1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine

1936–39 Arab revolt in Mandatory Palestine
Part of Intercommunal violence in Mandatory Palestine
Train hostages.jpg
British soldiers on an armoured train car with two Palestinian Arab prisoners
DateApril 1936 – August 1939
ResultRevolt suppressed

United Kingdom United Kingdom
Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Palestine Police Force
Jewish Settlement Police
Jewish Supernumerary Police
Special Night Squads

Jewish National Council Yishuv

  • NDF (from 1937)
    • Arab "peace bands"

Arab Higher Committee (1936 – October 1937)

  • Local rebel factions (fasa'il)
  • Volunteers from Arab world

Central Committee of National Jihad in Palestine (October 1937 – 1939)

  • Bureau of the Arab Revolt in Palestine (late 1938 – 1939)
Society for the Defense of Palestine
Commanders and leaders

Mandatory Palestine General Arthur Grenfell Wauchope
High Commissioner and Commander-in-chief
Mandatory Palestine Sir Harold MacMichael
High Commissioner
Flag of the British Army.svg Lt.-General John Dill
GOC (1936–37)
Flag of the British Army.svg Lt.-General Archibald Wavell
GOC (1937–38)
Flag of the British Army.svg Lt.-General Robert Haining
GOC (1938–39)
Flag of the British Army.svg Major-General Bernard Montgomery
Commander, 8th Infantry Div., 1938–39
Air Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Air Commodore Roderic Hill
AOC, Palestine and Transjordan
Air Force Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Air Commodore Arthur Harris
AOC, Palestine and Transjordan
Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Admiral Dudley Pound
Commander-in-Chief, British Mediterranean Fleet

Eliyahu Golomb Haganah Commander

Raghib al-Nashashibi (from 1937)

Political leadership
Mohammed Amin al-Husayni (exiled)
Raghib al-Nashashibi (defected)
Izzat Darwaza (exiled)

Local rebel commanders
Abd al-Rahim al-Hajj Muhammad
(General Commander) 
Arif Abd al-Raziq Regional Commander) (exiled)
Abu Ibrahim al-Kabir (Regional Commander)
Yusuf Abu Durra Regional Commander) Executed
Fakhri 'Abd al-Hadi (defected)
Abdallah al-Asbah  
Issa Battat 
Mohammed Saleh al-Hamad 
Yusuf Hamdan 
Ahmad Mohamad Hasan  
Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni (exiled)
Wasif Kamal
Abdul Khallik  
Hamid Suleiman Mardawi  
Ibrahim Nassar
Mustafa Osta  
Mohammad Mahmoud Rana'an
Farhan al-Sa'di  Executed
Hasan Salama

Arab volunteer commanders:
Fawzi al-Qawuqji (expelled)
Sa'id al-'As 

Muhammad al-Ashmar
25,000[1] to 50,000[2] British soldiers
20,000 Jewish policemen, supernumeraries and settlement guards[3]
15,000 Haganah fighters[4]
2,883 Palestine Police Force, all ranks (1936)[5]
2,000 Irgun militants[6]
1,000–3,000 in 1936–37
between 2,500 and 7,500 in 1938
(plus an additional 6,000 to 15,000 part-timers)[7]
Casualties and losses
British Security Forces:
262 killed
c. 550 wounded[8]
c. 300 killed[9]
4 executed[8]
c. 5,000 killed[1]
c. 15,000 wounded[1]
108 executed[8]
12,622 detained[8]
5 exiled[8]

The 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, later came to be known as "The Great Revolt", was a nationalist uprising by Palestinian Arabs in Mandatory Palestine against the British administration of the Palestine Mandate, demanding Arab independence and the end of the policy of open-ended Jewish immigration and land purchases with the stated goal of establishing a "Jewish National Home".[10] The dissent was directly influenced by the Qassamite rebellion, following the killing of Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam in 1935, as well as the declaration by Hajj Amin al-Husseini of 16 May 1936 as 'Palestine Day' and calling for a General Strike. The revolt was branded by many in the Jewish Yishuv as "immoral and terroristic", often comparing it to fascism and nazism.[11] Ben Gurion however described Arab causes as fear of growing Jewish economic power, opposition to mass Jewish immigration and fear of the English identification with Zionism.[11]

The general strike lasted from April to October 1936, initiating the violent revolt. The revolt consisted of two distinct phases.[12] The first phase was directed primarily by the urban and elitist Higher Arab Committee (HAC) and was focused mainly on strikes and other forms of political protest.[12] By October 1936, this phase had been defeated by the British civil administration using a combination of political concessions, international diplomacy (involving the rulers of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Transjordan and Yemen[1]) and the threat of martial law.[12] The second phase, which began late in 1937, was a violent and peasant-led resistance movement provoked by British repression in 1936[13] that increasingly targeted British forces.[12] During this phase, the rebellion was brutally suppressed by the British Army and the Palestine Police Force using repressive measures that were intended to intimidate the Arab population and undermine popular support for the revolt.[12] During this phase, a more dominant role on the Arab side was taken by the Nashashibi clan, whose NDP party quickly withdrew from the rebel Arab Higher Committee, led by the radical faction of Amin al-Husseini, and instead sided with the British – dispatching "Fasail al-Salam" (the "Peace Bands") in coordination with the British Army against nationalist and Jihadist Arab "Fasail" units (literally "bands").

