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Palestine: What the Mandate Said

In response to:

Palestine: How Bad, & Good, Was British Rule? from the February 7, 2013 issue

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
Shiloh, Israel

Avishai Margalit replies:

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.

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