Norman Bentwich, 1950

Norman De Mattos Bentwich OBE MC (28 February 1883 – 8 April 1971) was a British barrister and legal academic. He was the British-appointed attorney-general of Mandatory Palestine and a lifelong Zionist.


Norman Bentwich was the oldest son of British Zionist Herbert Bentwich. He attended St. Paul's School in London and Trinity College, Cambridge.[1]

Bentwich was a delegate at the annual Zionist Congresses from 1907 to 1912.[2] He paid his first visit to Palestine in 1908.[2]

During the British military administration of Palestine, Bentwich served as Senior Judicial Officer, which continued in the civil administration after 1920 as Legal Secretary.[1] The title was soon changed to Attorney-General, a post he held until 1931.[1]

Bentwich played a major role in the development of Palestinian law.[3][4] According to Likhovski, he "concentrated his efforts on providing Palestine with a set of modern commercial laws that he believed would facilitate economic development and thus attract more Jewish immigration."[4] Bentwich's perceived Zionist bias made him increasingly unpopular with Palestinian Arabs, who conducted demonstrations and other protests against his presence in the administration.[1] Some British officials, including the Colonial Office and the Chief Justice of Palestine Michael McDonnell, saw him as a liability and agitated for his dismissal.[1][4] In 1929 he was barred from representing the government at the Shaw Commission into the August riots.[1] In late 1930 he went on leave to England, where he unsuccessfully sought to gain support for his continued role in Palestine.[1] He was offered senior judicial positions in Mauritius and Cyprus, but turned them down.[5] In August 1931 his appointment as Attorney-General was terminated by the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, who cited "the peculiar racial and political conditions of Palestine, and the difficulties with which the Administration has in consequence to bear."[1][5]

In November 1929, Bentwich was shot in the thigh by a 17-year-old Arab employee of the Palestine Police.[6] His assailant was sentenced to 15 years hard labour, despite Bentwich personally advocating for him.[1][6][7]

From 1932 to 1951 Bentwich occupied the Chair of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.[8] His first lecture, on "Jerusalem, City of Peace", was disrupted by Jewish students who considered him too conciliatory towards the Arabs.[9] Several of the ringleaders, one of them Avraham Stern, were suspended.[9] Bentwich was a disciple of Zionist thinker Ahad Ha'am,[10] and wrote a book about him, Ahad Ha'am and His Philosophy, in 1927. He was one of the Jewish members of Palestine Administration who in 1929 joined Brit Shalom, a society founded to find rapprochement between Jews and Arabs in Palestine.[11]

He was later President of the Jewish Historical Society of England.[citation needed]

In his book, Mandate Memories, he stated that "the Balfour Declaration was not an impetuous or sentimental act of the British government, as has been sometimes represented, or a calculated measure of political warfare. It was a deliberate decision of British policy and idealist politics, weighed and reweighed, and adopted only after full consultation with the United States and with other Allied Nations."[12]

Academic and legal career

  • Called to the bar (Lincolns Inn), 1908
  • Ministry of Justice, Cairo, 1912–1915
  • Major, Camel Transport, 1916–1918
  • Legal secretary to military administration, Palestine, 1918–22
  • First attorney-general in mandatory government of Palestine, 1922–30
  • Recalled to Colonial Office, 1930–31
  • Professor of International Relations, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1932[13] and 1945–1951
  • Director of League of Nations High Commission for Refugees from Germany, 1933–1935
  • British Ministry of Information and Air Ministry, 1939–45
  • Co-editor of the Jewish Review, 1910–1913 and 1932–1934
  • Lecturer at Hague Academy of International Law, 1929, 1934 and 1955
  • Vice-President, Jewish Committee for Relief Abroad
  • Chairman, National Peace Council, 1944–1946
  • Chairman, United Restitution Organization, 1948–1971
  • Foreign Office Committee on Restitution in British Zone of Germany, 1951
  • President, Jewish Historical Society, 1960–1962
  • Chairman, Friends of Hebrew University
  • President of North Western Reform Synagogue, Alyth Gardens, London 1958–71

Published works

Bentwich published a large number of books and articles. Some of his books are listed here.

  • Philo-Judaeus of Alexandria, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1910.
  • The Declaration of London, with an introduction and notes and appendices, E. Wilson, London, 1911.
  • Students leading cases and statutes on international law, Sweet & Maxwell, London, 1913.
  • Josephus, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1914.
  • Bentwich, Norman (1919). Palestine of the Jews: past, present and future. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner. 
  • Hellenism, The Jewish publication society of America, Philadelphia, 1919.
  • Ahad Ha'am and his philosophy, Keren Hayesod (Palestine Foundation Fund) and the Keren Kayemeth Le-Israel, Jerusalem, 1927.
  • The Mandates System, Longmans, London, 1930.
  • England in Palestine, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd., London, 1932.
  • Palestine, Benn, London, 1934.
  • Fulfilment in the Promised land, 1917–1937, Soncino Press, London, 1938.
  • Solomon Schecter: A Biography, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1938
  • Wanderer Between Two Worlds – An Autobiography, Kegan Paul Trench Trubner, London, 1941.
  • Judaea lives again, V. Gollancz, London, 1943.
  • Israel, Ernest Bend, 1952.
  • For Zion's Sake. A Biography of Judah L. Magnes. First Chancellor and First President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jewish Publication Society, 1954.
  • Israel And Her Neighbours: A Short Historical Geography, Rider And Company, London, 1955.
  • The Jews in our Times, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1960.
  • Israel Resurgent, Ernest Benn, London, 1960.
  • My 77 years : an account of my life and times, 1883–1960, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1961.
  • Mandate Memories (with Helen Bentwich), The Hogarth Press, London, 1965.
  • Israel : two fateful years, 1967–69, Elec, London, 1970.
  • Jewish Youth Comes Home: The Story of the Youth Aliyah, 1933-1943, Hyperion Press, 1976.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bernard Wasserstein (1978). The British in Palestine. London: Royal Historical Society. pp. 209–215. 
  2. ^ a b Norman Bentwich (1962). My Seventy Seven Years. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 21–23. 
  3. ^ Martin Bunton (2007). Colonial Land Policies in Palestine 1917–1936. Oxford University Press. pp. passim. 
  4. ^ a b c Assaf Likhovski (2006). Law and Identity in Mandate Palestine. University of North Carolina Press. pp. 57–58. 
  5. ^ a b Norman and Helen Bentwich (1965). Mandate Memories. London: The Hogarth Press. pp. 146–147. 
  6. ^ a b Norman and Helen Bentwich (1965). Mandate Memories. London: The Hogarth Press. pp. 136–139. 
  7. ^ J. M. Levy (28 February 1930). "Arab gets 15 years for Palestine attack". New York Times. p. 9. 
  8. ^ Bentwich, Norman. The Jews in Our Time. Harmonds, Middlesworth: Penguin Books, 1960.
  9. ^ a b Norman Bentwich (1962). My Seventy Seven Years. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. pp. 98–100. 
  10. ^ Halpern, Ben The Disciple, Chaim Weizmann in Jacques Kornberg (1983) At the Crossroads: Essays on Ahad Ha'am SUNY Press. p.164
  11. ^ Berit Shalom
  12. ^ Happy Balfour Day, Jerusalem Post
  13. ^ Norman Bentwich going back to Palestine as Professor at Hebrew University