According to official British figures covering the whole revolt, the army and police killed more than 2,000 Arabs in combat, 108 were hanged,[8] and 961 died because of what they described as "gang and terrorist activities".[1] In an analysis of the British statistics, Walid Khalidi estimates 19,792 casualties for the Arabs, with 5,032 dead: 3,832 killed by the British and 1,200 dead because of "terrorism", and 14,760 wounded.[1] Over ten percent of the adult male Palestinian Arab population between 20 and 60 was killed, wounded, imprisoned or exiled.[14] Estimates of the number of Palestinian Jews killed range from 91[15] to several hundred.[16]

The Arab revolt in Mandatory Palestine was unsuccessful, and its consequences affected the outcome of the 1948 Palestine war.[17] It caused the British Mandate to give crucial support to pre-state Zionist militias like the Haganah, whereas on the Palestinian Arab side, the revolt forced the flight into exile of the main Palestinian Arab leader of the period, the Grand Mufti of JerusalemHaj Amin al-Husseini.[dubious ]


Funeral of Jews from Givat Ada that were killed in 1936.

In 1930 Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam organized and established the Black Hand, an anti-Zionist and anti-British militant organization. He recruited and arranged military training for peasants and by 1935 he had enlisted between 200 and 800 men. They were engaged in a campaign of vandalizing trees planted by farmers and British-constructed rail lines.[18] In November 1935, two of his men engaged in a firefight with the Palestine Police patrol hunting fruit thieves and a policeman was killed. Following the incident, the police launched a manhunt and surrounded al-Qassam in a cave near Ya'bad. In the ensuing battle, al-Qassam was killed.[18]

The death of al-Qassam generated widespread outrage among Palestinian Arabs. Huge crowds accompanied Qassam's body to his grave in Haifa.[19]

The dissent in Palestine was influenced also by the discovery in October 1935 at the port of Jaffa of a large arms shipment destined for the Haganah, sparking Arab fears of a Jewish military takeover of Palestine,[20][21] Jewish immigration also peaked in 1935, just months before Palestinian Arabs began a full-scale, nationwide revolt.[1][22] In the four years between 1933 and 1936 more than 164,000 Jewish immigrants arrived in Palestine, and between 1931 and 1936 the Jewish population more than doubled from 175,000 to 370,000 people, increasing the Jewish population share from 17% to 27%, and bringing about a significant deterioration in relations between Palestinian Arabs and Jews.[23]

Result of terrorist acts and government measures. Remains of a burnt Jewish passenger bus at Balad Esh-Sheikh outside Haifa. Picture taken between 1934 and 1938.

The uprising began with the 1936 Anabta shooting, a 15 April 1936 roadblock that stopped a convoy of trucks on the Nablus to Tulkarm road during which the (probably Qassamite)[24] assailants shot two Jewish drivers, Israel Khazan, who was killed instantly, and Zvi Dannenberg, who died five days later.[1][25][26][27] The next day members of the militant Jewish faction, the Irgun, shot and killed two Arab workers sleeping in a hut near Petah Tikva in a revenge attack.[1][28] Then the funeral for Khazan in Tel Aviv on 17 April attracted a huge crowd, and some Jews beat up Arab bystanders and destroyed property.[29] This was followed by the Bloody Day in Jaffa, in which an Arab mob rampaged through a residential area killing Jews and destroying property.[30] An Arab general strike and revolt ensued that lasted until October 1936.[1]

During the summer of that year, thousands of Jewish-farmed acres and orchards were destroyed, Jewish civilians were attacked and murdered, and some Jewish communities, such as those in Beisan and Acre, fled to safer areas.[28]

Economic background

Economic factors played a major role in the outbreak of the Arab revolt.[31] Palestine's fellahin, the country's peasant farmers, comprised over two-thirds of the indigenous Arab population and from the 1920s onwards they were pushed off the land in increasingly large numbers into urban environments where they often encountered only poverty and social marginalisation.[31] Many were crowded into shanty towns in Jaffa and Haifa where they found succor and encouragement in the teachings of the charismatic preacher Izz ad-Din al-Qassam who worked among the poor in Haifa.[31] The revolt was thus a popular uprising that produced its own leaders and developed into a national revolt.[31]

World War I left Palestine, especially the countryside, deeply impoverished.[31] The Ottoman and then the Mandate authorities levied high taxes on farming and agricultural produce and during the 1920s and 1930s this together with a fall in prices, cheap imports, natural disasters and paltry harvests all contributed to the increasing indebtedness of the fellahin.[31] The rents paid by tenant fellah increased sharply, owing to increased population density, and transfer of land from Arabs to the Jewish settlement agencies, such as the Jewish National Fund, increased the number of fellahin evicted while also removing the land as a future source of livelihood.[31] By 1931 the 106,400 dunums of low-lying Category A farming land in Arab possession supported a farming population of 590,000 whereas the 102,000 dunums of such land in Jewish possession supported a farming population of only 50,000.[31] The problem of 'landless' Arabs grew particularly grave after 1931, causing High Commissioner Wauchope to warn that this 'social peril ... would serve as a focus of discontent and might even result in serious disorders.'[31]

