Key Documents

The De Bunsen Committee

In April 1915 Prime Minister Herbert Asquith appointed the de Bunsen Committee to identify the Ottoman territories that were of interest to Britain. The Committee recommended that Britain should maintain its influence in the Persian Gulf, and take control of Mesopotamia (Iraq). They considered Haifa port in Palestine a useful transport link to Mesopotamia, but they did not see any value in the rest of Palestine. The committee submitted its report on 30 June 1915.

Damascus Protocol 1915

The Damascus Protocol was a document given to Faisal bin Hussein on 23 May 1915 by the Arab secret societies al-Fatat and Al-‘Ah on his second visit to Damascus during a mission to consult Turkish officials in Constantinople.

The secret societies declared they would support Faisal’s father Hussein bin Ali’s revolt against the Ottoman Empire, if the demands in the protocol were submitted to the British. These demands, defining the territory of an independent Arab state to be established in the Middle East that would encompass all of the lands of Ottoman Western Asia south of the 37th parallel north,[2] became the basis of the Hussein–McMahon Correspondence.

The text was first translated into English by George Antonius in 1938, based on a copy of the protocol given to him by Faisal:[3]

“The recognition by Great Britain of the independence of the Arab countries lying within the following frontiers:

North: The Line MersinAdana to parallel 37N. and thence along the line BirejekUrgaMardinMidiatJazirat (Ibn ‘Unear)Amadia to the Persian frontier;
East: The Persian frontier down to the Persian Gulf;
South: The Indian Ocean (with the exclusion of Aden, whose status was to be maintained).
West: The Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea back to Mersin.
The abolition of all exceptional privileges granted to foreigners under the capitulations.
The conclusion of a defensive alliance between Great Britain and the future independent Arab State.

The grant of economic preference to Great Britain.”

McMahon-Hussein Correspondence 1915-1916

The McMahon–Hussein Correspondence is a series of letters that were exchanged during World War I in which the United Kingdom government agreed to recognize Arab independence after the war in exchange for the Sharif of Mecca launching the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

The area offered by Britain included Palestine. The correspondence was suppressed until 1939.

In 1939 the Arab-British Committee wrote: “The contention that the British Government did intend Palestine to be removed from the sphere of French influence and to be included within the area of Arab independence (that is to say, within the area of future British influence) is also borne out by the measures they took in Palestine during the War. They dropped proclamations by the thousand in all parts of Palestine, which bore a message from the Sharif Husain on one side and a message from the British Command on the other, to the effect that an Anglo-Arab agreement had been arrived at securing the independence of the Arabs, and to ask the Arab population of Palestine to look upon the advancing British Army as allies and liberators and give them every assistance. Under the aegis of the British military authorities, recruiting offices were opened in Palestine to recruit volunteers for the forces of the Arab Revolt. Throughout 1916 and the greater part of 1917, the attitude of the military and political officers of the British Army was clearly based on the understanding that Palestine was destined to form part of the Arab territory which was to be constituted after the War on the basis of independent Arab governments in close alliance with Great Britain.”Arab-British Committee 1939, p. Annex A, paragraph 19.

Sykes-Picot agreement 1916

Britain, France and Russia made a secret agreement to divide up the Middle East between them

Balfour Declaration 1917

Britain, in promising support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine also promised to safeguard the rights of the Arab population

Anglo French Declaration 1918

Britain and France promised independence to the former subjects of the Ottoman Turks, including Palestine

King Crane commission. 1919

The Commission was set up by President Wilson. It went out with instructions to report the facts as it found them and reported in 1919 for the Versailles Peace Conference but it was one of the great suppressed documents of the peace-making period, only being released in 1922.

San Remo conference 1920

Palin Commission report 1920

The Commission was sent to the region in May 1920 by the British authorities, to examine the reasons for the Jerusalem riots, which took place between 4 and 7 April 1920. It foresaw increasing problems between the various parties and the administration.

The Commission completed its report on 1 July 1920 at Port Said, and submitted it in August 1920. Allenby advised that it should be published; but in anticipation of Zionist objections, it was decided only to convey the gist of the report verbally to a ‘responsible’ Zionist leader. It was never published.

