The Jewish Community under the Mandate

The Jewish Community under the Mandate

The British mandate authorities granted the Jewish and Arab communities the right to run their own internal affairs. During the mandate period, the Jewish community in Palestine (known as the yishuv) established institutions for self-government and procedures for implementing decisions.

The organized Jewish community chose by secret ballot the Assembly of the Elected (Asefat Hanivcharim) as its representative body. It met at least once a year, and between sessions its powers were exercised by the National Council (Vaad Leumi), which was elected by the assembly.

The mandatory government entrusted the National Council with responsibility for Jewish communal affairs and granted it considerable autonomy. Financed by local resources and funds provided by world Jewry, these bodies maintained a network of educational, religious, health, and social services for the Jewish population. The council and its component units were responsible for administration within the Jewish community and created institutions to perform the requisite functions.

In addition to the standard departments and agencies of the government, a clandestine force, the Haganah, was created in 1920 as a wide-ranging organization for the defense of Jewish life and property in Palestine following a series of serious Arab actions in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Palestine.

After independence, the Haganah formed the core of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Israel’s military. Arms were smuggled to the Haganah, and training was provided. The Haganah guarded settlements, manufactured arms, and built stockades and roads for defense.

Other political and social institutions were created within the framework of the yishuv, and many of these continued to function long after the creation of the State of Israel. These included the Histadrut, the General Federation of labor, which coordinated labor-related matters and engaged in various social welfare and economic endeavors.

The Histadrut, established in 1920, was more than a traditional labor union. It established training centers, helped to absorb new immigrants, and funded and managed large-scale agricultural and industrial enterprises. It set up agricultural marketing cooperatives, banks, and the construction firm Solel Boneh.

Political parties, many of which continue to exist today, albeit after various reinventions of themselves, were also created within the yishuv structure. Among these institutions was also the Jewish Agency, created by the terms of the Palestine mandate, which eventually became the basis for the foreign ministry and other agencies with diplomatic missions outside Israel and for the functions relating to immigrants and liaison with the Jewish Diaspora.

The central figure and the architect of the yishuv administration throughout the period of the mandate and into the first decades of the new State of Israel was David Ben-Gurion. In 1919, he founded a Zionist labor party, Ahdut Ha’avodah (Unity of labor). Ben-Gurion and Ahdut Ha’avodah dominated the Histadrut and, through it, the yishuv. As secretary-general of the Histadrut, Ben-Gurion oversaw the Jewish economy in the mandate.

Division in Zionism

The Jewish community in the mandate was not wholly cohesive. Internal divisions over domestic and foreign policies periodically developed. Revisionist Zionism, led by Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, challenged the views and policies of Ben-Gurion and the Zionist leadership of the yishuv on a number of levels. Jabotinsky espoused a less socialist economic structure and a more activist defense policy against Arab riots and demonstrations. He also disagreed over the British decision to divide the Palestine mandate and create a new Arab state in the territory of the mandate east of the Jordan River, then known as Transjordan.

In the Revisionist conception, the Zionist aim was to provide an integrated solution to the worldwide Jewish problem in all its aspects—political, economic, and spiritual. To attain this objective, the Revisionists demanded that the entire mandated territory of Palestine, on both sides of the Jordan River, be turned into a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. They stressed the necessity of bringing to Palestine the largest number of Jews within the shortest possible time. Revisionism met with increasingly strong resistance, particularly from labor groups.

The World Union of Zionists-Revisionists was founded in 1925 as an integral part of the WZO with Jabotinsky as president. In 1935, a referendum held among Revisionists resulted in their secession from the WZO and the establishment of an independent New Zionist Organization (NZO). Eleven years later, when ideological and tactical differences between the NZO and the WZO had diminished, the NZO decided to give up its separate existence and participated in the elections to the 22nd World Zionist Congress in Basel in 1946.

During the Mandate

Successive waves of Jewish immigrants arrived in Palestine between 1919 and 1939, each contributing to different aspects of the developing Jewish community. Some 35,000 who came between 1919 and 1923, mainly from Russia, strongly influenced the community’s character and structure.

These pioneers laid the foundations of a comprehensive social and economic infrastructure, developed agriculture, established kibbutzim (communal settlements) and moshavim (cooperative settlements), and provided the labor for the construction of housing and roads.

The following influx, between 1924 and 1932, of some 60,000 immigrants, primarily from Poland, was instrumental in developing and enriching urban life. They settled mainly in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, where they established small businesses, construction firms, and light industry.

The last major wave of immigration before World War II took place in the 1930s, following Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, and consisted of some 165,000 people, mostly from Germany. The newcomers, many of whom were professionals and academics, constituted the first large-scale influx from western and central Europe. Their education, skills, and experience raised business standards, improved urban and rural lifestyles, and broadened the community’s cultural life.

During the British mandate, agriculture expanded, factories were established, the waters of the Jordan River were harnessed for the production of electric power, new roads were built throughout the country, and the Dead Sea’s mineral potential was tapped.

Furthermore, a cultural life was emerging. Activities in art, music, and dance developed gradually with the establishment of professional schools and studios. Galleries and halls were set up to provide venues for exhibitions and performances.

The Hebrew language was recognized as one of the three official languages of the territory, along with English and Arabic, and was used on documents, coins, and stamps, and on the radio. Publishing proliferated, and Palestine emerged as the dominant center of Hebrew literary activity. Theaters opened and there were attempts to write original Hebrew plays. The Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra was also founded during this time.