British Mandate of Palestine #67 (1927)

Palestine #67 (1927)
Palestine #67 (1927)

Mandatory Palestine (فلسطين‎‎ — Filasṭīn in Arabic, פָּלֶשְׂתִּינָה (א”י‎ — Pālēśtīnā (EY) in Hebrew, where “EY” indicates “Eretz Yisrael”, Land of Israel) was a geopolitical entity under British administration, carved out of Ottoman Southern Syria after World War I. The British civil administration in Palestine operated from 1920 until 1948. During its existence the territory was known simply as Palestine, but, in later years, a variety of other names and descriptors have been used, including Mandatory or Mandate Palestine, the British Mandate of Palestine and British Palestine.

During the First World War, an Arab uprising and the British Empire’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force under General Edmund Allenby drove the Turks out of the Levant during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. The United Kingdom had agreed in the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence that it would honor Arab independence if they revolted against the Ottomans, but the two sides had different interpretations of this agreement, and in the end the UK and France divided up the area under the Sykes–Picot Agreement — an act of betrayal in the eyes of the Arabs.

Further confusing the issue was the Balfour Declaration of 1917, promising British support for a Jewish “national home” in Palestine. At the war’s end the British and French set up a joint “Occupied Enemy Territory Administration” in what had been Ottoman Syria. The British achieved legitimacy for their continued control by obtaining a mandate from the League of Nations in June 1922. The formal 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 such time as they are able to stand alone.”

The civil Mandate administration was formalized with the League of Nations’ consent in 1923 under the British Mandate for Palestine, which covered two administrative areas. The land west of the Jordan River, known as Palestine, was under direct British administration until 1948. The land east of the Jordan, a semi-autonomous region known as Transjordan, under the rule of the Hashemite family from the Hijaz, gained independence in 1946.

The divergent tendencies regarding the nature and purpose of the mandate are visible already in the discussions concerning the name for this new entity. According to the Minutes of the Ninth Session of the League of Nations’ Permanent Mandate Commission:

Colonel Symes explained that the country was described as “Palestine” by Europeans and as “Falestin” by the Arabs. The Hebrew name for the country was the designation “Land of Israel”, and the Government, to meet Jewish wishes, had agreed that the word “Palestine” in Hebrew characters should be followed in all official documents by the initials which stood for that designation. As a set-off to this, certain of the Arab politicians suggested that the country should be called “Southern Syria” in order to emphasise its close relation with another Arab State.

During the British Mandate period the area experienced the ascent of two major nationalist movements, one among the Jews and the other among the Arabs. The competing national interests of the Arab and Jewish populations of Palestine against each other and against the governing British authorities matured into the Arab Revolt of 1936–1939 and the Jewish insurgency in Palestine before culminating in the Civil War of 1947–1948. The aftermath of the Civil War and the consequent 1948 Arab–Israeli War led to the establishment of the 1949 cease-fire agreement, with partition of the former Mandatory Palestine between the newborn state of Israel with a Jewish majority, the Arab West Bank annexed by the Jordanian Kingdom and the Arab All-Palestine Government in the Gaza Strip under the protectorate of Egypt.

The name given to the Mandate’s territory was “Palestine”, in accordance with European traditions. The term Palestine was coined in the Western culture from the name of Palaestina province of the Roman (Syria-Palaestina) and later Byzantine Empire (Palaestina Prima and Palaestina Secunda). The Mandate charter stipulated that Mandatory Palestine would have three official languages, namely English, Arabic and Hebrew.

In 1926, the British authorities formally decided to use the traditional Arabic and Hebrew equivalents to the English name, i.e. filasţīn (فلسطين) and pālēśtīnā (פּלשׂתינה) respectively. The Jewish leadership proposed that the proper Hebrew name should be ʾĒrēts Yiśrāʾel (ארץ ישׂראל=Land of Israel). The final compromise was to add the initials of the Hebrew proposed name, Alef-Yud, within parenthesis (א״י), whenever the Mandate’s name was mentioned in Hebrew in official documents. The Arab leadership saw this compromise as a violation of the mandate terms. Some Arab politicians suggested that there should be a similar Arabic concession, such as “Southern Syria” (سوريا الجنوبية). The British authorities rejected this proposal.

British Mandate for Palestine, 1920-1922
British Mandate for Palestine, 1920-1922
British Mandate for Palestine as Divided after September 1922
British Mandate for Palestine as Divided after September 1922

Following its occupation by British troops in 1917–1918, Palestine was governed by the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration. In July 1920, the military administration was replaced by a civilian administration headed by a High Commissioner. The first High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel, a Zionist recent cabinet minister, arrived in Palestine on June 20, 1920, to take up his appointment from July 1.

Following the arrival of the British, Muslim-Christian Associations were established in all the major towns. In 1919, they joined to hold the first Palestine Arab Congress in Jerusalem. Its main platforms were a call for representative government and opposition to the Balfour Declaration.

