Palestine: What the Mandate Said
March 7, 2013
Yisrael Medad, reply by Avishai Margalit
In response to:Palestine: How Bad, & Good, Was British Rule? from the February 7, 2013 issue
To the Editors:
Avishai Margalit errs in his book review essay [“Palestine: How Bad, & Good, Was British Rule?,” NYR, February 7]. He writes that the League of Nations Mandate over Palestine conferred on Britain was to prepare the country “to be a ‘national home for the Jews,’ without ‘impairing the civil and religious rights of the indigenous Arab people.’”
That is quite wrong as the Mandate decision does not include the phrase “indigenous Arab people.” The phrase that actually appears is: “nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” Arabs, as such, are not mentioned. Political rights were the prerogative of the Jewish people. Residency rights, religious rights, personal liberty rights were to be assured. But nothing more than that and certainly no state which was to be established in the territory of Transjordan, partitioned from the original Mandate area in 1922.
Avishai Margalit replies:
Yisrael Medad is right about the wording of the League of Nations’ Mandate document. But since the “indigenous Arab people” (my expression) and “non-Jewish communities in Palestine” (the Mandate document expression) are coextensive, apart from 1 percent of others, it is a difference that makes no difference.
If wording counts, it is more important to remark that the Mandate document doesn’t mention “political rights” for the Jewish people in Palestine. The only reference to “political rights” is the rights of “Jews in any other country.” The expression “national home” lacks any juridical meaning, unlike, say, home rule. The Mandate document deliberately left vague what the rights of the Jews in Palestine are. It is Medad who gives prerogative political rights to the Jews in Palestine rather than the wording of the Mandate.
The interpretation Medad gives to the Mandate expression “civil rights” as confined to residency rights and personal liberty rights is again of his making. There is no reason to believe that “civil rights” in the Mandate document meant to preclude the rights of the non-Jews to citizenship in any future state in Palestine.
Since Margalit avoids my reference to Transjordan, one can already suspect something is wrong. The British established that non-state to solve any specific Arab political demands, demands they pushed in violent acts of terror, murder and incendiarism. "Palestine", the area west of the Jordan River, was reserved exclusively for the Jews - but, again, and again, under pressure from Arab terror, the Jewish National Home continued to be whittled away, again and again.
And it is so generous of Margalit to excuse his own grievous academic error by claiming it doesn't make a difference. That Margalit was a founder of Peace Now (and see this criticism) doesn't necessarily reflect on his academic competence.
In truth, there were serious Christian claims. But more important, I did not write that that Arabs, or any other non-Jew, could not possess Israeli citizenship. That is a left-wing tactic: impugning an opinion your opponent really didn't state.
This is the letter I sent in now:
In Avishai Margalit's reply to me, admitting his error, he impugns to me an opinion I did not express nor, to make clear, do I hold, when he writes "There is no reason to believe that “civil rights” in the Mandate document meant to preclude the rights of the non-Jews to citizenship in any future state in Palestine", ("Palestine: What the Mandate Said", March 7, 2013).
My point was that that "future state in Palestine", at least west of the Jordan River, was to be a Jewish one. An Arab state in historic Palestine was not at all contemplated. However, due to Arab terror in Jerusalem in April 1920, when Jews were killed, and other violent agitation, Winston Churchill, as Minister of Colonies, decided during March 1921 to truncate the original Jewish National Home area. He created an Arab emirate in Transjordan and prohibited Jews from either owning land or settling there, a policy the League of Nations agreed to but only as a form of postponement (Article 25 of the 1922 Mandate decision). That policy surely discriminated against and precluded the rights of Jews who were indigenous to the country living in Hebron, Gaza, Nablus (Shchem) and Jerusalem for centuries. The future ruling family of what eventually became the Kingdom of Jordan, incidentally, originated in Saudi Arabia.
Let me clarify:
No Arab state was contemplated in "Palestine" because not only did no one think there was a specific Arab Palestinian nationality that required a state - and in fact, there wasn't and so no legal or historical right that could be demanded were to be considered - but there were to be created several other Arabs states, i.e., Syria/Lebanon, Iraq and, as it developed, Jordan, in addition to the existing Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc., in which Arab nationalism was to be nurtured but not at the expense of legitimate Jewish nationalism.
Using the phrase "Jewish National Home" in junction with "historical connection" trumped any non-Jewish claims to that same land.
And that is where Margalit fails - fails as a Jew, as a Zionist, as an academic.
After discussing this issue briefly with Howard Grief, let me add:
Margalit's claim regarding communities, that "non-Jewish communities" and "indigenous Arabs" are "coextensive" is wrong. The term "communities" meant religious groups not nationalities. And Palestine was to be for the Zionists, that is, Jewish nationalism.
