Great Arab Revolt 1936-1939


Accessed 11 DEC 2018

The Great Arab Revolt refers to an organized uprising that broke out in Palestine in 1936 and continued until the end of March 1939.[1] In English this was called the Arab Revolt in Palestine 1936-1939. During the course of the revolt more than 400 Jews were killed as well as some 200 Britons and 5,000 Arabs, most killed as the result of reprisal attacks and attacking opponents.[2] A number of Jewish communities and small settlements were either destroyed, expelled or evacuated especially in the areas of Sefer and the Old City (Jerusalem) after the attacks which included Mishmar HaCarmel, Ein Zeitum, Peki'in, Ruhama, the Shimon HaTzadik neighborhood, Hebron, Kfar HaShiloach, Jaffa and the surrounding neighborhoods.

The revolt was primarily Arab attacks against the British Mandatory institutions that ruled Palestine, and was also, to a limited extent, directed at the Jews.[3] They attacked British soldiers, British government institutions and their representatives, and destroyed agricultural crops and Jewish property. The revolt also included attacks among Arab factions, especially against those who opposed the revolt. The revolt differed from previous incidents in its scope, intensity and organization and went on for a significantly longer period of time. And as the revolt dragged on, the scope and intensity of the violence increased.[4] Demonstrations were held alongside of terror attacks, there were large-sclae strikes in an attempt to damage the economy, and acts of civil disobedience were carried out, such as tax evasion.

The uprising did not achieve its goals: the political demands of the Arabs were not accepted by the British, the Yishuv was not significantly harmed and was even strengthened, dependence on Arab workers and the Arab economy was reduced, a sea port was opened in Tel Aviv, and an expansion of a system of fortified settlements (Homa oMigdal, Wall and Tower) emerged with the approval of the Mandate authorities until 1938, bypassing the limitations of the Passfield White Paper. On the other hand, the Arab populace suffered military and economic setbacks to descend into internal division as a result of infighting.

Table of Contents

1 The Background


In 1936 a series of world, regional and local issues converged to create the conditions for the uprising:

1.1 The Fifth Aliyah

The Fifth Aliyah which started following the 1929 riots and intensified after the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany in 1933, resulted in a doubling of the Jewish settlement during its course as the area of their settlement expanded and the Jewish economy grew to become a dominant factor in the local economy, with the Yishuv becoming the nucleus of a nascent state. The Arabs saw their land rapidly becoming the Jewish land of Eretz Israel. They recognized the threat the Yishuv represented and sought to curb its growth. The greatest danger was from the Jewish immigration that rapidly and steadily changed the composition of the population and the country. The Arabs realized that the day when the Jews became the majority was fast approaching. Jewish immigration to Palestine reached its peak in 1935.[5] By 1936 there were some 400,000 Jews in Palestine representing about 30% of the population.[6]

1.2 The Second White Paper

During the 1920s relations between the Arabs and the British were stable and calm. Then in 1930 the second White Paper was published and received the support of the Arab leadership who viewed it as being anti-Zionist. A year later the MacDonald Letter was published which saw the British backtrack from the positions in the White Paper. As a result, the Supreme Muslim committee was created by the Arabs of Palestine to call upon other Arab countries to intervene in the situation in Palestine. This angered the British.

1.3 Arab Extremism

Among the Arabs the period after the 1929 Riots saw a trend of increasing radicalization with stronger anti-Zionist positions, opposition to British rule and an increasing willingness to use violence in the struggle against the Yishuv and the British. During the period the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, rose in stature while the prestige of the more moderate Arab leaders declined. Under his leadership, criticism of Zionism and the Jews increased in order to set the stage and prepare the Arabs of Palestine for the coming conflict. In 1932 the Al-Istiqlal (Independence) Party was setup. This party was not beholden to the respectable and privileged families allowing it to advocate for a series of policies: a halt to Jewish immigration, prohibition of the sale of land to Jews, and the creation of an Arab state in Palestine. The party also worked to prepare for the coming struggle against Zionism and the Jews which was a sharp contrast to the policies of the Arab Executive Committee, their traditional leaders. A new generation of young people also felt that the old political leaders needed to make way for them to take a larger role in Arab society. These young people saw rebellion as a real possibility and had been circulating leaflets and organizing demonstrations. It was not long before they began their struggle against the British and the Jews.

