From Time Immemorial – The British Mandate (Part 3 of 6)

by | Apr 18, 2002

The British assumed control of Palestine as a result of World War I; their administration of the territory was later recognized by League of Nations mandate. Peters persistently interprets the Mandate as having the goal of developing a Jewish state in Palestine: “according to the Mandate’s implications and the United States’ declaration in 1919, [free […]

The British assumed control of Palestine as a result of World War I; their administration of the territory was later recognized by League of Nations mandate. Peters persistently interprets the Mandate as having the goal of developing a Jewish state in Palestine: “according to the Mandate’s implications and the United States’ declaration in 1919, [free Jewish immigration] would have resulted in ‘a Jewish State as soon as it is in fact a Jewish State’–in other words, when there was a Jewish majority [p. 350].” In fact, neither the British nor the League of Nations had accepted any such goal.

The League of Nations Mandate was granted not only for the establishment of a Jewish National Home, but also simply for the administration of the territory.1 Winston Churchill set out the obligations the British had agreed to undertake in his “Statement of British Policy” of June 1922 (before the League of Nations confirmed the text of the Mandate on July 24, 1922):

Unauthorized statements have been made to the effect that the purpose in view is to create a wholly Jewish Palestine. Phrases have been used such that Palestine is to become “as Jewish as England is English.” His Majesty’s Government regard any such expectation as impracticable and have no such aim in view. Nor have they at any time contemplated, as appears to be feared by the Arab Delegation, the disappearance or the subordination of the Arabic population, language, or culture in Palestine…

When it is asked what is meant by the development of the Jewish National Home in Palestine, it may be answered that it is not the imposition of a Jewish nationality upon the inhabitants of Palestine as a whole, but the further development of the existing Jewish community, with the assistance of Jews in other parts of the world, in order that it may become a centre in which the Jewish people as a whole may take, on grounds of religion and race, an interest and a pride. But in order that this community should have the best prospect of free development and provide a full opportunity for the Jewish people to display its capacities, it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance. That is the reason why it is necessary that the existence of a Jewish National Home in Palestine should be internationally guaranteed, and that it should be formally recognized to rest upon ancient historic connection.2

Peters is aware of this document, but chooses to disregard its implications [p. 344]. She complains, for example, that while the Mandate instructed the British to “facilitate Jewish immigration,” the British had immediately set up quotas to limit the immigration of Jews [p. 275]. Peters should be arguing that these quotas had no valid basis in justice or economics; instead she contends that they violate the Mandate. She fails to mention that the Mandate states: “The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions…” The word “position” is important: in effect, Jews were to be allowed to immigrate as long as no Arab’s trade was threatened by the competition.3 Thus the Mandate would limit Jewish immigration in accordance with the Divine Right of Stagnation. The British immigration restrictions were designed to implement this provision of the Mandate, and were accepted by the Mandates Commission. The problem with the quotas is not that they violated the Mandate, but that the Mandate’s conditions were impossible and unjust.

Since Peters holds that the League of Nations had designated Palestine as a future Jewish state, she accuses the British of violating the Mandate by creating the Transjordan from the territory east of the Jordan River: “Britain nevertheless quietly gouged out roughly three-fourths of the Palestine territory mandated for the Jewish homeland into an Arab emirate, Transjordan, while the Mandate ostensibly remained in force but in violation of its terms [p. 239].” Had this move been illegal the League of Nations ought to have protested, but Peters presents no evidence of any such protest. Yet the League did resist other illegalities, such as the British attempt to transfer the administration of Transjordan, as Peters notes [pp. 521522 note 19].

In fact, the separation of Transjordan did not violate the Mandate. Both the original statement of British intentions in Balfour Declaration and the Mandate say that the Jewish National Home is to be established “in Palestine,” not “throughout Palestine,” as Peters would have it [p. 330]. Churchill’s statement of policy underscores that the British government had no intention of making the entire territory into a Jewish National Home; he writes that the government “would draw attention to the fact that the terms of the Declaration referred to do not contemplate that Palestine as a whole should be converted into a Jewish National Home, but that such a home should be founded in Palestine.4 This was the openly stated policy of the British Government when the League of Nations assigned it the Mandate.

