The Establishment of the Jewish Agency and Expansion of the Yishuv

Between 1929 and 1939, the Zionist enterprise advanced significantly and a Jewish state in Eretz Israel that in the '20s had been a distant dream appeared, by the end of the 1930s, to be within reach. These were years in which great achievements were made, but they also exposed great dangers.

The beginning of this period looked promising. In August 1929, the Jewish Agency was established; a world Jewish body that took upon itself the uniting of Zionists and non-Zionists in order to further strengthen the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine. Hopes were high and it finally seemed that the time had come to start working on a larger scale.

But after just a few days, the 1929 (5689) Arab riots broke out, and there was uncertainty regarding the continued development of Eretz Israel. The British were also having doubts regarding the promises made in the Balfour Declaration. In addition, an economic crisis in the United States came to a head a number of weeks later, which worsened in the years to come and prevented the flow of American-Jewish capital to the Yishuv for development purposes.

In the following years, the Zionist enterprise progressed very slowly, but from 1932 onwards, and especially between 1933 and 1935, aliyah moved into top gear. Thus from a small minority, the Jewish Yishuv in Eretz Israel became almost one-third of the population, with a developed economy and a society showing increasing signs of becoming a state. The Arabs of Palestine tried to prevent the expansion and strengthening of the Yishuv. To this end they initiated a series of violent incidents that very quickly deteriorated into riots and an Arab Rebellion that went on for three years (1936-39).

Throughout the decade, the British rulers of Palestine moved from supporting the Zionist movement, to having reservations about it, to rejecting it outright. This was given expression in the White Paper of 1939. Relations with the British by the end of the 1930s were extremely poor. It came as no surprise then when Jewish Agency chairman David Ben-Gurion declared the end of the period of political Zionism and the beginning of a period of "fighting Zionism" against Britain.

At the end of the 1920s, two rival political movements arose: the Labor movement on the Left, and the Revisionist movement on the Right. The Revisionists, led by Ze'ev Jabotinsky, challenged the leadership and policies of WZO president Dr. Chaim Weizmann. At the Zionist Congresses of 1931 and 1933, they clashed with most of the parties and leaders, and, finally, seceded from the WZO. In 1935 the Revisionists established the New Zionist Organization (NZO).

Dr. Chaim Weizmann, who was associated more than any other Zionist leader with Britain, resigned from his position as WZO president after the mandatory authority withdrew from its commitments (the White Paper of 1930). Even though he achieved his aim and the government in London gave its assurance once again, the Seventeenth Zionist Congress (1931) did not re-elect Weizmann. Nahum Sokolow took his place for the next four years. In 1935, Weizmann returned and was reelected to the presidency of the WZO, but his status was never quite the same. In addition, he was faced with a new and rising star in the Zionist movement - David Ben-Gurion. The latter headed the Labor Movement in Eretz Israel, whose aim was to wrest Zionism from the hands of the parties of the Center and Right. This mission was accomplished in two elections to the Zionist Congress - the eighteenth in 1933 and the nineteenth in 1935. Ben-Gurion spent the next 30 years first as head of the Zionist leadership, and afterward as prime minister of the State of Israel.

Ben-Gurion turned the Zionist Executive and the Jewish Agency, which he headed and which developed from the 1930s on, into the "nascent government" of the "nascent state."

It came as no surprise that he and the distinguished leaders who worked together with him, particularly Moshe (Shertok) Sharett, head of the Political Department, and Eliezer Kaplan, head of the Finance Department, filled the most senior government posts after the establishment of the State - prime minister and defense minister, foreign minister and finance minister.

In the 1930s, the Nazi danger began to constitute a threat to German Jewry in particular and European Jewry in general. Adolph Hitler, a fanatical and racist leader, turned the Nazi party in Germany into a ruling party that from 1933 on operated an extreme anti-Jewish policy. At first thousands, later hundreds of thousands of German Jews and Jews from neighboring countries, wished to leave Europe, but no country was willing to take them in. Only tiny Palestine and its Jewish Yishuv were willing to open their gates to them. The British will be remembered favorably for enabling the mass aliyah of Jews to Palestine at this time, until, due to Arab pressure, they relented. This resulted in the phenomenon of the "illegal" aliyah (ha'apala) of Jews to Palestine. The Zionist leadership had to maneuver between cooperating with the British and fighting them, while attempting to negotiate with the Arabs in order to curb their terror; and all this while internal struggles in the Jewish world and in Eretz Israel were taking place.

