1920-1939 | Palestine

Peel Commission backs the expulsion of Arabs from their land

The Peel Commission sitting in 1936 –
Photograph in the public domain – via Wikimedia

7 July 1937

On 7 July 1937, a Royal Commission of Inquiry, headed by Lord Peel, published its report on Palestine, announcing that the current British mandate had become unworkable, and that the country should be divided into two states, Jewish and Arab. While the Jewish population was to receive one third of the land under the proposals, this was far greater than the five per cent of the land they actually owned.  The commission’s report therefore envisaged the inevitable expulsion of all the Arabs living within the proposed Jewish area, amounting to 49% of the population on average but including the vast majority of the residents in the district of Galilee.1

The Jewish population was also allocated the more prosperous areas and the best farmland, including Haifa, Tel Aviv and the coastal plain.  Much of the remaining cultivable land was to fall within in a small corridor from Jaffa to Jerusalem, including Bethlehem, which in the words of one British newspaper, comprised ‘the recognised Holy Land of the Christian faith… to be held in trust by Britain for all time.’2  Meanwhile, the Arab state was to be left with little more than the barren mountains and the Negev desert. Frances Newton, an Englishwoman who lived in Haifa, wondered how those expelled would take with them all the citrus and olive groves which they had farmed for centuries.3

In Britain, however, concern focused on Zionist disappointment that Jerusalem, ‘the natural capital’, was not included in the proposed Jewish area. ‘How is it possible,’ asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘for us not to sympathise in this matter with the Jews ?’4  Zionist leaders were, however, mostly more positive.  David Ben Gurion, who would later become Israel’s first prime minister, predicted that, although this was only a ‘partial Jewish state,’ it was not ‘the end, but the beginning, a powerful impetus in our historic efforts to redeem the land in its entirety.’ Earlier he had justified the Jewish people’s claims to Palestine to the commission, explaining that their ‘mandate’ was the bible.5

Although the recommendations of the Peel Commission were not immediately implemented, due partly to the escalation of the anti-British Arab insurgency which the proposals provoked and partly to the approach of the Second World War which diverted Whitehall planners. The proposals did, however, provide the basis for the later division of Palestine in 1948. This time about 56% of the land was allocated to the Jewish population as the new state of Israel. Within a few months, approximately 700,000 Arabs had been expelled from their homes.6


  1. Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997, Jonathan Cape, London, 2007, p. 468.
  2. ‘Echoes from Town,’ The Nottinghamshire Evening Post, 8 July 1937, p. 6.
  3. Tom Segev, One Palestine Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate, Abacus, London, 2014, p. 403.
  4. The quotation ‘the natural capital’ taken from ‘Palestine Mandate,’ the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 22 July 1937, p. 6. Cosmo Gordon Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury, cited in ‘The Archbishop’s Views,’ The Yorkshire Post, 21 July 1937, p. 9.
  5. Tom Segev, Op. cit., p. 401.
  6.  Zack Beauchamp, ‘What is the Nakba ?’ 14 May 2018, accessed online at url https://www.vox.com/2018/11/20/18080030/israel-palestine-nakba and ‘Al Nakba,’ Al Jazeera, accessed online at url https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/specialseries/2013/05/20135612348774619.html

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