Consider further that the Mandate specifically allows the British to exclude Transjordan from the provisions dealing with a Jewish National Home:


In the territories lying between the Jordan and the eastern boundary of Palestine as ultimately determined, the Mandatory shall be entitled, with the consent of the Council of the League of Nations, to postpone or withhold application of such provisions of this mandate as he may consider inapplicable to the existing local conditions, and to make such provision for the administration of the territories as he may consider suitable to those conditions, and to make such provision for the administration of the territories as he may consider suitable to those conditions, provided that no action shall be taken which is inconsistent with the provisions of Articles 15, 16 and 18.5

The British reported to the League of Nations in 1924 how they had put this provision into effect:

His Britannic Majesty is the Mandatory for Transjordan to which the terms of the mandate for Palestine, with the exception of the provisions dealing with the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people, are applicable.6

As disappointing as the separation of the Transjordan may have been to Zionist aspirations, it violated neither the terms of the Mandate or its spirit.7 Peters’ accusations of bad faith are based on a manufactured injustice. Overall, her book seriously distorts the Mandate’s intent and British responsibilities thereunder; given Peters’ knowledge of the relevant documents it is hard to believe this distortion is inadvertent.

Looking the Other Way

Since the official British reports of the Mandatory period contended that Arab immigration into Palestine was insignificant, Peters’ case depends on showing that these reports are wrong. She does so by repeated attacks on their trustworthiness, claiming that official British policy with regard to Arab immigration was to wink and look the other way.

There is evidence that the British condoned a certain amount of illegal Arab immigration, partly because of the difficulty in controlling Palestine’s borders8 and partly because the British regarded Arab illegal immigration as temporary, seasonal, and minor.9 (In the mid-1930s this temporary migration turned out to be relatively large, as significant numbers of Hauranis entered the country from Syria, later leaving in 1937.10) There is also evidence that after the 1936 “Arab revolt,” appeasement of the Arabs became a significant element of British policy. However, Peters’ attacks on the British reports are less than creditable.

Consider Peters’ reference to the Hope Simpson Report to support her contention that the British only deported Arabs when their illegal status was “flagrant.” For example, she writes: “The pivotal Hope Simpson Report literally admitted not only that it was the ‘present practice’ of British officials to blink at all but the most ‘flagrant’ of the thousands of Arabs immigrating into Western Palestine, but also acknowledged that the illegal Arab immigration was an ‘injustice’ that was displacing the prospective Jewish immigrants [p. 296].”

Now consider the original passage from the report. Note that no reference is made specifically to Arab immigrants:

Discouragement of illicit entry. As to the treatment of such [illegal] immigrants, when they are discovered, it should be the rule that they are at once returned to the country whence they came. The rule may possibly work harshly in individual cases, but unless it is understood that detection is invariably followed by expulsion the practice will not cease. It is probable that it will cease entirely as soon as it is discovered that the rule is actually in force.

The case of the ‘pseudo-traveller’ who comes in with permission for a limited time and continues in Palestine after the term of his permission has expired is more difficult. Where the case is flagrant, recourse should certainly be had to expulsion. In case of no special flagrancy, and where there is no special objection to the individual, it is probably sufficient to maintain the present practice, under which he is counted against the Labor Schedule, though this method does a certain injustice to the Jewish immigrant outside the country, whose place is taken by the traveller concerned [Hope Simpson, p. 126].

As Finkelstein explains, this passage says nothing like what Peters would have it say:

1) the Report evidently urges that illegal immigrants be deported ‘at once’; 2) a single exception is made in the case of the ‘pseudo-traveller’ of ‘no special flagrancy’–he may be reclassified as a legal immigrant; 3) Jews were by far the main beneficiaries of the latter special provision; 4) the British included, in the total figure for recorded Arab immigration, all Arab ‘travellers’ reclassified as legal immigrants. The special case of the reclassified ‘pseudo-traveller’ is thus, for the purposes of Peters’s argument, completely irrelevant.11

In other words, if a traveler (usually a Jew) remained in Palestine and the case was not especially flagrant, the person would be reclassified as a legal immigrant, officially recorded as such, and allowed to stay, displacing a prospective Jewish immigrant by filling one of the places allotted by the labor quota. This is far from a policy of turning a blind eye to illegal Arab immigration, as Peters would have it.

