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Herbert Samuel

1870 - 1963.

Herbert Louis Samuel, 1st Viscount Samuel was the first appointed High Commissioner for Palestine, in charge of the administration of the territory from 1920 to 1925.

Source: Wikipedia.

Herbert Samuel was brought up in an Orthodox Jewish family but later stopped practicing. Despite this, he remained deeply invested in solving Jewish communal issues. He was the first Jew to hold a Cabinet minister position, and he even became the leader of the British Liberal Party from 1931 to 1935.

A month after Britain declared war on the Ottoman Empire in November 1914, Herbert Samuel met Chaim Weizmann, who would later become the first President of Israel. Weizmann noted in his memoirs that Samuel was already a strong supporter of Zionism.

Although Samuel didn't go into detail about his plans, he mentioned that "the Jews would have to build railways, harbors, a university, a network of schools, etc", as well as potentially a Temple in "modernized form".

By 1915, Samuel shared a memorandum called 'The Future of Palestine' with his colleagues in the cabinet, in which he suggested that Britain should conquer Palestine to protect the Suez Canal and make it a home for the Jewish people. This memorandum later influenced the Balfour Declaration.

Below are some timeline elements to give a bit more context to his nomination.

  • In December 1917, the British officer General Allenby entered Jerusalem,

  • In October 1918 British forces captured the rest of Palestine, and a military government was set up,

  • On the 25th of April 1920, the Council of the League of Nations approved a British mandate for Palestine during the San Remo Conference,

  • On July 1st,1920 Sir Herbert Samuel set up a civilian government.

Herbert Samuel became the first Jew to govern the historic Land of Israel in 2000 years. The local Jewish population warmly welcomed him.

You can see him at the beginning of this video.

Samuel's appointment to become High Commissioner for Palestine was controversial. While the Jews in the Land of Israel welcomed the appointment of a Zionist Jew to the post, the military government, headed by Edmund Allenby, called Samuel's appointment "highly dangerous". The idea of appointing Samuel was also debated in the House of Lords, up to a day before he arrived in Palestine. Three months after his arrival, The Morning Post commented: "Sir Herbert Samuel's appointment as High Commissioner was regarded by everyone, except Jews, as a serious mistake."

As High Commissioner, Samuel aimed to act as a mediator between the interests of Zionists and Arabs. He wanted to gather the main stakeholders under the British Flag.

Therefore, Herbert Samuel:

  • worked to decrease the rate of Jewish immigration and build trust with the Arab population,

  • tried to involve Arabs in mandate affairs and protect their civil and economic rights. On the other hand, he did not grant them any authority that could hinder Jewish immigration and land acquisition.

  • chose the spiritual leader of the Muslim population, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al-Husseini (a noted Arab nationalist extremist),

  • was called to the Torah at the Hurva synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem,

  • recognized Hebrew as one of the three official languages of the territory after Eliezer Ben-Yehuda convinced him to do so,

  • tried to set up 300 village schools in four years, but a financial crisis intervened,

  • established a Department of Posts and Telegraphs that replaced the Ottoman and foreign postal services that existed before World War I,

  • continued road construction work initiated by the Ottoman Empire, making the roads the main transport system of Palestine.

During Samuel's administration, the Churchill White Paper was published. The Churchill White Paper was a policy paper issued by the British government in 1922. It declared support for the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, but it also limited Jewish immigration and land purchases based on the region's economic capacity to accommodate the newcomers. The paper also emphasized the importance of protecting the rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine. The Churchill White Paper became an important document in shaping the political landscape of the region.

His impact on the current situation in Palestine is still debated, and Many Zionists were ultimately disappointed by Samuel, who they felt did not live up to the high expectations they had of him.

In 1925, Herbert Samuel returned to Britain and dealt with local political affairs. Samuel believed that he had laid the foundations for the development of modern society. But lack of money held up many of his plans.

He was replaced by Lord Plumer.



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