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Letter from David Ben-Gurion to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, on the Regulation of Jewish Immigration, Mar. 1938.

Returning and Redemption
The Right Hon. W. Ormsby-Gore, P.C., M.P.,

Colonial Office,

Downing Street, S.W.1.

Sir,

On behalf of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Palestine I have the honour to acknowledge with thanks the receipt of the letter addressed to them on your behalf under date March 14th, embodying the main provisions of your Despatch to the High Commissioner of March 10th.

2. The Executive note with gratification that consideration has been given to their representations on the subject of immigration, and that His Majesty’s Government agrees that there is “considerable force in the contentions… in favour of the more generous admission, on economic grounds, of persons of independent means, and, on grounds of humanity, of… wives and children of immigrants.”

3. The Executive also note that the imposition of a maximum of 8,000 permits for the last eight months, as well as the new restrictions for the next six months’ period, are not based on the “political high-level” recommended by the Royal Commission in Part II of its Report (since the recommendations of Part II have not yet been adopted by His Majesty’s Government), and that these restrictions are temporary and admittedly arbitrary.

4. The Executive feel, however, bound to take exception to the explanation given, in your Despatch of March 10th, and in the Colonial Office letter of March 14th, in justification of the arbitrary restrictions imposed upon Jewish immigration for the time being.

5. Para.5 of the Despatch reads-

“SEEING THAT THE DECLARED OBJECT OF THEIR POLICY, AS SET OUT IN THE WHITE PAPER OF JULY LAST, WAS A SCHEME OF PARTITION UNDER WHICH JEWISH IMMIGRATION WOULD BE CONFINED TO A LIMITED AREA, H.M.G. FELT THAT IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE, DURING THE INTERIM PERIOD OF PREPARATORY INVESTIGATION, TO ALLOW IMMIGRATION TO BE DETERMINED BY THE ECONOMIC ABSORPTIVE CAPACITY OF THE WHOLE OF PALESTINE, AND, THAT A TEMPORARY AND ADMITTEDLY ARBITRARY, RESTRICTION OF IMMIGRATION WAS INEVITABLE.”

The Executive feel that this statement cannot be reconciled either with the actual terms of the July White Paper, or with the facts governing the determination of Jewish immigration under the absorptive capacity principle.

6. In the Statement of Policy of July last H.M.G. made it clear that the partition scheme was not meant to reduce the rights conferred on the Jewish people by the Mandate, or merely to confine these rights to a limited area, but, on the contrary, to confer upon the Jews additional rights and powers which they do not enjoy under the Mandate, as a compensation for the territorial restrictions inevitable under a partition scheme.

Paragraph 7 of the July White Paper stated-

“In supporting a solution of the Palestine problem by means of partition, H.M.G. are much impressed by the advantages which it offers both to the Arabs and to the Jews… Partition would secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home, and relieve it of any possibility of its being subjected in the future to Arab rule. It would convert the Jewish National Home into a Jewish State, with full control over immigration.”

It is clear from this statement that’ the “declared object” of the policy thus defined is not merely “to confine Jewish immigration to a limited area,” as stated in the Despatch. Under a partition scheme as envisaged in the July White Paper, Jewish immigration would, it is true, be confined to a more restricted area, but it would no longer be subject to the limitations imposed by the present Mandate, or to the control of the Mandatory Administration. The Jewish State itself would have “full control over immigration.”

Thus, the meaning given by the Despatch to the July White Paper, that Jewish immigration as limited and determined under the Mandate, should be confined to a limited area, appears to be at variance with the declared object of H.M.G’s policy as set out in that White Paper. The July Statement of Policy makes a clear distinction between immigration under the Mandate and immigration under a Jewish State. Immigration under a Jewish State in a part of Palestine, according to the Statement, would be controlled by the Jews themselves, and would no longer be subject to the limiting provisions of the Mandate. This was one of the principal “advantages” which H.M.G. considered that the partition scheme would offer to the Jews. The territorial limitation of the Jewish National Home and of Jewish immigration envisaged in the White Paper was admittedly bound up with compensatory advantages in the form of additional and more comprehensive rights, and it would obviously be a reversal of the declared policy of H.M.G. to adopt the limitation without its compensating advantages.

7. From the interpretation thus placed – in the view of the Jewish Agency erroneously – on the policy of the July White Paper, the conclusion has been drawn that, during the interim period of preparatory investigation, the Government cannot allow immigration to be determined by the economic absorptive capacity of the country as a whole. The Jewish Agency ventures to submit that the distinction thus drawn between the absorptive capacity of Palestine as a whole, and the absorptive capacity of Palestine less the Arab area, is irrelevant to the question at issue, and cannot justify the arbitrary restriction placed on Jewish immigration. The whole practice of the Palestine Administration in estimating the absorptive capacity of the country for the purpose of determining Jewish immigration has been to take into account only the absorptive capacity of the Jewish community and of Jewish settlement in Palestine-

(i) Labour schedule immigration- In considering the Jewish Agency’s applications or certificates under the labour schedules, the labour requirement of Arab agriculture and Arab industry, (whether situated within the “future Arab Area” or outside it) have never, in fact, been taken into account. Only the needs of Jewish industry and Jewish agriculture have been considered.

