Jerusalem 1938

Jerusalem 1938

Film from Jerusalem, shot in March 1938. The photographs show the old city of Jerusalem and pictures of the new Hebrew University building on Scopus Mountain and various photographs of the new city. Finally, some Arab leaders of the office of the Supreme Islamic Council (SMC), the highest religious Muslim authority in Palestine, are portrayed. Other images we have scanned include various kibbutzim, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa and the Allenby Bridge.

The background to the film was the appointment of the Woodhead Commission by the British government on 4 January 1938. The Commission is to investigate the practical aspects of the division of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish part.


Around 1900 Palestine was a remote Ottoman province and rather sparsely populated. It is estimated that there were 400,000 inhabitants living in the area, including modern Jordan, which lies on the other side of the Jordan. Between 1882 and 1903 about 25,000 mainly Russian and Romanian Jews had immigrated to the area around Haifa. Between 1904 and 1914 another 40,000 Russian Jews came to Palestine.

The British Mandate of Palestine

At the end of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Palestine became the mandated territory of the League of Nations. At the San Remo Conference in 1920, Great Britain was given the mandate to administer the territory.

The Palestine mandat

In the preamble to the mandate treaty, the aim of the administration by the League of Nations is to “build a national house for the Jewish people in Palestine”. The rights of the “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” are to be preserved. Article 4 states that the Jewish and Palestinian administrations shall cooperate in establishing the Jewish homeland.

Population of Palestine

The 1922 census gives a population of 757,182, including 83,794 Jews and 590,890 Muslims. Between 1919 and 1931 another 115,000 Jews came to Palestine. In 1931, 1,035,821 inhabitants were counted in the mandated area (including Jordan) according to the UN Statistical Yearbook of 1948. Of these, 174,610 were Jews and 759,712 Muslims. According to the UNO, about 280,000 of them lived in present-day Jordan. The ratio of population groups in Palestine west of the Jordan was thus about 1 to 2. By 1939 another 220,000 Jewish immigrants had arrived in Palestine, including many Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. For 1937, the UN statistical office estimates 389,000 Jewish and 875,000 Muslim inhabitants. Because the Jewish population more than doubled in just 6 years, 6 Muslim Arabs in Palestine without Trans-Jordan now had 5 Jews.

The strong immigration led to great tensions. Already in 1929 there were 3 massacres of Jews with more than 100 dead. In 1936 the Arabs began an uprising against the British Mandate, which was bloodily suppressed.

Nazi Germany and the Arab Uprising

The role of the German Nazi government as financier and promoter of the insurgents is interesting. Between 1933 and 1937, the German Nazi government used Jewish emigration from Germany to Palestine for lucrative foreign exchange deals. Then comes the pan. In 1937, the German Foreign Office notes: “There is a German interest in it if Arabism could be “played off” as a counterweight to the emergence of a Jewish state.

Nazi Germany and the person of Hitler met with sympathy among the Muslims. The main reason for this was the common anti-Semitism, which the Germans still knew how to stir up. The German radio station Radio Zeesen broadcast anti-Semitic articles in Arabic via shortwave in the Middle East. Already in 1924 group of several thousand German colonists living in Palestine opposed against the establishment of a Jewish homeland. Meanwhile, in the 1930s, the colonists were in a strong National Socialist mood and supported the fight of the rebellious Arabs against Britons and Jews. The swastika becomes a pass in insurgent areas.

“The realization that Judaism in the world will always be the irreconcilable opponent of the Third Reich forces the decision to prevent any strengthening of the Jewish position,” the German Foreign Office stated in a 1938 memorandum.

The Jerusalem Mufti Al Huseini flees the mandate area in 1937 to escape arrest. He first went to Iraq, where he organized a pro-German uprising. When these companies failed, he fled to Berlin in 1941. There he was generously supported by Hitler’s Germany as an ally and continued his actions in the Middle East. In a conversation with Hitler, he stated that the Arabs hoped that Germany’s victory would unite Palestine and “eliminate the national Jewish homeland”.

Peel Commission Palestine Map

Background of the filming: The partition plan

Back to 1938: With the partition plan of the Peel Commission, the British government tried to achieve a reorganization of the area between the enemy parties. A Jewish state was to be founded in the area outlined in red on the map. The rest of the territory was to become an Arab state and the territory between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was to remain under international control.

The two main Jewish leaders, Chaim Weizmann and Ben-Gurion, had convinced the Zionist Congress to ambiguously endorse the Peel recommendations as a basis for further negotiations. But the Arabs rejected the partition plan. In particular, the Mufti of Jerusalem Ahmed Al Husseini insisted uncompromisingly on a return to the status before Jewish immigration. Abdullah I of Jordan was different. Abdullah supported the British partition plan. In 1938 the Woodhead Commission was to clarify the proposals for a division of the mandate area among Jews and Arabs that had already been worked out by the Peel Commission.


The conflicts continue to escalate. On 2 October 1938, 19 Jews, including 11 children, were murdered in the city of Tiberias. During the massacre, 70 armed Arabs set fire to Jewish houses and the local synagogue. On 18 October, British troops took control of the Old City of Jerusalem, which had been occupied by Arab extremists in early October.

Politics in the world war

However, at the beginning of World War II, the British tried to secure the Arab flank by strictly limiting Jewish immigration and even banning the purchase of land for further Jewish settlements. These measures clearly contradict the mandate and cost the lives of many Jews. For they can no longer flee to Palestine before the Holocaust takes its course.

UN Palestine Partition Plan 1947

The decision of the UN 1947

On 29 November 1947 the UN General Assembly adopts Resolution 181 (II), which provides for a division of the mandate area similar to the pre-war plans. In 1946, the UN estimated the Jewish population at about 600,000, the Arab population at 1.1 million, and 400,000 of these in Transjordan. In 1948, the British leave the Mandate. On 15 May the Jews proclaim the foundation of their state in accordance with UN resolutions. The Arab states attack the Jewish state immediately. But the state was able to defend itself successfully. Supported by weapons and diplomacy from the Soviet Union and especially the CSSR.