship with the United States.
Palestine: Part 7 – The Holocaust