The Mandate in Palestine

Herbert Samuel was the first British High Commissioner in Palestine. Samuel arrived in Palestine even before the Treaty of Sevres formally transferred title for the Palestine Mandate from the Ottoman state to the mandate power and League of Nations in mid-summer 1920. Samuel had been a successful British politician and had advocated British sponsorship of Zionism in the years before the Balfour Declaration. Samuel envisioned and designed an indirectly ruled colonial state, run and policed by an integrated Zionist Arab civilian administration and overseen by British colonial officials and police.

The problem with the conception was its unrepresentative bifurcated structure. The two communities within the colonial state were to take part in native rule on a supposedly equal footing. This despite the fact that the indigenous majority comprised 85 percent of the population, and the immigrant minority was of European origin and was officially recognized both by the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations as possessing special rights to the colonial territory. The mandate charter codified these special rights in July 1922, and named the Zionist Agency official representative of the Jews of Palestine. In influence, access, and internationally acknowledged rights, there was thus a basic asymmetry between the Arabs and Zionists in Palestine.54 British colonial functionaries envisioned Zionist settlers as a loyal colonial client population.

British military and colonial officials had already worked to hobble Arab political opposition to British rule. In the months before the inauguration of the mandate and the arrival of Samuel, British military governor Ronald Storrs dismissed the mayor of Jerusalem, Musa Kazim al-Husayni. Husayni was the senior and most distinguished Ottoman civil servant of the most prominent Jerusalem family. Storrs immediately placed his finger on the scale of Palestinian politics when he appointed Raghib al-Nashshashibi, a member of a rival Jerusalem family, mayor to succeed Musa Kazim.

Herbert Samuel intended to forestall the Zionist dream of an independent Jewish state, and deny Palestinians their wish for an unpartitioned independent regional state. Zionist leaders insisted on equal representation with Arabs in every state institution, in spite of their comparatively tiny numbers. The Zionists, disappointed as they were in Samuel’s intentions, endorsed the mandatory regime and participated fully in governing the mandate. The World Zionist Organization was born as a European lobbying movement, and in 1921 formed the Zionist Executive (later the Jewish Agency) to lead the Zionist National Assembly and represent the Zionist movement and population in the Palestine Mandate. In this form the Zionist Agency was accepted by the League of Nations and the mandate authority as the legitimate representative of the Jewish population of Palestine.

By contrast, neither the Palestinian Arab Congress, nor the Arab Executive it formed, were ever recognized as representative bodies by the mandate or the League of Nations. Shortly after his dismissal as mayor of Jerusalem, Musa Kazim al-Husayni was elected chairman of the nine member Arab Executive committee. The Arab leadership, almost entirely educated under, and acculturated to, the Ottoman system, was at a disadvantage from the outset. Samuel and succeeding officials never recognized the right of self-representation, and the mandate government refused to accept Palestinian governing bodies unless they first endorsed both the mandate and the Balfour Declaration a pattern that has prevailed till this day in relations between Zionists and Palestinians.

Palestinian leaders, including Musa Kazim al-Husayni himself, traveled to London and Geneva to present their case to the British government and the League of Nations. Inevitably they found that their interlocutors did not accept their basic right of self-representation, and that advocates for the Zionist state had been there first. While exOttoman statesmen traveled to European capitals to press their case, supporters of Zionism like US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and Albert Einstein, among many others, made passionate appeals on behalf of Zionist colonization. Shakib Arslan knew better than most that success in lobbying depended on access.

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