The Zionist Commission was formed in March 1918 and was active in promoting Zionist objectives in Palestine. On April 19, 1920, elections were held for the Assembly of Representatives of the Palestinian Jewish community. The Zionist Commission received official recognition in 1922 as representative of the Palestinian Jewish community.

One of the first actions of the newly installed civil administration in 1921 had been to grant Pinhas Rutenberg — a Jewish entrepreneur — concessions for the production and distribution of wired electricity. Rutenberg soon established an electric company whose shareholders were Zionist organizations, investors, and philanthropists. Palestinian-Arabs saw it as proof that the British intended to favor Zionism. The British administration claimed that electrification would enhance the economic development of the country as a whole, while at the same time securing their commitment to facilitate a Jewish National Home through economic — rather than political — means.

Samuel tried to establish self-governing institutions in Palestine, as required by the mandate, but was frustrated by the refusal of the Arab leadership to co-operate with any institution which included Jewish participation. When Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Kamil al-Husayni died in March 1921, High Commissioner Samuel appointed his half-brother Mohammad Amin al-Husseini to the position. Amin al-Husseini, a member of the al-Husayni clan of Jerusalem, was an Arab nationalist and Muslim leader. As Grand Mufti, as well as the other influential positions that he held during this period, al-Husseini played a key role in violent opposition to Zionism.

In 1922, al-Husseini was elected President of the Supreme Muslim Council which had been created by Samuel in December 1921. The Council controlled the Waqf funds, worth annually tens of thousands of pounds and the orphan funds, worth annually about £50,000, as compared to the £600,000 in the Jewish Agency’s annual budget. In addition, he controlled the Islamic courts in Palestine. Among other functions, these courts were entrusted with the power to appoint teachers and preachers.

The 1922 Palestine Order in Council established a Legislative Council, which was to consist of 23 members: 12 elected, 10 appointed, and the High Commissioner. Of the 12 elected members, eight were to be Muslim Arabs, two Christian Arabs and two Jews. Arabs protested against the distribution of the seats, arguing that as they constituted 88% of the population, having only 43% of the seats was unfair. Elections were held in February and March 1923, but due to an Arab boycott, the results were annulled and a 12-member Advisory Council was established.

In October 1923, Britain provided the League of Nations with a report on the administration of Palestine for the period 1920–1922, which covered the period before the mandate.

In 1930, Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam arrived in Palestine from Syria and organized and established the Black Hand, an anti-Zionist and anti-British militant organisation. He recruited and arranged military training for peasants and by 1935 he had enlisted between 200 and 800 men. The cells were equipped with bombs and firearms, which they used to kill Zionist settlers in the area, as well as engaging in a campaign of vandalism of the settlers-planted trees and British constructed rail-lines. In November 1935, two of his men engaged in a firefight with a Palestine police patrol hunting fruit thieves and a policeman was killed. Following the incident, British police launched a manhunt and surrounded al-Qassam in a cave near Ya’bad. In the ensuing battle, al-Qassam was killed.

The death of al-Qassam on November 20, 1935, generated widespread outrage in the Arab community. Huge crowds accompanied Qassam’s body to his grave in Haifa. A few months later, in April 1936, the Arab national general strike broke out. The strike lasted until October 1936, instigated by the Arab Higher Committee, headed by Amin al-Husseini. During the summer of that year, thousands of Jewish-farmed acres and orchards were destroyed, Jewish civilians were attacked and killed, and some Jewish communities, such as those in Beisan and Acre, fled to safer areas. The violence abated for about a year while the British sent the Peel Commission to investigate.

During the first stages of the Arab Revolt, due to rivalry between the clans of al-Husseini and Nashashibi among the Palestinian Arabs, Raghib Nashashibi was forced to flee to Egypt after several assassination attempts ordered by Amin al-Husseini.

Following the Arab rejection of the Peel Commission recommendation, the revolt resumed in autumn of 1937. Over the next 18 months, the British lost control of Nablus and Hebron. British forces, supported by 6,000 armed Jewish auxiliary police, suppressed the widespread riots with overwhelming force. The British officer Charles Orde Wingate (who supported a Zionist revival for religious reasons) organized Special Night Squads composed of British soldiers and Jewish volunteers such as Yigal Alon, which “scored significant successes against the Arab rebels in the lower Galilee and in the Jezreel valley” by conducting raids on Arab villages. The Jewish militia Irgun used violence also against Arab civilians as “retaliatory acts”, attacking marketplaces and buses.

By the time the revolt concluded in March 1939, more than 5,000 Arabs, 400 Jews, and 200 British had been killed and at least 15,000 Arabs were wounded. The revolt resulted in the deaths of 5,000 Palestinian Arabs and the wounding of 10,000. In total, 10% of the adult Arab male population was killed, wounded, imprisoned, or exiled. From 1936 to 1945, while establishing collaborative security arrangements with the Jewish Agency, the British confiscated 13,200 firearms from Arabs and 521 weapons from Jews.

