|‘ The High Commissioners
The British High Commissioners in ISRAEL.
By Markel YacovUpon gaining the United Nations Mandate over Palestine, The British Government nominated a High Commissioner to rule the country.
There were seven (7) High Commissioners in total, who ruled over the entire territory on both sides of the Jordan River, meaning the western part, later on to become the State of Israel, as well as the eastern part, to become the Kingdom of Jordan. On the eastern side Abdullah son of Hussein was appointed as ruler and later on he became the first King of Jordan.
All the Commissioners were on the verge of retirement from public activity when nominated, the youngest being about 50 years old, and the eldest about 68. They regarded their job in Palestine as suitable to end their career and contribution to the British Crown. Only one of them was Jewish, one a Politician, 4 were high-ranked army Officers and 2 were highly ranked Civil Servants.
The First Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel, 1920-1925. The first British High Commissioner, appointed in 1920, was also the only Jew among the 7. He was 50 when he entered office, having already served the labor party as Parliament Member, was several time Minister in various Offices and helped obtaining the ‘Balfour Declaration’. The first Saturday on duty he walked all the way from his residence in Augusta Victoria to the ‘Ha’Hurva’ Synagogue in the Jewish quarter for the prayer. Everyone in the Synagogue was weeping of joy and excitement. Being Jewish made him harden his position, as he felt he had to prefer the Arabs over the Jews, so that ‘people won’t say’….
At first he allowed immigrants to enter the country (‘Aliayh’) but later on he changed his policy. He appointed Haj Amin El Housseini as ‘Mufty’ of Jerusalem (the highest Muslim Priest) thus turning him into the most significant Arab figure in the country. All his actions were aimed at calming down the Arabs. On the other hand, he helped the Jews overcome the severe unemployment at that time, by paving many roads and creating jobs for many.
His son Edwin married the daughter of Yehuda Gur, author of the well-known Hebrew dictionary. During his time, the events of May 1921 took place. He disappointed Jews and Arabs as well, however, when he was about to end his duty, both sides asked him to stay on.
The Second Commissioner, Lord Palmer, 1925-1928
Lord Palmer’s rank was Field Marshal. He arrived to Palestine in 1925 at the age of 68. After an opulent army service he reached the high rank of Field Marshal at the end of World War I. He also participated at the ‘Boor War’ in Africa where he fought against the black rebels. He was made ‘Lord’, and it seems that he got the High Commissioner office towards his retirement from public life. As an army veteran he was very firm in his positions and none of the rival sides could make him change his decisions. He wouldn’t hold back from letting the Arab’s have his opinion and insisted on keeping ‘public order’, which was indeed kept during the 3 years of his service. He also helped the Jewish settlement at time of the great crisis following the ‘Fourth Aliyah’. The ‘Pogrom’ started in 1929, after he left office.
The Third Commissioner, Sir John Robert Chancellor, 1928-1931
A former Officer of the British Colonies in Africa. He was wrong in his assessment of the situation in Palestine. The 1929 ‘Pogrom’ started one year after he entered office, caused by a dispute at the ‘West Wall’: “should Jews be allowed to put up a partition between men and women during prayer?” The Commissioner was out of the country for his annual vacation, and the leaders of the Jewish settlement were in Europe, participating at the Zionist Congress. The Arabs felt safe and the 1929 ‘Pogrom’ will be remembered for generations due to the massacre all over the country, especially in Hebron.
