Sat,May 25,2013 16 Sivan 5773
To the Editors:Avishai Margalit errs in his book review essay [“Palestine: How Bad, & Good, Was British Rule?,” NYR, February 7]. He writes that the League of Nations Mandate over Palestine conferred on Britain was to prepare the country “to be a ‘national home for the Jews,’ without ‘impairing the civil and religious rights of the indigenous Arab people.’”That is quite wrong as the Mandate decision does not include the phrase “indigenous Arab people.” The phrase that actually appears is: “nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” Arabs, as such, are not mentioned. Political rights were the prerogative of the Jewish people. Residency rights, religious rights, personal liberty rights were to be assured. But nothing more than that and certainly no state which was to be established in the territory of Transjordan, partitioned from the original Mandate area in 1922.
Yisrael Medad is right about the wording of the League of Nations’ Mandate document. But since the “indigenous Arab people” (my expression) and “non-Jewish communities in Palestine” (the Mandate document expression) are coextensive, apart from 1 percent of others, it is a difference that makes no difference.If wording counts, it is more important to remark that the Mandate document doesn’t mention “political rights” for the Jewish people in Palestine. The only reference to “political rights” is the rights of “Jews in any other country.” The expression “national home” lacks any juridical meaning, unlike, say, home rule. The Mandate document deliberately left vague what the rights of the Jews in Palestine are. It is Medad who gives prerogative political rights to the Jews in Palestine rather than the wording of the Mandate.The interpretation Medad gives to the Mandate expression “civil rights” as confined to residency rights and personal liberty rights is again of his making. There is no reason to believe that “civil rights” in the Mandate document meant to preclude the rights of the non-Jews to citizenship in any future state in Palestine.
In Avishai Margalit's reply to me, admitting his error, he impugns to me an opinion I did not express nor, to make clear, do I hold, when he writes "There is no reason to believe that “civil rights” in the Mandate document meant to preclude the rights of the non-Jews to citizenship in any future state in Palestine", ("Palestine: What the Mandate Said", March 7, 2013).My point was that that "future state in Palestine", at least west of the Jordan River, was to be a Jewish one. An Arab state in historic Palestine was not at all contemplated. However, due to Arab terror in Jerusalem in April 1920, when Jews were killed, and other violent agitation, Winston Churchill, as Minister of Colonies, decided during March 1921 to truncate the original Jewish National Home area. He created an Arab emirate in Transjordan and prohibited Jews from either owning land or settling there, a policy the League of Nations agreed to but only as a form of postponement (Article 25 of the 1922 Mandate decision). That policy surely discriminated against and precluded the rights of Jews who were indigenous to the country living in Hebron, Gaza, Nablus (Shchem) and Jerusalem for centuries. The future ruling family of what eventually became the Kingdom of Jordan, incidentally, originated in Saudi Arabia.