The attacks on the Jewish population by Arabs had three lasting effects: First, they led to the formation and development of Jewish underground militias, primarily the Haganah, which were to prove decisive in 1948. Secondly, it became clear that the two communities could not be reconciled, and the idea of partition was born. Thirdly, the British responded to Arab opposition with the White Paper of 1939, which severely restricted Jewish land purchase and immigration. However, with the advent of World War II, even this reduced immigration quota was not reached. The White Paper policy also radicalized segments of the Jewish population, who after the war would no longer cooperate with the British.

The revolt had a negative effect on Palestinian Arab leadership, social cohesion, and military capabilities and contributed to the outcome of the 1948 War because “when the Palestinians faced their most fateful challenge in 1947–49, they were still suffering from the British repression of 1936–39, and were in effect without a unified leadership. Indeed, it might be argued that they were virtually without any leadership at all”.

In 1937, the Peel Commission proposed a partition between a small Jewish state, whose Arab population would have to be transferred, and an Arab state to be attached to Jordan. The proposal was rejected outright by the Arabs. The two main Jewish leaders, Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion, had convinced the Zionist Congress to approve equivocally the Peel recommendations as a basis for more negotiation. In a letter to his son in October 1937, Ben-Gurion explained that partition would be a first step to “possession of the land as a whole”. The same sentiment was recorded by Ben-Gurion on other occasions, such as at a meeting of the Jewish Agency executive in June 1938, as well as by Chaim Weizmann.

Following the London Conference (1939) the British Government published a White Paper which proposed a limit to Jewish immigration from Europe, restrictions on Jewish land purchases, and a program for creating an independent state to replace the Mandate within ten years. This was seen by the Yishuv as betrayal of the mandatory terms, especially in light of the increasing persecution of Jews in Europe. In response, Zionists organised Aliyah Bet, a program of illegal immigration into Palestine. Lehi, a small group of extremist Zionists, staged armed attacks on British authorities in Palestine. However, the Jewish Agency, which represented the mainstream Zionist leadership, still hoped to persuade Britain to allow resumed Jewish immigration, and cooperated with Britain in World War II.

On June 10, 1940, Italy declared war on the British Commonwealth and sided with Germany. Within a month, the Italians attacked Palestine from the air, bombing Tel Aviv and Haifa, inflicting multiple casualties.

In 1942, there was a period of great concern for the Yishuv, when the forces of German General Erwin Rommel advanced east across North Africa towards the Suez Canal and there was fear that they would conquer Palestine. This period was referred to as the “200 days of dread”. This event was the direct cause for the founding, with British support, of the Palmach — a highly trained regular unit belonging to Haganah (a paramilitary group which was mostly made up of reserve troops).

As in most of the Arab world, there was no unanimity amongst the Palestinian Arabs as to their position regarding the belligerents in World War II. A number of leaders and public figures saw an Axis victory as the likely outcome and a way of securing Palestine back from the Zionists and the British. Even though Arabs were not highly regarded by Nazi racial theory, the Nazis encouraged Arab support as a counter to British hegemony. SS-Reichsfuehrer Heinrich Himmler was keen to exploit this, going so far as to enlist the aid of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husseini, sending him the following telegram on November 2, 1943:

To the Grand Mufti: The National Socialist movement of Greater Germany has, since its inception, inscribed upon its flag the fight against the world Jewry. It has therefore followed with particular sympathy the struggle of freedom-loving Arabs, especially in Palestine, against Jewish interlopers. In the recognition of this enemy and of the common struggle against it lies the firm foundation of the natural alliance that exists between the National Socialist Greater Germany and the freedom-loving Muslims of the whole world. In this spirit I am sending you on the anniversary of the infamous Balfour declaration my hearty greetings and wishes for the successful pursuit of your struggle until the final victory.” – Reichsfuehrer S.S. Heinrich Himmler

The Mufti al-Husseini would spend the rest of the war in Nazi Germany and the occupied areas in Europe.

On July 3, 1944, the British government consented to the establishment of a Jewish Brigade, with hand-picked Jewish and also non-Jewish senior officers. On September 20, 1944, an official communiqué by the War Office announced the formation of the Jewish Brigade Group of the British Army. The Jewish brigade then was stationed in Tarvisio, near the border triangle of Italy, Yugoslavia, and Austria, where it played a key role in the Berihah’s efforts to help Jews escape Europe for Palestine, a role many of its members would continue after the brigade was disbanded. Among its projects was the education and care of the Selvino children. Later, veterans of the Jewish Brigade became key participants of the new State of Israel’s Israel Defense Forces.

From the Palestine Regiment, two platoons, one Jewish, under the command of Brigadier Ernest Benjamin, and another Arab were sent to join allied forces on the Italian Front, having taken part of final offensive there. Besides Jews and Arabs from Palestine, in total by mid-1944 the British had assembled a multiethnic force consisting of volunteer European Jewish refugees (from German-occupied countries), Yemenite Jews and Abyssinian Jews.

