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British Mandate of Palestine 1923-1948

Mandate Government of Palestine-Eretz Israel

Last modified: 2002-10-05 by santiago dotor
Keywords: palestine | high commissioner | police | customs | postal | red ensign | blue ensign | canton: union flag | disc (white) | union flag | garland | crown: royal |
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[Union Flag (British Mandate of Palestine)] 1:2
by Graham Bartram

See also:


The Union Flag was probably the most common and notable flag in Palestine from 1922 to 1948. There probably would have been little official use for the Palestine Ensign, and since it represented neither Jewish nor Arab interests and aspirations nobody else would have had any use for it — not to mention that the badge was one of the least imaginative of the Empire.

The mandate was originally organised jointly as Palestine and Transjordan in April 1920 (approved by the League in July 1922) under the terms of the Balfour Declaration, except that provisions for a Jewish national home did not apply to Transjordania. Transjordania was separated as an autonomous state in May 1923, and had been ruled somewhat as such since April 1921 by Emir Abdullah ibn Hussein (one of the sons of the sherif of Mecca of Arab Revolt fame). The separation was chiefly designed to spare Transjordan any of the complications of the emerging Jewish nationalist problem, to clarify that a Jewish homeland did not apply to the latter.

Todd Mills, 3 November 1996

The maritime flags of the British mandate, as recorded in two Admiralty files in the Public Record Office (ADM 1/8771/162 and ADM 1/21248) were:

David Prothero, 16 February 1999

The sequence of flags was:

  • 1920. The Colonial Office reluctantly assumed responsibility for the mandated territory of Palestine. It had argued that it was an inappropriate responsibility for the Colonial Office and that either the Foreign Office should take charge or a special secretary of state should be appointed.
  • 1923. " was not considered desirable that the territory should have special flag badges."
  • 1926. Customs Service needed an ensign to identify their launches. In a colony or protectorate this would have been a Blue Ensign with the badge of the colony/protectorate in the fly. Because of the 1923 decision there was no badge. A plain Blue Ensign would have indicated a merchant ship with a Royal Naval Reserve warrant or a yacht belonging to a club with a special ensign warrant. The Customs badge in the UK at that time was a royal crown. I guess that this was considered inappropriate. Admiralty agreed that Customs should fly a Blue Ensign defaced 'PALESTINE CUSTOMS'.
  • 1927. Red Ensign defaced 'PALESTINE' for merchant ships registered in Palestine.
  • 1929. 'PALESTINE CUSTOMS' badge discontinued. Replaced by 'PALESTINE' badge as used on Red Ensign. Also used by Postal Service. Both departments' boats also flew a square blue jack with a Union canton and either 'CUSTOMS' or 'POSTS' on a disc in the fly.
  • 1932. Admiralty refused to grant Palestine Police a Blue Ensign defaced with their badge. They may have introduced, or continued to use, a plain blue flag with the Palestine Police badge in the centre, or they may have only ever used the Union Flag.
  • 1936. Badge for Union Flag of High Commissioner; gold crown above 'PALESTINE' in large capitals above 'HIGH COMMISSIONER' in smaller capitals, surrounded by a garland.
Information about British Palestine flags is in Public Record Office documents ADM 1/8771/162, ADM 1/9162, ADM 1/21248, CO 323/1180/24, CO 323/1181/17, CO 323 1182/2, CO 1182/11, CO 323/1222/10, CO 323/1272/7, CO 323/1333/1, CO 323/1333, CO 323/1377/16, MINT 24/101, MINT 25/1, MINT 25/2.

David Prothero, 18 August 2000

Civil Ensign 1927-1948 (Red Ensign)

[Civil Ensign 1927-1948 (British Mandate of Palestine)] 1:2
by Juan Manuel Gabino
Flag adopted 1927, abolished 15th May 1948

The Palestine Ensign, with a plain white disc with the word "Palestine" written circularly around the top. It is in National Geographic 1934.

Todd Mills, 3 November 1996

According to papers in the Public Record Office in London, the Palestine Shipping Register was open to vessels belonging to inhabitants of Palestine. [In 1948] there were six ships on the register flying the Red Ensign defaced with 'PALESTINE' on a white disc, when the mandate ended on 15th May 1948 and the warrant for the ensign was revoked. Three were in the Mediterranean, two tramping in the West Indies and one on an extended voyage in South America.

