PALESTINE, INQUIRY COMMISSIONS


PALESTINE, INQUIRY COMMISSIONS, a series of commissions and committees that conducted inquiries into the internal developments, system of government, and political status of Palestine against the background of British and international commitments to assist in the establishment of a National Home for the Jewish people (see *Balfour Declaration). The first of these endeavors, the King-Crane Commission (1919), was appointed by the United States. Four commissions were appointed by the British government during the period of the Mandate, after the outbreaks of Arab violence in 1921, 1929, and 1936. After World War II, a joint Anglo-American Committee was appointed by the British and U.S. governments in 1945, and the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was appointed by the United Nations in 1947.

King-Crane Commission (1919)

After World War I the United States, Great Britain, and France agreed, on President Wilson's suggestion, to appoint a special committee to visit the regions of the former Ottoman Empire involved in recent agreements, negotiations, and declarations "to acquaint themselves as fully as possible with the shade of opinion there … with the social, racial, and economic conditions … and to form as definite an opinion as the circumstances and the time at your disposal will permit, of the divisions of territory and assignment of mandates." As a result of obstruction by France and the lukewarm attitude of Britain, however, the only members actually appointed were two Americans, H.C. King, president of Oberlin College, Ohio, and C.R. Crane, a Chicago businessman with many connections in the Near East, particularly Turkey.

In their report, presented only to the American Peace Commission (published in a somewhat condensed form in December 1922 and officially published only in 1947), King and Crane recommended the preservation of the unity of Syria, including both Lebanon and Palestine, which should be granted a reasonable measure of local autonomy; and that a Mandate over Syria be entrusted to the United States or, if that seemed impracticable, to Great Britain. The commission further recommended "a serious modification of the extreme Zionist program for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews, looking finally to making Palestine distinctly a Jewish State." Policy toward Palestine should be governed by the principle laid down by President Wilson on July 4, 1918: "The settlement of every question on the basis of the free acceptance of that settlement by the people immediately concerned." Since, according to the commission's findings, the non-Jewish population of Palestine – nearly 90% of the whole – were "emphatically against the entire Zionist program," their wishes should be respected.

The commission declared that the Zionist claim "that they have a 'right' to Palestine, based on an occupation of two thousand years ago, can hardly be seriously considered." A further consideration was the fact that, since Palestine was the Holy Land for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, the Jews could not be proper guardians of the holy places. The complete Jewish occupation of Palestine "would intensify, with a certainty like fate, the anti-Jewish feeling both in Palestine and in all other portions of the world which look to Palestine as 'the Holy Land.'"

In view of all these considerations, the commission recommended that "Jewish immigration to Palestine should definitely be limited and that the project for making Palestine distinctly a Jewish commonwealth should be given up." The commission's report was never submitted to the Paris Peace Conference, and its recommendations were never acted upon.

Haycraft Commission of Inquiry (1921)

A commission of inquiry into the disturbance of May 1921 (see *Israel, Land of: Historical Survey) was appointed by Sir Herbert *Samuel, then high commissioner for Palestine, "to inquire into the recent disturbances in the town and neighbourhood of Jaffa and to report thereon." It was headed by Sir W. Haycraft, chief justice of Palestine, and its members were H.C. Luke, assistant governor of Jerusalem, and J.N. Stubbs of the Legal Department. The commission found that the immediate reason for the riots (in which 47 Jews and 48 Arabs were killed and 146 Jews and 73 Arabs wounded) was a clash between Jewish Communist and the general Jewish labor movement May Day demonstrations in Jaffa, which served as "a spark igniting explosive material." However, the commission stated that "the racial strife was begun by Arabs," while "the police were, with few exceptions, half-trained and inefficient, in many cases indifferent and in some cases leaders of or participators in violence." The fundamental cause of the disturbances, the commission found, was the Arab feeling of discontent with, and hostility to, the Jews due to political and economic causes and connected with Jewish immigration and with their conception of Zionist policy as derived from Jewish exponents. Much could be done, the commission suggested, to allay hostility between Arabs and Jews if responsible people on both sides would sit together to discuss the questions arising between them in a "reasonable spirit," on the basis that the Arabs should implicitly accept the government's policy on the subject of the Jewish National Home and "that the Zionist leaders should abandon and repudiate all pretensions that go beyond it."

Commission on the Palestine Disturbances of 1929 (The Shaw Commission)

This commission was appointed by the British colonial secretary, Lord Passfield, after the serious disturbances of August 1929, which broke out in connection with the question of Jewish rights at the *Western (Wailing) Wall. In the disturbances 133 Jews were killed and 339 wounded, mainly in Jerusalem and Hebron; Arab casualties, chiefly from police action, were 116 dead and 232 wounded. The commission's terms of reference were "to enquire into the immediate causes which led to the recent outbreak in Palestine and to make recommendations as to the steps necessary to avoid a recurrence." It consisted of Sir Walter Shaw, former chief justice of the Straits Settlements, as chairman, and three members of parliament Sir H. Betterton (Conservative), R.H. Morris (Liberal), and H. Snell (Labour).