Peters cites this passage from the Hope Simpson Report repeatedly to underscore the untrustworthiness of British immigration figures. According to Finkelstein, “She refers to it nineteen times, implicitly or explicitly, saying it ‘says’ or ‘admits’ or ‘acknowledges’ the force of her thesis about Arab illegal immigration.”12 Yet the passage does nothing of the kind.

Peters’ error is not simply an isolated case:

  1. On p. 250, Peters writes, “As another report would underscore, for the Arab population movements, ‘different considerations from those relevant to Jewish immigration’ had been applied.” And on p. 275, she cites the same source, the Anglo-American Survey of Palestine: “From [1920,] the preoccupation of Palestine’s administration would be concentrated solely upon limiting the immigration of the Jews. As a British report attested, for ‘Arab immigration’ a ‘different’ set of rules applied.” The Survey thus apparently reveals a British double-standard on immigration matters.

    Yet, as Finkelstein points out, her citation from the Survey is from a chapter on housing construction.13 The chapter discusses the number of housing units needed for Jewish immigrants, calculating the size of the typical immigrant family, etc. [Survey, pp. 788-789]. Peters’ citation comes from the subsequent discussion of housing for Arab immigrants; the full context is: “Although different considerations apply to Arab immigration, special consideration need not be given to the latter as, out of a total number of 360,822 immigrants who entered Palestine between 1920 and 1942, only 27,981 or 7.8% were Arabs. The number of room units to house Arab immigrants has, therefore, been calculated on the same basis as Jewish immigrants…[p. 795].” The “different considerations” refer to the basis for estimating the number of housing units for Arab immigrants as opposed to Jewish immigrants, not to any British policy of ignoring Arab immigration.

  2. On p. 298, Peters purports to find more evidence of a double-standard in the Hope Simpson Report: “The Report protected the so-called ‘existing’ indigenous Arab population, the same community that the Report had proved was largely composed either of immigrants or Arab in-migrants, who were not in fact indigenous or ‘existing’ in Western Palestine’s Jewish-settled areas–but it was Jewish immigration that, according to the Hope Simpson Report, should be reduced or ‘if necessary, suspend(ed).'”

    Leave aside the fact that nowhere in the Hope Simpson Report is there any proof that the existing Arab community was largely composed of immigrants (or in-migrants).14 Hope Simpson explicitly rejects the double standard Peters ascribes to him, and recommends that the British do more to prohibit Arab immigration:

    Importation of other than Jewish labour.–Further, it is clear that if unemployment is a valid reason for preventing Jewish immigration, it is also a reason for preventing the importation of other nationalities. At the time of writing, even with marked unemployment among Arabs, Egyptian labour is being employed in certain individual cases, and its ingress has been the subject of adverse comment in the Press.

    Prevention of illicit immigration.–Finally, in closing the front door, steps should be taken to ensure that the backdoor should not be kept open for would-be immigrants into Palestine. The Chief Immigration Officer has brought to notice that illicit immigration through Syria and across the northern frontier of Palestine is material… It may be a difficult matter to ensure against this illicit immigration, but steps to this end must be taken if the suggested policy is adopted, and also to prevent unemployment lists being swollen by immigrants from Trans-Jordania. [Hope Simpson, p. 138].

    Peters is not unfamiliar with this passage, as she cites it several times.15 She can be expected to know, then, that the point she is making is false.