David Prothero, 26 June 1997

The red ensign was certainly used, but only on merchant ships. The letters were non-serif capitals and extended from 7 o'clock to 5 o'clock. Used on merchant ships owned by inhabitants of Palestine. Palestinians were not British subjects and thus not entitled to fly the Red Ensign. Admiralty Warrant dated 27th October 1927 authorised a Red Ensign defaced with a white circle inscribed PALESTINE. It was used legally until 15th May 1948, and illegally after that.

David Prothero, 16 August 2000

In 1944 the only flag that represented the area that roughly corresponds to modern Israel was a red flag with the British Union Flag in the upper corner next to the staff and PALESTINE written in black on a white circle in the centre of the fly. It was for use only at sea, and was internationally recognised as the ensign of a ship registered in Palestine. I think that Haifa was the only port ever used for registry. Introduced in 1927, revoked in 1948, at which time there were six vessels on the register.

David Prothero, 7 March 2001

Abolition of the Civil Ensign 1948

The Palestine Red Ensign was required under International Law for those ships on the Palestine Register. With the end of the mandate in May 1948 the Admiralty were anxious to cancel the warrant authorising the ensign, so that Palestine ships would no longer be entitled to the protection of the Royal Navy, but the Jewish Agency in London protested that ships at sea would be left without a flag and should be allowed to fly it until they returned to their Home Port.

David Prothero, 17 October 1999

On 16th February 1948 the High Commissioner for Palestine wrote to the Colonial Office that the warrant for the defaced Red Ensign could be revoked from the end of the Mandate or, if the Admiralty agreed, from the date on which a successor state was set up if that was requested by the United Nations Organisation. The Admiralty did not favour the latter since Palestine ships used in quasi-military operations, or for carrying arms or immigrants into Palestine, would be able to do so under a British Ensign.

On 29th April 1948, Circular 1829 informed Consuls that after 15th May 1948 ships registered at ports in Palestine should be treated as foreign vessels.

On 7th May 1948, the Head of Naval Law submitted to the Colonial Office that the Admiralty Warrant of 14th October 1927 should be revoked and that the High Commissioner for Palestine be should informed that the use of any flag incorporating the Union Flag should be discontinued after 15 May 1948.

On 20th May 1948, the Jewish Agency in London protested that Palestine vessels at sea had been left without a flag, and said that use of the defaced Red Ensign should be permitted until they returned to their Home Port. The Foreign Office suggested that the Jewish Agency should arrange for vessels to be placed on the Jewish State Register.

On 24th May 1948, the Military Branch wrote that Clearance Papers would declare that these ships did not fly the flag of any state recognised by HM Government.

On 27th May 1948, the Military Branch reported that ships were still using the defaced Red Ensign and that one shortly arriving Tel Aviv might be attacked. It was agreed that such ships were not entitled to protection by the Royal Navy.

On 4th September 1949, Foreign Office Circular 0126 asked HM Representatives to draw to the attention of foreign governments, that the Palestine Red Ensign had been revoked on 15th May 1948.

Source: Public Record Office ADM 1/21248.

David Prothero, 16 August 2000

Since the Israeli flag was not adopted at May, it was possible that until it was adopted some ships (and those which were at sea) used it after 15 May. However, Jewish owned ships usually hoisted the Zionist (later Israeli) flag on their masts even before May. Illegal immigrants' ships hoisted only the Zionist flags no matter where those were registered. Four out of five Palestinian ports (Acre, Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jaffa) was on May or soon after under Israeli control as also well register offices in Haifa. The fifth port was under Egyptian control (Gaza), so the main problem was probably with Arab owned ships of former Palestinians residents.

Dov Gutterman, 16 August 2000

High Commissioner for Palestine Ensign 1936-1948

I have a bit of old news-reel on video-tape that shows the flag of the Palestine High Commissioner when the British mandate ended in 1948. It has the usual white disc in the centre of the Union Flag, but the badge differs slightly from any illustration that I have seen. There is a gap at the top of the laurel-leaf garland; the crown is smaller and set at the top of the disc, between the two ends of the garland; and the lettering has been adjusted to take advantage of the extra space made available by the smaller crown. This flag should have been flown only when the High Commissioner was afloat. The Union Flag would have been the usual flag on land.

