The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry (AACI) was dispatched to Palestine in 1946 to “examine the question of European Jewry and to . . . review the Palestine Problem in light of that examination.” The plight of thousands of Jewish displaced persons across Europe after World War II, the conflict over Palestine, and the development of the Middle East were of paramount importance for the United States and Great Britain. Another goal of the committee’s 120-day mission was to “hear the views of competent witnesses and to consult representative Arabs and Jews on the problems of Palestine.”
British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin announced the formation of the AACI, consisting of six British and six US investigators, on 13 November 1945. This initiative was the British attempt to involve the Americans in their policy in Palestine and to deflect US President Truman’s call to admit 100,000 Jewish immigrants to Palestine.
Composition of the Committee
Husayn Fakhri al-Khalidi, former Jerusalem mayor and secretary to the Arab Higher Committee, had his doubts about yet another commission. He thought that the Arabs would suffer from cooperating with the United States, given its strong ties with Zionism. He would turn out to be prescient in some ways; one of the most active and outspoken US committee members was James McDonald, former League of Nations high commissioner for refugees who was already on record as a Zionist advocate. McDonald was in contact with Zionists throughout the AACI’s work and was strongly in support of Jewish nationalism, a stance that was noted by his fellow commissioners and was obvious during the hearings and deliberations.
McDonald was not alone in carrying biases into his investigative work. Bartley Crum, like McDonald, had been recommended for the committee by Truman’s secretary, David Niles, who was himself a Zionist activist. Crum was also pro-Zionist from the start, and like McDonald he leaked information about the committee’s work to benefit the Zionists, as did Frank W. Buxton, editor of the Boston Herald. None of the committee members exhibited anything that could be labeled a “pro-Arab” stance. US Judge Joseph Hutcheson was a self-proclaimed liberal, as was Frank Aydelotte, former president of Swarthmore College and head of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. They emphasized “balance” and “equity” as a means to resolve the competing claims of Jews and Arabs in Palestine, thereby sidelining the fact that Palestine was an overwhelmingly Arab country.
Among the British members was Richard Crossman, a socialist Labour MP who admired the Jewish people and what he regarded as their socialist experiment in the land of Zion. He indicated some level of disregard for the Arab position by writing letters home to his wife during Arab presentations to the committee. The UK Chair, Sir John Singleton, was a High Court of Justice. He and committee member Major Reginald Manningham-Buller (later Lord Dilhorne), a Conservative MP, were concerned to protect the holdings and prestige of the British in Palestine. Bevin believed another committee member and chief industrial commissioner, Sir Frederick Leggett to be a stellar negotiator. Wilfred Crick was an economic adviser to Midland Bank and lecturer at the London School of Economics, and Lord Morrison was a Labour peer. Described as “tall, lean, [and] donnish,” UK Secretary Harold Beeley was a historian and adviser to Bevin.
The Committee’s Deliberations
The committee heard from Zionists, Arabs, Arab-Americans, British officials, and renowned thinkers such as Albert Einstein and American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.
The wide-ranging testimony of Chaim Weizmann before the committee emphasized “Jewish homelessness” that has existed “many centuries before Hitler” and current anti-Semitism. The head of the Jewish Agency and future president of Israel referred to the “absorptive capacity” of Palestine that could admit 900,000 additional Jews thanks to their colonization “without thinking of displacing anybody.” He specifically requested the admission of 100,000 Jewish immigrants “forthwith” and the abolition of the 1939 White Paper that limited Jewish immigration and settlement in Palestine. In Weizmann’s terms, the related Land Regulations of 1940 confined the Jews “more or less to a ghetto.” His more general aim was the establishment of a Jewish state, which the committee asked about, focusing on how it would change anti-Semitism and what the effects on the Arabs might be. Recognizing the likely Arab opposition to such a state, Weizmann reassured the Committee that they should not strive for perfection in their conclusions, since “there is no absolute justice in this world. What you are trying to perform … is just rough human justice.” He recognized that there “may be some slight injustice politically if Palestine is made a Jewish State” but assured the committee that “individually the Arabs will not suffer.” They would not suffer, he argued, because the Jews know suffering and would not start persecuting the Arabs. But, he explained, “you cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs,” and he thought that the Arabs should be content with the Arab kingdoms and countries they have.
The Jewish Agency obliged all its constituent parties to endorse the demand for a Jewish state in their presentations to the AACI. As a result, parties like the Ha-Shomer Ha-Za‘ir Workers’ Party, which advocated binationalism, did not do so in front of the committee. The Jewish Agency’s diktats did not stop Judah Magnes, head of the Ihud association and president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, from calling for Arab-Jewish unity in a binational state.
