The Shaw Report, officially the Report of the Commission on the Palestine Disturbances of August 1929, commonly known as the Shaw Commission, was the result of a British commission of inquiry, led by Sir Walter Shaw, established to investigate the violent rioting in Palestine in late August 1929. The commission's report was issued in March 1930 and led to the establishment of the Hope Simpson Enquiry in May 1930. It concluded that the cause of the rioting was based in Arab fears of continual Jewish immigration and land purchases, particularly resonating from a growing Arab landless class. This was later reiterated in the Passfield white paper, and Hope Simpson Enquiry, both which called for limited Jewish immigration to Palestine.
The British Commission of Inquiry was chaired by Sir Walter Shaw, a distinguished jurist, and consisting of three members of the British parliament, Sir Henry Betterton (Conservative), R. Hopkin Morris (Liberal) and Henry Snell (Labour). The aim of the Commission was to look into the reasons for the violent rioting in Palestine in late August 1929, which caused the deaths of 243 Jews and Arabs.
The commission of enquiry took public evidence for several weeks, from the first hearing on 25 October to 29 December, hearing 120 witnesses in public testimony, and 20 behind closed doors. Though hearing the claims of both sides, the Commission made its recommendations primarily on the basis of material submitted by Mandatory officials
The Commission addressed two aspects of the disturbances, the immediate nature of the riots and the causes behind them. In the words of Naomi Cohen:-
‘Delving beneath the immediate causes – i.e., the Western Wall dispute, inflammatory publications on both sides, the enlargement of the Jewish Agency, inadequate forces to maintain order, the report called attention to the underlying causes of friction in England’s wartime pledges and in the anti-Jewish hostility that had resulted from the political and economic frustrations of the Arabs. It went on to criticise the immigration and land-purchase policies that, it said, gave Jews unfair advantages. The commission also recommended that the British take greater care in protecting the rights and understanding the aspirations of the Arabs. The Shaw report was a blow to Zionists everywhere,’
It found that the purchase of lands by Jewish Companies had been legal and fair to the tenants, but, at the same time, concluded that there was substance to the Arab claim that that Jewish land purchase did constitute a present danger to the Arabs' national survival, since highly productive land was being bought, suggesting that ‘immigrants would not be content to occupy undeveloped areas’, with the consequence that ’the economic pressure upon the Arab population was likely to increase’
With regard to the conflict arising from the land settlement and purchase problem, it concluded that ‘taking Palestine as a whole, the country cannot support a larger agricultural population than it at present carries unless methods of farming undergo a radical change’.
The conclusions of the Commission, especially regarding the riots themselves, were as follows. [Material not in brackets is verbatim.]
- The outbreak in Jerusalem on 23 August was from the beginning an attack by Arabs on Jews for which no excuse in the form of earlier murders by Jews has been established.
- The outbreak was not premeditated.
- [The disturbances] took the form, in the most part, of a vicious attack by Arabs on Jews accompanied by wanton destruction of Jewish property. A general massacre of the Jewish community at Hebron was narrowly averted. In a few instances, Jews attacked Arabs and destroyed Arab property. These attacks, though inexcusable, were in most cases in retaliation for wrongs already committed by Arabs in the neighbourhood in which the Jewish attacks occurred.
- The outbreak neither was nor was intended to be a revolt against British authority in Palestine.
- In playing the part that he took in the formation of societies for the defence of the Moslem Holy Places and in fostering the activities of such societies when formed, the Mufti was influenced by the twofold desire to confront the Jews and to mobilise Moslem opinion on the issue of the Wailing Wall. He had no intention of utilising this religious campaign as the means of inciting to disorder. Inasmuch as the movement which he in part created became through the force of circumstances a not unimportant factor in the events which led to the outbreak, the Mufti, like many others who directly or indirectly played upon public feeling in Palestine, must accept a share in the responsibility for the disturbances.
- ...in the matter of innovations of practice [at the Wailing Wall] little blame can be attached to the Mufti in which some Jewish religious authorities also would not have to share.
- There is no evidence that the Mufti issued any requests to Moslems in Palestine to come up to Jerusalem on 23 August and no connection has been established between the Mufti and the work of those who either are known or are thought to have engaged in agitation or incitement.
- After the disturbances had broken out the Mufti co-operated with the Government in their efforts both to restore peace and to prevent the extension of disorder.