In 1936, following a wave of violence initiated by the Arabs against the Jewish Yishuv, the British sent a royal commission to Palestine, headed by Lord Peel (the Peel Commission). This recommended partitioning Palestine into two states: a small Jewish state in the Galilee, the northern valleys and the coastal plain; an Arab state in the rest of the country, and a British "corridor" that would include Jaffa, Jerusalem and everything in between. The Arabs rejected the royal commission proposal; some Jews believed that it should be approved, and this caused bitter argument at the Twentieth Zionist Congress. In any case, the British went back on their proposal and adopted an anti-Zionist policy (the White Paper of 1939).

The seeds, however, had already been sown. The Jewish state, that few dared dream about a decade ago, appeared tangible and within reach. Also the fact that close to half a million Jews were living in Palestine in 1939 - the fruits of strenuous Zionist activity - spoke for itself, and the question was ho longer was there the prospect of a Jewish state, but when would it materialize.


The Wailing Wall incident gains momentum. The Arabs accuse the Jews of coveting the Arab holy places on the Temple Mount, resulting in clashes between Arabs and Jews in the Wailing Wall plaza. The Yishuv's serious economic and social crisis ("the Fourth Aliyah crisis") is coming to an end.

July 27
The Sixteenth Zionist Congress convenes in Zurich, Switzerland. Discussions focus on the establishment of the expanded Jewish Agency and the situation in Eretz Israel. The number of Revisionists and Labor movement delegates has increased greatly.

August 11
Following the Congress, the Constituent Assembly of the expanded Jewish Agency convenes in Zurich, an institute which includes the WZO and non-Zionist circles, especially in the United States. Among the participants at the founding conference - Prof. Albert Einstein, Lord Alfred Melchett from England and the well-known French Jewish leader Leon Blum (later to become the first Jewish prime minister of France).

August 23-29
The 1929 (5689) riots in Palestine. Violent Arab attacks take place throughout Palestine, leaving 133 Jews dead and hundreds wounded. Settlements are abandoned. The Jewish Yishuv and the Jewish world are deeply shocked.

September 24
Due to the state of emergency, additional important personalities join the National Council, headed by Pinhas Rutenberg, director of the Palestine Electric Company, in order to strengthen it. Soon after, Rutenberg is appointed president of the National Council - a position that did not previously exist. He holds this position for a short period of time.

October 24
The Shaw Commission, a British commission of inquiry, is sent to Palestine to investigate the reasons for the bloody riots in August.


January 6
The Po'alei Eretz Israel (Mapai) party is established in Tel Aviv, the union of two workers parties - Ahdut Avoda and HaPo'el HaTzair. It will lead the Yishuv and the State for close to 50 years.

March 31
The British reduce the aliyah quota and send a senior government official, John Hope-Simpson, to Palestine in order to investigate "all sides" of the Palestinian problem.

August 22
Hope-Simpson publishes his conclusions. He proposes halting Jewish aliyah and the establishment of any additional Jewish seftlements. There is disappointment in the Jewish-Zionist camp at the British change of heart regarding its commitments in the Balfour Declaration.

Plowing and tilling work begins in Wadi Hawarith, later Emek Hefer (Hefer Valley).

October 20
The British government publishes the White Paper of the British colonial secretary, Lord Passfield, which adopts the anti-Zionist attitude of Hope-Simpson. WZO president, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, who represents the consistent pro-British line, resigns in protest.


January 5
Elections take place to the third Elected Assembly. Mapai gets over 40%. The Revisionists get 20%.

February 13
The British try to "soften" the blow of Passfield's White Paper. Prime Minister J. Ramsay MacDonald sends a letter to the WZO in which he reiterates the British commitment, in accordance with the Balfour Declaration. Weizmann rescinds his resignation.

A group of Hagana members reject the concept of restraint and break away from the Hagana in Jerusalem. They form their own armed resistance movement which at first is called Hagana Bet and later Irgun Tzva'i Le'umi (National Military Organization) or Etzel.

