British White Paper Restricts Jewish Immigration and Land Purchase

May 17, 1939

The 1930s witnessed prolonged Arab violence against the British and Zionists.  In late 1936, in the midst of the Arab Rebellion, Britain sent an investigative commission to Palestine to find a solution to the ongoing conflict. Known as the Peel Commission, it suggested partitioning the land into separate Arab and Jewish states, and creating an international zone from Jaffa on the coast up to and including Jerusalem. The Peel Plan was never implemented; the Arab community rejected the plan although Jewish leaders in Palestine who did not like the plan were willing to negotiate.

In May 1939, as the riots were ending, the British issued a White Paper restricting Jewish immigration and land purchase in Palestine.  The 1939 White Paper signaled Britain’s readiness to relegate the Jews in Palestine to minority status in a future majority-Arab state.  Restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine was especially troubling as World War II was about to engulf European Jews in the Holocaust.

However, by 1939, institutional growth and development for a Jewish state had taken considerable shape. Jewish paramilitary forces continue to grow and protect Jewish settlements. In response to the White Paper, “illegal” Jewish immigration to Palestine slowly but steadily increased. In September 1939, David Ben-Gurion expressed the complexity of Zionist policy to Britain in his famous statement: “We must help the [British] army as if there were no White Paper, and we must fight the White Paper as if there were no war.”

To read the full text of the 1939 White Paper, click here.

The photo shows a demonstration against the White Paper held in Jerusalem on May 22, 1939.