The British Mandate for Palestine, granted by the League of Nations, covered territories formally part of the Ottoman Empire.  It was established in 1920, confirmed by the League on 24 July 1922, and came into effect with the ratification of the Treaty of Lausanne between the Allies and Turkey on 29 September 1923. Under the terms of the Mandate, Great Britain was to administer Palestine temporarily, taking such measures as necessary to prepare the territory for independence. Mandate Palestine originally included Trans-Jordan but in 1921 a separate administration for this territory was established, headed by the Hashemite Prince Abdullah bin Hussein, and in 1928 Trans-Jordan became largely autonomous. Thereafter the Mandate for Palestine encompassed two distinct polities: Palestine proper (present-day Israel plus the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) under direct British administration and autonomous Trans-Jordan. 

The wartime Balfour Declaration had promised the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine and Jewish immigration was accordingly permitted, though only into the territory under direct British administration. Though the influx of Jews facilitated considerable economic development it was bitterly resented by the Arab population. Sectarian strife eventually culminated in the Arab Revolt of 1936-39. This was put down by the British with Jewish assistance and considerable bloodshed. The revolt was a decisive event in the history of Palestine, making clear that the Jews and the Arabs would never collaborate in the establishment of a nonsectarian state. Thus was born the concept of partition, which was finally given expression in the UN resolution of 29 November 1947. 

The end of the Second World War heralded the final act of the Mandate. European Jews, survivors of the Holocaust, flooded into Palestine despite British efforts to stop them. Tensions between the Arab and Jewish communities reached boiling point and British authority began to break down. On the heels of the UN partition vote, which proposed to divide Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, the British government notified the UN that it would terminate the Mandate no later than 14 May 1948. Meanwhile, though the Jews accepted the UN plan the Arabs rejected it. As the British drew down their forces, sectarian fighting intensified. On the afternoon of 14 May the State of Israel was proclaimed in Tel Aviv and at the stroke of midnight the British Mandate for Palestine was formally terminated.




British Union Flag


Palestine Civil Ensign  •  1927-48


High Commissioner for Palestine  •  1935-48


Customs Service Ensign  • 1926-29


Postal & Customs Ensign  •  1929-48


Customs Service Jack  •  1929-48


Postal Department Jack  •  1929-48


Palestine Police Flag


Inspector General, Palestine Police


Palestine Police Ensign  • 1935-39 & 1945-48


Palestine Police Ensign  • 1939-45

The British Union Flag was flown on land by all officials and departments of the Mandate administration. When in 1927 a Palestine Shipping Register was established, a British Red Ensign with PALESTINE in a white circle became the Mandate's civil ensign. This rather uninspiring badge was used because other symbolism seemed likely to provoke protests from the Arab and Jewish populations. The High Commissioner for Palestine used the Union Flag on land. In 1935 he requested a distinguishing flag for use afloat and a design similar to that used by other British high commissioners was authorized. The British Blue Ensign was used by government departments for their vessels. The first to be authorized was the Customs Service ensign, in 1926. In 1929 the Postal Department requested a distinctive ensign and it was decided to cancel the Customs Service ensign, replacing it with a Blue Ensign bearing the same badge as the Civil Ensign. This became the ensign of both the Customs Service and the Postal Department. It was flown together with a square departmental jack. The flag of the Palestine Police and the car pennant of the Inspector General of the Palestine police were dark blue, bearing the badge of the service. For vessels of the Port and Maritime Section of the police a Blue Ensign with the police badge was authorized in 1935. In 1939, however, the Port and Maritime Section was placed under the authority of the Senior Naval Officer, Haifa, and for the duration of the war its vessels flew the White Ensign of the Royal Navy.





Most Zionist flags of the Mandate period were similar to the current national flag of Israel, displaying the Magen David (Shield of David) in blue on a white field between two horizontal blue stripes. According to tradition the six-pointed star appeared on both King David's shield and King Solomon's ring, making it an appropriate symbol of the Jewish state. The colors white and blue relate to the tallit, a religious article of clothing. The shade of blue varied from dark to sky and the Shield of David could be solid blue or outlined. A French-language dictionary published in 1924 included color plates of national flags, one of which, identified as the flag of Palestine, displayed a yellow Shield of David on a field vertically divided blue and white. In reality the British Union Flag was the Mandate's national flag and the one shown in the dictionary was probably a variant Zionist flag.



The Arab population of Mandate Palestine looked forward to the establishment of an independent Arab state, an aspiration symbolized by the flag of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks during the First World War. This flag displayed stripes of black, green and white, with a red triangle at the hoist. These four colors have long been associated with Islam and the Arabs. White and black flags were supposed to have been used by the Prophet Muhammad. Green, widely acknowledged as the color of Islam, was the traditional color of the Fatimid dynasty that ruled North Africa from the tenth to the twelfth centuries. Red is the traditional color of the Hashemite dynasty, descendents of the great-grandfather of the Prophet, and for centuries the rulers of Mecca. Variants of the Arab Revolt flag became the first national flags of Syria and Iraq, and it was natural for the Palestinian Arabs to adopt it as well. The version on the right serves today as the flag of the Palestinian Authority.