1.4 Impact of Political Developments in Other Middle East Countries

The Arabs in Palestine were also influenced by the political developments in the Arab countries that bordered on Palestine. In an attempt to defuse Arab nationalism, the Mandatory powers granted varying degrees of independence to the neighboring countries. In Iraq the British Mandate was rescinded and an Anglo-Iraqi alliance was signed that gave Britain commercial and military rights while giving the Iraqis recognition and symbols of their national independence. In French-controlled Syria, a Syrian republic was established. Representative institutions were also created in Transjordan. These developments raised both the hopes and the fears of the Arab political leaders in Palestine. They were concerned that Palestine would be the only country in the Middle East not granted either full or partial independence and that the British would allow the Jews to become the majority population. The Arab leaders hoped that demonstrations in Palestine would prod the British to make political promises.

On 13 November 1935 demonstrations against the British broke out in Cairo, Egypt after the nationalists there demanded the restoration of the constitution. The British refused and the demonstrations continued for an entire week but after a month had passed the constitution was restored and in March 1936 Britain and Egypt resumed negotiations. At the end of 1935 the National Bloc in Syria demanded that the French authorities restore their constitution and a month later demanded the unification of all parts of Syria into a single independent state. At the end of February the French withdrew and a few days later invited a Syrian dlegation to Paris to discuss the signing of a treaty. These events in Egypt and Syria captured the attention of the Palestinians who organized unity meetings and protest demonstrations. The parties and the newspapers called on Palestinians to follow their "big sister" Syria and fight for the same goals. The Palestinians saw how effective general strikes and demonstrations could be. In March 1936 an Iraqi delegation of 15 members visited Palestine to tour cities and was warmly welcomed. In Shekem (Nablus) the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament pledged on behalf of Iraq to "assist the Palestinian Arabs in their struggle" and in Jaffa called on the Arabs to: "Engage in the struggle and the Arab nation will stand at your right hand." The Palestinians took this to be an Iraqi promise of assistance if they began an armed struggle.[7]

1.5 The Rise of the Power and Influence of Fascism

During the 1920s and 1930s Britain appeared weak in the face of aggression by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Recognizing this, the Arabs decided to try to cultivate closer ties to Germany and to Italy. Britain felt that Arab public opinion was starting to turn against them and so thought it necessary to restore the balance. The British government assumed that in the coming war the Jews would necessarily support Britain and so decided to appease the Arabs at the expense of the Jews. Their policy of appeasement worsened the situation in Palestine by creating the feeling among the Arabs that Britain would support them in the struggle with the Yishuv.

1.6 The Failure of the Legislative Council

In mid-October of 1935 authorities discovered weapons intended for Jews being smuggled into the port of Jaffa inside cement barrels. (NB: for more information see The Cement Incident) The British were unable to determine who the smugglers were but Palestinian Arabs believed that they were intended for Jewish paramilitary organizations. Under heavy public pressure Arab parties began to file protests with the government. The Youth Conference Party called for cooperation and the representatives of all the parties, with the excpetion of the Al-Istiqlal Party, called for a general strike for 26 October 1935. In letter to the government the parties stressed that the Jewish community was gathering weapons and training groups to use them in preparation for war. They demanded that the Mandate authorities search the Jewish community for weapons and retrieve the weapons that they had previously supplied to them. The success of the strike by the united action of the parties provided the impetus for the creation of the Arab Higher Committee. The Party Representatives Committee (also known as the Coalition of Parties) continued to make plans for additional, yet moderate, actions but in November Izz al-Din al-Qassam and three members of his group were killed by British security forces. This incident brought together the parties of the coalition and following the favorable newspaper stories following his death the mood of the Arab public was tense. On 25 November 1935 representatives of the five parties sent a joint memorandum to the British High Commission demanding an immediate halt to Jewish immigration, a ban on the transfer of Atab land to Jews, and the "establishement of a democratic government" in accord with the League of Nations while also fulfilling a clause in the Mandate whick obliged the government to "develop institutions of self-government." However, the memorandum also emphasized the the Arabs did not recognize the legitimacy of the Mandate itself.[8]

