Chapter 8 - The The 1939 White Paper and its Tragic Consequences
"As more original Zionist Jews came to Palestine, and they are buying land then starting to work on agriculture, tilling the fields and turning swamp, and so on, into arable land. Now there are people from Syria, from what became Lebanon, but certainly from the surrounding region, who start going in to get jobs as labourers in the fields. The Jews were doing what the Arabs were never able to do, which was to run a very successful agricultural society. And in the meantime you have those who are already resisting the Jewish presence. So they start in Hebron in 1929 carrying out massacres and so on. There is that unhappiness developing." Dr Denis McEoin.
"Move to 1930 – the time of the Passfield White Paper – restrictions start to be imposed after so many years of conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. Britain starts to turn her back on the Jewish people. Starts to diminish the rights that were already given in the Mandate for Palestine, contrary to their obligations as Mandatory." Dr Jacques Gauthier.
Haj Amin Al-HusseiniEarly on, the British Mandate over Palestine had started to run into serious trouble with a series of Muslim-Arab uprisings – under the leadership of Haj Amin Al-Husseini. The British had appointed this radical Islamist as Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. His appointment was an act of appeasement – a policy that the British authorities thought would restore calm. A pattern had been set that would haunt the rest of British rule over Palestine.
Al Husseini with Adolf HitlerBy the mid 1930s Palestine had become almost ungovernable. By this time Adolf Hitler was in power and the persecution of Jews in Germany had begun. In order to appease the Mufti and his followers, in case they sided with Nazis – which they did anyway – the British government began to introduce measures to restrict Jewish immigration into Palestine.
The McDonald White Paper 1939The end result was the infamous MacDonald White Paper of May 1939. This White Paper would have disastrous consequences for the Jewish people. It came at a time when Jews in Europe were fleeing from the Nazis, and virtually no other country would take them. The White Paper restricted the number of Jews that would be allowed to settle in Palestine to a total of 75,000 over the next five years. Moreover, after that five-year period, any further Jewish immigration would only be permitted if the Arabs agreed to it. Clause 14 (1) of this White Paper also indicated that the Jewish population should not exceed one-third of the total population of Palestine. With a two-thirds Arab majority – many of them hostile to the Jewish presence – the political rights of the Jewish people were completely compromised.
Jewish refugees being taken as prisoners to Atlit"The Mandate with its ‘sacred trust’ was meant to create a National Home for the Jewish people and to foster their return to their sacred land, and the White Paper – the 1939 White Paper – really was a betrayal of that trust." Dr Cynthia Wallace. " Great Britain does this without the support and approval of the Council of the League of Nations, and without the support and approval of the Permanent Mandate Commission, which is overseeing their operations in Palestine" Dr Jacques Gauthier
Jaffa Road demonstration 1939"In addition, the British government also purported to prohibit the transfer of further land to any Jewish institutions. And, again that would be contrary to Article 6 of the Mandate. The Mandate itself had to be supported by an Order in Council, which was passed by the ‘King in Council’ in 1922. And Article 18 of that Order in Council states specifically that the Palestine Legislature has full powers of legislation, subject to the constraints contained within the Mandate. Britain specifically amended its Order in Council and deleted Article 18 sub-paragraph 2, which stated that the Legislature could not enact legislation contrary to the Mandate. So, in effect, Britain in the Order of Council said to the Palestine government at the time, ‘You may legislate virtually anything, even if it is contrary to the Mandate.’ The deletion of Clause 18, sub-paragraph 2, indicates that Britain herself recognised that she was acting contrary to the Mandate." Dr Gerald Adler
Hungarian Jews being sent to death camps"As an international lawyer I can say this: there is absolutely no doubt that when Great Britain decided to introduce the White Paper and make it part of the law it violated the material obligations imposed upon it by the Mandate for Palestine. It was not only shameful, but it was wrong in law. As a result hundreds of thousands of Jewish people who could have escaped Europe, who could have survived, are stuck in Europe and end up in the death camps." Dr Jacques Gauthier
Winston ChurchillDuring the second half of May in 1939, a furious debate over the White Paper took place in the House of Commons. One of its fiercest opponents was Winston Churchill. The new law stated that after the period of five years no further immigration will be permitted, unless the Arabs of Palestine acquiesce to it. In response Churchill said: “Now there is the breach. There is the violation of the pledge. There is the abandonment of the Balfour Declaration. There is the end of the vision, of the hope, of the dream.”
British Troups in Palestine"It effectively meant the end of the Zionist experiment because if you are going to limit the immigration you can’t have a viable state. Effectively, it was an abrogation of Britain’s commitment – legal commitment – internationally legal commitment to the Jews and a Jewish State. That is what the White Paper was. Churchill not only led the charge against the government, but he led the charge against the government that was headed by his own party. By abrogating Britain’s commitment, through that White Paper, to the Jews that had been there for over 20 years, Britain was demonstrating a tremendous amount of weakness. And 1) it was wrong on its merits. 2) – it undercut everything he had built up when he was Colonial Secretary in the 1920s. But most importantly for him was strategically it marked a big defeat for England. He thought it would invite aggression and also dissuade potential allies of supporting England against Germany. Of course, he was right about that." Dr Michael Makovsky
Britain declares WarBarely three months after Parliament’s approval of the White Paper, Britain was at war with Germany once again. A year after the White Paper, Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Britain. "When Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940, after Chamberlain resigned after the obvious failure of his government in confronting the Nazis, he headed a coalition government with the Labour Party. Now the Labour Party had been against the 1939 White Paper. There were also a number of Conservatives, like Churchill, who were against the ’39 White Paper. But you had Conservatives who were still trying to tighten immigration. So his policy was ‘status quo’. The most important issue for him was winning World War Two – defeating the Nazis. Dr Michael Makovsky:
Children at Auschwitz concentration camp"It’s a tragic, tragic part of the story. As much as one must recognise the crucial role, the vital role, played by the British people in helping the Zionist movement forward, the decisions made by certain leaders in 1939 had devastating effects on many, many hundreds of thousands of Jews, who could have been in Palestine instead of concentration camps." Dr Jacques Gauthier
Teenagers at AtlitThis is the British built detention camp at Atlit where many thousands of so-called illegal immigrants were imprisoned. Under the terms of the Mandate, which was a binding instrument in international law, they weren’t illegal at all – they had every right to be in Palestine. Instead they were incarcerated here in conditions resonant of Nazi concentration camps in Europe. Many were even transported here in trucks similar to those used by the Nazis. At least here they were treated less inhumanely. This place was a temporary home for thousands upon thousands of Jewish refugees during the last ten years of British rule over Palestine. Many were shipped on to other British prison camps in places such as Mauritius in the Indian Ocean or, later, Cyprus.
Prison camp for Jewish refugees in CyprusAnother tragic aspect to this story is the fact that by the end of the war – six years after the 1939 White Paper – less than half of the quota of 75,000 Jews had actually been admitted to their historic homeland in Palestine. A mere 36,000 immigration certificates had been issued. Meanwhile in Europe, at least six million Jews had been slaughtered by the Nazis and their collaborators. After the war Britain did extend the 5-year term of the White Paper until the end of 1945, when the quota of 75,000 was fulfilled. But it was too little too late. In Europe hundreds of thousands of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust – many of who had lost all of their family members and their property – were now homeless refugees with nowhere to go.