June 30 - July 17
The Seventeenth Zionist Congress convenes in Basle and serious clashes between the Revisionist movement heads and most of the Congress take place regarding the "ultimate goal" of Zionism. The Revisionists demand an immediate decision -that the "ultimate goal" of the Zionists be declared the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz Israel. When their demand is rejected they leave the Congress in protest. Dr. Chaim Weizmann is not elected president of the World Zionist Organization - the price for his support of the British; Nahum Sokolow is elected in his stead. A new Executive is established, with Labor movement members participating, for the first time, in senior positions. Dr. Hayim Arlosoroff, aged 32, is elected head of the Political Department.

November 18
The mandatory government holds a second census in Eretz Israel. It establishes that there are 175,000 Jews, 851,000 Arabs and 10,000 others in Palestine. The Jews comprise 17% of the population.
During 1931, and after prolonged discussions, a national headquarters is established for the first time, supported by the National Institutions - the Jewish Agency and the National Council. (For the first ten years of its existence, the organization is sponsored by the General Federation of Labor).


March 28
The first Maccabiah opens in Tel Aviv - an international Jewish Olympics in which Jewish sportsmen from 21 countries participate.

April 7
The first Levant Fair opens in Tel Aviv - an international fair with the participation of representatives from 24 countries. It is highly successful from an organizational and economic standpoint.

Due to the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and fears for the fate of the Jews, Recha Freier, a former teacher and researcher in Berlin, proposes sending Jewish youth to Eretz Israel ahead of their parents. Youth Aliyah is born.

A large settlement drive in Eretz Israel results in 15 new Jewish settlements in just one year - a 14% increase.


With the rise of the Nazis in Germany, Jewish aliyah to Eretz Israel intensifies. This is promptly named the Fifth Aliyah. Even though the majority of immigrants are from Eastern Europe, it is referred to as the immigrant wave from Germany and central Europe (although they only comprise one-quarter of the immigrants). For that reason the Fifth Aliyah is also referred to as the German Aliyah. Within six-and-a-half years, close to a quarter of a million Jews make aliyah.

January 30
Adolph Hitler comes to power in Germany and implements blatant anti-Jewish policies.

March - June
There are stormy elections to the Eighteenth Zionist Congress, which is to convene in Prague in the summer. Clashes between Revisionist movement supporters and Labor movement supporters in Eretz Israel, Poland and other countries worsen.

Dr. Hayim Arlosoroff, head of the Political Department of the Zionist Executive and of the Jewish Agency Executive, is shot and killed on a Tel Aviv beach. The Yishuv and the Zionist movement are in shock.

August 21 - September 4
The Eighteenth Zionist Congress convenes in Prague in the shadow of Hitler's rise to power. The Labor movement, which wins the election by a near decisive majority, forms the coalition in the Zionist Executive. Dr. Arthur Ruppin is elected chairman and Moshe (Shertok) Sharett becomes head of the Political Department. Secretary of the Histadrut (the General Federation of Labor), David Ben-Gurion, is elected a member of the Executive, and Nahum Sokolow is elected for a second term as president of the WZO. In 1933 aliyah reaches a peak: the number of Jewish immigrants to Palestine, 37,000, is more than in the entire four-year period of the Third Aliyah; 21 new settlements are set up.

In this year, Youth Aliyah is formally established. At its head is Henrietta Szold, one of the leaders of American Zionism, who made aliyah in 1920. In the same year, the transfer agreement with the German government is implemented, enabling German Jews making aliyah, to transfer their money to Palestine.

In 1933, the moshavim movement is established. This unifies the moshavei haovdim (workers moshavim) and the bodies that will establish new moshavim.


Throughout most of the year there is tension in the Yishuv (due to the murder of Arlosoroff and the trial of those accused of his murder) between the Labor movement and the Revisionist movement. A number of violent incidents break out between the two sides.

February 19
The first youth group arrives in Palestine in the framework of Youth Aliyah. The youngsters are sent for training to Kibbutz Ein Harod.

March 25 - April 5
The Zionist Actions Committee convenes in Jerusalem for the first time in its history. Until now it has only convened abroad,

April 9
The National Labor Federation (Histadrut haOvdim haLeumit) is founded, which is associated with the Revisionists.

July 31
The first "illegal" immigrant ship – "Velos" - reaches the shores of Palestine, an operation organized by kibbutz members and the Hagana.

