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“Reconstruction” in the Holy Land

ISSUE:  Winter 1930

The Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, dominates all discussions bearing upon the present status of Palestine. If one desires to understand the problem with which the Holy, Land is now confronted one should consult the exact text of that definition of policy. It reads as follows:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of that object, it being understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by the Jews in any other country.

The Palestinian Arabs contend that this Declaration runs counter to the terms of an agreement entered into on October 24, 1915, by Great Britain and the Sherif of Mecca. Their leaders say that England, by this Pact, bound herself “to recognize and support the independence of the Arabs” within certain well-defined territories, which the Arabs insist include Palestine, provided the Arabs would help the Allies to defeat the Turks. The Arab world points to the facts recorded by history to show that it lived up to its share of this bargain.

The Arabs also cite the joint Anglo-French proclamation of November 7, 1918, in which the following language is used: The aim which France and Great Britain have in view in prosecuting in the East the war let loose by German ambition is the complete and final liberation of the peoples so long oppressed by the Turks and the establishment of national governments and administrations deriving their authority, from the initiative and free choice of the native population.

The Arabs emphasize the fact that this proclamation bears a date subsequent to that of the Balfour Declaration. They say that this pronouncement made on the eve of the Armistice and when Turkey lay prostrate, confirms the October 24, 1915, understanding. And, from these primary propositions, the Moslems and Christians of Palestine draw the corollary that, at all events, “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people” is not necessarily inconsistent with Anab independence.

No attempt will here be made to enquire as to whether I these contentions are or are not well founded. The Treaty I of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919. The Covenant [ of the League of Nations constitutes the first twenty-six articles of that epoch-making Pact. It is there that the basic principles underlying the present status of Palestine are defined. It is, accordingly, to the Treaty of Versailles rather than to agreements or declarations of earlier date that one must now refer in seeking to appreciate at their true value the arguments advanced by Jew and Arab.

This does not mean that the Balfour Declaration has been recalled. AH that it implies is that the Covenant of the League of Nations and the Mandate for Palestine, granted under the authority of that accord, now fix the legal status of the Holy Land. The Balfour Declaration is still of outstanding importance, not because it was made on November 2, 1917, but because it is written into the Mandate for Palestine. Its legality and its true import must, therefore, be construed in connection with the terms of the Covenant of the League of Nations, for the Mandate itself, it should be clearly understood, is only valid in so far as it carries into execution the delegated authority conferred by Versailles on June 28, 1919.

It is Article XXII of the Covenant which thus dominates the entire issue. That section begins by a little sermonizing. It then uses this language:

Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory..

The communities which, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed, had already reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations was provisionally recognized were placed under what is called “Class A” mandates. There are also “Class B” and “Class C” mandates. The latter apply to more backward peoples. This inquiry is not concerned with “Class B” and “Class C” mandates. It is recognized by all authorities that Palestine is a “Class A” community.


One may learn quite a number of interesting facts about the genesis of these various mandates if one reads a pamphlet issued by the Secretariat of the League of Nations and entitled “The Mandate System.” It teaches that the original intention of the authors of the Covenant had been that the terms of all Mandates should be embodied in the Peace Treaties. This, however, was subsequently abandoned and the Pacts signed without inclusion of these details. What the mandates, therefore, contain, to quote “The Mandate System,” is “a series of provisions reaffirming with greater detail and precision the principles laid down in the Covenant.” This is another way of saying that the Covenant of the League of Nations may be called the Constitution of Palestine and that the Mandate may be likened to a charter granted to a county or to a municipality by a legislature, or to the by-laws of a corporation, as opposed to its organic law.

This Mandate or by-law was dated London, July 24, 1922. The preamble sets forth that:

(1)  The Principal Allied Powers have designated His Britannic Majesty as the Mandatory for Palestine, and

(2)  The Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2, 1917, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.

Article II reads as follows:

The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political administration as will secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race.

Article III ordains that “the mandatory shall, as far as circumstances permit, encourage local autonomy.”

After having thus spoken of local autonomy the Mandate decrees that an appropriate Jewish Agency shall be recognized as a public body for the purposes of advising and cooperating with the Administration of Palestine in such economic, social and other matters as may affect the establishment of the Jewish National Home and the interests of the Jewish population in Palestine. Article VI elaborates this latter point and makes it the duty of the Administration of Palestine to facilitate Jewish immigration and “close settlements by Jews on the land.” This orientation of policy is further emphasized by Article VII which directs that a nationality law shall be enacted containing provisions “framed so as to facilitate the acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews who take up permanent residence in Palestine.”

It would serve no useful purpose to cite the text of any further sections of the Mandate. Enough has already been quoted to show that it appears to deviate from the principle which dominates the Covenant of the League of Nations or Constitution or Magna Charta of Palestine. That organic law, it will be recalled, accepts as a postulate that Palestine had already reached a stage where its “existence as an independent nation can be provisionally recognized.” The part assigned to the Mandatory was definitely circumscribed. Its sole function was declared to be that of “rendering administrative advice or assistance” until such time as Palestine is “able to stand alone.” When the Peace Conference thus spoke it is assumed to have had knowledge of two cardinal facts. They, are:

(1)  That the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, proclaimed that England viewed with favor the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people, and

(2)  That the population of Palestine then consisted, in round figures, of 700,000 Arab Moslems and Christians and of 60,000 Jews.

