Israel Studies Seminar: MT20 Week 7: Peter Bergamin (Oxford): Guns and Moses: Jewish anti-British Resistance during the Mandate for Palestine

Convener: Yaacov Yadgar

Speaker: Peter Bergamin (Oxford)


In this seminar I will present some findings and conclusions from my recent research on the British Mandate for Palestine. The project examines Britain’s administration of the Mandate, and – using almost exclusively British archival documents - suggests reasons for its eventual referral of the Mandate to the United Nations in April 1947, and premature departure in May 1948, having not fulfilled the conditions of its Mandate.  The seminar focuses on the phenomena of Jewish illegal immigration and anti-British terrorism, and their role in Britain’s eventual abandonment of the Palestine Mandate. A comparison of the Jewish anti-British terror campaign, from 1944-1948 – alongside the concurrent campaign of Jewish illegal immigration to Palestine – with the IRA terror campaign in London, between 1973 and 1998 shows that, in only three and a half years, acts of Jewish anti-British terror far surpassed those of the IRA in London – in scope, intensity, and indeed, casualties – which occurred over a period of more than twenty-five years. Thus, the seminar will conclude by stating outright what other studies of the period often whitewash or downplay: that the combined phenomena of Jewish illegal immigration to Palestine, and the campaign of anti-British terror waged by Jewish underground paramilitary groups Irgun, Stern Gang, and, at times, also by the Haganah (with the support of the Jewish political leadership in Palestine), were the key factors in Britain’s decision to withdraw from the Mandate. Indeed, what Britain had originally hoped would be one its most successful imperial undertakings turned out, in retrospect, to be perhaps its greatest failure.



Peter Bergamin is Lecturer in Oriental Studies at Mansfield College, University of Oxford, after having gained his DPhil in Oriental Studies in 2016, under the supervision of Derek Penslar. His research focuses on the period of the British Mandate for Palestine, with a particular interest in Maximalist-Revisionist Zionism. His first monograph, The Making of the Israeli Far-Right: Abba Ahimeir and Zionist Ideology (I.B. Tauris, 2020), focused on the ideological and political genesis of one of the major leaders of pro-Fascist, Far-Right Zionism, in the 1920s and 30s. His current research examines British archival sources, in order to suggest reasons for Britain’s premature withdrawal from its Palestine Mandate.

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