Although Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald stated that matters of major policy were definitely outside its terms of reference, the commission went into Arab political and economic grievances in considerable depth and detail. It found that the outbreak in Jerusalem was from the beginning "an attack by Arabs on Jews" and apportioned "a share in the responsibility" to Al-Hajj Amin *Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem. In dealing with the causes of the trouble, the commission stated: "There can be no doubt that racial animosity on the part of the Arabs, consequent upon the disappointment of their political and national aspirations and fear for their economic future, was the fundamental cause of the outbreak of August last," and that the Churchill *White Paper of 1922 charged the Palestine government with the primary duty of "holding the balance between the two parties in the country." It considered the policy of the government to be of a dual nature and that it had succeeded in steering a middle course between the conflicting policies proposed by the two parties.

The commission accepted most of the Arab claims and recommended that a new statement of policy should be issued, containing "a definition in clear and positive terms" of the meaning of the passages in the Mandate providing for "the safeguarding of the rights of the non-Jewish communities." It recommended: that immigration policy be reviewed to prevent a repetition of what the commission described as the excessive immigration of 1925 and 1926; that a special inquiry should be undertaken into the prospects of introducing improved methods of cultivation and that a new land policy be introduced, having regard for the natural increase in the present rural population; and that a special commission be appointed to determine rights and claims in connection with the Western Wall.

In a long note of reservations, Harry Snell attributed a greater share in the responsibility for the disturbances to the mufti, blamed the government for not having issued an official denial that the Jews had designs on the Muslim holy places, ascribed the outbreaks mainly to fears and antipathies fostered by the Arab leaders for political needs, and declared that what was needed was not so much a change of policy, as a change of mind on the part of the Arab population.

The British government appointed Sir John Hope-Simpson to report on questions of immigration, land settlement, and development and issued a preliminary statement accepting the substance of the Shaw Commission Report. In reply to trenchant criticism of the report by the Permanent Mandates Commission of the *League of Nations, the government further defended the commission's conclusions. The Hope-Simpson report, which was issued on October 21, 1930, simultaneously with the Passfield *White Paper, stated that: If all the cultivable land in Palestine were divided up among the Arab agricultural population, there would not be enough to provide every family with a decent livelihood; until further development took place and the Arabs adopted better methods of cultivation, "there is no room for a single additional settler, if the standard of life of the fellaheen is to remain at its present level"; and that with thorough development of the country, there would be room "for no less than 20,000 families of settlers from outside."

Palestine Royal Commission (Peel Commission; 1937)

The commission was appointed by the British government on August 7, 1936, with very wide terms of reference.

(1) "To ascertain the underlying causes of the disturbances which broke out in Palestine in the middle of April.

(2) "To inquire into the manner in which the Mandate for Palestine is being implemented in relation to the obligations of the Mandatory towards the Arabs and Jews respectively.

(3) "To ascertain whether, upon a proper construction of the terms of the Mandate, either the Arabs or the Jews have any legitimate grievances upon account of the way in which the Mandate has been, or is being implemented.

(4) "If the Commission is satisfied that any such grievances are well founded, to make recommendation for their removal and for the prevention of their recurrence."

The commission was headed by Earl Peel, a former secretary of state for India, and its members were Sir H.G.M. Rumbold, Sir E.L.L. Hammond, Sir W.M. Carter, Sir H. Morris, and Professor R. Coupland. The commission's report, issued on July 7, was the most thorough study of the problem conducted by any of the inquiry commissions and committees. It started with a comprehensive survey of the history of Palestine and the connection of Jews and Arabs with it, as well as a bird's-eye view of Jewish history in the Diaspora, showing a deep and sympathetic understanding of the Zionist movement and its aims. After a thorough study of British promises to Jews and Arabs during World War I and of the terms of the Mandate, it reached the conclusion that "the primary purpose of the Mandate … is to promote the establishment of the Jewish National Home." The commission found that the Jewish National Home was now a "going concern" and that its establishment had been to the economic advantage of the Arabs as a whole. At the same time, however, "with almost mathematical precision the betterment of the economic situation in Palestine meant the deterioration of the political situation." The underlying causes of the disturbances in 1936 were, therefore, found to be the desire of the Arabs for national independence and their hatred and fear of the establishment of the Jewish National Home, the same causes that had led to the disturbances in the past.

"It is impossible," the commission commented, "to see the National Home and not to wish it well. It has meant so much for the relief of unmerited suffering. It displays so much energy and enterprise and devotion to a common cause. In so far as Britain has helped towards its creation, we would claim, with Lord Balfour, that to that extent, at any rate, Christendom has shown itself not oblivious of all the wrong it has done, but at the same time the difficulties which confront the National Home should not be underestimated, and it must be admitted that the situation in Palestine has reached a deadlock." The solution of the problem of Palestine must be a drastic one. All other recommendations would be but palliatives. "We cannot – in Palestine as it now is – both concede the Arab claim to self-government and secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home," the report declared. "The disease is so deep-rooted that the only hope of a cure lies in a surgical operation." This operation was to be the partitioning of the country and the establishment of separate Jewish and Arab states, while Jerusalem and Bethlehem, with a corridor to the sea at Jaffa, and Nazareth would remain under British Mandate (see *Palestine, Partition; *Israel, State of: Historical Survey, 1880–1948).

