Middle East Studies

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Palestine in the Second World War

Strategic Plans and Political Dilemmas
The Emergence of a New Middle East

Daphna Sharfman is a lecturer in the Political Science Department, Western Galilee College, Israel. She is the author of books and articles in the fields of human rights, Israeli government, human rights and foreign policy, and the British mandate in Palestine history. Her publications include: Living Without a Constitution, Civil Rights in Israel (M.E. Sharpe, 1993); Government and Human Rights in Israel (Etica,1997 [Hebrew]); A Light unto the Nations: Israel's Foreign Policy and Human Rights (Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1999 [Editor, Hebrew]); and Tea on the Casino Balcony: Coexistence in Haifa during the British Mandate, 1920–1948 (Mishpaton, 2006 [Editor, Hebrew]).

While the conflicts and national aspirations in British mandatory Palestine in particular and the Middle East in general were evident before the outbreak of the Second World War, the war itself accelerated and enhanced national expectations and presented continuing tactical and strategic dilemmas to British, Arab and Jewish leaders. British strategic policy during the war failed to provide answers to the political issues of the growing national demands in Palestine, and led to severe distrust of British policy among Arabs and Jews, as the two communities were framing mostly opposing reactions to wartime developments, and to conflicting expectations and policies towards post-war solutions for Palestine.

The aim of this work is to analyse the continual development of strategic plans and political dilemmas that arose during the war period, which led to the subsequent post-war circumstance where American and Soviet involvement impacted on the strategic thinking of all involved parties, notwithstanding the British military victory. Analysis includes: the pre-war British strategic situation in Palestine, and the war events in Palestine and its Middle East neighbour countries (at the military–strategic level and the repercussions of the outcome of the war for the local Palestinian population). At the heart of the discussion lies British interests and policies framed towards Jews and Arabs; analysis of the two communities' conflicting interests and policies; and the resultant sea-change in the establishment of the Jewish state which brought in its wake the emergence of a New Middle East.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-526-7
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $74.95
Release Date: February 2014
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-692-9
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: February 2015
Page Extent / Format: 224 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No




PART I: The Military Campaigns of 1939–1942
Chapter 1: Strategic Background
The Axis Strategic Background: Italy and Germany

Chapter 2: The War Arrives in the Middle East and Palestine
The Iraqi Campaign
The Syria-Lebanon Campaign
The Middle East in British Strategy
The War in the Desert and the Defence of Palestine (1941–42)

Chapter 3: Palestine at War – Military and Security Considerations
Enemy Aliens and Spies
The Lehi Approach the Axis Powers
Defence Measures
Fears of Invasion
The Palestine Regiment
Plans for Evacuation
Panic in Egypt

Chapter 4: Palestine at War – Social and Economic Developments
The Early Period of the War
The Wartime "Boom"
Economic Reform and Rationing
Welfare and Unemployment
Agricultural and Industrial Revival
Social and Economic Impact of the British Army

Chapter 5: The Palestine Volunteers to the British Army
British Proposals and the Jewish Response
The Jewish Debate
Recruitment Begins

Chapter 6: The Jewish Army
The British Debate
A Decision
A Delay
A Final Decision

Chapter 7: British-Jewish Clandestine Cooperation (Part One)
The Balkans
The Darien Affair
The Levant
The Invasion of Syria
Anti-Vichy Operations
The "Palestinian Scheme"
Operations in Egypt
The Haifa Interrogation Bureau

Chapter 8: Political Developments
The White Paper of 1939
The Land Transfer Regulations
Churchill Becomes Prime Minister
Arab Policy and the Mufti
The Renewed Debate
The Biltmore Program

Chapter 9: Immigration to Palestine
Action Against Immigration
Fears of German Agents
Diplomatic Initiatives
Illegal Immigration
The Patria Disaster
Illegal Immigration Continues
The Struma Affair

Chapter 10: Summary and Conclusions to Part I

PART II: British-Jewish Tension, 1943–1945
Chapter 11: Strategic Developments

US Regional Involvement
Soviet Regional Involvement
French Influence

Chapter 12: Political Conflicts in Palestine
British Action Against the Yishuv
The Separatist Backlash
Yishuv Condemnation of the Terrorists
The British Reaction

Chapter 13: The British Cabinet and Palestine
The Debate on Partition
The Decision on the Jewish Army

Chapter 14: The Yishuv in Palestine and the Holocaust
The Bermuda Conference
Yishuv Attempts to Assist
Negotiations on Rescue
Immigration (1943–45)

Chapter 15: British-Jewish Clandestine Cooperation (Part Two)
Parachutists into Occupied Europe

Chapter 16: Summary and Conclusions to Part II


Daphna Sharfman skillfully navigates through this labyrinth of players, interests and goals. She interweaves major events with ordinary people's experiences – linking political processes and military moves with daily life and social phenomena – into a vivid, coherent and penetrating picture of life in Palestine during those crucial years.
From the Foreword by Yoav Gelber, author of Palestine 1948: War, Escape and the Emergence of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, Professor Emeritus, University of Haifa

The book explores some interesting processes and questions in the history of the country
during the war years. It centers on the different political maneuvers, dilemmas, and changes
in the British policies toward Palestine and especially the political aspirations of the Zionist
movement, and discusses at length Zionist reactions and actions vis-à-vis the changing
circumstances, including internal tensions within the Yishuv between the Zionist leadership
and the revisionist organizations, as well as between David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett (at the
time known as Moshe Shertok), and Chaim Weizmann.
Journal of Palestine Studies, Spring 2015

[While] most of the issues examined have already been the object of in-depth studies in the existing literature, their interweaving here within a coherent and informative framework does provide, primarily for newcomers to the field, a solid and readable overview of Palestine in the Second World War.
War in History

As an overview, Sharfman's volume is remarkably thorough, impartially covering strategic background, the region's military campaigns, internal developments in the Mandate, and political debates in both the Cabinet and the Yishuv leadership over immigration and refugee policies, and the impact of the Holocaust on the two sides. Though seemingly absent from her picture, the Arab presence significantly framed the debate.
Reviewed by Mark L. Blackman in StrategyPage

The author explores the development of strategic plans and political issues during World War II in British-ruled Palestine, which was the only land connection between Africa and Asia, the secondary basis of the British Royal Navy in the Eastern Mediterranean, and a stopover on the air route from the UK to the Far East. She examines the period from 1939 to 1942, when military campaigns occurred in the surrounding countries and Palestine was in danger of Axis invasion and was attacked by air, and the period from 1943-1945, when its security and economic prosperity was guaranteed after Allied military victories, but political instability grew with increased British-Jewish tension. She describes the strategic significance of the region; the military campaigns in Iraq and the Levant; the events of the Desert War of 1940-1942; the security, military, defense, and economic development of Palestine during the war; the country's military contribution to the war; British-Jewish conflict over the proposed Jewish army and clandestine military cooperation; the policies of the 1939 White Paper, the conflicting Arab and Jewish reactions to it, the new Zionist policy of the Biltmore Program of May 1942; and Jewish immigration and British policy, traumatic events, and their consequences for British-Jewish relations. She discusses the changing strategic situation involving increased US involvement and signs of Soviet interest in the region, British action against Jewish residents, the debate on partition, the Holocaust as part of Palestinian and international humanitarian concerns, and the emergence of a new Middle East from the involvement of the US and Soviet Union and the role of Jewish and Arab expectations.

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