Violence again erupted in Palestine in April 1936. In that month, six prominent Arab leaders overcame their
rivalries and joined forces to protest Zionist advances in Palestine. The Arab High Command, as the group was known,
was led by the Mufti Haj Amin
al-Husseini, and represented Arab interests in Palestine until 1948.
The Arab High Command began
their protest by calling for a general strike
of Arab workers and a boycott of Jewish
products. These actions swiftly escalated
into terrorist attacks against the Jews and
the British. This first stage of the "Arab
lasted until November, 1936. The second stage
began in September 1937, shortly after the
Peel Commission recommended the partition
of Palestine. In this second phase, clashes
with the British forces became much more
severe, as did the attacks on Jewish settlements.
By 1936 the increase in Jewish immigration
and land acquisition, the growing power of Hajj Amin
al Husayni, and general Arab frustration at the continuation
of European rule, radicalized increasing numbers of
Palestinian Arabs. Thus, in April 1936 an Arab attack
on a Jewish bus led to a series of incidents that escalated
into a major Palestinian rebellion. An Arab Higher Committee
(AHC), a loose coalition of recently formed Arab political
parties, was created. It declared a national strike
in support of three basic demands: cessation of Jewish
immigration, an end to all further land sales to the
Jews, and the establishment of an Arab national government.
The intensity of the Palestinian Revolt, at a time
when Britain was preparing for the possibility of another
world war, led the British to reorient their policy
in Palestine. As war with Germany became imminent, Britain's dependence on Middle Eastern
oil, and therefore the need for Arab goodwill, loomed
increasingly large in its strategic thinking. Jewish
leverage in the Foreign Office, on the other hand, had
waned; the pro-Zionists, Balfour and Samuels, had left the Foreign Office and the new
administration was not inclined toward the Zionist position.
Furthermore, the Jews had little choice but to support
Britain against Nazi
Germany. Thus, Britain's commitment to a Jewish
homeland in Palestine dissipated, and the Mandate authorities
pursued a policy of appeasement with respect to the
Britain's policy change in Palestine was not, however,
easily implemented. Since the 1917 Balfour Declaration,
successive British governments had supported (or at
least not rejected) a Jewish national home in Palestine.
The Mandate itself was premised on that pledge. By the
mid-1930s, the Yishuv had grown to about 400,000, and
the Jewish economic and political structures in Palestine
were well ensconced. The extent of the Jewish presence
and the rapidly deteriorating fate of European Jewry
meant that the British would have an extremely difficult
time extricating themselves from the Balfour
Declaration. Furthermore, the existing Palestinian
leadership, dominated by Hajj Amin al Husayni, was unwilling
to grant members of the Jewish community citizenship
or to guarantee their safety if a new Arab entity were
to emerge. Thus, for the British the real options were
to impose partition, to pull out and leave the Jews
and Arabs to fight it out, or to stay and improvise.
In 1937 the British, working with their regional Arab
allies, Amir Abdullah of Transjordan, King Ghazi of
Iraq, and King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia,
mediated an end to the revolt with the AHC. A Royal
Commission on Palestine (known as the Peel
Commission) was immediately dispatched to Palestine.
Its report, issued in July 1937, described the Arab
and Zionist positions and the British obligation to
each as irreconcilable and the existing Mandate as unworkable.
It recommended partition of Palestine into Jewish and
Arab states, with a retained British
Mandate over Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem and a corridor from Jerusalem to the coast.
In 1937 the Twentieth Zionist Congress rejected the
proposed boundaries but agreed in principle to partition.
Palestinian Arab nationalists rejected any kind of partition.
The British government approved the idea of partition
and sent a technical team to make a detailed plan. This
group, the Woodhead
Commission, reversed the Peel Commission's findings
and reported in November 1937 that partition was impracticable;
this view in its turn was accepted. The Palestinian
Revolt broke out again in the autumn of 1937. The British
put down the revolt using harsh measures, shutting down
the AHC and deporting many Palestinian Arab leaders.
With their leadership residing outside Palestine, the
Arabs were unable to match the Zionists' highly sophisticated
organization. Another outcome of the Palestinian Revolt
was the involvement of the Arab states as advocates
of the Palestinian Arabs. Whereas Britain had previously
tended to deal with its commitments in Palestine as
separate from its commitments elsewhere in the Middle
East, by 1939 pan-Arab pressure carried increasing weight
In the Yishuv, the Palestinian Revolt reinforced the
already firm belief in the need for a strong Jewish
defense network. Finally, the Arab agricultural boycott
that began in 1936 forced the Jewish economy into even
In an effort to quiet the revolt, the British sanctioned
the arming of the Haganah.
The two groups cooperated until, in 1939, the disturbances came to an
end. The ending of the disturbances was partly due to Charles
Orde Wingate, a officer in the British army. Wingate, pro-Zionist
and a Christian, organized Special Night Squads of Jewish volunteers
to combat the attackers.
Ultimately, the British military suppressed the revolt,
but the British government in effect rewarded them with the publication
of the 1939 White Paper.
Once the rebellion was supressed, the yishuv entered a period
of relative peace with the Arabs of Palestine. It was only the UN announcement
of partition which would
bring on additional hostilities and tensions.
Eighty Jews were murdered by terrorist acts during
the labor strike, and a total of 415 Jewish deaths were recorded during
the whole 1936-1939 Arab Revolt period. The toll on the Arabs was estimated
to be roughly 5,000 dead, 15,000 wounded, and 5,600 imprisoned.