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Israel Studies 9.1 (2004) 101-124

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Separate or Mixed Municipalities?

Attitudes of Jewish Yishuv Leadership to the Mixed Municipality during the British Mandate: The Case of Haifa


When conquered by the British in the First World War, Pales—tine had twenty-two municipalities. Most of them operated in the Arab towns, while others were found in mixed cities. The phrase "mixed municipality" derives from the "Mixed City," a term coined by the Mandatory government in Palestine.1 In the course of the Mandate period, the development of the Jewish-Arab conflict brought about a strengthening as mixed cities grew in importance of the mixed cities. This was not only in respect to their function as administrative bodies intended to supply municipal services to their populations, but principally as institutions that began to gather increasing power as their political importance grew. This found expression in the role fulfilled by the municipalities in the clash between the Arabs and the Jews.2

The composition of the city councils in the mixed municipalities and the occupant of the mayoral seat were usually influenced by the relative sizes of the two populations in these cities. During the Mandate, the Arabs held a position of power in the municipalities of Jaffa, Safed, and Jerusalem, even though in the latter the Jews constituted the majority of the population throughout the period. In Haifa too, until 1936, the situation was similar. Thereafter influence in Haifa shifted to the Jews. Only in Tiberias did the Jews hold a position of power all through the Mandate years. These power relations directly affected the degree of integration of Jews into the municipalities in which they were in a minority position. and the attitude of the majority power structure toward their needs was [End Page 101] biased against them. Bad relations consequently developed between the Jewish community and the municipality in these cities, which heightened the tension between the Jewish communities and the municipalities. In these circumstances, some of the heads of the Jewish Yishuv in Jerusalem, Haifa, and Safed supported breaking away from the mixed municipality, splitting it to form a separate Jewish municipality. It would then be possible for the Jews to develop their neighborhoods independently of the mixed municipality. Others, however, opposed the separation for fear the Jews might lose their influence on the development of the entire city, thus forfeiting their interests.

For a long time the heads of the Yishuv institutions refrained from dealing with the problems of the Jews in the mixed municipalities. This restraint did not arise from lack of concern over the subject. To the contrary, the heads of the Yishuv ascribed great importance to addressing this issue. They regarded the consolidation of municipal government a most important means for the organization of the Jewish population and the possibility of establishing cooperation with the Arabs. The complexity of this matter, however, and the problems inherent in it necessitated not only contending with the Arab side, but also with the British, who were hard pressed to deal with it as well. The Jewish leadership, therefore, withheld from drawing up lines of action, leaving the matter neglected for long years, with no policy at all being devised.

The turning point came at the time of the Arab revolt. The arrival of the commissions of inquiry dispatched by the British to investigate the events in Palestine and to suggest solutions to the Jewish-Arab conflict placed on the agenda, among other things, the situation in the mixed municipalities. In addition, the scathing criticism in the Peel Commission report on the way the municipalities were run, and the commission's proposal to bring about improvements without delay in the municipal sphere, gave rise to the belief that very soon significant changes would be made in the system of local government, which would also affect the mixed municipalities. The Jewish leadership saw this as an opportunity to prove that, despite the tension prevailing in these municipalities, sound relationships could be developed in them...