Over the course of the Mandate period, British authorities in Palestine put in place a criminal legal system designed to prevent Palestinian political organizing, minimize metropolitan expenditure and manpower, and maximize colonial officials’ flexibility by giving them broad powers of “preventive” action and collective punishment. As in other colonial settings, policies based on these imperatives were often couched as consistent with local tradition or “emergency” responses that temporarily disrupted an otherwise enlightened order. In fact, by the time a new criminal code replaced the Ottoman Penal Code in 1937, the latter had been amended by British ordinances so many times that it more closely resembled the laws of other British colonies than anything an Ottoman official would recognize. Significant developments in the criminal law of Mandate Palestine were more often than not direct responses to Palestinian anticolonial mobilization, with police powers and sanctions expanding consistently over the Mandate period, putting in place a model that the State of Israel would adopt with Palestinians after 1948.
The groundwork for
The Collective Responsibility for Crime Ordinance of 1921 , the Prevention of Crime (Tribal and Village Areas) Ordinance of 1924 , and the Collective Punishments Ordinance of 1926 further solidified the legal basis of collective punishment in Mandate Palestine. These ordinances entrenched practices of assessing collective fines, billeting additional police in restive villages (at the villagers’ expense), and binding over individuals “preventively.” The Prevention of Crime (Tribal and Village Areas) Ordinance, meanwhile, sought to recruit tribal leaders into the legal order, delegating to them police powers of arrest and investigation, while threatening detention, fines, and the confiscation of livestock if tribes did not cooperate with Mandate authorities. When these ordinances were introduced, they were presented as necessary tools to prevent rural disorder that were sensitive to the authentic traditions of Palestinian tribes and villagers; the authorities falsely equated attempts to recruit local intermediaries and punish recalcitrant Palestinians with communally oriented Palestinian practices of collective reconciliation (sulh) and tribal adjudication (qada ‘asha’iri). British Mandate authorities drew here on well-established colonial practices; ignorant of local sociopolitical dynamics and thinly spread outside of urban areas, the colonial state blamed its own illiberal efforts to control the colonized population on the supposed backwardness of these communities.
The Collective Punishments Ordinance in particular became an all-purpose tool in the hands of the Mandate. Though originally limited in application to “village and tribal areas,” the ordinance was amended in 1928 so that it could be applied to municipal areas, too. Authorities had to publicly announce the addition of individual villages, tribal areas, or municipal neighborhoods to a “schedule” of locations subject to collective punishment. In September 1929, as the
The al-Buraq Uprising of 1929 ushered in a number of sweeping changes to the Mandate’s legal system. Most immediately, the
During the 1936–39
Between the first and second phases of the revolt, after the general strike was called to an end and the Peel Commission
arrived in Palestine, the Mandate administration put forward a new criminal code. It consolidated the ordinances that had been issued in a piecemeal manner to that point and replaced any remaining Ottoman elements of the criminal legal system with a foundation based on legal structures imposed elsewhere in the empire. Colonial officials in London consolidated and expanded the existing orders in council in a new Palestine (Defence) Order in Council of 1937
. The “unfettered discretion” granted the High Commissioner in this Order in council manifested in widespread collective punishment, including the destruction of homes and businesses; the confiscation and destruction of moveable property; the imposition of curfews and a stifling permit regime; and the mass arrest, imprisonment, summary judgment by military tribunals, and execution of Palestinians. By the end of 1939, Britain’s brutal counterinsurgency had succeeded in suppressing the revolt, with profound impacts on Palestinian politics and society in the decade leading up to the
During World War II
, Britain’s wartime mobilization justified the maintenance of expanded police powers for the Mandate administration and restrictions on political expression for its population. Defence Regulations put in place in 1939 were consistent with empirewide policies effected by the
Even after the end of the Mandate, however, these emergency regulations continued to haunt Palestinians. After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Israeli government incorporated the Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945, along with much of the existing Mandate law, into Israeli law through the Law and Administration Ordinance of 1948
. Israel applied these regulations to those Palestinians who had managed to remain within the new state’s borders and now found themselves under Israeli military rule. Similarly, after 1967, Israel argued that the existing law in the
Bentwich, Norman. “The New Criminal Code for Palestine.” Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law 20, no. 1 (1938): 71–79.
Do, Nhat-Dang, and Michael Provence. “The Legitimacy of Repression: The History of Martial Law in British Controlled Palestine.” Equilibrium 2, no. 1 (2016): 17–29.
Hughes, Matthew. “From Law and Order to Pacification: Britain’s Suppression of the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936–39.” Journal of Palestine Studies 39, no. 2 (Winter 2010): 6–22.
Likhovski, Assaf. Law and Identity in Mandate Palestine. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
Moffett, Martha Roadstrum. Perpetual Emergency: A Legal Analysis of Israel’s Use of the British Defence (Emergency) Regulations, 1945, in the Occupied Territories. Ramallah: al-Haq, 1989.
Mogannam, Mogannam E. “Palestine Legislation under the British.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science: Palestine, A Decade of Development. Vol. 164 (November 1932): 47-54.