The Jewish experience between 1914 and 1948 begins and ends with war. In 1914, WWI began, a watershed in both Jewish history and European history, as it marked the end of four great empires: the Tsarist, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and German Reich. Together, these empires were home to the majority of world Jewry.
In 1916, the physically and ideologically starved Russian populace overthrew the Tsarist government. The successor Provisional Government eliminated legal Jewish discrimination. Before this new freedom could register, however, a new revolution, promulgated by the Bolsheviks, ensued. WWI ended in 1918, but Russian civil war continued through the early 1920s when the Bolsheviks emerged victorious and created The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The USSR, organized according to Marxist/Leninist ideology, did not tolerate religion. Government attempts to “convert” the Jews to communism characterized the interwar period.
The collapse of the Ottoman Empire had profound consequences for the Jews, as the Ottomans controlled Palestine, the territory that the World Zionist Organization (WZO, founded 1897) preferred for a Jewish state. During the war, when it became clear that the Ottomans would side with Germany against Great Britain and France, the Allied powers strategized about the fate of the strategically and economically important Middle East. The British were particularly busy strategists, making agreements with three parties regarding the fate of Palestine: the French, the Jews, and the Arabs.
In 1917, after protracted negotiations between the British government and the WZO, Great Britain issued the Balfour Declaration, which stated British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This was a tremendous victory for Zionism. At the same time, however, the British offered similar reassurances to the Arabs regarding their rights to Palestine. After the war, as the Allies emerged victorious, the United Nations gave Great Britain the mandate to administer Palestine. Under British rule from 1918-1948, Palestine was characterized by increasingly tense relationships among the British, Jews, and Arabs, all of whom felt that they had the right to the same land.
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