In 1939, as a consequence of the White Paper of 1939, the British reduced the number of immigrants allowed into Palestine. World War II and the Holocaust started shortly thereafter and once the 15,000 annual quota was exceeded, Jews fleeing Nazi persecution were interned in detention camps or deported to places such as Mauritius.

Starting in 1939, a clandestine immigration effort called Aliya Bet was spearheaded by an organisation called Mossad LeAliyah Bet. Tens of thousands of European Jews escaped the Nazis in boats and small ships headed for Palestine. The Royal Navy intercepted many of the vessels; others were unseaworthy and were wrecked; a Haganah bomb sunk the SS Patria, killing 267 people; two more were sunk by Soviet submarines. The motor schooner Struma was torpedoed and sunk in the Black Sea by a Soviet submarine in February 1942 with the loss of nearly 800 lives. The last refugee boats to try to reach Palestine during the war were the Bulbul, Mefküre and Morina in August 1944. A Soviet submarine sank the motor schooner Mefküre by torpedo and shellfire and machine-gunned survivors in the water, killing between 300 and 400 refugees. Illegal immigration resumed after World War II.

Barclay's Bank in Jerusalem, Palestine, on VE Day, May 8, 1945
Barclay’s Bank in Jerusalem, Palestine, on VE Day, May 8, 1945

After the war, 250,000 Jewish refugees were stranded in displaced persons (DP) camps in Europe. Despite the pressure of world opinion, in particular the repeated requests of US President Harry S. Truman and the recommendations of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry that 100,000 Jews be immediately granted entry to Palestine, the British maintained the ban on immigration.

The Jewish Lehi (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel) and Irgun (National Military Organization) movements initiated violent uprisings against the British Mandate in 1940s. On November 6. 1944, Eliyahu Hakim and Eliyahu Bet Zuri (members of Lehi) assassinated Lord Moyne in Cairo. Moyne was the British Minister of State for the Middle East and the assassination is said by some to have turned British Prime Minister Winston Churchill against the Zionist cause. After the assassination of Lord Moyne, the Haganah kidnapped, interrogated, and turned over to the British many members of the Irgun (“The Hunting Season”), and the Jewish Agency Executive decided on a series of measures against “terrorist organizations” in Palestine. Irgun ordered its members not to resist or retaliate with violence, so as to prevent a civil war.

The three main Jewish underground forces later united to form the Jewish Resistance Movement and carry out several attacks and bombings against the British administration. In 1946, the Irgun blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the headquarters of the British administration, killing 92 people. Following the bombing, the British Government began interning illegal Jewish immigrants in Cyprus. In 1948, the Lehi assassinated the UN mediator Count Bernadotte in Jerusalem. Yitzak Shamir, future prime minister of Israel was one of the conspirators.

The negative publicity resulting from the situation in Palestine caused the Mandate to become widely unpopular in Britain, and caused the United States Congress to delay granting the British vital loans for reconstruction. The British Labour party had promised before its election to allow mass Jewish migration into Palestine but reneged on this promise once in office. Anti-British Jewish militancy increased and the situation required the presence of over 100,000 British troops in the country. Following the Acre Prison Break and the retaliatory hanging of British Sergeants by the Irgun, the British announced their desire to terminate the mandate and withdraw by no later than the beginning of August 1948.

The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in 1946 was a joint attempt by Britain and the United States to agree on a policy regarding the admission of Jews to Palestine. In April, the Committee reported that its members had arrived at a unanimous decision. The Committee approved the American recommendation of the immediate acceptance of 100,000 Jewish refugees from Europe into Palestine. It also recommended that there be no Arab, and no Jewish State. The Committee stated that “in order to dispose, once and for all, of the exclusive claims of Jews and Arabs to Palestine, we regard it as essential that a clear statement of principle should be made that Jew shall not dominate Arab and Arab shall not dominate Jew in Palestine.” U.S. President Harry S Truman angered the British Government by issuing a statement supporting the 100,000 refugees but refusing to acknowledge the rest of the committee’s findings. Britain had asked for U.S assistance in implementing the recommendations. The U.S. War Department had said earlier that to assist Britain in maintaining order against an Arab revolt, an open-ended U.S. commitment of 300,000 troops would be necessary. The immediate admission of 100,000 new Jewish immigrants would almost certainly have provoked an Arab uprising.