But then the Arabs suffered a major political setback. At the end of 1935 the plan to establish a Legislative Council that would gradually transfer the authority of the government to the inhabitants of Palestine was revisited. The plan would have given the Arabs an overwhelming majority but the leadership of the Palestinian Arabs rejected the proposal only to later reconsider and retract their rejection. On the other hand, the Zionist leadership of the Yishuv completely rejected the plan. It also encountered fierce resistance in England. In the House of Representatives (NB: this makes no sense unless you assume the House of Commons in Parliament is the British equivalent of the House of Representatives) most of the speakers offered to postpone the creation of the Legislative Council for a later date. Others noted that the situation of the Jews in Germany required the British government to keep the land open for their entry and not establish an institution that might block those seeking refuge. However, the cancellation of the proposal strengthened the hand of the Arab extremists who called for more protests and demonstrations.

2 Goals of the Revolt


3 First Stage of the Uprising, April-October 1936


Following the riots in the summer or 1929, the 1930s saw waves of unrest. In a book published by Davar in 1937 the name of Moshe Rosenfeld, the Jewish police sergeant murdered by members of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Gang (NB: called Ikhwan al-Qassam, the Brothers of al-Qassam) in November of 1935, was put at the top of the list of the victims of the 1936 riots.[9] It was the members of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Gang, who escaped from prison in november 1935 and settled in the hills of Nablus under the leadership of Sheikh Farhan al-Sa'adi, that apparently were responsible for the violent events that led to the beginning of the revolt. On 15 April 1936 a group of Sa'adi's men attacked a bus carrying Jews on the Tulkarem-Nablus road.[10] Two were killed and two were wounded, all four were originally from Salonika (NB aka Thessalonika). In response to the killings members of the National Defense (ETZE"L's mother organiztion)(NB: Ha'Haganah Ha'Le'umit) two days later murdered two Arabs near Petah Tikva. However, it was on 19 April that a larger incident occurred when groups of Arabs attacked Jews who had been found on the streets of Jaffa. Most of the attackers were temporary workers from the area of Haruan and Transjordan (NB: Haruan is south Syria and north Jordan, Transjordan is the part of Biblical Israel located east of the Jordan River) who had been misled by false rumors about Arabs being killed in Tel Aviv.[10] Groups from the immigrant community from Thessalonika and the BETA"R Youth Group staged demonstrations in response to the killings with 9 Jews killed and 54 injured, prompting an evening curfew in the area of the riots. The next day 7 Jews were killed and many more injured. Large numbers of Jews fled to Tel Aviv after the Jewish neighborhoods of Jaffa were looted and burned. Despite the attempts of the High Commissioner and Arab leaders, the unrest gradually spread through the country. Despite the bloody events, a share issue of the Anglo-Palestine Bank (which was the central financial body of the Yishuv and the Zionist movement) ended in London with an oversubscription of 2000%.

3.1 The General Strike and the Creation of the Arab Higher Committee

On 20 April 1936 the Al-Istiqlal Party declared a general strike that would continue until the British accepted their demands for independence.[11] The aim of the strike was to disrupt normal life in the land and force the British government to accept the political demands of the Arabs as well as to so disrupt the Yishuv as to bring about its economic ruin. At the same time a number of local Palestinian 'national committees' were created to coordinate the actions of the resistance (demonstrations, strikes, etc.) against the British and the Zionists. The first national committee was founded in Jaffa on 20 April, and they were among those who signed the first proclamation calling for a general strike.[12]

On 25 April the Arab Higher Committee for the Central Leadership was established to unify the various groups and concentrate on the struggle for independence. The committee members were the heads of the six parties, headed by Haj Amin al-Husseini.[12] The first act of the Arab Higher Committee was to try and take advantage of the demonstrations and violence to bring about a change in the political situation. They adopted the tactic of the general strike and used the organization to mobilize the Arab public.

