On 23rd of May 1939 the UK Parliament voted to establish an independent state of Palestine within 10 years. Jewish immigration and land transfers were to be limited. Britain was the administrating body in Mandatory Palestine, set up after World War 1 in 1920 and which continued until 1948.
Britain had promised to establish an independent Arab state in return for support against Germany in WW1. Those that know the story of Lawrence of Arabia will know the part he played and the subsequent betrayal by the British for this promise. Britain had also promised to create a Jewish home in Palestine with the Balfour Declaration in 1917.
From the debate on the White Paper of 1939 in the House of Commons, James Maxton MP (Independent Labour Party) said:
“We here in Great Britain have told the world that we are champions of democracy against all others. I have a strong feeling that one of the best things we could do for democracy in these times is to show some confidence in it. I have grave doubts about the democracy of us in this House, 2,000 miles away from the scene, holding the destinies of the people in that territory in our hands.
“I have grave doubts as to the democracy of Arabs in Syria, in Egypt and in Iraq, telling me how to deal with the lives of the people in Palestine, just as I have grave doubts of the democracy of Jews in Glasgow, Edinburgh, London or New York, telling me how to decide the lives, of the people in Palestine.
“I have grave doubts as to the democracy of the conferences which the Colonial Secretary-calls in London, and to which he summons people from all over the place, while he never makes any serious attempt to summon the ordinary Arab and Jewish folk from Palestine, who have to live and work and earn their livelihood there, to hear their views of the situation.
“To me it seems that the right thing to do is to say that we are going to have democracy now in Palestine in the fullest sense of the word, not a democracy in which Arabs are manipulated by people outside, or Jews manipulated by people outside, or the British Government or the British armed forces, but a democracy which puts on the people living in that territory the task of making themselves into a proper democratic community, shouldering all the responsibilities of a democratic community.
“Do not let us imagine that in these days the British are capable of managing the affairs of people in all corners of the globe. Let us assume that among the Jewish people and Arab people in Palestine there are as good political brains as there are in this House. I talked with simple, plain men who were as well informed on the general politics of the world, of Europe and their own country as anybody in this House. ” PALESTINE Hansard
We are not makers of history. We are made by history. Martin Luther King, Jr.