These events were the decisive factors that forced Britain to announce their desire to terminate the Palestine Mandate and place the Question of Palestine before the United Nations, the successor to the League of Nations. The UN created UNSCOP (the UN Special Committee on Palestine) on May 15, 1947, with representatives from 11 countries. UNSCOP conducted hearings and made a general survey of the situation in Palestine, and issued its report on August 31. Seven members (Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, and Uruguay) recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states, with Jerusalem to be placed under international administration. Three members (India, Iran, and Yugoslavia) supported the creation of a single federal state containing both Jewish and Arab constituent states. Australia abstained.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly, voting 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions, adopted a resolution recommending the adoption and implementation of the Plan of Partition with Economic Union as Resolution 181 (II)., while making some adjustments to the boundaries between the two states proposed by it. The division was to take effect on the date of British withdrawal. The partition plan required that the proposed states grant full civil rights to all people within their borders, regardless of race, religion or gender. It is important to note that the UN General Assembly is only granted the power to make recommendations, therefore, UNGAR 181 was not legally binding. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union supported the resolution. Haiti, Liberia, and the Philippines changed their votes at the last moment after concerted pressure from the U.S. and from Zionist organizations. The five members of the Arab League, who were voting members at the time, voted against the Plan.

The Jewish Agency, which was the Jewish state-in-formation, accepted the plan, and nearly all the Jews in Palestine rejoiced at the news.

The partition plan was rejected out of hand by Palestinian Arab leadership and by most of the Arab population. Meeting in Cairo on November and December 1947, the Arab League then adopted a series of resolutions endorsing a military solution to the conflict.

Britain announced that it would accept the partition plan, but refused to enforce it, arguing it was not accepted by the Arabs. Britain also refused to share the administration of Palestine with the UN Palestine Commission during the transitional period. In September 1947, the British government announced that the Mandate for Palestine would end at midnight on May 14, 1948.

Some Jewish organizations also opposed the proposal. Irgun leader Menachem Begin announced, “The partition of the Homeland is illegal. It will never be recognized. The signature by institutions and individuals of the partition agreement is invalid. It will not bind the Jewish people. Jerusalem was and will forever be our capital. Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And for ever.” These views were publicly rejected by the majority of the nascent Jewish state.

When the UK announced the independence of Transjordan in 1946, the final Assembly of the League of Nations and the General Assembly both adopted resolutions welcoming the news. The Jewish Agency objected, claiming that Transjordan was an integral part of Palestine, and that according to Article 80 of the UN Charter, the Jewish people had a secured interest in its territory.

During the General Assembly deliberations on Palestine, there were suggestions that it would be desirable to incorporate part of Transjordan’s territory into the proposed Jewish state. A few days before the adoption of Resolution 181 (II) on November 29, 1947, U.S. Secretary of State Marshall noted frequent references had been made by the Ad Hoc Committee regarding the desirability of the Jewish State having both the Negev and an “outlet to the Red Sea and the Port of Aqaba.” According to John Snetsinger, Chaim Weizmann visited President Truman on November 19, 1947, and said it was imperative that the Negev and Port of Aqaba be under Jewish control and that they be included in the Jewish state. Truman telephoned the US delegation to the UN and told them he supported Weizmann’s position.[61] However, the Trans-Jordan memorandum excluded territories of the Emirate of Transjordan from any Jewish settlement.

Immediately after the UN resolution, the 1947-1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine broke out between the Arab and Jewish communities, and British authority began to break down. On December 16, 1947, the Palestine Police Force withdrew from the Tel Aviv area, home to more than half the Jewish population, and turned over responsibility for the maintenance of law and order to Jewish police.

As the civil war raged on, British military forces gradually withdrew from Palestine, although they occasionally intervened in favor of either side. As they withdrew, they handed over control to local authorities, and locally raised police forces were charged with maintaining law and order. The areas they withdrew from often quickly became war zones. The British maintained strong presences in Jerusalem and Haifa, even as Jerusalem came under siege by Arab forces and became the scene of fierce fighting, though the British occasionally intervened in the fighting, largely to secure their evacuation routes, including by proclaiming martial law and enforcing truces. The Palestine Police Force was largely inoperative, and government services such as social welfare, control of water supplies, and postal services were withdrawn.

The British leaving Haifa, June 30, 1948 (עברית: עזיבת הבריטים מסדר מסירת נמל חיפה לעיריה ברקע הסיירת הבריטית פואבה.)
The British leaving Haifa, June 30, 1948 (עברית: עזיבת הבריטים מסדר מסירת נמל חיפה לעיריה ברקע הסיירת הבריטית פואבה.)

In April 1948, the British withdrew from most of Haifa, but retained an enclave in the port area to be used in the evacuation of British forces, and temporarily retained RAF Ramat David airbase to cover their retreat, leaving behind a volunteer police force to maintain order. The city was quickly captured by the Haganah in the Battle of Haifa. Following the victory, British forces in Jerusalem announced that they had no intention of assuming control of any local administrations, but would not permit any actions that would hamper the safe and orderly withdrawal of British forces from Palestine, and would set up military courts to try persons who interfered. Although by this time British authority in most of Palestine had broken down, with most of the country in control of the Jews and Arabs, the British air and sea blockade of Palestine remained firmly in place.

