The Palestinian political system during the British occupation

The Palestinian political system during the British occupation


D. Essam Muhammad Ali Adwan


Talk about the Palestinian political system begins with the start of the British occupation. This is because Palestine was not a stand-alone state during Ottoman rule, It was not even a state of the Ottoman Empire, Rather, it was divided into three mutasarrifiyat: The Mutasarrifites of Nablus and Acre belong to the wilayat of Beirut, An independent Mutasarrifiya in Jerusalem follows the Sublime Porte.


British Military Administration in Palestine 1917-1920:


British forces began to apply military rule to the occupied territories. The south of Palestine came first and then north of it under British control.


Military rule of Palestine actually began in 1917, specifically since the English General Edmund Allenby issued his publication on October 24, 1917. It lasted until June 1920.
Three days after the occupation of the city of Jerusalem, General Allenby broadcast on 11/12/1917 the publication of martial law in Al-Quds Al-Sharif from the Citadel of Salah al-Din, in which he stressed that “the city has become subject to martial law. and that this regime will remain in force as long as belligerent considerations so require.”
General Allenby also announced the establishment of a military administration known as the “Southern Administration of the Occupied Enemy Countries.” This administration initially controlled only southern Palestine. British forces occupied all of Palestine in September 1918.


With the beginning of the British military rule of Palestine, Palestine was divided into thirteen brigades, It was then reduced in April 1919 to ten brigades that were classified into three grades: First, second and third. Each brigade was governed by a military governor, assisted by English officials.


The three-year military rule was characterized by absolute rule and Palestine was ruled without law. The word for the military ruler was the law, This was confirmed by Storz, the governor of Jerusalem, who said: “We lived in a state of ignorance and my word was the law.” In practice, this meant that the judiciary was following British military rulings and orders and not the other way around.


The military administration has relied on municipalities and mayors to govern the country. In the case of municipalities, the High Commissioner has given himself the right to appoint the mayor from among the winning members. Who always choose from the class of notables and senior owners. Until 1927, no municipal elections were held throughout Palestine. On the contrary, The British military administration did not interfere with the competence of the Jewish settlements, which from the beginning had independent municipal councils and their own military guards.


As for the mukhtars, The military administration abolished the Ottoman system of electing them and reappointing a large part of them but without salaries. Most of them were not good at reading, or writing, They represented families with important interests in the villages. This continued even during the Civil Administration.


It is true that in June 1918 the British administration issued orders to organize and re-establish the civil courts that prevailed in the Ottoman era. It established two courts of first instance in Jerusalem and Jaffa, It has also established “ad hoc courts” in districts where there are no courts of first instance.


As for the Sharia courts, they remained as they were before the occupation, The British administration promised to establish an Islamic Sharia court in every district. The same situation also remained in place with regard to the jurisdiction of the courts of the Christian and Jewish communities.


The British military administration was not concerned with enacting local laws or establishing firm foundations and laws for administration in Palestine, which was by pure legal terms a country without identity and unaccounted for. It awaits self-determination at international conferences.
Therefore, the British administration followed the regulations and laws that prevailed in the Ottoman era with some necessary amendments to them. According to the Ottoman Law of Associations, which was in force, Since 1918, the people of Palestine have begun to form political organizations, literary forums, Islamic-Christian associations and Arab-Palestinian conferences to lead the Palestinian people and represent their interests, goals and political aspirations.

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The first of these Muslim-Christian societies was founded in Jaffa in June 1918 under the chairmanship of Ragheb Abu Al-Saud. A Palestinian Muslim-Christian Association was established in Jerusalem in October 1918 under the chairmanship of Aref Dajani. Its statutes were established in Jerusalem in January 1919.


In light of these circumstances and political conditions, the Palestinian delegation was prevented, Elected by the First Palestinian Arab Conference, From traveling to Paris for the Versailles Peace Conference, The First Palestinian Arab Congress submitted a note of protest to the Congress on 3 February 1919, in which it affirmed the total rejection of the demands of the Zionist movement and the immigration of Jews to Palestine. And to the Balfour Declaration, And to any other treaty concluded against the country and its future without the will of the Palestinian people.
The memorandum also stressed the national demands for independence and unity.
Arabic However, Palestine is part of Arab Syria that has never been separated from it and has national, religious, economic and geographical ties to it.


When it became clear to the British military authorities that had authorized the conference, that it has not taken decisions consistent with its political objectives in Palestine, It resorted to preventing the publication of its decisions to the people, splitting the Palestinian national movement and eliminating the Arab nationalist and unitary trend in it.


