An Empire in the Holy Land: Historical Geography of the British Administration in Palestine, 1917-1929

By Abadi, Jacob | The Middle East Journal, Winter 1996 | Go to article overview

An Empire in the Holy Land: Historical Geography of the British Administration in Palestine, 1917-1929


Abadi, Jacob, The Middle East Journal


This study deals with British rule in Palestine during the first decade of the British Mandate. Gideon Biger discusses Britain's contribution to both Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine. The central theme of the book, however, is geographic in nature. The author argues that the country's boundaries were not determined according to the Wilsonian idea of self-determination popular at that time. They were the outcome of British strategic needs and the expediencies of the moment. Great Britain was the first to define Palestine's borders. This was a major contribution because it enabled the inhabitants not only to concentrate on developing the area, but also on developing a "national image." Unlike the French control over France's mandatory region, the British controlled Palestine in a centralist fashion and did not create subdivisions. Nevertheless, the central administration dealt only with matters relating to defense, finance, and foreign affairs. The British administration in Palestine chose to delegate a great deal of power to the district governors. Thus, it was capable of dealing with the main issues affecting the country's destiny.

The creation of an effective administration in Palestine was a gradual process that demanded modification and changes. During the period of military administration following the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the British left the territorial divisions within Palestine intact. Later, however, they sought to change the number and size of these units in order to enhance efficiency. The new territorial organization was determined by strategic and economic factors. Overall, the British saw benefit in larger units and delegated power to local authorities. All was done for the sake of efficiency.

The author describes British efforts and improvements in many areas. Caught between the need to introduce modernization and the lack of resources to do so, the British were forced to introduce partial reforms and to adopt resolutions as the need to do so arose. Thus, they invested much energy attempting to improve the lot of the Arab population while Jewish immigrants, who were considered far more advanced, were left with little financial assistance and professional advice. The socio-economic activities of the British administration in Palestine reveal great efficiency and little corruption. …

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