The struggle against Jewish immigration to Palestine

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Britain's determination to preserve its position in the Middle East governed Whitehall's policy on Jewish immigration to Palestine both during and after the Seoncd World War. London recognized that the decline in Britain's standing in the international arena following the war necessitated its favourable consideration of Arab demands. The Arabs succeeded in making the question of Jewish immigration, and that of the illegal immigrants in particular, a test case for British-Arab relations. While the illegal immigration caused Britain considerable difficulties, especially from the summer of 1946, the pressure generated by these sailings could not match the exerted by the Arabs. Whitehall's refusal to increase the immigration quotas or to halt deportations to Cyprus as well as its continued struggle against the illegal sailings even after the UN decision on establishing a Jewish state reflected the British Government's order of priorities. Fear of riots by Palestinian Arabs which would likley erupt - with the support and aid of the various Arab countries - neutralized any possible counter-measures by the Zionists. All in all, there were no clear winners in the struggle over Jewish immigration. Britain succeeded in apprehending and deporting to detention camps in Cyprus and Germany most of the illegal immigrants, about 51 000 of the approximately 70 000 Jewish refugees who had embarked for Palestine. The number of most of the rest who were caught but allowed into the country was deducted from the official immigration quota. Very quickly London recognized that deportation to Cyprus was not in itself sufficient to end or even to limit the scope of illegal sailings; furthermore, the shortage of places of detention became more and more acute as time passed. The decision to send the illegal immigrants back to the ports from which they had embarked was, to a great extent, an admission of the failure of the Cyprus deterrent. Still, the deportations almost certainly obviated harsher reaction by the Arabs. From the Zionist perspective, British actions against the illegal immigration sometimes received worldwide media coverage, thereby helping the Zionists to prevent the Jewish DP problem from sinking into oblivion, especially in 1947, when international interest in the subject waned. Ih the end, the fact that tens of thousands of refugees had set sail for Palestine was itself a considerable achievement, especially since all the detainees eventually reached Palestine/Israel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-167
Number of pages22
JournalMiddle Eastern Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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