The other name for the 1939 white paper is the MacDonald White Paper which is a name given after the British Colonial Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald who oversaw the activities that related to it . The 1939 White paper was a policy paper which was issued by the British government under Neville Chamberlain. In the paper, the idea of partitioning the Palestinian Mandate as was supported by the Peel Commission Report written in 1937 was thrown out of the window and instead the 1939 White Paper supported the creation of a Palestinian government that is independent and this government was to be governed by Jews as well as Arabs from Palestine. The numbers of the representation from Jews and Palestinian Arabs would come from the proportion of their population by 1949.
In the five year period as from the beginning of 1940 to the end of 1944, it was set that a maximum of 75,000 Jewish immigrants would exist . This was broken down into a yearly quota of 10,000 set to be regular as well as a supplementary quota spread out over the same period so as to cover refugee emergencies. After this limit, any further migration into Palestine would have to seek permission from the Arabs who were the majority. There were also restrictions that were put in place to regulate the rights Jews had in the purchase of land from the Arabs. 9 November, 1938 is the date the 1939 White Paper was published then approval by parliament was done in May 1939.
During World War I, the British had made two promises as pertains to the Middle East territory. The governors of Arabia were promised the independence for a united Arab country covering Syria in exchange for support against the Ottoman Empire. Britain had also agreed to share Middle East between Britain and France. Britain also had promised the Jews a home in the Palestinian region . They approved the Arab independence and Jewish Palestinian home at the San Remo conference.
In June 1922, the Palestine Mandate was approved with effect from September of the following year. The purpose was for Britain to be able to honour the promises it made to the Arabs and the Jews as well. When the Arabs started to oppose the influx of Jews, the British restricted the inflow of Jews by checking whether Palestine had enough resources to support the immigration. Quotas were put in place to regulate the immigration of Jews but those with a lot of money could enter the country freely.
After Adolf Hitler, many Jews were ready to spend the money required to enter Palestine but Nazi restriction slowed the process down. The Jewish agency worked on this to relax the restrictions by proposing to the Nazis that they could buy goods on Germany for them to be sold in Palestine. The huge numbers of the Jews getting into Palestine led to the Arab revolt in Palestine as from 1936 to 1939 . Britain again responded and the Peel Commission was formed to conduct a study of the situation on the ground. It then recommended the partitioning of Palestine; one Arab state and another Jewish state.
There were more stateless Jew refugees when Hitler annexed Austria and no countries willing to take them in. It is the rapid increase of the Jew refugees that pushed Britain to strike an agreement between the Arabs and the Zionists. The Arabs could not stand the Jews and so the British government made two separate documents to them which were all rejected.
Britain had a strong conviction that if war was to break out then Jewish support to them was guaranteed but they feared that the Arabs would turn against them. The consideration was “decisive” according to Raul Hilberg. The British had allies such as Egypt, Saudi-Arabia and Iraq. These states were independent. Propaganda from the Nazi and the Fascist were being thrown left right and center to the Middle East .
Contents of the 1939 White Paper
Section I. The Constitution:
Britain explained that they would not want to turn Palestine into a Jewish state without having the will of the Arab population. They also declared that they have no plan to make Palestine a Jewish state. This was contrary to the Palestine Mandate. Palestine should be independent in ten years and that the government governing the independent state should be such that the interests of the Arabs as well as the Jews are safeguarded.
Section II. Immigration:
A Jewish National home can be effected in Palestine only if populations controlled. If the immigration of the Jews has negative economic implications then it should be restricted and also if it has an effect on the political stability of the country then it should not be shelved. The Arabs fear that the immigration of Jews into the country if allowed to flow into Palestine indefinitely may result to the Jews being a majority and therefore the chances of them controlling resources is very high. This has affected many things and the worst of them all was the tension between the Jews and the Arabs yet they were to coexist in Palestine. 75,000 immigrants were to be allowed to get into Palestine over the next five years and they will only be admitted after the High Commissioner is satisfied that their maintenance is guaranteed. Special considerations will be given to children and dependants when it comes to entering Palestine. Jewish and Arab representatives will be consulted before each period of immigration is approved by the High Commissioner. After the five years elapse, there will be no more immigration of the Jews into Palestine unless the Arabs who are natives of Palestine agree to it.
Section III. Land:
There were no restrictions on the transfer of land from Arabs to Jews but the White Paper came up with restrictions. From the many reports of various commissions, there was the concern that with the growing population of the Arabs then further transfer of land will be restricted in some areas. In the areas where the transfer of land was allowed then the High Commissioner will be given the general powers to prohibit and regulate the transfer of land.
The House of Commons passed the White Paper by a 268 in favour and 179 against it. The British High Commissioner for Palestine issued an edict meant to divide Palestine into three zones. The first zone which was 63% of the whole was forbidden for land transfers in general to take place unless it was to a Palestine Arab. In the second zone which was 32% of the whole, land transfers were forbidden and were to the discretion of the High Commissioner . The most fertile areas which are the remaining 5% had no land restrictions.
Conclusion/Reactions and Effects
There was a lot of illegal immigration by the Jews into Palestine and the British responded by blockading Palestine after the restrictions on immigration were established. This resulted in the events of the Strum ship, Patria disaster and the Exodus ship . Mauritius served as the prison for illegal immigrants. Some ministers who voted against it in the House of Common such as Winston Churchill thought it was inconsistent with the Balfour Declaration and that it may lead to the physical extinction of the Jews. The provisions made in the white paper were opposed by the Jews and the Arabs in Palestine.
The Arab High Committee felt that control would still be in the hands of Britain and Jews could impede the functionality of the independent Palestine government by simply not participating. There was also no guarantee that population would not resume after the five years. In 1943, it was declared that when a Jew gets to a neutral country then he or she will be given clearance into Palestine. Illegal immigration was rampant in 1946 so the British under pressure from the United Stated agreed to admit, 1,500 immigrants per month which is something the United States was doing as well . Half of the admitted Jews came from prison to reduce their numbers as there was worry that an uprising may have sprouted in the prisons especially in Cyprus.
Baruch Kimmerling, and Joel S. Migdal, The Palestinian people: a history (Cambridge, C.A:
Harvard University Press, 2003), 136.
Llan Pappe, A history of modern Palestine: one land, two peoples (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2004), 37.
Menahem Kaufman, An ambiguous partnership: non-Zionists and Zionists in America, 1939-
1948 (Berlin: Wayne State University Press, 1991), 71.
Michael Joseph Cohen, Implementing the White Paper, 1939-1941 (Michigan: Garland
Michael Makovsky, Churchill's promised land: Zionism and statecraft (Sydney: Yale University
Press, 2007), 46.
R. Ovendale, The Palestine Policy of the British Labour Government, (International
Affairs, Vol. 55, 1945), 408-432.
Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, 1961 (Journal of Modern History, vol.2,
no.1, 1973), p.715.
Walter Lacquer, A history of Zionism, 3rd ed (Edinburgh: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2003), 18.