What happened during the Arab Revolt of 1936-39?
In more than a century, the world saw Palestinian Arabs carrying out a violent uprising which was named in the history as ‘the Great Arab Revolt of 1936-39’. The uprising mobilized thousands of Palestinians belonging to all classes to take part in the revolt and patriotism was fanned among the masses through the mediums of press, media, schools and literary circles. British were taken aback by the intensity of the uprising and the extent to which it reached. They shipped over 20,000 troops in Palestine while the Zionists also had some 15,000 Jews prepared for their own nationalist faction by 1939.
The revolt initiated in the form of unprompted acts of violence after Sheikh ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam was killed in 1935 by the British troops. The violence was escalated after two Jews were killed in April 1936 and a general strike was initiated in Nablus and Jaffa. It was at this time that the Arab political groups established an Arab Higher Committee and the presidency was given to Amin al-Husayni, the mufti of Jerusalem.
The committee declared a general strike, forbade Arabs to pay taxes and called for the closing of municipal governments. Moreover, it demanded that a ban should be put on Jewish immigration and the sale of land to Jews. One of the purposes of the strike was to ask for national independence. Along with the strike, Palestinian Arabs were joined by Arabs from neighboring countries who then targeted the British troops and Jewish settlements installed in the northern parts. By the end of the year, this movement had taken the form of a national revolt where its main strength was the Arab peasantry.
A royal commission was sent over to Palestine, presided by Lord Robert Peel who scrutinized the ongoing situation of the revolt and prepared a report stating the root cause of the uprising as Arab desire for independence. Peel Commission was formed which declared the mandate unsuccessful and decided that the land should be partitioned. Arabs were horrified after knowing that the commission has given more land to Jews than their existing landholding. Resultantly, the revolt became more intense during 1937 and 1938.
The British declared a martial law in September 1937. As a result, the Arab Higher Committee was dissolved and many members of the Palestinian organizations were arrested. Mufti al-Husayn fled from the country, never to return. The revolt lasted till 1939 with high casualty rates. An estimated 5000 Arabs were killed in the revolt, 15000 got wounded and another 5600 were imprisoned.
Although the revolt was unsuccessful in achieving its goals, it gave birth to a national identity. Most of the leaders of the revolt where either killed or they fled, leaving a demoralized Arab population behind them who were unable to recover from the after effects of the revolt. Nevertheless, it proved to be significant event in the history of Palestine as it signaled the involvement of other Arab countries in the Palestinian cause.
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