Anyone who reviews the minutes of the San Remo Conference of April 1920, found here, will learn that as the excerpts that follow show, the Jews were to have political rights in terms of establishing what was eventually to be a state and that that right overrode all others on that level and that rights were to be granted to the other non-Jewish communities as regards their traditional religious status, i.e., their quasi-diplomatic status, their land and property for the churches, missions, orphanages, etc., as well as their rights to educate and engage in non-Islamic endeavors and others.
LORD CURZON thought that M. Berthelot was possibly not fully acquainted with the history of the question. In November 1917 Mr. Balfour had made a declaration on behalf of the Zionists. The terms of this declaration had been communicated by M. Sokolov, in February 1918 to M. Pichon, who, at that time, was head of the French Foreign Office...He thought it was impossible for the Supreme Council to determine, that day, exactly what form the future administration of Palestine would take. All they could do was to repeat the declaration which had been made in November 1917. That declaration contemplated, first, the creation of national home for the Jews, whose privileges and rights were to be safeguarded under a military Power. Secondly, it was of the highest importance to safeguard the rights of minorities; first, the rights of the Arabs, and then of the Christian communities...
...SIGNOR NITTI expressed the view that it...appeared to him that in principle the Powers were generally in agreement as to the desirability of instituting a national home for the Jews. The discussion had disclosed the fact that there was a divergence of opinion between the British and French delegations as to exactly what rights were to be reserved for the non-Jewish communities in Palestine. The subject, moreover, raised the whole question of the position of Roman Catholics in the East, which he did not think required a very elaborate solution. It was agreed that Palestine was to be under British control, and on behalf of the Italian delegation he begged leave to submit the following addition to the British text of the mandates:--
'Tout privilège, et toute prérogative vis-à-vis des communautés religieuses prendra fin. La Puissance mandataire s'engage à nommer dans le plus bref délai une commission special pour étudier toute question et toute réclamation concernant les différentes communautés religieuses et en établir le règlement. Il sera tenu compte dans la composition de cette commission des intérêts religieux en jeu. Le président de la commission sera nommé par le Conseil de la Société des Nations.'
He was quite sure that all the members of the Supreme Council present shared the full confidence that he himself felt in the British Government in regard to the safeguarding of the rights and privileges of non-Jewish communities. He himself would like to see the president of the commission, which was proposed by the Italian delegation, to be appointed by the League of
Nations, in order to ensure complete impartiality.
M. MILLERAND said that, as regards Palestine, there were really three questions. The first was that there should be a national home for the Jews. Upon that they were all agreed. The second point was the safeguarding of the rights of non-Jewish communities. That again, he thought, offered no insuperable difficulties. The third was the question of existing traditional rights of non-Jewish bodies, and on that he would like to offer certain observations...He understood that in undertaking a mandate for Palestine Great Britain undertook, first, to establish a national home for the Jews in that country, and also not to neglect the traditional rights of the habitants generally.
SIGNOR NITTI said that they were all agreed on the question of establishing a Jewish home there.
SIGNOR NITTI said...that the United States Ambassador at Rome was in the ante-chamber, and had asked to be admitted to the meeting...He understood that if he attended it would be as an observer only, and not as a representative participant in their deliberations.
MR. LLOYD GEORGE suggested that the United States Ambassador should be admitted to the Council Chamber and that the president of the Supreme Council should ask him exactly what his instructions were...
SIGNOR NITTI said that...The question now occupying the attention of the Supreme Council was the subject of mandates, and their present pre-occupation in the future of Palestine and the Zionists...
Moreover, the final decision of April 25 also makes clear Margalit's error/misrepresentation since it again emphasizes communities as relating to religious entities and that Jewish National Home was a pre-step to a "state":-
It was agreed –_________________________
(a) To accept the terms of the Mandates Article as given below with reference to Palestine, on the understanding that there was inserted in the process-verbal an undertaking by the Mandatory Power that this would not involve the surrender of the rights hitherto enjoyed by the non-Jewish communities in Palestine; this undertaking not to refer to the question of the religious protectorate of France, which had been settled earlier in the previous afternoon by the undertaking given by the French Government that they recognized this protectorate as being at an end.
(b) that the terms of the Mandates Article should be as follows:
The High Contracting Parties agree that Syria and Mesopotamia shall, in accordance with the fourth paragraph of Article 22, Part I (Covenant of the League of Nations), be provisionally recognized as independent States...The Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made...in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly 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 Jews in any other country.
