After the defeat and dismantling of the Ottoman Empire by European colonial powers in 1918, the League of Nations (first intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War whose principal mission was to maintain world peace) endorsed the full text of the Balfour Declaration and established the British Mandate for Palestine. At this time, Zionist priorities were encouraging Jewish settlement in Palestine, building the institutional foundations of a Jewish state and raising funds for these purposes. The 1920s saw a steady growth in the Jewish population and the construction of state-like Jewish institutions, but also saw the emergence of Palestinian Arab nationalism and growing resistance to Jewish immigration.
Arab nationalists predominantly perceived Zionism as a threat to their own aspirations. This sense was heightened, by the growth of the Zionist labor movement and its “Hebrew labor” program. The latter was an effort to increase Jewish immigrant employment, secure the creation of a Jewish proletariat, and to prevent Zionist settlement from turning into a standard colonial enterprise. Initially, it sought to develop separate settlements and economies and campaigned for the exclusive employment of Jews; it later campaigned against the employment of Arabs. Its adverse effects on the Arab majority were increasingly noted by the mandatory administration.
After the signing of the Faisel-Weizmann agreement in 1919 (a short-lived agreement for Arab-Jewish cooperation on the development of a Jewish homeland in Palestine and an Arab nation in a large part of the Middle East), Palestinian Arabs who originally looked to Arab-nationalist leaders to create a single Arab state, developed their own brand of nationalism and call for Palestine to become a state governed by the Arab majority, in particular they demanded an elected assembly.
1920 Jerusalem Riots
Speeches by Arab religious leaders during the Nebi Musa festival (in which large numbers of Muslims traditionally gathered for a religious procession) led to violent assaults on the city’s Jews. Five Jews and four Arabs were killed, and several hundreds were injured.
The British military administration of Palestine was criticized for withdrawing troops from inside Jerusalem and because it was slow to regain control. As a result of the riots, trust between the British, Jews, and Arabs eroded. The Jewish community increased moves towards an autonomous infrastructure and security apparatus parallel to that of the British administration. At the same time, Zionist supporters were by now aware of Arab opposition which led to the movement in 1921 to pass a motion calling on Zionist leadership to “forge a true understanding with the Arab nation”.
During the 1920s concerns about antisemitism increased across Europe. By 1928, nations were increasingly legislating immigration, which at times prevented Jews from entering, and some of the new European states, established after the First World War, perceived Jewish immigrants as a threat to their political stability. Many countries feared that immigrating Jews from the east would bring revolutionary political ideas with them; Jews were also perceived as being a negative moral influence on society.
Hitler and the Nazi Party In Germany
The rise to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany in 1933 produced a powerful new impetus for increased Zionist support and immigration to Palestine. The long-held assimilationist and non-Zionist view that Jews could live securely as minorities in European societies had been undermined, since Germany was previously regarded as the country in which Jews had been most successfully integrated. With nearly all other countries closed to Jewish immigration, a new wave of migrants headed for Palestine. Those unable to pay the fees required for immediate entry by the British had to join the waiting lists.
Nazi efforts to induce Jews to leave Germany were made, but were undermined by their refusal to allow them to take their property also. In response, the Jewish Agency negotiated the Haavara Agreement with the Nazis, whereby German Jews could buy and then export German manufactured goods to Palestine. In Palestine the goods were later sold and the income returned to the migrants. As a result of this agreement, the influx of capital gave a much-needed economic boost in the midst of the Great Depression.
Starting in 1934, the Revisionists (faction within the Zionist movement providing the founding ideology of the non-religious right in Israel) also began organizing illegal immigration, resulting in a rapid increase in population of Jews in Palestine. While conditions also led to increased Arab immigration, the rapid rise in Jewish immigrants would eventually lead to conflict. By 1938, increasing pressure on European Jews also led mainstream Zionists to organize illegal immigration.
Palestine: Part 5 – Religious Conflict