The British had notified the U.N. of their intent to terminate the mandate not later than August 1, 1948. However, early in 1948, the United Kingdom announced its firm intention to end its mandate in Palestine on May 14. In response, President Harry S Truman made a statement on March 25 proposing UN trusteeship rather than partition, stating that “unfortunately, it has become clear that the partition plan cannot be carried out at this time by peaceful means… unless emergency action is taken, there will be no public authority in Palestine on that date capable of preserving law and order. Violence and bloodshed will descend upon the Holy Land. Large-scale fighting among the people of that country will be the inevitable result.”

By May 14, 1948, the only British forces remaining in Palestine were in the Haifa area and in Jerusalem. On that same day, the British garrison in Jerusalem withdrew, and High Commissioner Alan Cunningham left the city for Haifa, where he was to leave the country by sea. The Jewish Leadership, led by future Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel, on the afternoon of May 14, 1948 (5 Iyar 5708 in the Hebrew calendar), to come into force at midnight of that day. On the same day, the Provisional Government of Israel asked the US Government for recognition, on the frontiers specified in the UN Plan for Partition. The United States immediately replied, recognizing “the provisional government as the de facto authority.”

At the same time that the state of Israel was being declared the Haganah took over formerly British-controlled areas in Jerusalem. As the mandate era came to an end, radical Jewish forces, from whose actions the Haganah distanced themselves, began to clear Palestinian Arab communities in the area which would become Israel.

On May 15, 1948, the Palestine Mandate ended and the State of Israel came into being. The Palestine Government formally ceased to exist, the status of British forces still in the process of withdrawal from Haifa changed to occupiers of foreign territory, the Palestine Police Force formally stood down and was disbanded, with the remaining personnel evacuated alongside British military forces, the British blockade of Palestine was lifted, and all Mandatory Palestine passports ceased to give British protection.

Over the next few days, approximately 700 Lebanese, 1,876 Syrian, 4,000 Iraqi, 2,800 Egyptian troops crossed over the borders and into Palestine. Around 4,500 Transjordanian troops, commanded partly by 38 British officers who had resigned their commissions in the British army only weeks earlier, including overall commander, General John Bagot Glubb, entered the Corpus separatum region encompassing Jerusalem and its environs (in response to the Haganah’s Operation Kilshon) and moved into areas designated as part of the Arab state by the UN partition plan.

During Ottoman rule in Palestine, stamps issued by the Ottoman authorities were valid in Palestine. Ottoman post offices operated in almost every large city in Palestine, Austria and France obtained permits to provide postal service in the main cities of the Ottoman Empire as early as 1837. Russian postal service in the Ottoman Empire began in 1856. The German Empire opened its first office on October 1, 1898, in Jaffa, followed on March 1, 1900, by an office in Jerusalem. The Italians and Egyptians also had their own post offices at various times and English travelers in the region could receive mail from abroad if addressed to the care of the English consuls in Beirut, Aleppo, Jerusalem or Damascus, or alternatively to the care of a merchant or banker.

In November 1917, the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force occupied Palestine. Initially, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (and the Indian Expeditionary Force) had given civilians basic postal services for free, with additional services paid in British or Indian stamps. Free mail was withdrawn with the printing of appropriate stamps. Two stamps inscribed E.E.F. (1 piastre, and 5 millièmes) were issued in February 1918, eleven definitives were were issued in June 1918. These E.E.F. stamps were valid in Palestine, Cilicia, Syria, Lebanon, and Transjordan. Prior to the British Mandate in Palestine, Hebrew was not an official language, and so these stamps bore only Arabic inscriptions besides English.

British cast-iron pillar boxes in Jerusalem, dating from the British Mandate of Palestine. Until the State of Israel was created in 1948 there was a Royal cypher on the door of the pillar box; probably that of King George V. This was ground off after Israel gained independence. The photo was taken in central Jerusalem on Coresh Street (aka Koresh) behind Jerusalem's Central Post Office, July 9, 2008
British cast-iron pillar boxes in Jerusalem, dating from the British Mandate of Palestine. Until the State of Israel was created in 1948 there was a Royal cypher on the door of the pillar box; probably that of King George V. This was ground off after Israel gained independence. The photo was taken in central Jerusalem on Coresh Street (aka Koresh) behind Jerusalem’s Central Post Office, July 9, 2008

In 1920, Transjordan was separated and distinctive overprints for the two territories came into use. As Palestine came under the civil administration of the British Mandate of Palestine,falling  into line with League of Nations rules, the High Commissioner sanctioned stamps and coins bearing the three official languages of British Mandate Palestine: English, Arab, and Hebrew. Between 1920 and 1923 six such distinctive overprints were issued: four produced in Jerusalem, two in London.

Local Jews and Arabs lobbied the British about the overprint:

“The Jewish members of the [Advisory] Council objected to the Hebrew transliteration of the word “Palestine”, on the ground that the traditional name was “Eretz Yisrael”, but the Arab members would not agree to this designation, which, in their view, had political significance. The High Commissioner therefore decided, as a compromise, that the Hebrew transliteration should be used, followed always by the two initial letters of “Eretz Yisrael”, Aleph Yod, and this combination was always used on the coinage and stamps of Palestine and in all references in official documents.

