The British Mandate in Palestine

The emergence, structure, and function of the mandatory government from 1923-1948.


Reprinted with permission from A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Times, published by Alfred A. Knopf.

As the legal instrument defining Britain’s obligations under the mandate, the League of Nations award similarly laid down a number of general “non Zionist” provisions. Public order, good government, and civil and religious rights were assured for all the inhabitants of the country, “irrespective of race and religion.” The administration was charged with recognizing the sacred holidays of the various communities, and with guaranteeing the security of the holy places and freedom of access to them. English, Arabic, and Hebrew were recognized as official languages. By the same token, each community was authorized to maintain its own school system. To ensure, also, that these and other requirements were fulfilled, the mandatory document obligated Britain to submit an annual report of its tenure in the Holy Land to the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations.
british palestine
Yet, at best, the award could only set guidelines for the mandatory. It was for the British themselves to institute the operative government for Palestine. An organic law, therefore, upon which the mandatory administration based its functional activities, was signed by the king in London on August 10, 1922, and proclaimed by Sir Herbert Samuel [the first British High Commissioner for Palestine] in Jerusalem on September 1. This was the Palestine Order in Council. Although it included the traditional provisions of freedom of worship, liberty of conscience, and Britain’s responsibility to foster the Jewish National Home, the Order in Council inessence was an austerely practical document that defined the various components of the mandatory government.
Thus, the executive was designated as a high commissioner, who appointed all subsidiary administrative officials. An independent judiciary under a chief justice was empowered to protect the rights of natives and foreigners alike, and to assure solicitude for the traditions and mores of the various religious communities. To that end, the Order in Council affirmed the jurisdiction of the religious courts in matters of personal status.

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Howard M. Sachar is the author of numerous books, including A History of Israel, A History of the Jews in America, Farewell Espana, Israel and Europe, and A History of Jews in the Modern World. He is also the editor of the 39-volume The Rise of Israel: A Documentary History. He serves as Professor of Modern History at George Washington University.

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