Elite composition and socio-political correlations: age, foreign travel and writings of the Jewish political elite during the British mandate over Palestine.

Author:Nashif, Taysir
Position:OTHER PAPERS - Essay


Over many centuries, Palestine, nowadays the land including Israel, the West Bank of the Jordan and the Gaza Strip, or parts of it, was under the rule for different lengths of time by various regimes: those of the Canaanites, Arabians, Israelite-Jewish, Philistines, Phoenicians and Romans. By A.D. 640, Palestine had come under the rule of the Muslim Arabs, who originated in the Arabian Peninsula. Before the advent of Islam in the early 7th century and during the Islamic rule, a considerable number of Arabians moved to live in Palestine. Between 1099 and 1291, Palestine was ruled by the Crusaders. The Crusaders rule was ended in 1291 by the Muslim Mamelukes, whose seat of power was Cairo. The Mameluke rule came to an end in 1516 with the conquest of Palestine by the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman rule continued until the end in 1917-18, when the Allied Forces occupied the Holy Land.

In the Ottoman administrative structure introduced in 1887-88, Palestine was divided into three districts, two of which--Acre and Nablus--were within the province of Beirut. The third district--Jerusalem--was autonomous and directly responsible to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Caliphate. (1)

Until the 1880s, the Jewish settlement in Palestine was basically religious. Relations between the Arab people and the Jewish community in Palestine (the Yishuv) were fairly good. Unlike the Jews with Zionist ideology, who claimed Palestine as a Jewish national home, the old Jewish community did not display interest in political self-government. With the continuous Jewish immigration to, and settlement in, Palestine, which started in the 7th decade of the 19th century and which increased the ratio of the Jews to the total Palestine population, Arab antagonism against the Zionist settlers became increasingly discernible. (2)

The Jews in Western Europe were better integrated and lived in improved social, economic, and political conditions. However, Jews in Eastern Europe lived with less integration, with attendant social, political and economic conditions. The lack of Jewish integration in Russia in the 1880s, at a time when the concept of nationalism was spreading in Europe, led some Jews to believe that the Jewish problem could be solved only by founding a Jewish national home. Jewish nationalism, or Zionism, which led to the establishment of the state of Israel in May 1948, is a nationalist movement which has sought to acquire for the Jewish communities the attributes of a state--land, language and sovereignty. (3) Zionism was launched in 1882 by Leon Pinsker, a Russian Jew.

Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), an Austrian Jew, imparted to Zionism in 1896 an effective leadership and organization. (4) In 1897, Herzl convened for the first time a Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland. This Congress, which became a sort of a Jewish Zionist parliament, formulated and adopted a program that became known as the Basle Program. The program called for establishing a Jewish national home in Palestine, and created the Zionist Organization, which was renamed in 1960 as the World Zionist Organization (WZO). The WZO, which is the official body of the Zionist movement, has become a powerful international body. (5)

To establish the Jewish national homeland, the first Zionist Congress envisaged the promotion of Jewish settlement in Palestine, the unification of world Jews, the fostering of Jewish national consciousness and the taking of steps to secure various governments' support for the Zionist goals. (6)

In the years between 1896 and 1917, there were three trends in the Zionist movement: political Zionism, which maintained that legal and political guarantees for a Jewish national home should be secured before initiating practical work on a large scale; practical Zionism, which maintained that the obtaining of political guarantees is contingent upon construction of settlements in Palestine; and spiritual Zionism, articulated by the writer Achad Ha'am, called for a Jewish cultural center in Palestine as a way of solving the problems facing Jews and Judaism. (7)

Herzl's political Zionism earned the support of Jewish groups, especially in Eastern Europe. After his death, Herzl was succeeded by one of his assistants, David Wolfsohn, who placed himself as the head of the Zionist Executive Committee of the WZO. In 1910, the Zionist leadership passed to the adherents of practical Zionism. Professor Otto Warburg, an advocate of practical Zionism, became the head of the Committee. This development ushered in a new period of more active Zionist work in Palestine.

The Allies were hard pressed in 1916 by the Germans. In the spring of 1917, a number of Jewish leaders filled influential positions in the new Russian Duma. Hoping to encourage these leaders to keep Russia involved in World War I, Britain sought to placate the leadership of the Zionist movement. The apathy of a sizable portion of the US Jews towards the war, even after the US Administration decided to enter it on the Allies' side, was a source of concern for Britain. The German Government was also making efforts to win the support of the Jews in Germany and other parts of the world. By placating the Zionist movement, Britain aimed to alienate the Jews of Central Europe against the Central Powers. Some senior British officials were influenced by Zionist arguments that a Jewish Palestine would enhance Britain's strategic and economic interests in South-West Asia. Additionally, Britain sought to win the support of the French Zionist leaders in getting France's agreement to alter the Sykes-Picot Agreement so that Britain could acquire Palestine for herself. (8)

On 16 May 1916, Britain and France secretly concluded the Sykes-Picot Agreement, named after George Picot, France's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Mark Sykes, Britain's Foreign Secretary. The agreement provided, among other things, that when the Ottoman Empire was defeated, the ports of Haifa and Acre in Palestine would be placed under British control and the rest of the country would be under a special international regime.

All these factors contributed to the production of the Balfour Declaration, named after Britain's foreign secretary, issued on 2 November 1917, which 'viewed with favor the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine,' while affirming that 'nothing shall be done which will prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.' (9)

According to the 1922 census, Palestine's population totaled 752,048 persons, of whom 589,177 persons (78.4%) were Muslims; 71,464 (9.5%), Christians; 83,790 (11.1%), Jews; and 7,617 (1%), others. (10)

The Allied forces completed the occupation of Palestine in 1918. In spite of Arab Palestinian opposition, in defence of their right to self determination, on 25 April 1920, the Allied Supreme Council of the Peace Conference in San Remo assigned to Great Britain the mandate over Palestine, which incorporated the Balfour Declaration. On 22 July 1922, Britain was confirmed as a mandatory power by the Council of the League of Nations. Article 4 of the mandate provided for the recognition of a Jewish agency for Palestine to co-operate with the mandatory power in creating a Jewish national home. It provided also that 'the Zionist organization ... shall be recognized as such agency.' (11)

The highest organ of the WZO was the biennial Congress, which decided on general Zionist policy and elected the General Council (Actions Committee), the Executive, and the President. The Executive was charged with implementing the Zionist policy adopted by the Congress and the General Council.

In 1929, the Jewish Agency was expanded to include not only the Zionist, as was the case up to that year, but also the non-Zionist Jews with a view to enlisting the economic and financial support of the wealthy non-Zionist Jews in the United States.

With the expansion of the Jewish Agency, a distinction began to be drawn between the WZO and its organs, on the one hand, and the expanded Jewish Agency and its parallel organs, on the other. The WZO was no longer regarded as the Jewish Agency for Palestine, its functions of co-operation with the mandatory power in creating a Jewish national home being entrusted to the expanded Jewish Agency. (12)

With the expansion of the Jewish Agency, representation on its organs was equally divided between Zionists and non-Zionists. The Executive, with headquarters in Jerusalem, remained in charge of the implementation of the Zionist policy. However, for a variety of reasons, including political disagreements between the Zionist and non-Zionist members of the Jewish Agency Executive (JAE), and the considerable destruction of the European Jewry, the principle of parity of representation on which the enlarged Jewish Agency rested was not complied with, and the Zionist component became predominant. The last non-Zionist member of the JAE resigned...

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