For those who have studied the history of the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, the term “White Paper” is at once familiar and ambiguous. It is commonly understood that the issuance of “The White Paper” by Great Britain hampered the Zionist movement by limiting Jewish immigration into the British Mandate of Palestine.

The fact is that in relation to Palestine, the British government issued three White Papers, all of which were, in their own way, reactions to the Balfour Declaration and limited the Jewish benefits. Issued in 1917, not long after the British took over the Ottoman territory, the Balfour Declaration was a statement of the British Foreign Minister declaring Britain’s support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.

The first White Paper, known as the Churchill White Paper, was published on June 2, 1922, as part of the conclusion into an investigation of an Arab riot that had taken place in Jaffa in May 1921. While this White Paper affirmed Britain’s support of creating a Jewish homeland, it also emphasized that Jewish immigration would be permitted only in correlation to the land’s economic absorptive capacity.

On October 20, 1930, following the particularly violent riots in 1929, the British government issued the Passfield White Paper. This document downplayed Britain’s commitment to a Jewish homeland and limited the ability of Jews to buy land. It restricted Jewish immigration as a means of avoiding “overcrowding.”

The final White Paper was issued in 1939 and was created after the Peel Commission recommended partitioning the land into two separate territories. The 1939 White Paper rejected the partition plan. While it contained statements supporting a Jewish homeland in Palestine, tragically it also set a limit of 75,000 Jewish immigrants over the next five years (a period when a safe haven was most needed by the victims of the Holocaust).

This Treat was originally posted on October 20, 2017.

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