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The 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine was an uprising in protest against mass Jewish immigration, which lasted from 1936 to 1939, by Arabs in the British Mandate of Palestine. It should not be confused with the Arab Revolt of 1916–18. The uprising was unsuccessful, but proved influential to the 1948 Palestine war.


The Arab revolt of 1936–39 in Palestine.
A Jewish bus equipped with wire screens to protect civilian riders against rocks and grenades thrown by Arabs.

An early manifestation of the National revolt was the Palestinian general strike which lasted from April to October 1936.

The dissent was influenced by the Qassamite rebellion following the killing of Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam in 1935 as well as the declaration by Hajj Mohammad Amin al-Husayni of 16 May 1930 as 'Palestine Day' and calling for a General Strike on this day, following the 1929 Buraq Uprising.

The strike began in Nablus and soon other committees in Haifa, Jenin, Tulkarm and Jerusalem were formed to join the protest. The demands of the strike were threefold: an end to Jewish immigration, a prohibition of land sales to Jews, and national independence.

While the strike was initially organised by workers and local committees, soon religious leaders and families were involved to help co-ordination although their motivation was not fuelled by religious reasons. This led to the formation on 25 April 1936 of the Arab Higher Committee or HAC.


The Arab revolt of 1936–39 in Palestine
About one month after the general strike started, the leadership group declared a general non-payment of taxes in explicit opposition to Jewish immigration. In the countryside, armed insurrection started sporadically, becoming more organized with time. One particular target of the rebels was the oil pipeline of the Iraq Petroleum Company constructed only a few years earlier to Haifa from a point on the Jordan Rivermarker south of Lake Tiberias. This was repeatedly bombed at various points along its length. Other attacks were on railways (including trains) and on civilian targets such as Jewish settlements, secluded Jewish neighborhoods in the mixed cities, and Jews, both individually and in groups.

The strike was called off in October 1936 and the violence abated for about a year while the Peel Commission deliberated and eventually recommended partition of Palestine. With the rejection of this proposal, the revolt resumed during the autumn of 1937, marked by the assassination of Commissioner Andrews in Nazareth. Violence continued throughout 1938 and eventually petered out in 1939. The decision of the French to crack down on Arab leaders in Damascus may have been a significant factor in stopping the conflict.


The Britishmarker responded to the violence by greatly expanding their military forces and clamping down on Arab dissent. "Administrative detention" (imprisonment without charges or trial), curfews, and house demolitions were among British practices during this period. More than 120 Arabs were sentenced to death and about 40 hanged. The main Arab leaders were arrested or expelled. Amin al-Husayni fled from Palestine to escape arrest.

The main form of collective punishment employed by the British forces was destruction of property. Sometimes entire villages were reduced to rubble, as happened to Mi'armarker in October 1938; more often several prominent houses were blown up and others were trashed inside. The biggest single act of destruction occurred in Jaffamarker on June 16, 1936, when large gelignite charges were used to cut long pathways through the old city, destroying 220-240 buildings and rendering up to 6,000 Arabs homeless. Villages were also frequently punished by fines and confiscation of livestock.

In addition to actions against property, a large amount of brutality by the British forces occurred, including beatings, torture and extrajudicial killings. A surprisingly large number of prisoners were "shot while trying to escape". Several incidents involved serious atrocities, such as massacres at al-Bassamarker and Halhulmarker. Nevertheless, it has been argued that British behaviour overall was good compared to most other examples where a foreign army suppressed a popular insurgency.

The Haganah (Hebrew for "defense"), a Jewish paramilitary organization, actively supported British efforts to suppress the uprising, which reached 10,000 Arab fighters at their peak during the summer and fall of 1938. Although the British administration didn't officially recognize the Haganah, the British security forces cooperated with it by forming the Jewish Settlement Police, Jewish Auxiliary Forces and Special Night Squads. In 1931, an underground splinter group broke off from Haganah, calling itself the Irgun organization (or Etzel) The Irgun adopted a policy of retaliation against Arabs for attacks on Jews.


Despite the assistance of 20,000 additional Britishmarker troops and several thousand Haganah men, the uprising continued for over two years. By the time it concluded in March 1939, more than 5,000 Arabs, 400 Jews, and 200 Britons had been killed and at least 15,000 Arabs were wounded.

The revolt did not achieve its goals, although it is "credited with signifying the birth of the Arab Palestinian identity." It is generally credited with forcing the issuance of the White Paper of 1939 which renounced Britain's intent of creating a Jewish National Home in Palestine, as proclaimed in the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

Another outcome of the hostilities was the disengagement of the Jewish and Arab economies in Palestine, which were more or less intertwined until that time. For example, whereas the Jewish city of Tel Avivmarker relied on the nearby Arab seaport of Jaffamarker, hostilities dictated the construction of a separate Jewish-run seaport for Tel-Aviv. Historians later pointed to the uprising as a pivotal point at which the Jewish population in Palestine became independent and self-sustaining.

During the uprising, British authorities attempted to confiscate all weapons from the Arab population. This, and the destruction of the main Arab political leadership in the revolt, greatly hindered their military efforts in the 1948 Palestine war.

See also


  1. C. Townshend, The defense of Palestine: insurrection and public security, 1936-1939. The English Historical Review, Vol. 103 (1988) 917-949.
  2. Hughes, M. (2009) The banality of brutality: British armed forces and the repression of the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936–39, English Historical Review Vol. CXXIV No. 507, 314–354.
  3. Etzel - The Establishment of Irgun.
  4. Etzel - Restraint and Retaliation
  5. Aljazeera: The history of Palestinian revolts


  • Ted Swedenburg, "The Role of the Palestinian Peasantry in the Great Revolt (1936–1939)," reprinted in Hourani, Albert H., et al., The Modern Middle East (I.B. Tauris, 2004), pp. 467-503. ISBN 1-86064-963-7

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