  3. On p. 346, Peters finds a contradiction in the British annual report to the League of Nations: “One 1933 report, in self-contradiction, noted that of ‘illicit and unrecorded immigration into Palestine, mostly of Jews’ (totaling 2,000 by official account) only half were ‘Jewish.'” In the footnote we find her evidence for the contradiction:

    On page 35: “There was a considerable increase of illicit immigration, mostly of Jews, entering as transit travellers or tourists…” And on page 180, separated from the “immigration” material by 145 pages, was the report that “The extent of illicit and unrecorded immigration into Palestine from or through Syria and Trans-Jordan has been estimated at about 2,000 and Jewish as to fifty percent.” From “mostly Jews,” the estimate had dropped to fifty percent. [p. 548, note 26]

    But Peters ignores that the lower estimate pertains only to immigration from Syria and Trans-Jordan. Whereas most Arab immigrants entered Palestine overland, Jewish immigrants were far more likely to enter by sea; thus, the proportion of Jews among overland immigrants would naturally be lower than their proportion in immigration overall. The alleged self-contradiction is entirely Peters’ invention.

  4. On p. 310, Peters goes after the 1937 Peel Commission report: “The ‘Arab immigrants,’ particularly ‘Hauranis’ from Syria, the Report stated, ‘probably remain permanently in Palestine.’ But although the number of Hauranis who illegally immigrated was ‘authoritatively estimated’ at 10,000-11,000 during a ‘bad’ year in the Hauran, only the unrealistically, perhaps disingenuously low Government estimate of 2,500 were concluded to be ‘in the country at the present time.'”

    Here is the original passage from the Report:

    A large proportion of Arab immigrants into Palestine come from the Hauran. These people go in considerable numbers to Haifa, where they work in the port. It is, however, important to realize that the extent of the yearly exodus from the Hauran depends mainly on the state of the crops there. In a good year the amount of illegal immigration into Palestine is negligible and confined to the younger members of large families whose presence is not required in the fields. Most persons in this category probably remain permanently in Palestine, wages there being considerably higher than in Syria. According to an authoritative estimate as many as ten or eleven thousand Hauranis go to Palestine temporarily in search of work in a really bad year. The Deputy Inspector-General of the Criminal Investigation Department has recently estimated that the number of Hauranis illegally in the country at the present time is roughly 2,500. [Report, pp. 291292]16

    Peters here omits the fact that the immigration of 10,000-11,000 in a bad year is explicitly listed as temporary; i.e., most of the immigrants in the “yearly exodus” return to the Hauran. Only the younger members of large families “probably remain permanently in Palestine.” Thus nothing is obviously disingenuous or unrealistic about the report’s figure of 2,500 illegal Hauranis in the country.

Peters goes so far as to claim that the British kept no records of Arab immigration at all, yet as Finkelstein notes, the figures are available in the very sources she claims to have consulted. He writes:

To document the British Mandatory Government’s indifference to Arab infiltration of Palestine, Peters cites the 1935 annual Report to the League of Nations in which, she asserts, “only ‘Jewish Immigration into Palestine’ was catalogued; that was the only heading…” (p. 275). In fact, the British report in question meticulously and exhaustively tabulates every conceivable aspect of Arab immigration on nine consecutive pages. Peters could hardly have overlooked these tabulations since the comparable statistics for Jewish immigration appear on the very same pages in parallel columns. Every annual British report on Palestine–and Peters purports to have scrutinized thirteen of them–contains identical exhaustive tabulations of Arab immigration under the same chapter heading, “Immigration and Emigration.”17

That this is not just a slip is confirmed by a story Peters tells elsewhere, one she can’t help but know to convey a falsehood. As Finkelstein writes:

Peters and her reviewers make much of the alleged remarks of an anonymous “thirty-year archivist–a specialist in the Foreign Office and Colonial Office records on the Middle East for the Public Record Office” in London. He purportedly told her that Arab immigration into Palestine “did not exist. There was no such thing. No one ever kept track of that” (p. 270; Peters’s emphasis). Yet, every British annual report to the League of Nations and every major official British study of the period includes an exhaustive tabulation and detailed commentary on Arab immigration.18

Peters knows the standard reports discussed Arab immigration. Her abovementioned citation of the Peel Commission report comes from a section labeled “Arab Illegal Immigration” [Report, p. 291]. Or again, on pages 378379, Peters thoroughly discusses passages in the Anglo-American Survey, also from a section titled “Arab Illegal Immigration” [Survey, p. 210]. These are standard sources. Furthermore, British concern with Arab immigration was not unusual as the Jews had made an issue of it [Report, p. 297]. Peters is misleading her reader here, albeit through the words of another.