The Covenant of the League says nothing as to the establishment of a National Home for the Jewish people. It does, however, proclaim the principle of “provisional independence.” It is obvious that it makes it the duty of the Mandatory to organize forthwith this community which was then preponderatingly Arab and to give it such administrative advice and assistance as would help it to “stand alone.” The Mandate seems to have overlooked the objective thus envisaged by the Covenant. These by-laws, as opposed to this Constitution, appear to have concentrated their attention, not upon independence as a goal, but upon a Jewish National Home as a north star, a rallying- point, and a permanent anchorage. One is tempted to ask whether this is constitutional. But, before doing so, would it not be better to see whether the articles of the by-laws are or are not even more far-reaching than is the preamble of the Mandate?

This inquiry is of interest because, should it result that the various sections of the by-laws transcend the spirit of the Balfour Declaration, it would be a work of supererogation to seek to find out whether, under the delegated authority given the framers of the Mandate, they could validly write the Balfour Declaration into these by-laws.

The promise given on November 2, 1917, in the name of His Britannic Majesty did not contemplate subordinating the wishes of 700,000 Arabs to those of 60,000 Jews. What His Britannic Majesty’s Government then had in view was the establishment of a National Home for the Jewish people. The safeguarding of the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of such Jews as resided in Palestine or who might desire to emigrate to the Holy Land was what was visualized. There was no idea of making Palestine a Jewish theocracy where the Arab majority would be merely tolerated. The establishment of a Jewish home in Palestine, not the making of a Jewish home out of Palestine, is what was meant.

That the conversion of Palestine into a Jewish National Home, as opposed to the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people, is what the articles of the Mandate as opposed to its preamble really mean, is shown by the way in which these by-laws have been applied.

The first High Commissioner was a Jew and his legal advisor was a Jew, and is still in office. The proportion of Jewish officials in the public service far exceeds that of one to seven which is the present ratio of the population. Jewish agencies are carrying on world-wide propaganda appealing to Jews to come to Palestine and are subsidizing the needy who yield to this unremitting solicitation.

Immigration is thus artificially stimulated. Legislation has been enacted by the Administration of Palestine which facilitates this unnatural infiltration. Funds are advanced by the Jewry of the world to buy up land for these new arrivals. It thus has come to pass that not only is there nothing spontaneous about the Jewish immigration which is flowing into Palestine, but that economic laws have but little to do with the activity or inactivity of these exotic elements.

Such conditions, even if valid under the terms of the various articles of the Mandate, do not find any adequate warrant in the Balfour Declaration cited in the preamble to these by-laws. But whether this contention is or is not well founded, the Balfour Declaration itself runs counter to the Covenant of the League of Nations. The argument may therefore be stressed that the Balfour Declaration is unconstitutional.

It would be incorrect to hold that there is nothing in the Covenant of the League of Nations which prevented the authors of the Mandate from writing the Balfour Declaration into the latter document. It will not have been forgotten that the Covenant not only recognized “the provisional independence” of Palestine but that it made it clear that “the administrative advice and assistance” of the Mandatory should be given only until such time as that community is “able to stand alone.”

Obviously it was intended that this administrative advice and assistance should be directed towards deleting the word “provisional” and towards hastening the date of emancipation and independence. The text of the Mandate, however, and more particularly the way in which it has been applied, demonstrates that its entire orientation was and is directed toward converting a predominantly Arab land into a Jewish theocracy euphemistically called a home. The Balfour Declaration, so metamorphosed and distorted, thus bids defiance to the Covenant of the League of Nations.


All of this is not an academic discussion of a legal proposition. It is practical common sense. It is inspired by respect and admiration for the Jewish race. It is prompted by the hope of doing something to save the Jews of Palestine from perishing by the sword.

They are today in Palestine in a hopeless minority. British bayonets and nothing else are saving their throats from Arab knives and their bodies from Arab bullets. The Moslem and Christian Arabs of Palestine stand as a unit. They are 700,000 against 100,000. They, believe, in their heart of hearts, that they opened the gates of Jerusalem to Allenby’s troops. They consider that they have been betrayed. Jewish gold is buying up their land. They are grinning and bearing with this condition. They will probably remain more or less quiet as long as English troops control all strategic points. But the British taxpayer will eventually tire of this expense. If he does not, India and other Moslem lands may raise their voices in the wilderness. A day will come when these soldiers will leave. The longer it is postponed the more terrible will be the bloody, retribution which will be taken.

There is no reason why England should not reexamine the terms of the Mandate. Discord and bloodshed are now marking the tenth year of the British Administration of Palestine and the eighth since the date of the Mandate, The clouds are black. Across the firmament there is not a silver lining. It would appear to be demonstrable, as a legal proposition, that the constitutionality of the Balfour Declaration is open to serious doubt. It is furthermore self-evident that grave uncertainty exists as to whether the text of the articles of the Mandate falls within the letter and spirit of the Balfour Declaration itself. But the impartial mind is forced to admit that no doubt or uncertainty exists as to the fact that the Mandate as now applied nullifies Article XXII of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which, it cannot be too often repeated, made it the sole duty of the Mandatory to render administrative advice and assistance looking towards enabling Palestine “to stand alone.”

Why then should London adhere to a Mandate of doubtful legality when that Mandate can be made effective only by shot and shell? Why should not England, or the assembled wisdom of the League of Nations, redraft a state paper which has produced disastrous results? If the question is reopened it will be possible to conciliate the interests of both Jews and Arabs. If this is not done, one of two alternatives must be accepted. One is a permanent standing army. The other is bloodshed.


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