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The British Mandate of Palestine

Following the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War (1914-18) the Paris Peace Conference parceled out former Ottoman territories to the victorious nations for administration. The division of the former Ottoman lands had been agreed upon in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The territories were called “mandates,” a term that was meant to signify that the European countries were not establishing permanent protectorates, but instead were assisting these countries in moving toward self-government and independence. The European countries were to administer the mandates under the auspices of the newly-formed League of Nations. France was given the mandates for Syria and Lebanon, Britain for Trans-Jordan, Iraq, and Palestine.

The administration of Palestine raised difficult issues of nationalism, as the area was historically important to several groups of people; the two most numerous being the Palestinian Arab population and the Jewish Zionists. For the Palestinian Arabs, throwing off the yoke of the Turkish Ottoman Empire had created the opportunity to build an independent Arab state, possibly in conjunction with the Arab populations of the other mandates. Palestine included many important holy sites for the Muslim Arabs. Likewise, the Zionists viewed Palestine as the traditional homeland that they believed was promised to them by God. These competing national aspirations, revolving around the same land, laid the foundations for a dispute that continues to this day.

The Palestinian Arab population faced a loss of land as there was increasing immigration of Jews into Palestine in the 1920s due to widespread anti-Semitism in Europe. This led to resentment toward the British by the Arab population. At the same time, the Churchill White Paper of 1922 stated that the British government supported a homeland within Palestine for Jews, not a separate nation. To deter the development of a Jewish state the British attempted to restrict immigration of Jews into Palestine. This brought about distrust and resentment from Jews toward Britain.

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