Having formally proclaimed for the first time by the Military Governor of Palestine, General Bowles, the text of the Balfour Declaration on 20 February 1920, by the British Government, The country was engulfed by a wave of anger and armed violence, It began in Jerusalem during the season of the Prophet Moses on the fourth of April 1920 and lasted a whole week despite the declaration of martial law.
These actions and strikes marked the beginning of the struggle and armed struggle of the Palestinian people, who were forced to do so after the peaceful resistance represented by appeals, protests, demonstrations and strikes failed to compel the British Government to abide by its pledges to the Arabs and to refrain from implementing the Balfour Declaration.


Two months after these first bloody events, On July 1, 1920, the British government announced the establishment of a civil administration in Palestine headed by the British-born Jew Herbert Samuel.


Samuel was the first British High Commissioner for Palestine. During his five-year rule, he began to Judaize Palestine and put it in a political, economic and administrative situation leading to the establishment of a Jewish national home.


The British Mandate and Government in Palestine


General Introduction:


After the end of World War I in 1918, the Arab peoples under the control of the Ottoman Empire revolted against the Allies, demanding freedom and independence in compliance with their pledges and promises made to the Arabs during the war. But the Allies who won the war and signed in June 1919 at the Versailles Conference the Charter of the League of Nations, They devised a new system, which they called the Mandate System, with the aim of evading their obligations and continuing to occupy the territories that belonged to the Ottoman Empire.


Under Article 22, fourth paragraph, of the Charter of the League of Nations, on which the Mandate system is based, Some of the groups that belonged to the Ottoman Empire considered that they had reached such sophistication that they could be recognized as independent nations. provided that it shall be provided with advice and administrative assistance by a mandatory Power until such time as it is able to stand alone, The desire of these groups shall have a primary consideration in the selection of the Mandatory Power.


In April 1920, the Supreme Allied Council in San Remo decided to place Syria and Lebanon under the French mandate and Palestine and Jordan under the British mandate without consulting the peoples of the region. The people of Palestine did not participate or approve the decree of the Constitution of Palestine issued on August 10, 1922. This Constitution was not promulgated in a democratic manner consistent with the will of the people of Palestine concerned. Rather, this constitution came as an order issued by the King of Britain based on the powers vested in him by the Foreign Jurisdiction Act of 1890.


The British Mandate for Palestine of 1922 was in addition to the Constitution of Palestine, with subsequent modifications to it, Legal bases and references for the policies followed by British governments until 1948.


The Constitution of Palestine was another assault on the rights of the people of Palestine, like the British Mandate. The Constitution of Palestine was not in fact a law that guaranteed freedoms and safeguarded rights. Rather, it was a penal code and a consistent and complementary image of the British Mandate. Despite this, Britain did not rule Palestine according to the principle of the Mandate, Rather, it was governed by a direct and absolute rule in which it did not involve the Palestinian people either in legislation, governance or administration.
In the light of these constitutional and legal frameworks created by the British occupation, With the aim of giving himself legitimacy in establishing a Jewish national home in Palestine.
In light of the British policy that is biased on the ground towards the Zionist movement and its ambitions in Palestine and hostile to the natural and historical demands and rights of the Arabs in their country, Armed Arab resistance has become an imposed, foregone conclusion and cannot be avoided, especially after all peaceful means failed to convince the British Government of the need to respect the demands of Arab rights in the past.


  1. The establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine was completely rejected.
  2. Rejection of Jewish immigration to Palestine and rejection of the Zionist movement and its goals.
  3. Refusal to transfer land ownership from Arabs to Jews.
  4. Rejection of the British occupation of Palestine and policies biased towards Jews.
  5. The Arabs demanded that Britain become independent in Palestine and that a national government be established in it accountable to a parliament elected by the country’s inhabitants.

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Britain was not interested in responding to Arab demands or finding a just solution to the problem of Palestine that was consistent with the wishes of its inhabitants and people. In fact, it was only concerned with containing the Palestinian armed rebellions. and circumvent their demands.


The Executive Authority:


The British regime in Palestine from the beginning of its occupation in 1917 until the end of the Mandate in May 1948 was characterized by absolute and direct authoritarian rule. Whether during the 1917-1920 military rule or under the Civil Administration that replaced it from July 1, 1920. the powers and powers of the head of the Civil Administration, They were no less valuable than the powers and powers of the military ruler. The British Mandate Government, which directly ruled Palestine, It did not involve the people of Palestine in legislation, implementation or even administration, It also prevented him from forming a national government accountable to a parliament. The High Commissioner was appointed, Head of Civil Administration, From the King, He liaises directly with the Colonial Minister.


