International Fellowship of Christians and Jews
Bookmark and Share

History of IsraelBritish Mandate

After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, Israel—then called Palestine—became a mandate of the British Empire. The Ottomans were initially defeated at the onset of World War I, and Palestine was brought under British military control for the duration of the war. The British bettered the quality of life for the Jews and Arabs in Palestine, improving the water and food supply, fighting diseases, and enhancing communications. In 1922, following World War I, the League of Nations formally gave temporary control of Palestine to the British government; the stated objective of the League of Nations Mandate system was to administer parts of the defunct Ottoman Empire, which had been in control of the Middle East since the 16th century, until the local residents became capable of self-rule. Great Britain was tasked with creating a national homeland for the Jewish people.

Britain's job was to implement the Balfour Declaration, which had been signed five years earlier, stating Britain's desire to create a homeland in Palestine for the Jews. The British government had, however, made conflicting promises to both the Jews and the Arabs, promising each their own autonomous area.

The drafting of the mandate and the demarcation of Israel's borders was a delicate balancing act, fraught with conflict. The Palestine Committee, for example, objected to the phrase invoking the Jewish people's historical "claim" on the Holy Land; the phrase was consequently reworded. The mandate was finally ratified in June of 1922.

During the years of the mandate, which lasted from 1922 until the declaration of an independent State of Israel in 1948, the Jewish population grew. Over 300,000 Jews immigrated to Israel at this time, and it's estimated that another 50,000 immigrated illegally. At first, the immigrants met with no opposition from the local Arab population. However, as anti-Semitism and persecution in Europe began to increase, so did the number of immigrants to Israel. The Arabs began to feel uneasy and resentful, and the British government placed strict limits on immigration. Tensions increased between the Jews and Arabs, and riots broke out, like the infamous Hebron riots of 1929. It was at this time that the Jewish population began to form their own defense forces, such as the Haganah and the Irgun, which formed the basis of the IDF—the Israel Defense Forces.

Still, great progress was made in Israel. The Jewish sector's economy was growing, as was other aspects of Jewish life. A centralized school system was established in 1919; in 1920, the Histadrut labor Federation was founded; the Technion and Hebrew University of Jerusalem were both established during the Mandate years.

Following Arab revolts between 1936 1939, Britain issued the White Paper, essentially reneging on the principles set forth in the Mandate as well as the Balfour Declaration. Severe restrictions were placed on Jewish immigration, as well as on Jewish land-owning rights. During the years of World War II, the small quota was quickly reached, and Jews were denied entry to Palestine. Jewish public opinion turned against the British, and the underground Jewish defense organizations carried out attacks against the British. The ban on immigration remained in place, but the Mandate was becoming increasingly unpopular.

After World War II, the United Nations (the former League of Nations), adopted the Partition Plan, essentially dividing Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state, with Jerusalem under international control. This led to Britain ending its mandate and Israel declaring its independence in May of 1948.