Arab Participation and Committee Dismissal
For many Palestinians, whether to participate in the consultations of yet another commission of inquiry was a matter of debate. So many investigative commissions had come and gone to Palestine since the British took over as Mandatory power under the League of Nations, with little done to stymie the colonial encroachments of Zionism on their lands and lives as a result. But after the Palestinians decided only at the last minute to represent themselves in front of the Royal Peel Commission in 1936, some urged Palestinian participation in this latest investigative foray. Political independent Musa Alami, for one, did not want to repeat the mistake of foregoing or delaying preparations. This is what, in his estimation, had left the Palestinians’ presentations insufficient last time. Alami would go on to play a significant role in directing the work of the Arab Office that produced a mass of documentation and argumentation (over one thousand pages in English) that was submitted to the AACI. Many others also believed this committee was important. After the committee was first announced in 1945, a single Arabic newspaper, Filastin, published sixty-six articles about it in its November and December issues.
Most Arab representatives that the committee would hear—among them people who Crossman described as “poor inefficient, idle, corrupt political leaders who are wasting our time”—appeared before them in Jerusalem, where the committee heard seven hours of hearings every day. It was “a bit trying” and left the committee “very testy and bored,” as Crossman recorded in his diary. In McDonald’s view, Awni Abd al-Hadi’s contribution was “a very dull, labored and nervous presentation of historical data” that tried the committee’s patience, as did the claim that the Jews took the most fertile parts of Palestine. Aydelotte also considered the Arabs’ testimony in Jerusalem to be “old stuff.” In contrast to his perception of the Arabs’ presentations, Crossman regarded Chaim Weizmann as “the first witness who has frankly and openly admitted that the issue is not between right and wrong but between the greater and the lesser injustice.”
While trying to maintain the focus of the hearings on legal and democratic values, representatives of the Palestinian cause struggled to convince their interrogators of their humanity and the sincerity of their sympathy for the Jews. The Arab Office, the small public relations team for the Palestinians that took the lead in presenting the Arab case, consistently drew on legal arguments. With the guidance of Albert Hourani, an Oxford historian of Lebanese heritage who was enrolled by Musa Alami to lead the preparations for the committee, the methodical research that their team undertook to persuade the Anglo-American Committee of their rights to independence also provided economic proof falsifying the Zionist assertions that they were developing Palestine for the benefit of the Arabs. Hourani and the team at the Arab Office that organized many of the Palestinian submissions to the committee also developed detailed proposals for a constitution for a self-governing Palestine, which included the provision of full citizenship for the Jews in such a state.
In testimony before the AACI, Hourani reminded the committee that “the Arab people … has again and again emphasized that the only just and practicable solution for the problem of Palestine lies in the constitution of Palestine, … into a self-governing state, with its Arab majority, but with full rights for the Jewish citizens …. A state which should enter the United Nations … on a level of equality with other Arab states; a state in which questions of general concern, like immigration, should be decided by the ordinary democratic procedure, in accordance with the will of the majority.” The government would be “representative of all Palestinian citizens on a level of absolute individual equality.” As the Arab Office laid out its vision, it emphasized the rights of Jews who were already in the country as legal citizens. This vision for the future was one in which “Palestinian citizens, Arabs and Jews alike, [would] have responsibility of the welfare of the whole people of the country.” Other documents submitted to the AACI outlined the formation of the government through Constitutional and Legislative Assemblies, provisions for an electoral law, and other guarantees that should, they said, be “embodied” in a UN General Assembly Resolution.
But the Palestinian and other Arab arguments seemed to leave little impression on the commissioners, some of whom reviled the Arabs for their “intransigence” and their uncompromising stances. Representatives of the Palestinian case, such as Phillip Hitti, a Lebanese-American Princeton University historian, were unable to convince these western adjudicators to disentangle the inextricable link between the question of a Jewish state and Jewish refugees. He and others refuted the idea that only a Jewish state could alleviate the sufferings of the homeless victims of the Holocaust. Fayez Sayegh declared in his submission to the committee: “To seek to alleviate the sufferings of the Jews, by causing equal sufferings to another people, is not only an unreasonable attempt ... nor only an imprudent attempt … but also and primarily an unjust attempt.” Similarly in his interactions with the commission, Hourani maintained that the doors of Europe and America should be opened to the victims of the European war, not the politically fragile Holy Land, since the Arabs were not responsible for the problem. In the Arab Office’s written submission entitled The Future of Palestine, it recommended that the refugee problem should be “adjudged by the United Nations . . . at the equal expense of all its members,” emphasizing, as other presenters had, that the problem of refuge for the Jews was a global responsibility.
In their argumentation, the Palestinians acknowledged that at the root of the contest were two points of view: either the majority in Palestine—the Arabs—should be accorded their democratic rights; or that right could be sacrificed, and the result of Europe’s barbarity could be shunted off, and its victims given a state in Palestine in the name of “humanitarianism.”
But the European tragedy ultimately was used to determine and defend the political decision to grant key Zionist demands, in opposition to all democratic principles and procedures.