The British were not blameless in their conduct in Palestine. Their role in preventing Jews from entering Palestine during the Holocaust, even while Arab labor was being imported as an “emergency measure,” was a crime. Nevertheless, British policy in the 20s and early 30s does not deserve Peters’ accusations of bad faith. Her claim, for example, that the emirate of Transjordan was created in violation of the League of Nations Mandate goes against the historical record, not to mention the fact that without British good intentions no “Jewish National Home” would have existed in the first place.

In seeking to discredit the British, time after time Peters finds what she is looking for only by distorting her sources:

  • She uses the Hope Simpson Report to support the idea that British officials neglected illegal Arab immigration, when in fact her quote concerns a case in which illegal Jewish immigrants were allowed to remain in Palestine.
  • She cites an official report claiming that “different considerations” applied to Arab immigration, but these turn out to be considerations of how many housing units Arab immigrants would require as opposed to Jewish immigrants.
  • She claims falsely that Hope Simpson had proved the existing Arab community to consist of immigrants and in-migrants.
  • She accuses Hope Simpson of seeking to limit Jewish and not Arab immigration, when in fact he sought to limit both.
  • She claims a British report buried evidence that it had exaggerated the proportion of Jewish immigrants, whereas this evidence in fact pertained only to immigrants coming overland, among whom there were fewer Jewish immigrants.
  • She accuses a British report of disingenuousness for its low estimate of illegal immigrants from the Hauran by ignoring its qualification that large numbers of illegals remained only temporarily.
  • She falsely claims that the British kept no records of Arab immigration into Palestine, when her own sources contain this very information.

Here we have a consistent pattern of falsification, all with the same tendency, and with clear evidence that Peters knew what she was saying was false, in at least some cases. Moreover, these distortions relate to significant issues in her book. The charge of dishonesty thus appears warranted.


1 The relevant parts of the text of the Mandate, confirmed by the League of Nations, read

Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have agreed, for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, to entrust to a Mandatory selected by the said Powers the administration of the territory of Palestine, which formerly belonged to the Turkish Empire, within such boundaries as may be fixed by them; and

Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country; and

Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connexion of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country…


The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble…


The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land…

See the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, online at the UN documents site <>.

2Statement of British Policy in Palestine Issued by Mr. Churchill in June, 1922,” reproduced in Walter Laqueur, ed., The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict (New York: Citadel Press, 1969) pp. 45-50. Citation from pp. 46-47.

3 See Article 6 of the Mandate in note 1 above. The Balfour Declaration, the original statement of British intentions to establish a Jewish National Home, does not overreach in this way: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people… it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country [Balfour Declaration, reproduced in Laqueur, ed., p. 18].” By the time of the Mandate, “civil and religous rights” had changed to the “rights and position” of other sections of the population.

On Peters’ interpretation, “within the Balfour Declaration was the asessment that the establishment of a home for the Jews would not ‘prejudice the civil and reigious rights of existing non-Jewish communities’ [p. 339].” But the provision is clearly not an assessment, but an injunction establishing British obligations to Arabs, something Peters would apparently prefer to avoid mentioning.

4 Statement of British Policy in Palestine Issued by Mr. Churchill in June, 1922,” in Walter ed., p. 46. Cf. Balfour Declaration, League of Nations Mandate for Palestine.

5 Article 15 guarantees “complete freedom of conscience and the free exercise of all forms of worship,” and prohibits discrimination based on race, religion or language. Article 16 allows the Mandatory to exercise “such supervision over religious or eleemosynary bodies of all faiths in Palestine as may be required for the maintenance of public order and good government.” And Article 18 prohibits discrimination against nationals of or goods from any State Member of the League of Nations, guarantees free transit across the mandated area, and allows for the imposition of taxes and customs duties. See the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine.

