There were a series of antisemitic edicts called White Papers; the first decree was issued in 1922. It falsely tied Jewish immigration with the territory’s inability to accommodate such people economically. Of course, this was ludicrous as the Jews rehabilitated the land by ridding the area of malaria and introduced modern agricultural advances to make the desert bloom. These efforts helped bring about economic growth that spurred not only the increase of the Jewish presence, but also invited a rapid rise of Arab immigration.
In their attempt to appease the oil rich Arab nations, the British issued yet another White Paper in 1939. This document greatly impacted the number of Jews allowed to immigrate to British Occupied Palestine. Arabs wanted Jewish immigration halted altogether, but the British felt that sentiment unfair; such a policy would have detrimental consequences to the financial well-being of Palestine.
In writing, the immigration quota limit was 10,000 Jews per year over the course of five years. In reality, the British drastically cut the Jewish immigrants to mere hundreds. The British, in an antisemitic fashion, drafted the policy so that Jewish immigration required Arab consent. As Nazism was taking over Europe, resulting in the murder of thousands of Jewish families even at that time (1939), countless Jews would have survived had immigration been allowed back to the Jewish homeland, Eretz Yisrael.
During the second-wave of Arab revolts between the years 1936-1939, a commission headed by Lord Robert Peel, was set up (Peel Commission; 1937). After listening to many testimonies it was concluded that the British Mandate period should end, and two separate countries be created in what was already a very small land percentage allocated to the Jewish people.
The Arab area was to be combined with Trans-Jordan (Jordan). In addition, Jewish purchase of land would come to a halt in those areas earmarked for the Arabs. The Peel commission reversed the thought that the diminished Jewish immigration policy would have detrimental financial effects on the region. Although debate emerged between groups on the Jewish side, it was for naught. The Arabs rejected the idea outright. And so the Peel Commission was shelved.
Interestingly enough, the failed Peel Commission served as a blueprint for the UN Partition Plan of 1947. Once again, yet another offer was rejected by the Arab world that in turn ignited an offensive war, resulting in Israel gaining more territory than initially offered by the United Nations.
Even before the Balfour Declaration was presented, the British Labour Party’s policy towards Zionism was favorable, and led to spearheading a sovereign Jewish State in Palestine. However, when it appeared evident that the Arab population greatly opposed the influx of Jewish immigration, the British issued the first White Paper in 1922, dangerously curtailing Jewish immigration.
The British were geo-politically vested to amplify the demands of Arabs in the Middle East; they sought their alliance in the hopes of utilizing Arab opposition against Russia and Communism. Rather than stand on the correct side of history, the British instead preferred self interests. This pro-Arab sentiment initiated a number of punitive actions against the Jewish people that continued through the end of WWII, thus affecting Jewish refugees escaping the horrific aftermath throughout Europe.
In 1945, the pivotal ‘Report of the Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry Regarding the Problems of European Jewry and Palestine’ was issued. British Foreign Secretary of State Ernest Bevin specifically appointed Richard Crossman for his unadulterated stance on the issue. Upon closer inspection of both the historical connection and legal rights Jews have always retained to the land of Israel, Crossman came to be quite empathetic towards the Jewish cause. This shift of perspective was much to Bevin’s chagrin. Crossman’s stance cost him politically in the long run.
How the British Occupation Impeded Jewish Refugees’ Attempt to Enter Palestine:
- After the paltry Jewish immigration quotas were met, Jews were deported as far as the island of Cyprus, along with detention camps throughout Jewish Palestine; the most notorious of which was Atlit.
- The ship, The Exodus, which rescued some 4500 Jewish immigrants, was ordered to return back to Germany.
- The British placed restrictions on the ability of Jews to purchase land, and allowed Arabs to acquire greater tracts of property in comparison. Jewish land purchase was reduced to just 5% of the already heavily partitioned Palestine. “By 1949 the British had allotted 87,500 acres of the 187,500 acres of cultivable land to the Arabs and only 4,250 acres to the Jews.”
- Restrictions on Jewish immigration led to thousands of deaths in Europe; no restrictions were granted for Arab immigration into Jewish Palestine.
- The 1939 White Paper appeased the Arabs further by stating that an independent Arab nation would be established within ten years. Once Jewish immigration reached 75,000 within five years, Jewish immigration would come to a halt. Ironically, the Arabs rejected the White Paper.
- These antisemitic actions by both the British and the Arabs spurred Jabotinsky, an Irgun Jewish resistance leader, to accelerate the ouster of British control in Jewish Palestine.