Among the final recommendations of the committee in its report, released on 20 April 1946, was to issue certificates for the immigration of 100,000 Jews to Palestine, thereby fulfilling a Zionist demand and putting them forward on the path to obtaining a majority in the country. The report also recommended that Jewish immigration to Palestine should not be dependent on the Arabs’ approval and that all laws limiting sale of Arab land to the Jews be abolished. The Institute of Arab American Affairs chastised the committee for not ceding to the Arab demand that Palestine be organized “within the frame of the same democratic principles which operate in [the United States and Great Britain].” They tried to make their democratic point again: “The same fundamental and inalienable human rights conceded those nations must be conceded the Arabs of Palestine.” They were not to be.
Among the other findings of the committee, which received less attention at the time, was the recommendation that all governments work together to “find new homes for all such ‘displaced persons’, irrespective of creed or nationality.” This call landed flat in the shadow of the 100,000 immigration certificates that Truman touted. The other recommendations showed some attempt to balance the interests of Jews and Arabs, suggesting that British Mandate claims to be doing so and their self-proclaimed inability to carry that out taught the committee nothing. The committee called for terrorism to stop and the Mandate to continue until Palestine became a UN trusteeship, with the provision that the “trustee should proclaim the principle that Arab economic, educational and political advancement in Palestine is of equal importance with that of the Jew” while facilitating Jewish immigration. They also called for the Land Transfers Regulations of 1940 to be rescinded and “replaced by regulations based on a policy of freedom in the sale, lease or use of land, irrespective of race, community or creed” with protections for small owners and tenant cultivators. Echoing the committee’s emphasis on balance and “reasonableness,” they advocated neutral and equalized education of both Arabs and Jews, to be supervised by the government in order “to do away with the present excited emphasis on racialism and the perversion of education for propaganda purposes” in Jewish schools.
There was a mix of views among the committee members and among people appearing before the committee in favor of and opposing the partition of Palestine. In the report, the committee opposed the idea of either a Jewish state or an Arab state over the whole of Palestine. They thought their report demonstrated a fair “live and let live” attitude, as Hutcheson, the American chair of the committee described it.
While Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin supported the report, UK Prime Minister Clement Attlee opposed it, fearing that it would stir Arab and Jewish ire and recognizing the problem of designating Palestine alone as the country to absorb displaced survivors of the Holocaust. Truman expressed his happiness at the committee’s call for immediate mass Jewish immigration to Palestine and the abrogation of the White Paper, while he dismissed the other recommendations, which dealt with “many other questions of long-range political policies and questions of international law” as requiring “careful study,” which he promised to “take under advisement.”
The Zionists welcomed the decision to admit 100,000 Jewish immigrants to Palestine, but they were disappointed not to receive an endorsement of a Jewish state. Arab reaction, in contrast, was unanimously critical, leading the Arab Higher Committee to call for a general strike to protest the report. Albert Hourani dismissed the Anglo-American Committee report as having “‘no intellectual merits, no depth of understanding, no logical cogency.’” Like political leader Izzat Darwaza, Arab Higher Committee leader in exile Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini believed that the report was extremely biased; it exhibited no truth, integrity, or logic. (Even David Ben-Gurion recognized that the Arabs got a bad deal.)
Once again, logical Arab argumentation based in liberal and democratic values did not alter Great Power dynamics. Instead, the British composed a new committee to determine how the Anglo-American proposals would be implemented. The resultant Morrison-Grady Plan proffered, in the words of historian Wm. Roger Louis, a “classic Colonial Office solution applied to the unique problem of Palestine,” recasting a blueprint for provincial autonomy and a central British trusteeship. Truman and the Zionists rejected the provisional autonomy plan, and the Arabs rejected the plan on the grounds that it laid the basis for partition.
Allen, Lori. A History of False Hope: Investigative Commissions in Palestine. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020.
Allen, Lori. “Determining Emotions and the Burden of Proof in Investigative Commissions to Palestine.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 59, no.2 (2017): 385–414.
The Arab Office, Jerusalem. The Problem of Palestine. Evidence Submitted by the Arab Office, Jerusalem, to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, March 1946. Washington, DC, 1946.
Beinin, Joel. “Arab Liberal Intellectuals and the Partition of Palestine.” In Partitions: A Transnational History of Twentieth-Century Territorial Separatism, edited by Arie M. Dubnov and Laura Robson, 203–23. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019.
Khalidi, Walid. “On Albert Hourani, the Arab Office, and the Anglo-American Committee of 1946.” Journal of Palestine Studies 35, no.1 (2005): 60–79.
Louis, Wm. Roger. The British Empire in the Middle East: 1945–1951: Arab Nationalism, the United States, and Postwar Imperialism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.
Bevin's Statement on Palestine; Formation of an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry
13 November 1945
Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry Publishes its Report after a Visit to Palestine
6 March 1946 - 20 April 1946
British and International Commissions of Inquiry in Mandate Palestine
1919 - 1946