David Prothero, 16 February 1999

The badge on the Union Flag of the High Commissioner was an improvement on the badge on the ensigns. The lettering was more elaborate and surmounted by a crown, as well as being surrounded by the usual laurel-leaf garland. The shape of the crown was unusual for a British flag. I would be interested if anyone can tell me what crown it is and what it might represent.

David Prothero, 17 October 1999

This is a scan of the Palestine High Commissioner's badge from Flaggenbuch 1939.

Nozomi Kariyasu, 11 March 2001

Nozomi Kariyasu's scan is the official design which would have been surrounded by the standard green laurel leaf garland on a Union Flag. Approved by High Commissioner 17th July 1935, published as part of 1936 amendment (No.5) to 1930 edition of Admiralty Flag Book, discontinued 15th May 1948. The badge that was actually in use in 1948 was more like this scan. This is a reconstruction based on the flag flown on the High Commissioner's launch as shown in a black and white news-reel. The garland should be thicker than in the drawing, I presume that it would have been green, and the crown yellow.

David Prothero, 15 March 2001

Customs, Excise and Trade Department Ensign 1926-1929

I checked the Palestine Gazette of 1929 and found the following in the March 15, 1929 issue:

Customs Ordinance, no. 11 of 1929, signed by the High Commissioner on 15.3.1929. Section 7: "The vessels employed in the service of the Customs shall be distinguished from other vessels by such a flag as shall be described".
In the same issue there are regulations for the Customs Ordinance and among them there is one concerning the Customs flag: The Customs flag shall be the blue ensign defaced by a white circle with the words "Palestine Customs" (no illustration).

Nahum Shereshevsky, 30 June 1997

Customs and Postal Services Ensign 1929-1948 (Blue Ensign)

The Palestine Blue Ensign was flown by the Postal Service launches and by vessels of the Customs and Excise and Trade Department.

David Prothero, 17 October 1999

There was also a blue ensign. Flaggenbuch 1939 shows only the badge and the red ensign, but the badge caption says, "Abzeichen in der blauen und roten Flagge von Palästina" that is "badge of the blue and red ensigns of Palestine".

Ivan Sache, 17 August 2000

Customs, Excise and Trade Department Jack 1929-1948

Also in use in government service was a square Blue Ensign defaced with the word 'CUSTOMS', used as a jack by Customs, Excise and Trade. Authorised 2nd May 1929. I would be interested if anyone can tell me exactly what this defacement looked like.

David Prothero, 26 June 1997

Postal Service Jack 1929-1948

Also in use in government service was (...) a square Blue Ensign defaced with the word 'POSTS' used [as a jack] by the Postal Service. Authorised 2nd May 1929. I would be interested if anyone can tell me exactly what this defacement looked like.

David Prothero, 26 June 1997

I checked the Palestine Gazette of 1929 and found (...) nothing about the Postal Service, but the P.O. was established long before that year, so it may be mentioned in a similar manner [to the Customs ensign] in the Palestine Gazette of the relevant year. The Jerusalem City Archive's collection of the Palestine Gazzette is not complete, if I have a chance I will check at the National Library.

Nahum Shereshevsky, 30 June 1997

Palestine Police

There was a Colonial Office letter dated 13th October 1932 urging the adoption of a defaced Blue Ensign for the Palestine Police, but there was no indication that this was ever done.

David Prothero, 26 June 1997

There was a proposal to put "P" on a white disc on the Union Flag for Palestine Police Frontier Posts, but as far as I know it was never implemented.

David Prothero, 15 February 1999

In 1932 the Colonial Office proposed the adoption of a Blue Ensign defaced with the badge of the Palestine Police, emphasising that it would be particularly appropriate for the Frontier Posts of Zuweira and Ain Hosb in Beersheba, and Metullah and Khalisa in the Northern District. The approval of the Admiralty, necessary because the Blue Ensign was a maritime flag, was not forthcoming. Three possibilities were considered and the final choice was, "A plain Union [Flag], the character of the station being shown elsewhere, e.g. by an escutcheon with the Police badge over the porch."

