(JEWS and ARABS in PALESTINE, to 1939 – continued)

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JEWS and ARABS in PALESTINE, to 1939 (3 of 3)

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Jewish Migration from Europe to Palestine, 1931-39

By 1931, the British had restored order in Palestine. An official census late that year counted 759,952 Muslims, 90,607 Christians (mostly Arab Christians) and 175,006 Jews. Jews were now 17 percent of the population.

Then came the Great Depression. And in 1933 in Germany, Hitler came to power. Hostility toward Jews intensified not only in Germany but in Poland and Romania. Palestine was for many Jews the only refuge. Financial support for Jewish migration was burdened by the Great Depression, but it continued. German authorities were happy to see the Jews leave, but the Jews could take with them no more than ten marks ($2.50), and Jews were prohibited from sending merchandise to be sold abroad.

Jewish migrants from Germany and elsewhere in Europe took with them to Palestine their skills and entrepreneurship. Jewish immigration reached its peak in 1935, their number counted officially at  61,854 (around 19,000 more than Jewish immigration for the four-year period of 1920 to '24).  Palestine became a place of economic vigor while economies were stagnating in France, Britain and the United States. Jews invested in urban development, new industries and citrus plantations. The economic growth was accompanied by a shortage of workers, and Arabs came from lands outside of Palestine to take jobs as laborers, contributing significantly to what continued to be an Arab majority.

By 1936, Jews in Palestine became almost 30 percent of the population. Palestine's Arabs were demanding an end to all Jewish immigration. Arabs organized committees across Palestine. They joined in the creation of a political body known as the Arab High Committee, which was headed by the Grand Mufti al-Husseini. Arabs joined a general strike against British authority. The British declared the Palestinian committees illegal. Fearing arrest, al-Husseini donned a disguise and in October 1937 fled to Lebanon, where the French gave him asylum. In 1939, al-Husseini would move to Germany, where, during World War II  he would broadcast anti-British and anti-Jewish commentary for the Germans.

Members of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers played a part in the great Palestinian revolt of 1936. During that revolt, Jewish homes were set afire, shops looted and orchards destroyed. While trying to maintain order in 1936, British soldiers killed more than 140 Arabs and 33 British soldiers died.

The British sent Charles Wingate to Palestine to organize a Jewish defense, but in addition to protecting Jews the British wanted to appease the Arabs who lived across the whole of Britain's holdings in the Middle East. In 1937, Britain's House of Commons announced that it was sending a commission to study the unrest in Palestine.

In March 1939, Hitler seized Bohemia and Moravia. Britain's prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, saw war coming. The British decided that if the Arabs were unfriendly to Britain it would jeopardize their security in the Middle East during the war. In May 1939, Britain produced a White Paper on British rule in Palestine. It held that Jews were prohibited from buying more land outside their existing settlements and that Jewish migrations to Palestine were to be restricted to 75,000 in the coming four-year period to 1944. The British believed that this would keep the Jews as a permanent minority in Palestine. And British authorities were determined to turn back ships carrying "illegal" Jewish immigrants to Palestine – a problem that would intensify during the coming war in Europe.


The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Isaeli Conflict, by Jonathan Schneer, 2010

Israel: a History, by Martin Gilbert, 1998

The Hebron Pogrom of August 1929, by Shlomo Hersh. online:

Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.