- Britain, Palestine, and Empire: The Mandate Years
Britain, Palestine, and Empire, edited by Rory Miller, is the by-product of a conference held in 2008 in London on the sixtieth anniversary of the British withdrawal from Mandatory Palestine. The chapters cover the three decades of British rule in Palestine and highlight several aspects: diplomatic, military, religious, artistic, legal, and economic. Chapters are arranged in a mixed thematic-chronological approach, providing the reader a sense of familiarity with names, places, and events while moving along. A great deal of literature has been produced over the years discussing the Mandates in general and British Mandatory rule over Palestine more specifically; nevertheless, only a handful of studies have examined British rule from different angles while providing an ample critique of this rule and of previous literature at the same time. The volume is not just a fresh look at an indeed popular and challenging subject; Miller has made sure to include contributors that may challenge established visions and opinions.
The first chapter by James Renton, "Flawed Foundations: The Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate," states that the Declaration was meant to win over world Jewry in order to gain support for the Allied cause. Renton argues that the Mandate was more important as it built upon the Declaration by providing it with an authority it never had or was meant to have. Renton, challenging traditional Zionist narratives, goes further in claiming that the Declaration did not constitute either the blueprint for a Jewish state or the basis for a constitutional rule of Palestine. He questions past and current literature, including some assumptions made by other contributors of this volume. To prove the flawed foundations of the Declaration, Renton discusses some vague terminology adopted in the original document such as "national home," thus raising the debate over whether this term denoted statehood. Many scholars agree that indeed the phrase "national home" had no established meaning; according to Renton, the British in fact only aimed at propaganda with little attention to the future of Zionism. With the establishment of the Mandate, more problems were created than were solved. Until the 1930s this vacuum of real policy making toward Palestine survived as well as the coexistence of a number of inconsistencies together with the belief of a workable British rule in Palestine. With the beginning of the Arab Revolt in 1936, it became clear that an exit strategy was needed, but in Renton's words, "it was too late" (37).
Susan Pedersen in "The Impact of League Oversight on British Policy in Palestine" argues that there is often a missing player, the League of Nations, in the interwar period in Palestine. She states that despite the weaknesses of the League, the international oversight rendered by the League itself reduced British abilities to maneuver in Palestine. In this interesting and fresh essay, the power of the Permanent Mandates Commission (PMC) in Geneva, so far often neglected, is convincingly uncovered. Discussing an incident that occurred in 1924 when the PMC suggested that Jewish migrants were not ready for the kind of labor needed in Palestine, Pedersen reveals that Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, immediately realized that Zionists had neglected Geneva (44). Zionists then immediately added the League in the list of actors to lobby in their quest for a national home in Palestine. Pedersen shows various phases of the role the PMC played in the interwar period, visualizing the process of the internationalization of the Israel-Palestine question well before the establishment of the United Nations after World War II.
The third essay in the collection, Heleen Murrevan den Berg's "'Our Jerusalem': Bertha Spafford Vester and Christianity in Palestine during the British Mandate," introduces the issue of the relationship between the American Colony and Palestinian Christians. Members of the American Colony, a religious millenarian institution established by a Chicago family in the late nineteenth century, were in general not interested in proselytizing. This has made the colony connected with other foreign residents and visitors but never associated with local Palestinian...