David Prothero, 16 February 1999

Proposed Badge with Castle on a Hill

The badge in National Geographic 1934 is captioned:

419. PALESTINE BADGE - The badge of Palestine heretofore consisted of a plain white circle upon which occurred the word "Palestine". Since this plate went to press, a new badge has been adopted which shows a castle set on a hill.

Dave Martucci, 1996 and Jarig Bakker, 16 August 2000

I checked [the Palestine Gazette of] 1934 for the Badge of Palestine — it was supposed to be changed then from a white circle with "Palestine" to a representation of the Old City of Jerusalem. I didn't find anything. I talked to another old-timer and showed him the pictures of the High Commissioner flags (Union Flag with those badges in the centre). He didn't recognize the "city" one, but did recognize the "Palestine" one as the flag on the High Commissioner's car. He said that he came to Palestine in 1938 and he remembers seeing that flag used until the end of the Mandate. So I think that we can definitely say that whether or not the "city" badge was authorized, it was never used.

Nahum Shereshevsky, 30 June 1997

The [castle on hill] badge was drawn or described in newspapers, magazines and books, but never used on a flag.

In 1932 the Palestine High Commissioner decided that he wanted to undertake some coastal journeys by boat, but did not consider the badge used on the Blue and Red Ensigns suitable as a defacement for the Union Flag. He wrote to the Colonial Office suggesting something similar to the badges of the Western Pacific or South Africa High Commissioners, who had badges with an imperial crown and appropriate initials. Colonial Office agreed that the badge on the Ensigns was, "repellent", and considered, a crown with 'PALESTINE' above and 'HC' below, but concluded that the Foreign Office would probably not agree to a badge which featured a crown. It was finally decided that the 1923 Seal, "... if simplified, could be used as badge and would indicate the authority of the High Commissioner without implying the status of Palestine."

The Seal had been designed by the Royal Mint for the Government of Palestine. It was a representation of a hill-top city with a wall around the base of the hill. The picture was surrounded by a circular border with Government of Palestine written at the top, a Hebrew inscription in the lower left and an Arabic inscription in the lower right.

A badge based upon the Seal was designed by George Kruger-Gray and approved by the High Commissioner in February 1933. The Seal had been considerably simplified. The encircling wall had been removed and a crescent at the top of a dome replaced by a pinnacle. The city and road leading to it was white, the hill yellow and the background black. The border containing the inscriptions was replaced by a yellow garland which would feature on the Union Flag, but be replaced by a plain yellow border on the Ensigns. An alternative badge based on the Arms of the Latin Kings of Jerusalem had been rejected as it consisted mainly of the Christian symbol of the Cross.

George Kruger-Gray sent a drawing of the badge to a friend who was particularly interested in heraldry and the Near East, and was editor of the Picture Page in The Times newspaper. When asked by him if it had been gazetted (scheduled for publication in the government newspaper) Gray said he did not know, but that it had been approved. The editor took this to mean that it had been gazetted and published a picture of the badge The Times on 29th August 1933.

However the Royal Mint, Colonial Office and the High Commissioner were still arguing about details of the badge.

In April 1934 the badge was amended because it had been decided that the only identifiable features were Moslem in character and would excite political criticism on the part of the Jewish Community. The city was now yellow instead of white and the garland green instead of yellow; the background still black.

Royal Mint Advisory Committee opposed the alterations but the High Commissioner thought that the badge as re-designed was similar to the seal, to which no objections had been made in ten years. However when the badge was shown to them, the Jewish Agency said that they had not been aware of the existence of the Seal and objected strongly to the badge.

The badge based on the Seal was abandoned and on 17th July 1935 the High Commissioner selected a badge similar to the Western Pacific High Commissioner badge first considered in 1932.

I would be interested if anyone can identify the style of the crown which is not a Tudor/Imperial crown and unlike any other that I have seen. It is similar to that of Henry VII (1485) as drawn in Neubecker 1977 page 171.

David Prothero, 18 August 2000

It is not a castle but an artistic way to represent Jerusalem. One can see the walls, the Omar Mosque (the Rock Dome) and the Tower of David.

Dov Gutterman, 13 March 2001

As I said this was a proposed badge, never used. Had it been used it would have looked like this scan. On the Blue Ensign and Red Ensign the yellow garland would have been replaced by a plain yellow border. An alternative proposal had a yellow city and green garland.

David Prothero, 15 March 2001

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