August 25
"Union", the second "illegal" immigrant ship - organized by the Revisionist movement - arrives in Palestine,

October 26
David Ben-Gurion and Ze'ev Jabotinsky sign an agreement in London to settle all arguments between the Labor movement and the Revisionist movement, This causes surprise in the Zionist Yishuv. In the winter of 1935, the agreement is rejected by the referendum that is carried out by the Labor Federation (Histadrut haOvdim),

Jewish aliyah reaches a new record - 45,000 in one year. Tel Aviv is growing fast and with 100,000 inhabitants is on its way to becoming the biggest city in Palestine,


As the treatment of Germany's Jews deteriorates, thousands of academics, musicians, etc., mostly from the middle classes, leave the country. By the end of the year, 65,000 will have made aliyah - the largest number of immigrants to arrive in one year until the founding of the State of Israel.

A period of economic prosperity in Palestine in contrast to the situation in most countries of the world.

January 11
HaKibbutz haDati (Religious Kibbutz) is founded, a federation of religious Zionist kibbutzim affiliated with Mizrachi. Its first settlement - Tirat Tzvi - is established in 1937.

August 10 - September 3
The Nineteenth Zionist Congress convenes in Lucerne, Switzerland. Weizmann is reelected president of the WZO. A coalition consisting of Mapai, Mizrachi and part of the General Zionists is established. The chairman of the Zionist Executive and Jewish Agency is David Ben-Gurion. The Congress discusses, among other things, the problem of the Jews of Germany and the absorption of those who have made aliyah to Eretz Israel.

September 12
In Vienna the New Zionist Organization (NZO) is established, headed by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. The founders are members of the Revisionist movement who seceded from the WZO. This results in a deep rift between Jabotinsky and Weizmann and the leaders of the Labor movement - who head the Zionist movement.

The Jews in Eretz Israel number some 400,000. This constitutes 30% of the inhabitants of Palestine - more than double the number only four years earlier.


In the first few months of the year there is continued evidence of prosperity, although not to the same degree as in 1935.

March 30
The British mandatory government opens a radio station which broadcasts in English, Arabic and Hebrew. The Hebrew broadcasts are called "The Voice of Jerusalem." The station is picked up all over Palestine and in other parts of the Middle East and Europe. There is great rejoicing in the fact that Hebrew is being given an important and regular radiophonic stage.

April 19
Nine Jews are killed in an attack by Arabs from Jaffa. This constitutes the beginning of the bloody riots that come to be called the 1936-39 riots or the Arab Rebellion, during which some 400 Jews are killed and thousands injured.

April 20
The Arabs declare an open-ended general strike and demand that the mandatory government put an immediate stop to Jewish aliyah and the sale of land to Jews, and transfer power to the Arab majority in Palestine.

The bloody riots spread to every part of Palestine and the British have little success in preventing them.

April 30
Despite the riots, the Levant Fair opens in Tel Aviv with the participation of 16 countries.

May 19
The British approve the opening of Tel Aviv port following the strike of Arab workers at Jaffa port.

The "Group of Five" - five important Jews, holding no political position, try, unsuccessfully, to bridge the gap between the Jews and the Arabs. They are Pinhas Rutenberg, Moshe Smilansky, Judah Leib Magnes, Moshe Novomeysky and Gad Frumkin.

Hundreds of Yishuv members are recruited to the Jewish Supernumerary Police - The Noterim (Guardsmen) - for defense duties during the Arab riots. It is under British command but is in fact an arm of the Hagana.

Arab acts of terror continue. The Hagana, that until now had been satisfied with a policy of passive defense in protecting the settlements, begins a policy of "activity outside the fence." The first mobile unit is established in the Jerusalem hills (HaNodedet).

October 12
The Arab general strike and acts of terror come to an end. A period of relative calm prevails for almost a year.

November 11
The Peel Commission, a British royal commission of inquiry headed by Lord Peel, arrives in Palestine to investigate the reasons for the outbreak of the bloody riots. It holds a series of meetings with Jewish leaders, Arabs and the British government.

December 10
Kibbutz Tel Amal is founded, the first settlement to be set up according to the new "stockade and tower" method - fortified settlements that are established in a single day. By the end of 1939, some 50 new settlements are set up using this method.

December 26
Despite the rioting and tense security situation, the first concert of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (today the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) is held in Tel Aviv - the first cultural event of its kind. The conductor: Arturo Toscanini.


January 18
The Peel Commission ends its discussions in Palestine and returns to England to complete its task.

April 13
"Illegal" immigration to Palestine (in Hebrew Aliyah Bet) is resumed with Revisionist support and is known as the 'Af Al Pi' (Despite) aliyah.

