Israel-Palestine Conflict: Pre-1948

Historical Background

You will be amazed to know that that three prominent monotheism religions- Christianity, Judaism, and Islam trace their origin to a man named ‘Abraham’. Abraham is regarded highly in all three religions. Abraham was a native of the city Ur of Mesopotamia and it is believed that God asked him to found a new nation and in return, God promised that this new land will be occupied by his descendant. In order to obey the commands of God, he went to Canaan (contemporarily know as Palestine). As per the promise from God, Abraham got a son named ‘Isaac’, born of his wife Sarah. Jewish people considered themselves as descendent of Isaac. Similarly, in Christianity genealogy of Jesus is traced to Isaac. Moreover, in Islam, it is ‘Ismael’, born of Hagar (maid to Abraham’s childless wife Sarah), who is the firstborn of Abraham, who is considered one true descendant of Abraham and Prophet Mohammed (one who founded Islam and wrote Quran) is his descendant.

Jerusalem is also the spot where, according to traditional interpretations of the Quran and other texts, the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Hence, Jerusalem is very important and considered as the holy place for these three religions.

Despite this commonality, there is huge rivalry and conflicts among these religious groups especially Judaism and Christianity. The New Testament (One of the two-division of the Bible) adequately blames some high-ranking Jews in Roman Empire for the crucifixion of Jesus (who himself was a Jew) in Jerusalem, Palestine. They did this as they were jealous of Jesus and considered Jesus a threat to the status quo. From this incident adversary and hostility between Christianity and Judaism can be traced and Jews will be persecuted for centuries for this.

It took several centuries to spread knowledge of this incident among Christians. Meanwhile, the Roman empire expanded and Christianity became prominent religion. Now, Jews were persecuted and killed or were forced to convert to Christianity or to slavery. Further, in the period 1097-1291, eight Crusades (religious wars) were fought between Christians and Muslims over the holy site Jerusalem. During these Crusades Jews were persecuted badly by both Muslims and Christians. Therefore, due to persecution and assault by other religions Jews were forced to leave for other places.


Everywhere Jews went they were not welcomed. One, they were considered responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. Second, Jews community is the most successful community in the world in the field of academics, business, politics, etc. as a result others felt threatened, some prominent personalities are Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, Anne Frank, etc.

In the late 19th century, a political movement called modern Zionism was started by Theodor Herzl (who was a journalist and political advisor from Austria). In this movement, Jewish people demanded an exclusive nation for themselves. Although demand for Israel as the Jewish nation first came around the 16th century but reached to culmination after this movement.

On 2 Nov 1917, then British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour released an official statement in support of the Zionist movement which came to be known as the Balfour Declaration. During this time Palestine was under the control of the weak Ottoman Empire. So, Britishers were promising something which was yet to come into their control.

Now the question arises why Britain was in support of Zionism? The answer to this is debatable but Academician and Historian provide the following reasons

  • Palestine being a strategic point might save British interest in Suez Canal which was highly crucial to maintain its colonial empire in India
  • Britain wanted the support of American and Russian Jews which could pressurize their respective government to remain in the war
  • Strong British Zionist lobby pressurized the British government

One year prior to Balfour Declaration, in 1916, Britain and France secretly signed (with prior permission from Russia) an agreement that came to be known as Sykes-Picot Agreement under which Britain, France, and Russia divided the entire Middle East among themselves with a simple scale and pencil. As per this Agreement Palestine was put under the category of ‘International Zone’ which meant that it is entitled to further discussion.

In 1916, before signing the Sykes-Picot Agreement a series of letters were also exchanged between Sir Henry McMahon, British High Commissioner in Egypt, and Hussein ibn Ali, Emir of Mecca who represented the Arab world, which came to be known as Hussein-McMahon Correspondence. This gave confidence in the Arab world that they would get independence after WW1. However, the Sykes-Picot Agreement completely contradicted this belief.

As allied powers won WW1, in 1920, a peace conference was held at San Remo, Italy. One objective of this conference was to settle the issue of the Ottoman province of Syria. As per this Northern part (Syria and Lebanon) was given to France and the Southern Part (Palestine) became British Territory.

As Britain got control over Palestine, they initiated the implementation of the Balfour Declaration and set a quota of 16500 Jewish immigrants in the first year, but over years number of immigrants increased. This led to anti-Zionist riots, as a result, many human lives lost. Palestinian Arabs rejected any rights of Jews to Palestine. Jews left Palestine centuries ago, now reclaiming by displacing already settled colonies seems very absurd and unethical. As Jews community was economically well-off, they started buying land from local poor peasants, which led to the growth of Jews population in Palestine.

By this time both Palestinian Arabs and Zionists understood that population and ownership of land will play a major role in winning this battle.

In 1922, the British government issued a ‘White Paper’ which stated that Britain did not believe that entire Palestine should become a Jewish nation but a place has to be found for Jewish people. This further threatened Arabs and escalated already existing anti-Zionist riots and movements.

The local British authority sympathized with Palestine Arabs and encouraged the British government to few steps in favor of Palestinian Arabs. Also, in 1929, a report by the Second Royal Commission stated that no margin of land available for agricultural settlement by new immigrants. This led the British Government to issue the ‘Passfield White Paper’ in 1930, which not only restricted further Zionist immigration but also restricted Jewish people from buying land.

