Palestine Between the Wars

During the interwar period, Arabs and Jews struggled to define the nature of Palestine.

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Reprinted with permission from A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Times (Knopf).

The Development of the Yishuv (Jewish Settlement) During the Interwar Period

Palestine Mandate FlagBy the end of the mandate's first decade…more that 162,000 Jews lived… in Palestine, 17 percent of the country's inhabitants. Of these, 37,000 lived on the soil, in 11 agricultural settlements totaling 700,000 dunams [approximately 175,000 acres]; 13 other Zionist agricultural schools and experimental stations were also functioning. Improved farming techniques were continually being devised. Citrus crops were growing in size and quality. 

The industrial development of the Yishuv showed similar promise. By 1930, 1,500 Jewish-operated factories and workshops were producing textiles, clothing, metal goods, lumber, chemicals, stone, and cement, with a total capital value of about PL 1 million.

The quality of life was improving, as well. The broad Kupat Cholim health network was partially responsible. So was Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America. Founded in 1912 by an American Jewess, Henrietta Szold, Hadassah's dedicated mass membership by 1930 had established in Palestine four hospitals; a nurse's training school; 50 clinics, laboratories, and pharmacies; and an excellent maternity and child hygiene service in most of the cities and in a number of the larger villages. The Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO) maintained three infant welfare centers in Tel Aviv.

It was as a result, then, of expanding medical care, of systematic Jewish efforts to drain marshes and swamps, to provide a reasonable diet and living standard for the Yishuv altogether, that marked reduction was achieved in the incidence of tuberculosis, malaria, trachoma, and typhoid, the historic scourges of the region. The Jewish mortality rate fell from 12.6 per thousand in 1924 to 9.6 per thousand in 1930; Jewish infant mortality dropped from 105 per thousand in 1924 to 69 per thousand in 1930. Progress in education was not less impressive. In the early years of the mandate, the Va'ad Le'umi [an executive committee of 36 men and women drawn from the 314-member National Assembly, the elected Jewish governmental body in the Yishuv] instituted compulsory school attendance on the elementary level. By 1930, 28,000 children were attending Jewish schools.

This, in sum, was the measure of the Yishuv's growth. It had developed its own quasi-government, its own largely autonomous agricultural and industrial economy, and its own public and social welfare institutions. Its schools were infusing children with a spirit of Jewish national pride unprecedented either in western Europe or among the most intensely Zionist communities in eastern Europe. These qualities of self-sufficiency and national loyalty ultimately would prove decisive--more crucial even than the expansion of landholdings, financial resource, and world Jewish support--in protecting the National Home against the mounting perils of Arab hostility and British diplomatic equivocation.

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Howard Sachar

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.