April 26
Half of the members of Irgun Bet (Hagana Bet), commanded by Abraham Tehomi, return to the Hagana. Those remaining establish the Irgun Tzva'i Le'umi (acronym Etzel), headed by David Raziel. It opposes the Yishuv leaders who believe that a policy of restraint towards the Arabs needs to be adopted.

July 7
The Peel Commission issues its report. It proposes dividing Palestine into a small Jewish state (comprising Galilee, the Jezreel Valley and part of the coastal plain, as far as Be'er Toviya), an Arab state (including most of the rest of Palestine) and a British-controlled corridor leading from Jaffa to Jerusalem. The Jews are split over the issue of partition; the Arabs reject the plan.

August 3-16
The Twentieth Zionist Congress convenes in Zurich, Switzerland. Stormy discussions ensue on the proposal of the Peel Commission to establish a small Jewish state in Palestine. At the end a decision is made not to decide but to ask the British government the conditions of the proposal.

September 26
Arab assassins kill Louis Andrews, the British governor of the Galilee region. This is a new phase in the Arab Rebellion, which continues until the spring of 1939. The British now act with an iron fist against the Arabs.

An economic crisis erupts in Palestine as a result of the bloody riots and the separation of the Jewish economy and the Arab economy. Throughout the year, 16 new settlements, mostly "stockade and tower," are set up.

December 27
The Hagana leadership decides to establish field units - for the first time a national rather than local defense unit.


January 4
The British government establishes the Woodhead Commission to explore ways to apply the recommendations of the Peel Commission.

March 21
Hanita is established in western Upper Galilee, on the Lebanese border, as a "stockade and tower" settlement - the epitome of defense settlement.

May - July
A security fence is built from Lake Kinneret to Rosh haNikra to deter Arab infiltrators. It is built by 1,000 Jewish laborers under the protection of 300 Noterim (Guardsmen).

The Scottish officer Orde Charles Wingate is authorized by the British to organize Special Night Squads for fighting Arab terror in the north. Its members are from the Hagana and from the British army.

June 29 (30 Sivan 5698)
The British execute Etzel member Shlomo Ben-Yosef, who becomes the first Jewish gallows' martyr.

July 27
The Redemption Fund (Kofer haYishuv) is founded - a voluntary fund-raising agency for financing the defense of the Jewish community in Palestine.

November 9
Kristalnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in Germany. Hundreds of synagogues are destroyed, and thousands of Jews are arrested and businesses damaged. Jewish emigration from Germany intensifies and some make aliyah to Eretz Israel.

On the same day, the Woodhead Commission publishes its report: it supports the Peel proposal regarding partition, but suggests establishing a small Jewish state on the coastal plain.

In 1930, 250 Jews are killed in Arab terror attacks. Etzel asserts that only active retaliation will deter the Arabs. This is in contradiction to the instructions of the Yishuv leadership that favors targeted retaliatory attacks against Arab terrorists.

"Illegal" immigration to Palestine, organized by the Revisionist movement, the Hagana and private initiatives, gains momentum.


February 7 - March 17
The St. James Conference (Round Table Conference of 1939) convenes in London - a British effort to bring about a solution to the dispute between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. The Arabs refuse to sit with the Jews at the negotiating table and after some six weeks the convention ends without the sides reaching an agreement.

HaMosad leAliyah Bet (a center for "illegal" immigration) is founded, an arm of the Hagana, with the backing of the National Institutions.

May 17
The British government publishes the White Paper of 1939 on the Palestine problem. The paper is extremely hostile to Zionist policy and renounces the Balfour Declaration.

May 18
The entire Jewish Yishuv protests against the British government and the White Paper and hundreds of thousands participate in angry demonstrations.

May 23
An unprecedented settlement campaign - part of the Yishuv's struggle against the White Paper's policy - results in the establishment of seven new settlements, five of which are "stockade and tower." The Hagana and Etzel begin to operate against the British and in the coming months hit government installations. This is the beginning of the anti-British armed struggle.

August 16-25
The Twenty-first Zionist Congress convenes in Geneva, Switzerland. Deliberations are overshadowed by the situation of the Jews in Europe, the fear of a second World War, and the deteriorating relations with the British in Palestine. The Congress discusses ways of fighting the White Paper. Participants barely have time to get back to their home countries before World War II breaks out.






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21 Jul 2005 / 14 Tamuz 5765 0