- [No blame can be properly attached to the British government for failing to provide armed reinforcements, withholding of fire, and similar charges.]
- Jewish enterprise and Jewish immigration, when not in excess of the absorptive capacity of the country, have conferred material benefits upon Palestine in which the Arab people share. We consider, however, that the claims and demands which from the Zionist side have been advanced to the future of Jewish immigration into Palestine have been such as to arouse among the Arabs the apprehensions that they will in time be deprived of their livelihood and pass under the political domination of the Jews.
- There is incontestable evidence that in the matter of immigration there has been a serious departure by the Jewish authorities from the doctrine accepted by the Zionist Organization in 1922 that immigration should be regulated by the economic capacity of Palestine to absorb new arrivals.
- Between 1921 and 1929 there were large sales of land in consequence of which numbers of Arabs were evicted without the provision of other land for their occupation. ... The position is now acute. There is no alternative land to which persons evicted can remove. In consequence a landless and discontented class is being created. Such a class is a potential danger to the country.
- The fundamental cause, without which in our opinion disturbances either would not occurred or would not have been little more than a local riot, is the Arab feeling of animosity and hostility towards the Jews consequent upon the disappointment of their political and national aspirations and fear for their economic future. ... The feeling as it exists today is based on the twofold fear of the Arabs that by Jewish immigration and land purchases they may be deprived of their livelihood and in time pass under the political domination of the Jews.
- In our opinion the immediate causes of the outbreak were:-
- The long series of incidents connected with the Wailing Wall... These must be regarded as a whole, but the incident among them which in our view contributed most to the outbreak was the Jewish demonstration at the Wailing Wall on 15 August 1929. Next in importance we put the activities of the Society for the Protection of the Moslem Holy Places and, in a lesser degree, of the Pro-Wailing Wall Committee.
- Excited and intemperate articles which appeared in some Arabic papers, in one Hebrew daily paper and in a Jewish weekly paper published in English.
- Propaganda among the less-educated Arab people of a character calculated to incite them.
- The enlargement of the Jewish Agency.
- The inadequacy of the military forces and of the reliable police available.
- The belief, due largely to a feeling of uncertainty as to policy, that the decisions of the Palestine Government could be influenced by political considerations.
The Commission recommended that the Government reconsider its policies as to Jewish immigration and land sales to Jews. This lead directly to the Hope Simpson Royal Commission in 1930.
The main victims of the rioting were Orthodox Jews, however the Orthodox community took a decision to boycott the Commission.
Summary of the principal recommendations made by the Shaw commission:
(i) His Majesty's government should issue a clear statement of the policy they intend to pursue in Palestine. The value of this statement would be greatly enhanced if it defined the meaning they attached to the passages in the Mandate safeguarding the rights of non-Jewish communities, and if it laid down more explicit directives on such vital issues as land and immigration.
(ii) Immigration policy should be clearly defined, and its administration reviewed "with the object of preventing a repetition of the excessive immigration of 1925 and 1926" Machinery should be devised through which non-Jewish interests could be consulted on the subject of immigration.
(iii) A scientific enquiry should be made into the possibilities of land development in Palestine, having regard to "the certain natural increase in the present rural population." Meanwhile the "tendency towards the eviction of peasant cultivators from the land should be checked."
(iv) while making no formal recommendations on constitutional development, the commission observed that the difficulties of the administration were greatly aggravated by the absence of any measure of self-government.
- Peel Commission, 1937
- Henry Laurens, La Question de Palestine:Une Mission sacrée de civilisation, 1922-1947, Fayard, Paris, 2002 p.183
- Aryeh L. Avneri,The claim of dispossession: Jewish land-settlement and the Arabs, 1878-1948, Transaction Publishers, 1984 p.125
- Naomi Wiener Cohen, The year after the riots: American responses to the Palestine crisis of 1929-39, Wayne State University Press, 1988 p.34
- Aryeh L. Avneri,The claim of dispossession: ibid.p.126
- Aryeh L. Avneri,The claim of dispossession: ibid.p.127
- Great Britain, 1930 : Report of the Commission on the Palestine Disturbances of August 1929, Command paper Cmd. 3530 (Shaw Commission report).
- Aug 1947 - UK DELEGATION TO THE UN, The Political History of Palestine under British Administration, The disorders of August 1929