Palestine Partition Commission (The Woodhead Commission; 1938)

This commission was appointed on January 4, 1938, to recommend boundaries for the Arab and Jewish areas and the enclaves to be retained permanently or under British Mandate as proposed by the Peel Commission. In effect it reported that Partition was impracticable (see *Palestine, Partition and Partition Plans for a more detailed account).

Anglo-American Committee of Enquiry Regarding the Problems of European Jewry and Palestine (1946)

The terms of reference of the committee, appointed by the governments of the United States and Britain in November 1945, was to examine political, economic, and social conditions in Palestine as they bore upon the problem of Jewish immigration and settlement therein and the wellbeing of the peoples now living therein; to examine the position of the Jews in those countries in Europe where they had been the victims of Nazi and Fascist persecution and to make estimates of those who wished or would be impelled by their conditions to migrate to Palestine or other countries outside Europe; and to make recommendations for ad interim handling of these problems, as well as for their permanent solution.

This committee differed from its predecessors in two important respects. First, it represented both Britain and the United States. Of its 12 members, six were British (J.E. Singleton, W.F. Crick, R.H.S. Crossman, F. Leggett, R.E. Manningham-Bullet, and Lord Morrison) and six were Americans (J.C. Hutcheson, F. Aydelotte, F.W. Buxton, B.C. Crum, J.G. *MacDonald, and W. Phillips), with Singleton and Hutcheson as joint chairmen. Secondly, it connected, for the first time, the problem of world Jewry with that of the Jews in Palestine, thereby tacitly admitting that the Jewish problem and the problem of the Jewish National Home must be seen as one. The committee therefore visited Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Italy, and Greece even before it carried out its investigations in Palestine.

In its unanimous report and recommendations, the committee found that no country other than Palestine was ready to give substantial assistance in finding homes for Jews wishing or impelled to leave Europe, but that Palestine alone could not solve their emigration needs. It therefore recommended that the U.S. and British governments should endeavor to find new places for the *Displaced Persons, in addition to Palestine, and that 100,000 certificates for immigration to Palestine be authorized immediately for the Jewish victims of Nazi and Fascist persecution. Future immigration to Palestine should be regulated according to the Mandate, and the Land Transfers Regulation of 1940 should be annulled and replaced by new ones based on "a policy of freedom in the sale, lease, or use of land, irrespective of race, community, or creed." As for long-term policy, the committee recommended the guiding principle that Palestine should be neither a Jewish state nor an Arab state, and that Jew should not dominate Arab nor Arab dominate Jew. Until the hostility between Jews and Arabs disappeared, the government of Palestine should be continued under the Mandate. In effect, therefore, the committee proposed de facto abrogation of the 1939 *White Paper policy. The British government's rejection of the committee's recommendations (in particular the proposal for the issue of 100,000 certificates), despite President Truman's acceptance of the report, led to a further deterioration in the Palestine situation; consequently, the British government turned the whole problem over to the United Nations, which appointed the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP).

United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP; 1947)

The General Assembly of the United Nations, at a special meeting convened in April 1947 at the request of the British government, appointed this committee to prepare a report on Palestine. It consisted of 11 members: representatives of Australia (J.D. Hood), Canada (I.C. Rand), Czechoslovakia (K. Lisicky), Guatemala (J.G. Granados), India (A. Rahman), Iran (N. Entezam), the Netherlands (N.S. Blom), Peru (A. Ulloa), Sweden (E. Sandstrom), Uruguay (E.R. Fabregat), and Yugoslavia (V. Simic), with the Swedish delegate Justice Emil Sandstrom as chairman, and Alberto Ulloa of Peru, vice chairman. Its terms of reference gave the committee "the widest powers to ascertain and record facts, and to investigate all questions and issues relevant to the problems of Palestine." In its report, published on August 31, 1947, it recommended unanimously that the Mandate for Palestine should be terminated at the earliest possible date and that independence should be granted in Palestine at the earliest practical date. The majority, composed of the representatives of Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, the Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, and Uruguay, proposed the partitioning of Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state, and a special international regime for Jerusalem and its environs (see *Palestine, Partition and Partition Plans). The minority, consisting of the representatives of India, Iran, and Yugoslavia, proposed the establishment of a binational federal state. The majority proposals were adopted by a special meeting of the General Assembly on November 29, 1947; 33 member states (including the United States and the U.S.S.R.) voted in favor, 13 against (including all the Arab states) and 10 (including Great Britain) abstained.

For bibliography see *White Papers.

[Daniel Efron]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.