Although the Mandatory government introduced measures to limit the transfer of land from Arabs to Jews these were easily circumvented by willing buyers and sellers.[31] The failure of the authorities to invest in economic growth and healthcare and the Zionist policy of ensuring that their investments were directed only to facilitate expansion of the Yishuv further compounded matters.[31] The government did, however, set the minimum wage for Arab workers below that for Jewish workers, which meant that those making capital investments in the Yishuv's economic infrastructure, such as Haifa's electricity plant, the Shemen oil and soap factory, the Grands Moulins flour mills and the Nesher cement factory, could take advantage of cheap Arab labour pouring in from the countryside.[31] After 1935 the slump in the construction boom and further concentration by the Yishuv on an exclusivist Hebrew labour programme removed most of the sources of employment for rural migrants.[31] By 1935 only 12,000 Arabs (5% of the workforce) worked in the Jewish sector, half of these in agriculture, whereas 32,000 worked for the Mandate authorities and 211,000 were either self-employed or worked for Arab employers.[32]

The ongoing disruption of agrarian life in Palestine, which had been continuing since Ottoman times, thus created a large population of landless peasant farmers who subsequently became mobile wage workers who were increasingly marginalised and impoverished; these became willing participants in nationalist rebellion.[31]

Political and socio-cultural background

Feminist activist Tarab Abdul Hadi, organiser of the Palestinian Arab Women's Association.

Initially, the conflict with Zionism helped to make Palestinian Arab society more conservative in cultural, social, religious and political affairs because people were highly motivated to preserve their distinct heritage and identity against the dual impact of British colonialism and Jewish innovation.[33] Traditionally, the Arabs had an elite, but not a real leadership.[33] Both of these things changed over the course of the 1930s.[33] During this period new political organizations and new types of activist began to appear, marking the involvement of a far broader cross-section of the population; in particular, nationalism, which had been long-rooted in rural society began to take hold in urban society.[34]

Youth organisations proliferated at this time; these included the Young Men's Muslim Association, which from 1931 agitated for armed resistance against the Zionists, the Youth Congress Party, which expressed pan-Arab sentiments, and the Palestinian Boy Scout Movement, founded early in 1936, which became active in the general strike.[34]

Women's organisations, which had been active in social matters, became politically involved from the end of the 1920s, with an Arab Women's Congress held in Jerusalem in 1929 attracting 200 participants, and an Arab Women's Association (later Arab Women's Union) being established at the same time, both organised by feminist Tarab Abdul Hadi.[34][35]

From the beginning of the 1930s new political parties began to appear, including the Independence Party, which called for an Indian Congress Party-style boycott of the British,[36] the pro-Nashashibi National Defence Party, the pro-Husayni Palestinian Arab Party the pro-Khalidi Arab-Palestinian Reform Party, and the National Bloc, based mainly around Nablus.[37]

A few militant secret societies, which advocated armed struggle were formed; these included the Green Hand, which was active in the hills around Safad, but eliminated by the British in 1931, the Organization for Holy Struggle, led by Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni and active in the Hebron area, which was later to play an important role in the 1948 Palestine War, and the Young Rebels or Avenging Youth, active in the Tulkarm and Qalqilyah area from 1935.[37]

Traditional feasts such as Nebi Musa began to acquire a political and nationalist dimension and new national memorial days were introduced or gained new significance; among them Balfour Day (2 November, marking the Balfour Declaration of 1917), the anniversary of the Battle of Hattin (4 July, marking Saladin's recapture of Jerusalem), and beginning in 1930 May 16 was celebrated as Palestine Day.[37]

The expansion of education, the development of civil society and of transportation, communications, and especially of broadcasting and other media, all facilitated these changes.[38]

Regional political background

A number of political changes in neighbouring Arab countries illustrated to the Palestinian Arabs what could be achieved in a Western colony through political pressure and negotiating skill.[39]

In Syria a general strike took place from 20 January to 6 March 1936 spreading to all the major towns, and political demonstrations held throughout the country gave fresh momentum to the Syrian national movement. Although French reprisals were harsh the government agreed on 2 March to the formation of a Syrian delegation to travel to Paris to negotiate a Franco-Syrian Treaty of Independence.[40] This demonstrated that determined economic and political pressure could challenge a fragile imperial administration.[41]

In Egypt on 2 March 1936 a series of formal negotiations between the United Kingdom and Egypt began leading to the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, which granted independence to Egypt, but allowed the British to keep forces in the Suez Canal Zone.[42][43]

In Iraq a general strike in July 1931, accompanied by organised demonstrations in the streets, led to independence for the former British mandate territory under prime minister Nuri as-Said, and full membership of the League of Nations in October 1932.[44]

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