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Palin Commission Report (1920)


british foreign office report on the causes of the arab violence in palestine, april 1920.

The Palin Commission (formally the Palin Court of Inquiry) was set up in Palestine in May 1920, in the wake of violent protests by Arab residents of Jerusalem against the growing presence and political demands of the Jewish community. In early 1920, Arab protests had been mounted against the Balfour Declaration, against privileges accorded the Zionist Commission, and against the denial of Arab independence. They culminated in violent attacks on Jews in Jerusalem during the celebration of the Muslim holiday of Nabi Musa in early April, which coincided with Passover. Five Jews and four Muslim Arabs died. At that time, Palestine was ruled by a British military administration, headed by General Louis J. Bols, who sought to reassure the Palestinian Arabs that Britain would observe the status quo in that territory.

The British Foreign Office appointed a commission composed of three military officers and headed by Major General P. C. Palin, which filed its report on 1 July 1920. The report, which was never made public, argued that the disturbances were caused by the Arabs' disappointment over unfulfilled promises of independence, which the British had made during World War I to Sharif Husayn ibn Ali of Mecca; their belief that the Balfour Declaration implied the denial of their own right of self-determination; and their fear that the establishment of a Jewish National Home would lead to such substantial Jewish immigration that the Arabs would be subject to the Jewish community. The report argued that those feelings were aggravated by the proclamation of Sharif Husayn's son Amir Faisal ibn Hussein as king of Syria, in March 1920, with a potential claim to Palestine, too. Feelings were also aggravated by the actions of the Zionist Commission, which sought a privileged status vis-à-vis the British military administration and asserted the right of the Jewish community to state-hood. The report called the Zionist Commission "arrogant, insolent and provocative" and said that its members could "easily precipitate a catastrophe" (McTague, 1983, p. 102). Nonetheless, the report concluded that the British must rule with a firm hand, proving that the policy of the Balfour Declaration would not be reversed but also that the Arabs would be treated fairly.

The report's substantive findings paralleled the views of General Bols, who wanted to reduce the authority of the Zionist Commission and reassure the Arabs. Instead, the British government decided that the Arabs would acquiesce once British pro-Zionist policy was implemented firmly. Therefore, London replaced the military administration with a civilian administration on the day before the Palin Report was submitted; that administration would be guided in its policy by the Balfour Declaration and presided over by a Jewish High Commissioner. The Palin Report's predictions proved accurate concerning mounting Arab-Jewish tension and the difficulty of reconciling their contradictory aims if Zionist aspirations were not moderated. But the report was never published or publicized and, therefore, failed to influence the public debate in London and Jerusalem at a time when British policy and the Arab-Jewish relationship might still have been modified.

see also husayn ibn ali.


Government of Palestine. A Survey of Palestine, vol. 1. Jerusalem, 1946. Reprint, Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1991.

McTague, John J. British Policy in Palestine, 19171922. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1983.

ann m. lesch

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