6 Report by His Britannic Majesty’s Government of the Administration Under Mandate of Palestine and Transjordan for the Year 1924. Section II, Paragraph 2, online at <>.

7 The idea that Jordan is Arab Palestine has been criticized by Daniel Pipes, who along with Adam Garfinkle published an article on this subject in Commentary, October 1988 (the original pre-publication version is available on the web at <>). Pipes and Garfinkle provide the historical context that Peters leaves out:

Along with the rest of the Middle East, the modern political history of Palestine and Jordan began with the First World War. At the center of this transformation was the British effort to build alliances for its war effort against Germany. London gave vaguely-defined promises of Ottoman territory in the Levant to three different parties. In the Husayn-McMahon Correspondence, ten letters exchanged between July 1915 and March 1916, it promised portions of geographic Syria to the Ottoman governor of Mecca, the Sharif al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali, but exact boundaries were not specified. The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of May 1916 divided the same area (and more) between Britain and France. The Balfour Declaration of November 1917 endorsed “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Britain’s three alliances served its wartime purposes fairly well; in a two-year campaign that ended in October 1918, British forces took control of the area stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to Iran. But after the war, the apparent mutual exclusivity of these agreements caused considerable trouble. In an initial effort to balance commitments to Arabs, Frenchmen, and Zionists, the British divided the Levant into three military administrations in October 1918. London administered a zone roughly equivalent to what later became Israel and opened Jewish immigration to it. The French assumed control of the coastal region between Israel and Turkey. The sharif’s son, Prince Faysal, received what became known as Transjordan, as well as everything away from the Mediterranean in today’s Lebanon and Syria. Damascus served as his capital.

In accord with the Sykes-Picot agreement, however, the French government aspired to control Damascus and the interior, so it expelled Faysal from Damascus in July 1920. But the French did not claim the southern part of Faysal’s territory, which now fell under British jurisdiction.

Here we arrive at a critical point for Jordan-is-Palestiners: the British now for the first time called their whole territory in the Levant the “Mandate for Palestine.” In other words, starting in July 1920, Jordan formed part of Palestine, as least as far as the British were concerned.

But it did not remain so for long. In March 1921 Winston Churchill, the colonial secretary, found it “necessary immediately to occupy militarily Trans-Jordania.” Rather than use British troops to do this, he decided to control it indirectly. Toward this end, Churchill divided the Palestine Mandate into two parts along the Jordan River, creating the Emirate of Transjordan on the east bank and excluding Jewish immigration there. Churchill offered this territory to Faysal’s older brother, ‘Abdallah, who after some hesitation accepted. The Hashemite dynasty of ‘Abdallah, his son Tallal, and his grandson Husayn have ruled Transjordan (or Jordan, as it was renamed in 1949) ever since. After March 1921, the east bank was no longer Palestine.

8 Cf. Hope Simpson’s claim in 1930 that “It is exceedingly difficult to maintain any effective control of the various frontiers of Palestine. At the present time such control as exists is carried out at police posts on the roads. The immigrant who wishes to evade the control naturally leaves the road before reaching the frontier and takes to the footpaths over the Hills [p. 126].” John Hope Simpson, Palestine. Report on Immigration, Land Settlement and Development, 1930, Command Paper #3686, p. 126.

9 Peters, p. 226: “According to all the reports of the period, Arab ‘recorded’ immigration to Palestine was minimal, casual and unquantifiable.” For original evidence, the Palestine Royal Commission Report states: “Arab illegal immigration is mainly casual, temporary and seasonal [p. 291]” and the Anglo-American Survey of Palestine: “Arab illegal immigration is mainly of the types described in the first paragraph of this memorandum as casual, temporary and seasonal [p. 210].” Finkelstein points out in a note:

She has evidently “erred” in two respects:

  1. the British assessments were explicitly not limited to “recorded” immigration; and
  2. no report ever stated that “recorded” immigration was “unquantifiable.”

