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High Commissioners (Palestine)


Heads of the Palestine government during British civilian rule (1 July 192014 May 1948).

Except for a short period (December 1917June 1920) of British military government, Palestine under the British mandate was run by a civilian administration headed by a high commissioner, who reported directly to London. Though entrusted by the League of Nations to Great Britain as a mandate, which entailed the "development of self-governing institutions," Palestine was governed as a British crown colony; that is, full power and authority were vested in the high commissioner. His powers included censorship, deportation, detention without trial, demolition of the homes of suspects, and collective punishmentpowers that were used against both Palestinian and Jewish communities.

The high commissioner was assisted by an executive council consisting of a chief secretary, attorney general, and treasurer and by an advisory council consisting, from 1920 to 1922, of British officials and prominent Arab and Jewish appointees; after 1922 its members were all British officials. In 1922 and 1923, the high commissioner proposed to the Arab and Jewish communities the establishment of self-governing institutions for Palestine, in particular a legislative council, but due to the conflicting political goals of the two communities and to Britain's Balfour Declaration, which favored a Jewish national home in Palestine, such institutions were never agreed to or established and the high commissioner continued to exercise sole authority over Palestine until the end of the mandate.

The Palestine government was headed by seven high commissioners, whose names and dates of appointments were as follows:

Sir Herbert Samuel, 1 July 1920

Lord Herbert Plumer, 14 August 1925

Sir John Chancellor, 1 November 1928

Sir Arthur Wauchope, 20 November 1931

Sir Harold MacMichael, March 3, 1938

Viscount John Gort, 31 October 1944

Sir Alan Gordan Cunningham, 21 November 1945

See also balfour declaration (1917); legislative council (palestine); mandate system; palestine; plumer, herbert charles onslow.


Jones, Philip. Britain and Palestine, 19141948. Oxford: Oxford University, 1979.

Palestine Government. A Survey of Palestine, 2 vols. (1946).

Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1991.

Patai, Raphael, ed. Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel, 2 vols. New York: Herzl Press, 1971.

philip mattar

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