MYTH: British helped Jews displace the native Arab population of Palestine.


Herbert Samuel, a British Jew who served as the first High Commissioner of Palestine, placed restrictions on Jewish immigration “in the ‘interests of the present population’ and the ‘absorptive capacity’ of the country” (Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, (NY: Funk and Wagnalls, 1970), p. 172; Howard Sachar, A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979),  p. 146).  The influx of Jewish settlers was said to be forcing the Arab fellahin (native peasants) from their land. This was at a time when less than a million people lived in an area that now supports more than nine million.

The British actually limited the absorptive capacity of Palestine when, in 1921, Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill severed nearly four-fifths of Palestine – some thirty-five thousand square miles – to create a brand new Arab entity, Transjordan. As a consolation prize for the Hejaz and Arabia (which are both now Saudi Arabia) going to the Saud family, Churchill rewarded Sherif Hussein’s son Abdullah for his contribution to the war against Turkey by installing him as Transjordan’s emir.

credit: Myths & Facts

The British went further and placed restrictions on Jewish land purchases in what remained of Palestine, contradicting the provision of the Mandate (Article 6) stating that “the Administration of Palestine . . . shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency . . . close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not acquired for public purposes.”

By 1949, the British had allotted 87,500 acres of the 187,500 acres of cultivable land to Arabs and only 4,250 acres (2 percent) to Jews (Moshe Aumann, “Land Ownership in Palestine 1880–1948,” in Michael Curtis, et al., The Palestinians (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1975), p. 25).

Ultimately, the British admitted that the argument about the absorptive capacity of the country was specious.  The Peel Commission said, “The heavy immigration in the years 1933–36 would seem to show that the Jews have been able to enlarge the absorptive capacity of the country for Jews” (Palestine Royal Commission Report, (London: 1937), p. 300).

Posted at Myths & Facts: published with permission.

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  1. There have been many books and articles written about Winston Churchill and the Jews and his thoughts on Zionism.

    Churchill was a hero . He was a great friend of the Jewish people. He was appalled by antisemitism and fiercely pro-Zionist at a time this was unhelpful to his political career to say the least.

    There should be a statue of him erected in the middle of Tel Aviv.

    And yes.The memory and legacy of Herbert Samuel is problematic.