See Norman G. Finkelstein, “Disinformation and the Palestine Question: The Not-So-Strange Case of Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial” in Edward W. Said and Christopher Hitchens, eds., Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question (London: Verso, 2001), p. 64, note 9; Palestine Royal Commission, Report, (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1937), p. 291; Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, A Survey of Palestine (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1945-46) vol 1, p. 210.

10 See the citation from the Peel Commission Report later in this section and the commentary by the Isaacs suggesting that the British had underestimated the number of Haurani immigrants.

11 Finkelstein, pp. 39-40. The annual British reports to the League of Nations show the number of travelers reclassified as legal immigrants in selected years, and indicate that the provision allowing “pseudo-travellers” to be reclassified as legal immigrants benefited Jews most of all:

Jews Muslims Christians Others
1926 611 149 300
1927 705 85 430
1930 695 112 493 6
1931 939 137 502 2
1932 3730 109 719
1933 2465 63 344 4
Jews Non-Jews
1934 4114 752
1935 3804 625
1936 1817 467
1937 681 431
1938 1427 421
The 1928 report was unavailable; the 1929 report does not record these figures. 1930 and 1931 figures are “those who had entered without permission but were allowed to remain.” Cf. Finkelstein, note 11, p.65.

12 Finkelstein, p. 40. Cf. Peters, pp. 229, 232-3, 296-7, 326, 375, 376, 378, 379, 394, 402. In their article defending Peters, Erich and Rael Jean Isaac agree that Peters is wrong here, but claim that her error is understandable:

The chapter of the report in which this passage appears is devoted to a discussion of the procedures used by the British Palestine government in issuing immigration certificates to Jews. But illegal Arab immigration was also an awkward problem for Hope Simpson, and immediately before his discussion of (Jewish) pseudo-travelers, he inserts a paragraph on the failure of land border posts to control illegal crossings: “The immigrant who wishes to evade the control naturally leaves the road before reaching the frontier and takes to the footpaths over the Hills.” Actually, given the context, a reader might easily think he is speaking of Jews here as well; the only way one can be sure is that twelve pages on, in a passage explicitly concerning Arabs, Hope Simpson mentions their illicit immigration through Syria and across the northern frontiers and says, “This question has already been discussed.”

What presumably misled Miss Peters, then, was this paragraph on infiltration across the land border. She correctly inferred that Hope Simpson was speaking of Arabs here, but then incorrectly concluded that the following section on pseudo-travelers referred to Arabs as well. [“Whose Palestine?” Commentary, July 1986, p. 33]

Given the number of times Peters cites sources out of context, however, it is rather much to believe that she had tried to establish context by referring to Hope Simpson’s reference twelve pages later, while missing all the other indications that the passage primarily concerned Jews.

13 Finkelstein, p. 41. Cf. the preceding pages in the Anglo-American Survey, pp. 786-787, 788-789.

14 Neither I nor Finkelstein [p. 63, note 3] nor the Isaacs have found any such claim in the Hope Simpson Report. As the Isaacs write, “Actually, even if Hope Simpson had indeed been referring to Arab pseudo-travelers, Miss Peters would have no justification for claiming that the report ‘proved’ the Arab population was composed ‘largely’ of immigrants or in-migrants. It does no such thing.” Erich and Rael Jean Isaac, “Whose Palestine?” Commentary, July 1986, p. 34.

15 For example, see Peters p. 297, p. 374.

16 Palestine Royal Commission, Report, pp. 291-292.

17 Peters is evidently referring to the subsection “Jewish Immigration into Palestine” in the report’s introduction, but this subsection is not even listed in the table of contents. Chapter IV, “Immigration and Emigration,” is so listed and is hard to miss; it contains extensive statistics on Arab immigration.

Here are scans of the relevant sections in four of the reports across the period: 1926, 1931, 1935 and 1937. The rest of the reports are similar. Note that the versions of the documents online at <> are truncated and do not generally contain the sections dealing with immigration.

18 Finkelstein, pp. 46-47.

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Paul Blair is former editor of The Intellectual Activist.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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