Through our review of the provisions of the executive authority contained in Articles (4-16) of the Constitution of Palestine of 1922, We find that:


The powers and powers of the High Commissioner are:


  1. He heads the Civil Administration and the Government of Palestine.
  2. Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
  3. responsible for the implementation of the provisions of the British Mandate, including the establishment of a Jewish national home in
  4. Disposal of princely lands and granting economic privileges.
  5. The right to appoint and dismiss his deputy and other government employees.
  6. He presides over the sessions of the Legislative Council (the legislative authority) and has the right to dissolve this Council.
  7. Perpetrators of crimes in Palestine shall be tried and pardoned shall be issued for any criminal or accomplice convicted of committing an offence by a court, judge or magistrate in Palestine.
  8. He has the right to enact laws and approve or not to promulgate them.
Based on the foregoing, we can reach a clear conclusion that the High Commissioner is the absolute ruler of Palestine. Combines in its hands huge executive, legislative, judicial and administrative powers, He is responsible for formulating and determining the general policy of the Mandate Government in all these aspects mentioned above. These powers are contrary to the most basic democratic rules known in the world. It is also contrary to the same British system of government that applies to the English people in Britain.


The Legislature:


Chapter III of the Constitution of Palestine of 1922 sets out the provisions of the legislative authority in Articles 34-17. Note that some articles of the legislative authority, such as Article (17), have been subject to some changes under the constitutional amendments made in 1923 and 1936. Articles 34-18 were repealed by the amended Constitution of Palestine of 1939.


Under the 1922 Constitution of Palestine, nor even under all subsequent constitutional amendments, the legislature was bicameral as in Britain itself or in most countries of the world. The British government aimed to adopt a unicameral system and not a bicameral system to accelerate the implementation of British Mandate policies in Palestine. and the establishment of a Jewish national home without legislative obstructions or obstructions, as happens under both chambers on the one hand, On the other hand, so that the people of Palestine are not properly represented in accordance with their numerical ratio.
Article XVII of the Constitution of Palestine of 1922 stipulates the establishment of the legislative authority, which consists of a single legislative chamber. This article states:


As of the date appointed by the High Commissioner to the Executive Council by a publication published in the Official Palestinian Gazette, a Legislative Council for Palestine shall be formed in accordance with the provisions of this decree and shall take the place of any advisory council then present…” The British Government thus abolished the Consultative Council it had established in October 1920 under the chairmanship of the High Commissioner to assist it in implementing its policies in Palestine. In addition to the High Commissioner, this Council consisted of twenty members, Ten of them are English members employed, Ten other non-staff members, four of them Muslims, three Jews, and three Christians.


Article XIX sets out the composition of this Council. Whereas, it affirmed that “the Legislative Council shall be composed of twenty-two members in addition to the High Commissioner, Ten of these members shall be British appointed officials, twelve of whom shall be non-staffed members” of whom ten shall be Palestinians (eight for Muslims, two for Christians, and two for Whites).


The powers and powers of this Council and the implementation of its decisions are entirely dependent on the will of the High Commissioner, who has absolute authority over it.


Under Article 22, The High Commissioner may, by a circular issued at any time, dissolve or dissolve the Council, The High Commissioner shall dissolve the Council at the expiry of three years from the date of its first meeting.


Article 24 stipulates that “no law shall enter into force unless approved by the High Commissioner and accompanied by his signature to mark such approval. Or unless approved by His Majesty by decree or through the mediation of the Minister.


From our perusal of the texts of the articles relating to the proposed legislature, we see that it was devoid of any power to pass laws without the consent of the High Commissioner who controlled it. It does not serve the interests and rights of the Palestinian people, He was represented as a minority. For these reasons, the Arabs of Palestine did not agree to the constitution or the Legislative Council.
Accordingly, on 31 August 1922, the Arab Executive Committee decided to boycott the elections for the Legislative Council (governorate, 1989, p/1) Consequently, the Arab members appointed by the Mandate Government to the Legislative Council refused to participate in it. As a result of the boycott of the elections by the Palestinian Arabs, The British government has abolished the part on the establishment of the Legislative Council, This forced it to amend the constitution and replace the Legislative Council with the previous Consultative Council of 1920.
The High Commissioner was able to convince ten Arab personalities to accept membership in the Advisory Board. Seven of them resigned following the call by the Arab Executive Committee for the Palestinian Arab people to boycott the Advisory Council.