During the Mandate, postal services were provided by British authorities. The British Post service designed its first four stamps in 1923, upon the suggestion of the Sir Herbert Samuel (the High Commissioner), following a public invitation for designs. The first values in this series of definitive stamps were issued on June 1, 1927. The stamps pictured the Rachel’s Tomb, the Tower of David, the Dome of the Rock, and a view of a mosque in Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee. According to Reid, the British Mandate “scenes carefully balanced sites of significance to Muslims, Jews, and Christians.”

The postal service operated by the Mandatory authorities was reputed to be the best in the Middle East. Letters were delivered daily in Jerusalem. Palestine joined the Universal Postal Union in October 1923. The post was transported by boat, train, cars and horses, and after 1927, also by air. Sale and exchange of International Reply Coupons started in 1926 and were joined by Imperial Reply Coupons from January 1, 1935. Air letter sheets (or air letter cards as they were then known) were first introduced in Palestine in November 1944. During the volatility of 1947 and 1948, British postal services deteriorated and were replaced by ad hoc interim services prior to the partition and the establishment of the State of Israel. Just before the formal end to the British Mandate over Palestine, the Mandatory government destroyed the existing stocks of postage stamps and had Palestine removed from the World Postal Union. A total of 104 stamps bearing the name “Palestine” were issued by the British between 1918 and 1942.

During the British Mandate over Palestine about 160 post offices, rural agencies, travelling post offices, and town agencies operated, some only for a few months, others for the entire length of the period. Upon the advance of allied forces in 1917 and 1918, initially Field Post Offices and Army Post Offices served the local civilian population. Some of the latter offices were converted to Stationary Army Post Offices and became civilian post offices upon establishment of the civilian administration. In 1919, fifteen offices existed, rising to about 100 by 1939, and about 150 by the end of the Mandate in May 1948. With most of the Jerusalem General Post Office archives destroyed, research depends heavily on philatelists recording distinct postmarks and dates of their use.

Central Post Office in Jaffa (Yaffo). Photo taken on November 23, 2011
Central Post Office in Jaffa (Yaffo). Photo taken on November 23, 2011

In early 1948, as the British government withdrew, the area underwent a violent transition, affecting all public services. Mail service was reportedly chaotic and unreliable. Nearly all British postal operations shut down during April. Rural services ended on April 15 and other post offices ceased operations by the end of April 1948, except for the main post offices in Haifa, Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Jerusalem, which persevered until May 5.

In Jerusalem, the French consulate is claimed to have issued stamps in May 1948 for its staff and local French nationals. The French stamps supposedly went through three issues: the first and second were “Affaires Étrangères” stamps, inscribed gratis but overprinted, while the third were “Marianne” stamps (6 francs) that arrived from France by the end of May. The consulate also created its own cancellation: Jerusalem Postes Françaises. Philatelic research has exposed the French Consular post as a fraud perpetrated by the son of the then consul, though other philatelists have maintained their claims that the postal service and its stamps are genuine.

Scott #67 was issued by the British Mandate for Palestine on August 14, 1927. It is a 5-millième brown orange stamp designed by F. Taylor and printed by Harrison & Sons Ltd. in London by typography, watermarked with a multi-script CA and perforated 13½x14½. It portrays the Citadel at Jerusalem. Also known as the Tower of David (מגדל דוד‎‎ — Migdal David in Hebrew and برج داود‎‎ — Burj Daud in Arabic), the Jerusalem Citadel is an ancient citadel located near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the western edge of the Old City of Jerusalem.

The citadel that stands today dates to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods. It was built on the site of an earlier ancient fortification of the Hasmonean, Herodian-era, Byzantine and Early Muslim periods, after being destroyed repeatedly during the last decades of Crusader presence in the Holy Land by Ayyubid and Mamluk rulers. It contains important archaeological finds dating back over 2,000 years including a quarry dated to the First Temple period, and is a popular venue for benefit events, craft shows, concerts, and sound-and-light performances.

Dan Bahat writes that the original three Hasmonean towers were altered by Herod, and that “the northeastern tower was replaced by a much larger, more massive tower, dubbed the Tower of David beginning in the 5th century C.E.” The name “Tower of David” is due to Byzantine Christians who believed the site to be the palace of King David. They borrowed the name Tower of David from the Song of Songs, attributed to Solomon, King David’s son, who wrote: “Thy neck is like the Tower of David built with turrets, whereon there hang a thousand shields, all the armor of the mighty men.”

As evidenced by the archaeological discovery of the Broad Wall, King Hezekiah was the first to specifically fortify this area. The city’s fortifications demonstrate that by the late eighth century the city had expanded to include the hill to the west of the Temple Mount. The motivation for building the walled fortification was the expected invasion of Judea by Sennacherib. The wall might be the one referred to in Nehemiah 3:8 and Isaiah 22:9-10.