The Fourth Commissioner, Sir Arthur Wakopf, 1931-1938
Sir Arthur Wakopf arrived to Palestine in November 1931, at the age of 57, looking tired and older than his age. It seems that the British Government had learned from the mistake of Sir John Chancellor (in his tough attitude towards the Jewish settlement), and were looking for a better nomination, someone that would restore the good atmosphere during Lord Palmer’s days, and improve the difficult relationship between the British Government and the Zionist Movement. In addition to publishing Passfield’s ‘White Book” edicts, the British Government felt uneasy by the big tumult it created in the Jewish World. Chaim Weitzman was invited to Prime Minister Macdonald and was consulted which Commissioner to send to Palestine. According to Macdonald, a strong army man like Palmer was required in order to restore order, but also an open-minded one. Thus, Sir Arthur Wakopf was selected, and indeed he did a great job for six years. He sympathized with the Zionist concept, and did everything to assist the Jewish Settlement in Palestine. The population doubled and the gates of the land opened to the German Jews who fled immediately upon Hitler’s rise to Power. Wakopf was a Battalion Commander in the Indian Army and fought against the Turks in Iraq. After the war he was active as Military Inspector on restricting the German armament. During his first years he used to meet a lot with the Jewish Settlement leaders and participated in various events. Since he did not predict or stop the Arab mutiny of 1936, his position was weakened.
The Fifth Commissioner, Harold Mac-Michael 1938-1944
A High Officer of the British Government, former Governor of Sudan and High Commissioner of Tanganika. Mac-Michael came to Palestine at the age of 56, during the days of the ‘Arab Mutiny’ which took place for about 3 years, between 1936 and 1939. Held office of ‘British High Commissioner to Palestine’ for about six and a half years and during his entire period a bad atmosphere came through from the High Commissioners Palace in Jerusalem, located on a mount called ‘Bad Advise Mount’. New edicts were inflicted in 1939 in the form of ‘The White Book’ restricting the ‘Aliya’ – Jewish immigration to Palestine and prohibiting purchase of land by Jews, which only added to the bad atmosphere. Mac-Michael, being a strict British Officer, made sure to follow all new commands to the last. During his time deportation of illegal immigrants started, and he strongly opposed drafting Jews to the British Army during World War II. The sinking of the ‘Struma’ in the Black Sea with 800 illegal immigrants on board, including children, who were not allowed to enter the country, caused the ‘Hagana’ to distribute a ‘Wanted’ leaflet. In 1944, while he was driving from Jerusalem to Jaffa to his farewell party, ‘Ha’Lechy” people (underground movement) attempted to kill him, without success.
The Sixth Commissioner, Field Marshall Lord Gorth 1944-1945
Son of an aristocratic family, many of which were high ranked Army Officers. He was former Chief of Staff of the British Army. In 1940 he commanded the Army expedition in France, and was the one who saved the British Army at Dunkirk. In 1943 received the rank of Field Marshall and retired from the Army. He was 58 when he came to Palestine and it seemed like he was sympathetic to the Jewish settlement in the country. Due to his health condition, he resigned from office and died a short while afterwards.
The Seventh Commissioner, Allen Cuningham, 1945-1948
Cuningham commanded the troops that conquered Ethiopia from the Italians, but wasn’t very remarkable as commander of the Army who fought in 1941 against Romell in the Western Desert, on the Lybian front, and was sent back to London. At the end of 1945, aged 58, he was sent to Palestine, as High Commissioner. He wasn’t more hostile than the other Commissioners, however in his time the worst ‘events’ took place. The Jewish population at that time took actions against the British Government, organized by three underground movements, such as illegal immigration operations, setting up agricultural settlements, and a wide range of political activity. All of the above brought on trouble on daily basis. The British Government didn’t apply homogeneous instructions policy. The Foreign Minister, Bewin, required a firm hand, as did the Heads of the Army in Palestine. On the other hand, Prime Minister Ethly was in favor of more flexibility in the complex relationship. Until day of his departure on May 14 1948, Cuningham had to maneuver and handle all the events. Out of fear he might be attacked on his last voyage in the country from Jerusalem to Haifa, he traveled by a well secured convoy from the Commissioners Palace up to the airport at Calandia, and from there took a flight to Haifa which was totally under Military control. A boat took him from shore to a ship waiting at quite some distance – outside the territorial waters. Exactly on midnight of the night between 15 and 16 of May 1948, the flag was lowered down and the British Mandate on the Land of Israel was over.
Fragment of tours in Tel Aviv-Jaffa area by Yakov Markel, 03-5620812 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 03-5620812 end_of_the_skype_highlighting. .