By Amit Acco, Partner |

This short essay is dedicated to my best friend Ronen Shefi who always inspire me to research and study.

Introduction: British Mandate and Inhabitants 1918-1948

The British Mandate for Palestine (1918-1948) was the outcome of several factors: the British ruling over territories previously ruled by the Ottoman Empire, the peace treaties that brought the First World War to an end, and the principle of self-determination that emerged after the war.

During this time, the land of Palestine was inhabited by both Arabs and Jewish people, and as a result, Britain had a “dual obligation” towards both Arabs and Jews.

Among the mandate’s terms, Britain had an obligation to conduct its policy in Palestine in accordance with the needs of both Jews and Arabs. This included creating political, administrative, and economic conditions that would facilitate the independent rule of the communities under British control.

During the mandate era, two different social systems developed under one political framework, a Jewish one and an Arab one. Each society had its own welfare, educational, and cultural institutions and they gradually became politically and economically independent of one another.

Mandatory Citizenship of the British Palestine and Passports

The status of Mandatory Palestine’s citizenship was not legally defined until 1925.

Mandatory Palestine passports were travel documents issued by British authorities in Mandatory Palestine to residents between 1925 and 1948.

The first brown-covered passport appeared around 1927, following the issue of the Palestinian Citizenship Order, 1925. From 1926 to 1935 alone approximately 70,000 such travel documents (or “laissez-passer”) were issued.

The passports were issued by the British mandate of Palestine. In Palestine, the passports were issued by the Department of Immigration of the Government of Palestine headquarters in Jerusalem, and some branch offices were opened in major districts, such as Jaffa and Haifa. British Palestinians were also entitled to request passports from British embassies or consulates abroad.

The British mandate of Palestine could refuse to issue a passport. There was no requirement for reasoning of the deniel, and no possibility of appeal against such a decision.  When a passport was not provided, the applicant was effectively prohibited from leaving the country.

A married woman was obliged to be included within her husband’s passport. Hence, the wife could travel only with her husband’s accompany. On the last page of the Palestinian passport, under ‘Caution’, it was indicated:

“The wife and/or members of the family included in the passport should not travel on it unaccompanied by the owner”.

The Passport Regulations employed the term ‘inhabitant of Palestine’ rather than ‘Palestinian citizen.’. Holding the passport made a clear distinction between citizens and foreigners regarding the admission into Palestine as well as political and residence rights. Palestinian passports were recognized abroad, including in Britain, as being akin to other ordinary passports. Thus, once abroad and by presenting their passports, Palestinian citizens were treated as British-protected persons.

Palestinian passports and travel documents were used abroad to claim diplomatic protection provided by British consuls, by those Jewish and Arabs inhabitants of Palestine.

The outside cover of the Palestinian passport was marked in the English language, ‘BRITISH PASSPORT’, and then followed by ‘PALESTINE’.

On the internal cover page of the passport, where the High Commissioner put his signature, it was indicated:

“By His Majesty’s High Commissioner for Palestine, these are to request and require in the Name of His Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford [him/her] every assistance and protection of which [he/she] may stand in need”.

On the last page of the passport, it was written that:

“Applications for the issue or renewal of Palestine passports by residents in Palestine should be made on the appropriate form at one of the Offices of the Department of Immigration. Residents abroad should make application to British Diplomatic or Consular Officers and in the case of residents in the United Kingdom, the British Dominions, Colonies and Mandated Territories to the local authorities”

During the British Mandate, foreigners who wished to enter Palestine were required to get a visa either from the government of Palestine or from British consulates abroad.

Mandatory Palestine passports ceased to be valid on the termination of the Mandate on 15 May 1948.

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Main Sources:


Wikipedia: Mandatory Palestine passport Link

Wikipedia: Mandatory Palestine Link

Wikimedia Commons: British Colonial passport for Palestine issued by Albert Montefiore Hyamson in 1929.jpg Link