Even assuming that the “future Arab Area” should, at the present time, be excluded from consideration in estimating economic absorptive capacity, there is no reason whatever why the whole absorptive capacity of the Jewish settlement, towns and villages, should not be the determining factor in fixing the labour schedule.

In the Despatch to the High Commissioner, one of the reasons given, for the reduction of the labour schedule is the fact that there is Arab unemployment in seven selected towns, which implies that when it is a question of reducing the estimate, the Arab area is in fact being taken into account by R.M.G. It seems highly illogical, therefore, that the need for excluding the “future Arab Area’’ from consideration should also serve as a justification for a further arbitrary restriction, of Jewish immigration. If the Arab area is not to constitute a positive factor for the increase of immigration, then obviously it should also not be used as a negative factor for reducing it.

(ii) Capitalist immigration- The arbitrary restriction of the, immigration of persons of independent means can similarly not be justified by the need for excluding “future Arab Area” from the estimate of absorptive capacity. The reason why the immigration of persons of independent means has never been numerically limited lies obviously in the fact that the absorptive capacity for this category of immigrants is determined by the capital which the immigrants themselves bring into the country. Whether the “future Arab Area” is to be included or excluded from the estimate of absorptive capacity is thus irrelevant to the entry of this class of immigrants.

(iii) Dependents- The maximum number of dependents (other than wives and children) who may enter the country during the coming six months is fixed by the new regulations at a figure of 200 – a restriction which it is again sought to justify by the argument that the whole of Palestine cannot now be taken into account in determining the volume of immigration. Here again, this argument appears to be irrelevant, as this category of immigrants is not brought in as a charge either upon Palestine as a whole, or upon any part of Palestine, but in each case as a charge upon an individual Jewish resident, who must satisfy the Government that he is able to maintain the dependents for whose admission he applies. Why, then, should a Jewish resident of Tel Aviv, or Haifa, or Petah Tikvah, be precluded, merely because the total of 200 has been exceeded, from bringing in his aged father, when he can prove to the satisfaction of the Government that he is able to maintain him? What has the distinction between the economic capacity of the country as a whole, and of the country less the Arab area, to do with the question of the entry of dependents?

8. The Executive of the Jewish Agency feel bound to challenge the view that the present arbitrary restrictions on immigration are consistent with the international obligation of the Mandatory Power under the Mandate. Any departure from the economic absorptive capacity principle is contrary to the most authoritative interpretations of the Mandate. In 1930, the League Council, at the request of the Mandatory Power itself, approved the principle that “Jewish immigration should be authorised to the extent allowed by the country’s capacity of economic absorption,” and the Permanent Mandates Commission at its last session (August 1937), expressed the view that the imposition of an over-riding maximum of 8,000 for an eight months’ period was a departure from this principle. The positive obligation under the Mandate to “facilitate Jewish immigration” can, in our view, hardly be interpreted as meaning the imposition of arbitrary restrictions on Jewish immigration.

9. Moreover, the view implied in the Despatch of March 10th that the positive obligation under the Mandate to “facilitate Jewish immigration” now applies to only a part of Palestine, and not to the country as a whole, is contrary to the explicit statements of the Accredited Representatives of H.M.G. in Geneva last autumn, as well as to the decision taken by the League Council in September 1937. The Secretary of State for the Colonies clearly stated before the Permanent Mandates Commission that

“The Balfour Declaration, like the Mandate, was, still a binding obligation, and would remain so until replaced by an independent Jewish State.”

And the League Council adopted, on Sept. 16th last a resolution to the effect that

“The Mandate approved on July 24, 1922, remains in force until such time as it may be otherwise decided.”

These declarations refer to the present Mandate, as it stands, with all its obligations, and it can hardly be held that Article 6 of the Mandate (enjoining upon the Government the duty of facilitating Jewish immigration), or any other Article, has been made wholly or partially inoperative by the Statement of Policy of July last. The provisions of that Statement will come into force only when a scheme of partition has been fully adopted by H.M.G. and approved by the League of Nations.

10. The Executive of the Jewish Agency therefore feel justified in insisting that the present arbitrary restriction of Jewish immigration is contrary to the international obligations of the Mandatory Power, and that, so long as the present Mandate remains in force. Jewish immigration should be proportionate to the economic absorptive capacity of Palestine, as sanctioned, at the request of H.M.G., by the Council of the League of Nations.

I have the honour to be,

Sir,

Your obedient servant,

D. Ben Gurion

CHAIRMAN OF THE EXECUTIVE OF THE JEWISH AGENCY FOR PALESTINE

Political Report of the Executive of the Jewish Agency submitted to the Twenty First Zionist Congress and the Sixth Session of the Council of the Jewish Agency at Geneva August 1939. Jerusalem 1939, p.76-80.

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