During the First World War, in 1917, British forces conquered
Palestine, a territory of the Ottoman Turkish Empire (a German ally).
The British government promised independence after the war to Arab tribes in Arabia who had rebelled against the Turks, whilst secretly agreeing to divide up Turkish territory between themselves and the French. Some Arab Palestinians hoped that Palestine would
be included in a larger independent Arab state after the war.
In 1917, the British government also issued the Balfour Declaration promising a “Jewish National Home”, in the Jews ancient homeland of Palestine, in which Jews from around the world would be able to settle and escape anti-semitic persecution. At the same time, the British also promised that they would protect the rights of existing inhabitants in Palestine. The vast majority of the population in Palestine were Arab Palestinians. Some Jewish leaders (called Zionists) hoped in time to establish an independent state in Palestine to be called ‘Israel’.
After the end of the First World War, the League of Nations permitted continued British control of Palestine as ‘a mandated terrority’.
Between the World Wars, the British attempted to keep the peace in Palestine, permitting increased Jewish immigration while protecting Arab rights. However, Arab Palestinians became increasingly concerned that Palestine could end up under Jewish control. A Palestinian Arab revolt in the late 1930s directed against British rule and Jewish settlement resulted in the British severely limiting continued Jewish migration into Palestine. This was designed to pacify Arab opinion.
The policy coincided with an upsurge of Nazi persecution of Jews,
and a subsequent rise in the numbers of Jews wanting to escape from Europe to Palestine.
The limitations on Jewish immigration into Palestine remained in
place during and after the Second World War even as the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust became public knowledge. Relations between the British and Palestinian Jews became increasingly bitter as Jewish refugees were interned and returned to Europe. Jewish groups targeted British forces.
On 22 July 1946, ninety-one people were killed and forty-six injured
in a Jewish bomb attack on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the Headquarters of the British authorities in Palestine.
The policy of turning away Holocaust survivors seeking sanctuary
in Palestine turned some international opinion against the British. Zionist leaders hoped that increased Jewish immigration would help
to establish a Jewish state, but Arab Palestinians were determined to prevent this from happening and wanted to establish their own state.
In 1947, Great Britain decided to leave Palestine and called on the United Nations (UN) to help. The UN convened a session in
November and resolved to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem as an international zone under UN jurisdiction. Jewish Zionist leaders accepted the plan but it was rejected by Arab Palestinians.
With a British departure imminent, and a future partition likely
(despite Arab opposition), violence broke out between the two communities. Atrocities were committed on both sides. An incident which produced a major impact on Palestinian attitudes occurred on
9th April 1948, when Jewish paramilitaries attacked the Arab
Palestinian village of Deir Yassin and massacred more than a
When the British Forces left Palestine in May 1948, the Jewish leaders began to implement the plan to create a Jewish state. That same day, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq joined Palestinian and other
Arab groups in a full-scale war (the first Arab-Israeli War).
During the fighting, both before and after the departure of the British, thousands of Arab Palestinians, fearing Jewish attacks, fled their homes and settled in refugee camps. After the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews from all over the world, including Jews who had been expelled from Arab countries, came to live in the new country. The Palestinians who had fled were not allowed to return to their homes.
The war ended with four UN-arranged armistice agreements between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
The small Gaza Strip was left under Egyptian control and the West B
ank was controlled by Jordan.
In 1956, with an increasing number of attacks by Arab military units, Egypt refused to permit Israeli ships to use the Suez Canal - this crisis ended in the eruption of the second Arab-Israeli War.