La Puissance mandataire s’engage a nommer dans le plus bref delai une Commission speciale pour etudier toute question et toute reclamation concernant les differentes communautes religieuses et en etablir le reglement. Il sera tenu compte dans la composition de cette Commission des interets religieux en jeu. Le President de la Commission sera nomme par le Conseil de la Societe des Nations. [The Mandatory undertakes to appoint in the shortest time a special commission to study any subject and any queries concerning the different religious communities and regulations. The composition of this Commission will reflect the religious interests at stake. The President of the Commission will be appointed by the Council of the League of Nations.]
Howard Fried has now graciously conveyed to me the contents of a letter he sent recently which contains much relevant information:-
In regard to your question asking when and where Lord Balfour said the following about the Arabs, “Why are you complaining … etc.”...It appears that the aforementioned statement to the Arabs was made, not by Lord Balfour, but by Lord Robert Cecil who worked closely with Balfour as Assistant Foreign Secretary...
Lord Cecil made two memorable statements...The first was at a large public rally in London at the Opera House that took place on December 2, 1917 in celebration of the publication of the Balfour Declaration. At this rally he stated:
Our wish is that Arabian countries shall be for the Arabs, Armenia for the Armenians and Judea for the Jews … and let real Turkey be for the Turks.
It is interesting to note that Cecil referred to Judea, the Jewish country of yore that flourished in the period of the Second Temple, rather than by its Roman-Greek name of Palestine...“Judea for the Jews” clearly meant no recognition of Arab national rights to Palestine just as Jews would have no national rights to “Arabian countries” or to Armenia. Please note also that Lord Cecil did not say “Palestine for the Palestinians” since no such nation was known or ever existed either then or now. Most of the Arabs of the land, whether it was called Palestine, the Holy Land, Judea or Israel, then identified themselves as Syrian Arabs...
...Coming to the main point of your query, it was Lord Cecil who wrote in a foreword to a book authored by J. de V. Loder that the Arabs have no cause for complaint on the Palestine question (Loder, The Truth About Mesopotamia, Palestine and Syria, published by George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., London (1923), p. 7). Here are his exact words (p. 217 of my book):
Only on one matter would I make some reserve – I am not sure that on the Palestine question I would take his (Loder’s) view. The Zionist policy seems to me of vital importance to the world. A nation without a country of its own is an anomaly, and anomalies bring trouble. Nor has the Arab State any ground of complaint. The recognition of a Jewish national home was part of the terms on which the Arab State was brought into existence, subject, of course, to the rights of individual Arabs being fully protected.
...Lord Balfour...did make a statement, as you have surmised, to the effect that the Arabs had no right to complain that Palestine would be made a home for the Jewish People. At a public demonstration held by the English Zionist Federation on July 12, 1920 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, to celebrate the conferment of the Mandate for Palestine upon Great Britain and the incorporation of the Balfour Declaration into the Treaty of Peace with Turkey, he justly noted:
… the Great powers … most especially Great Britain, has freed them, the Arab race, from the tyranny of their brutal conqueror… I hope they will remember it is we who have established the independent Arab sovereignty of the Hedjaz. I hope they will remember that it is we who desire in Mesopotamia … a self-governing, autonomous Arab State, and I hope that, remembering all that, they will not grudge that small notch – for it is no more geographically, whatever it may be historically – that small notch in what are now Arab [populated] territories being given to the people who for all these hundreds of years have been separated from it – but surely have a title to develop on their own lines in the land of their forefathers, which ought to appeal to the sympathy of the Arab people as it, I am convinced appeals to the great mass of my own Christian fellow-countrymen…
...None but those who are blinded by [religious or racial bigotry] would deny for one instant that the case of the Jews is absolutely exceptional and must be treated by exceptional methods…We may look forward with a happy gaze to a future in which Palestine will indeed, and in the fullest measure and degree of success, be made a home for the Jewish People (emphasis added).
This well-grounded quotation of Balfour appears in an anthology called Speeches on Zionism, edited by Israel Cohen, published by Arrowsmith, London, 1928; pp. 24ff.
...This is unlike the accusatory British attitude of today, especially recent Governments, both Conservative and Labour, who have erased from their memory any remembrance or knowledge of the rights inhering in the Jewish People which the Lloyd George Government, on behalf of Great Britain together with the other
Principal Allied Powers, recognised under the international law documents comprising the San Remo Resolution and the Mandate for Palestine. Balfour saw the Allied decision as a way of making amends for the Roman destruction of Judea eighteen centuries earlier as well as being a recognition of the historical connection of the Jewish People with Palestine to the exclusion of Arab pretentions.