During the 2nd century BC, the Old City of Jerusalem expanded further onto the so-called Western Hill. This 773-meter-high prominence, which comprises the modern Armenian and Jewish Quarters as well as Mount Zion, was bounded by steep valleys on all sides except for the northern one. The first settlement in this area was about 150 BC around the time of the Hasmonean kings when what Josephus Flavius named the First Wall was constructed.

The Citadel (Tower of David) with the archaeological finds in its courtyard and the Ottoman minaret, as it appears today. Photo taken on March 28, 2005.
The Citadel (Tower of David) with the archaeological finds in its courtyard and the Ottoman minaret, as it appears today. Photo taken on March 28, 2005.

Herod, who wrestled the power away from the Hasmonean dynasty, added three massive towers to the fortifications in 37–34 BC. He built these at the vulnerable northwest corner of the Western Hill, where the Citadel is now located. His purpose was not only to defend the city, but to safeguard his own royal palace located nearby on Mount Zion. Herod named the tallest of the towers, 145 feet in height, the Phasael in memory of his brother who had committed suicide while in captivity. Another tower was called the Mariamne, named for his second wife whom he had executed and buried in a cave to the west of the tower. He named the third tower the Hippicus after one of his friends. Of the three towers, only the base of one of them survives until today —either the Phasael or, as argued by archaeologist Hillel Geva who excavated the Citadel, the Hippicus Tower. Of the original tower itself (now called the Tower of David), some sixteen courses of the original stone ashlars can still be seen rising from ground level, upon which were added smaller stones in a later period, which added significantly to its height. During the Jewish war with Rome, Simon bar Giora made the tower his place of residence.

Following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, the three towers were preserved as a testimony of the might of the fortifications overcome by the Roman legions, and the site served as barracks for the Roman troops.

When the empire adopted Christianity as its favored religion in the 4th century, a community of monks established itself in the citadel. It was during the Byzantine period that the remaining Herodian tower, and by extension the Citadel as a whole, acquired its alternative name — the Tower of David — after the Byzantines, mistakenly identifying the hill as Mount Zion, presumed it to be David’s palace mentioned in 2 Samuel 5:11, 11:1-27, 16:22.

After the Arab conquest of Jerusalem in 638, the new Muslim rulers refurbished the citadel. This powerful structure withstood the assault of the Crusaders in 1099, and surrendered only when its defenders were guaranteed safe passage out of the city.

During the Crusader period, thousands of pilgrims undertook the pilgrimage to Jerusalem by way of the port at Jaffa. To protect pilgrims from the menace of highway robbers, the Crusaders built a tower surrounded by a moat atop the citadel, and posted lookouts to guard the road to Jaffa. The citadel also protected the newly erected palace of the Crusader kings of Jerusalem, located immediately south of the citadel.

In 1187, Sultan Saladin captured the city including the citadel. In 1239, the Ayyubid emir of Karak, An-Nasir Dawud, attacked the Crusader garrison and destroyed the citadel. In 1244, the Khwarazmians defeated and banished the Crusaders from Jerusalem for a last time, destroying the entire city in the process. The Mamluks destroyed the citadel in 1260. In 1310 the citadel was rebuilt by Mamluk sultan Al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalawun, who gave it much of its present shape.

The citadel was expanded between 1537 and 1541 by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, whose architects designed a large entrance, behind which stood a cannon emplacement. For 400 years, the citadel served as a garrison for Turkish troops. The Ottomans also installed a mosque near the southwest corner of the citadel, erecting a minaret during the years 1635-1655. In the 19th century the conspicuous minaret, which still stands today, took over the title of “Tower of David”, so that the name can now refer to either the whole Citadel or the minaret alone.

During World War I, British forces under General Edmund Allenby captured Jerusalem. General Allenby formally proclaimed the event standing on a platform outside the eastern gate to the citadel. During the period of the British Mandate (1920–1948), the High Commissioner established the Pro-Jerusalem Society to protect the city’s cultural heritage. This organization cleaned and renovated the citadel and reopened it to the public as a venue for concerts, benefit events and exhibitions by local artists. In the 1930s, a museum of Palestinian folklore was opened in the citadel, displaying traditional crafts and clothing.

Following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the Arab Legion captured Jerusalem and converted the citadel back to its historical role as a military position, as it commanded a dominant view across the armistice line into Jewish Jerusalem. With the Israeli victory of 1967 after the Six-Day War, the citadel’s cultural role was revived.

The Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem was opened in 1989 by the Jerusalem Foundation. Located in a series of chambers in the original citadel, the museum includes a courtyard which contains archaeological ruins dating back 2,700 years. The exhibits depict 4,000 years of Jerusalem’s history, from its beginnings as a Canaanite city to modern times. Using maps, videotapes, holograms, drawings and models, the exhibit rooms each depict Jerusalem under its various rulers. Visitors may also ascend to the ramparts, which command a 360-degree view of the Old City and New City of Jerusalem. As of 2002, the Jerusalem Foundation reported that over 3.5 million visitors had toured the museum.

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