On the day of its creation the Arab Higher Committee issued a call to the Arab populace to engage in passive resistance: "We call upon you, the Arabs, to sacrifice and stop your work and your trade, make do with bread ... all this in order to make possible the existence of your country, in order not to lose Arab Palestine, so you will not know her as a refugee from the destruction, destroyed and disgraced."[13]

The Arab Higher Committee called for civil disobedience and announced that the protests would not stop until three conditions were met:

In addition to the national committees, Aid Committees were also formed, related but independent of them, whose job was to provide economic assistance to Arabs suffering from shortages as a result of the general strike. These committees were headed by a central committee that was located in Jerusalem. In various locations boycott committees were created as well as strike committees and youth committees in which all of the various factions participated.[12] The task of the boycott committees was to sever all economic and social ties between Arabs and Jews. The youth committees were in each city and performed special roles such as keeping an eye on the hesitant and looking for traitors.

As early as 26 April, even before the committee called for a general strike, the heads of the Arab Drivers and Owners Association declared their own general strike of transportation services. The Arab drivers all participated (except for the railway workers) since it was difficult to avoid the order and not be discovered by fellow drivers. The merchants and shopkeepers also closed their shops either voluntarily or because of social pressure to join the strike. Strike committees were created for the various sectors, calling on the merchants in each sector to join the strike. The merchants in particular industries published notices of their intent to strike in which they also called on their comrades in other cities to do the same.[14]

In early May of 1936 the Arab Higher Committee called for the halt to all tax payments. Arab civil servants submitted an ultimatum to the government. Following Moussa al-Alami's directions, prosecutors failed to file indictments against hundreds of Arab detainees.[13] On 7 May a conference was held in Jerusalem atteneded by about 150 representatives of the national committees from all over the country which agreed to recognize the the power of the Supreme Committee and decided to implement a policy of civil disobedience, which included the non-payment of taxes.[15]

The deputies decided to call on the people to stop paying their taxes on 15 May unless Jewish immigration was halted, and to begin an economic boycott of the Jews. Pressure came from more extremist circles called on government officials to join the strike or find alternatives: force officials to contribute at least one-tenth of their wages to strike funds and to pass on secret information about government plans, and intead of striking, the senior officials submitted a memorandum to the government expressing their solidarity with the aims of the protesters. Following the cancellation of the memorandum by the Colonial High Office and the High Commissioner, some 1.200 lower level government workers submitted a similar memorandum which received the same government response.[16]

As result of the standstill in trade, labor and transportation, the poor of the cities were not able to get by without an income. So a national committee was created as were supply committees in the urban centers whose task it was to supply the needy with basic food requirements using central warehouses setup for this purpose. The success of the strike depended to a large extent on the determination of labor groups like the port workers at Jaffa and vehicle drivers so they received regular payments from the national committees in place of their salaries. This aid project required vast sums of money which were controlled by the institutions of the Palestian leadership.[17]

The Arab Higher Committee and the national committees collected donations from throughout the country. The rich were were asked to donate money, women's committees went from door to door to collect donations from all, and it was declared the duty of every person to donate at least one penny (quirsh). Pressure and threats were used on those who refused to contribute with many of the rich deciding to leave the country.[18] The primary means of enforcing the strike was through intimidation. In the cities "national guards" were formed, often from the members of scouts and youth and sports organizations, who were out in the streets and markets to discourage merchants from opening their shops and businesses. Those who still decided to open had their names published in newspapers and leaflets by the national committees and the various strike committees. When even these measures failed then physical force was used. In May 1936 armed gangs began to spring up across the country, killing those who they suspected of being traitors.[19]

The Arab merchants, shopkeepers and artisans were forced to close their businesses, Arab falahin/laborers were forbidden to work at Jewish farms, the peasants were forbidden to sell their agricultural produce to the Jews, the port of Jaffa was shut down and an attempt was made to also shut down the port at Haifa. The Jews depended on Arab agriculture to supply them with part of their supply of vegetables and fruits. In response to the cutoff of Arab supplies there was a call for more self-sufficiency and the vegetable merchants of Egypt and Syria helped to address the shortages. They provided for the needs of the Jewish community and even caused problems for the Palestinian agricultural sector who had demanded annual contracts from the Jews who now demanded that the Palestinians honor those agreements regardless of the strike situation.[20]

The strike generated wide-scale opposition from the Arab community, most of whom were not willing to die, but were forced to cooperate by acts of coercion and threats of violence. The strike also caused huge losses for the Arabs, more than it did for the Jews. It

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