The Strong Zionist lobby in Britain opposed it vehemently and in 1931, the British government nullified it. Meanwhile, in Germany Hitler came to power and his policy Jews persecution are well known. Therefore, Jewish immigration reached to 30,000 in 1933, 42,000 in 1934, 61,000, in 1935. By 1936, Jews population reached up to 400,000 in Palestine which was 1/3rd of the total.

The consequence of this was the Arab Revolt of 1936-39, this was the first sustained violent uprising of Palestinian Arabs. Britishers were so horrified that they had to call for 20,000 troops from Britain. The Arabs demanded to stop Jewish immigration and the sale of land to them and National Independence.

In 1937, the Peel Commission recommended dividing Palestine and it gave a major share of territory to Zionists (even more than what they currently occupied), it further recommended forcefully transfer Arab people to the allocated territory. This further horrified Palestine Arabs, the Arab Revolt reached its culmination in 1937 and 1938. This revolt lost its strength by 1939 as many Arabs leaders were arrested and people died.

In 1938, the Woodhead Commission was set up which recommended against Peel’s Commission- it reduced Jewish territory and sovereignty of divided states. Both Arabs and Zionists refused it. In 1939, a White Paper was issued by the British Government, which stated that during the next five years 75,000 Jews would be allowed into the country; thereafter Jewish immigration would be subject to Arab “acquiescence.” Land transfer to Jews would be allowed only in certain areas in Palestine. The Arabs, although in favor of the new policy, rejected the White Paper, largely because they mistrusted the British government. This was the end of the British-Zionist friendship.

Between 1922 and 1940, Jewish population risen from 148,500 to 383,500 Acres and population from 83,790 to 467,000.

Period 1939-1948

As World War 2 started focus shifted to Europe, during the war British sought to prevent Jewish immigration in Palestine. Hitler’s final solution to the Jewish question came in the form of the Holocaust, it is stated that around six million Jewish men, women, and children were killed without any second thought. This incident forced nations to sympathize with Jewish people and it further strengthened the Jewish community. As the Jewish community was rich and talented, they devoted their entire asset to help the Allied powers.

US and Britain obtained pro-Zionist policy and allowed further immigration of survived Jewish into Palestine. As the war came to an ended focus again shifted to Palestine and other Arab nations started taking a direct interest.

Zionists had a goal to form a Jewish nation and Arab had the objective to not allow a single Jewish person in Palestine. However, the British realized that they cannot resolve the problem, started focussing on their own interest in the Middle East and Asia. In order to do so it needed the cooperation of Arab nations, as a result, it opposed Jewish immigration to Palestine. Whereas the USA was in support of Jewish immigration (who were displaced by war) to Palestine.

In 1947, the victorious but exhausted Britain referred this matter to the UN which recommended that Palestine be divided into an Arab and Jewish state. The entire Arab world opposed it however, Zionists happily accepted thinking that at least their claim over Palestine was recognized.

In March 1948, the Civil War broke out, The Arabs of Palestine, divided, badly led, and reliant on the regular armies of the Arab states, became demoralized, and their efforts to prevent partition collapsed. The major cities like Haifa and Jaffa came under Zionist. In May 1948, the last British High commissioner, Sir Alan Cunningham, left Palestine and on the very same day, the State of Israel was declared. In few hours the US and the Soviet recognized Israel and by 1949, it got UN membership and got recognition from more than 50 nations. In 1950, India also recognized the State of Israel.

Categories: History, International Affairs, Israel and Palestine Conflict

6 replies

    • Dear LAMarcom

      Informed Bharat appreciates your participatory behavior. As I have never been to Israel I will certainly read about your 5 Random memories of Israel. I am sure it will provide me valuable insight.

      Thank you and keep reading our articles


  1. There were, actually, quite a few Arab leaders who supported the formation of modern Israel.


    • Dear Mitchteemley

      Informed Bharat appreciates your participatory behavior. Your input is highly valuable to us.

      Thank you and keep reading our articles


  2. Though some identifiable groups have been brutally victimized throughout history a disproportionately large number of times, the victims of one place and time can and sometimes do become the victimizers of another place and time. I’m not one who holds much faith in the Bible, but I still give credence to the verse (somewhere within) stating that base human nature is indeed “desperately wicked”. And maybe even more so when convinced that ‘God is on our side’. Still, in such times it is crucial that there be a deeper understanding of and empathy for one another, however very unlikely, even (or perhaps especially) when it’s across battle lines.

    Furthermore, I’ve noticed after almost 3.5 decades of news consumption that (in the world and not just in Israel) a large number of people, however precious their souls, can atrociously be considered disposable, even to a supposedly democratic nation. (When the young children of those people take notice of this, tragically, they’re vulnerable to begin perceiving themselves as disposable thus without value.) To me, it’s like a devaluation, albeit perhaps a subconscious one, of the daily civilian lives lost (“casualties”) in protractedly devastating war zones and sieges. At some point, they can end up receiving just a meagre couple column inches in the First World’s daily news.

    Meanwhile, many racists (internationally) have to decide which ‘side’ they hate less thus politically support via social media: the Muslim Palestinians or Jewish Israelis.



  1. Israel-Palestine Conflict: Post-1948 – Informed Bharat

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