The 1920 Jerusalem riots – Arab fears, Zionist pressures, faulty security cited in British Palin inquiry

Haycraft_Commission report 1921

The Haycraft Commission of Inquiry was a Royal Commission set up to investigate the Jaffa riots of 1921, but its remit was widened and its report entitled “Palestine: Disturbances in May 1921”.

Churchill White Paper June 1922

In the White Paper (initially drafted by Sir Herbert Samuel and Sir John Shuckburgh) Churchill made a major intervention as Colonial Secretary that proved absolutely decisive to the survival of the government’s Zionist commitment. He redrew the geography of the Levant and asserted, among other things, that there had been no promise of political independence to Palestine in the form of the war-time McMahon-Hussein correspondence.

The Palestine Mandate 1922

Britain promised the League of Nations that it would prepare Palestine for independence, but failed to do so.

The Shaw Report, officially the Report of the Commission on the Palestine Disturbances of August 1929, commonly known as the Shaw Commission, was the result of a British commission of inquiry, led by Sir Walter Shaw, established to investigate the violent rioting in Palestine in late August 1929.

Hope Simpson report 1929

The Report on Immigration, Land Settlement and Development, commonly referred to as the Hope Simpson Enquiry or the Hope Simpson Report, was a British Commission managed by Sir John Hope Simpson, established during August 1929 to address Immigration, Land Settlement and Development issues in British Mandate of Palestine, as recommended by the Shaw Commission, after the widespread 1929 Palestine riots.

Passfield White Paper 1930

Issued Oct 20th 1930 the paper’s tone was decidedly anti-Zionist since several of its institutions were severely criticised, including the Histadrut (General Federation of Labour) and the Jewish Agency, which both promoted Jewish employment of only Jewish labour, thereby supporting the ejection of Arabs from purchased land, most who previously worked under a tenant farming system. Like the Hope-Simpson Report, the Passfield White Paper found this Zionist policy damaging to the economic development of the Arab population. It concluded that Jewish immigration to Palestine was taking land from the Arab fellahs; sales of land to Jewish settlers should in future be restricted, and Arab unemployment levels should be a factor in considering permitted levels of Jewish immigration to Palestine. Furthermore, a legislative council should be formed which would represent the (Arab) majority of its population.

MacDonald Letter 1931

It was considered a withdrawal of the Passfield White Paper, despite the fact that Prime Minister said in parliament on 11 February 1931 that he was “very unwilling to give the letter the same status as the dominating document” i.e. the Passfield White Paper.

Peel Commission 1937

The Peel Commission published its Palestine Royal Commission-Peel Commission report in July 1937. The report admitted that the mandate was unworkable because Jewish and Arab objectives in Palestine were incompatible, and it proposed that Palestine be partitioned into three zones: an Arab state, a Jewish state, and a neutral territory containing the holy places. Although the British government initially accepted these proposals, by 1938 it had recognized that such partitioning would be infeasible, and it ultimately rejected the commission’s report.

Woodhead Commission 1938

The commission, led by Sir John Woodhead, was formed in March 1938 in response to dissension within the British government over the July 1937 Peel partition plan for Palestine and the re-ignition of the Arab revolt that had followed its promulgation. The new commission was instructed to gather evidence from the various parties and to recommend boundaries for two self-sufficient states, one Arab and one Jewish, to replace the British Mandate.

White Paper of 1939

The White Paper of 1939 was a policy paper issued by the British government, led by Neville Chamberlain, in response to the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. After its formal approval in the House of Commons on 23 May 1939, it acted as the governing policy for Mandatory Palestine from 1939 to the 1948 British departure.

A committee at in 1939 considered the McMahon-Hussein correspondence which Britain had suppressed from 1916. Their report is here. Notes at the end of the document include: The language of some of the original drafts or contemporary translations has, however, been modified in certain places where the language has been criticised on the ground that it does not reproduce accurately the Arabic of the actual correspondence and the criticism has been found on examination to be justified.

Its main finding was for a unitary Palestinian state for Arabs and Jews, and this policy obtained until the UN partition plan of 1947. After the war, the Mandate was referred to the United Nations.