29 September 1923: Britain assumes its mandate of Palestine

Even while the First World War was raging, Britain and France discussed among themselves how they would carve up the Ottoman Empire once the war was won. The resulting Sykes-Picot Agreement was never put into effect, but it did provide a blue-print for future agreements in the Middle East.

It also proved the lie to British promises of independence made to the Arab peoples, should they rise up and help the British drive out the Ottomans from Palestine – an area that comprised modern Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza strip and Jordan.

To further muddy the waters, not long afterwards, the foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, issued his famous declaration. In it, he promised “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, but crucially, without prejudice to “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.

In other words, it was a fudge to please everybody, but one that would ultimately please nobody. But it was made with the intent of securing Britain’s economic interests in the area – namely oil and the Suez Canal, a vital conduit to India – as well as of coaxing the United States into entering the war.

When the war ended in 1918, Britain was already in possession of Jerusalem. The British Army had entered the holy city the previous December, making good Sir Edmund Allenby’s promise to Prime Minister Lloyd George to deliver Jerusalem to the British people “as a Christmas present”.

The Balfour Declaration, with all its faults, was added to the British mandate to govern Palestine, receiving the nod from the League of Nations in 1922. On 29 September the following year, the mandate came into effect.

The British mandate lasted for over 30 years until the creation of Israel in 1948. During that time, tensions between the Jewish and Arab populations simmered away, with the violence continuing into the Israeli era and up to the present day.

Also on this day

29 September 1829: London’s bobbies pound the beat for the first time

On this day in 1829, the first of London’s ‘Peelers’ hit the streets as the Metropolitan Police Force began its patrols. Read more here.

  • Christopher Fradd

    It is difficult to see how you arrive at a time span of “over 30 years” for the period 1923 to 1948. I make it 25 years. The Mandate came to an end, of course, very abruptly when the Attlee government felt obliged to give way in the face of the activities of Irgun and the Stern Gang and all the outrages they committed such as the blowing up of the King David Hotel.

    • Chris Carter

      Some historians ‘long date’ it to 1917 with the British takeover on the basis that the League of Nations made de jure what was already de facto. Apologies, that could have been made clearer.

  • Matt McLaughlin

    During that time Protestant England and the revolutionaries of the coming secular Jewish Ulster went bloody to bloody with the biggest riots in English history, Liverpool. The same Enland that as a hero in liberating the death camps was now anti-Semitic in light of jack-booted Zionism.