Having failed to establish a legislative council and an advisory council with Arab participation, After the Arabs rejected the British proposal in October 1923 to form an Arab agency, It shall have the same powers as the Jewish Agency with respect to the Jews, with respect to the Palestinian people. But without having legislative capacity but rather advisory capacity, In December 1923, the British Government established an Advisory Board composed of senior English officials only. With this measure, the Mandate Government continued to govern the country directly, disregarding its duties in promoting the institutions of self-government in the country.
Nor by the request of the Palestinian people to establish a national government accountable to a parliament elected by the population of Palestine on the basis of the proportion of the population, This was contrary to its duties to establish a Jewish national home.


Following the outbreak of the Buraq Revolution in 1929 due to attempts by the Jews to control the Western Wall in Jerusalem, The British government formed a committee to investigate the causes of the revolution and to make the necessary recommendations. In this report of the Committee, Having studied the situation in the country, that the underlying cause without which the disturbances would not have occurred, It is the Arabs’ feeling of hostility and hatred towards the Jews because of their political and national disappointment and their fear for their economic and political future from the Jews due to the increasing Jewish immigration and the transfer of land ownership from the Arabs to the Jews, With regard to the Western Wall, the Committee recommended the speedy appointment of an international committee from the Council of the League of Nations. Subject to Article 14 of the Mandate, To adjudicate the rights and claims related to it. Indeed, the League of Nations agreed to form an international committee to study the question of telegraphy, It issued a report in 1930 in which it recognized Muslim ownership of the Western Wall as part of the Haram al-Sharif. as well as the ownership of the pier in front of it, Jews should visit him in the manner they had at the beginning of the occupation.


In October 1930, the British government issued the Passfield White Paper. It stated that the British Government had decided that the time had come to take another step towards granting the people of Palestine a degree of self-government. compatible with the provisions of the Mandate, And enable the Arabs who now have no constitutional means, who put their opinions on social and economic matters before the government, It is also involved in research and trading.” But the British government retracted Basfield’s book, which did not live more than a few weeks. It was followed by a black book that abrogated the Passfield’s book.
This black book was issued as a result of the pressure and threats exerted by the Zionist movement on Britain to wage an economic war against it if it implemented the terms of the Passfield book. The Zionist movement also succeeded in removing Sir John Chancellor of the High Commissioner from his post in retaliation for his proposal to establish a legislative council in the country. But the Zionist movement has once again forced the British government to retreat from its mandate policy. If it carries with it some positives for the benefit of the Arab people in Palestine. Zionist leader Dr. Chaim Weizmann justified the Jewish opposition to the PLC by saying that the Arabs would use it as a tool to impede the expansion of the Jewish national home.


As a result of the 1936 revolution and the great strike that lasted about six months, The British government formed a royal commission headed by Lord Peel to study the entire Palestinian question and the causes of the revolution. On 7 July 1937, the Royal Commission issued an official report on the implementation of the clause on the subject of the Constitution in the White Paper. It is the only part of the book that includes some positives for the Arab side, Despite the Arab sockets and reservations about it.


On the issue of immigration, the White Paper specified the number of Jewish immigrants allowed to enter Palestine over a period of five years only at seventy-five thousand. The British government will stop excess immigration. But what happened was that the British government did not stop excess immigration and did not adhere to the five-year period. In November 1944, the British government formally abolished this time limit for Jewish immigration.


As for the position of the British government in the 1939 White Paper on the land issue, The British government has confirmed the prohibition of the transfer of land ownership from Arabs to Jews in some areas. Restrictions were placed on the transfer of land from Arabs to Jews in other areas. Through this presentation, we see that this book has not been implemented either in spirit or in appearance. Although he does not believe in the rights of Palestinian Arabs, his fate was the fate of all the white books that preceded him.


The Judicial Authority:


The Constitution of Palestine Decree of 1922 provided for the formation of a group of courts to exercise their functions and competences to adjudicate disputes submitted to them as decided by the British High Commissioner from time to time. The principle of specialization was adopted in the submission of cases to the courts, This led to the division of the ordinary courts into civil courts and criminal courts. The civil judiciary is based on three types of courts: Magistrate’s courts, District Court, The Supreme Court of Appeal, Each of these courts has its own jurisdiction.


Articles 52-56 give Islamic Sharia courts and religious courts to Christian and Jewish communities independent powers to adjudicate, endowment and personal status cases in matters of marriage and divorce, internal administration, and religious bodies.


After 1936, the British authorities tightened their measures against the 1936 revolution to limit its effectiveness and spread, as the British authorities granted “military courts the right to impose death sentences on anyone who carries a weapon, regardless of the type of such weapon or its military value.”


Source: Osman Mahmoud Ahmed et al., National Education, Al-Quds Open University Publications, 2010, pp. 32–45

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