Guerrilla warfare and the mass strike in the 1936 Revolt

Guerrilla warfare and the mass strike in the 1936 Revolt

Guerrilla warfare and the mass strike in the 1936 Revolt
Armed Struggle in the 1936 Great Arab Revolt
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On April 15 1936, on the road between Nablus and Tulkarem, Farhan al-Sa’di and a number of his comrades are waiting to ambush a Zionist vehicle with rifles in hand. Shots are fired and a Zionist is killed. This would be the very first bullet of the 1936 Great Arab Revolt, and the guerilla war which would exact a heavy toll on British and Zionist forces. It also served as a preface to the general strike that would begin in that same month, which would lead the British government to declare a state of emergency.

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Muhammad Amin al-Husseini

1895, Jerusalem, Palestine
4 July 1974, Beirut, Lebanon

The Revolt combined rudimentary weapons and random guerrilla attacks with mass protests and widespread civil disobedience. It ignited the cities and small towns, driving Palestinian leaders to take a quick stand by forming the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), which comprised all Palestinian forces and factions. Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, was elected as its president so that the committee may outline its demands. They aimed to completely end Jewish immigration to Palestine as well as Jewish land acquisition, and to form a national government that is held accountable to a parliamentary council.

Related Biography
Political Leaders

Muhammad Amin al-Husseini

1895, Jerusalem, Palestine
4 July 1974, Beirut, Lebanon

Palestinians escalated their mass strike to encompass all sectors, including municipality workers, with the exception of those working in electricity, water, and general hygiene.1

  • 1. Kabaha, Mustafa Dawud. Thawrat 1936 al-Kubra Dawwafi’uha wa In’ikasatiha [The 1936 Great Revolt, Its Motivators and Effects]. Nazareth: Manshurat Maktabat al-Quds, 1988, p. 51.

The Palestinian armed resistance in the Revolt took on every possible form. Palestinians used bombs to blow up police stations, destroy automobiles, and set fire to headquarters and bases. They also attacked Zionist settlements and farms, centering their attacks on Zionist and British communication lines with the use of tools as diverse as nails, explosives, and rifles.1

  • 1. Khalifa, Ahmad. Al-thawra al-Arabiyya al-Kubra fi Filastin al-Riwaya al-Isra’iliyya al-rasmiyya [The Great Arab Revolt in Palestine, the Official Israeli Narrative]. Beirut: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1989, p. 18.
Mahane Yehuda Explosion

Village women would send food and water to revolutionaries in the mountains, as well as military equipment smuggled amongst the firewood they carried on their heads.1

  • 1. Abdul Hadi, Fayha’. “Adwar al-mar’a al-filastiniyya fi al-thalathinat 1930 – al-musahama al-siyasiyya lil mar’a al-Filastiniyya [The role of the Palestinian Woman in the Thirties, the Political Participation of the Palestinian Woman]. Al- Bira: Markaz al-Mar’a al-Filastiniyya lil-Abhath wa al-Tawthiq, 2005, p. 33-34.

Women also contributed by passing information and intelligence on the movements of enemy forces. Women from the city would communicate with women from the village, who in turn would pass on the information to the revolutionaries in the mountains. By doing so, the women formed what would be called “a circle of communication and intelligence.”1

This mechanism of passing on information was very effective in helping revolutionaries hide, as it utilized coded messages hidden in entertaining musical chants, which later turned into a form of folklore and popular art. One example is the story of Jamila from the village of Anata, who warned the revolutionary Ahmad al-Issawi and a number of his comrades hiding in her village of the coming of a British raid, singing:

“Those who can hear, pray for Muhammad, those who saw, those who stood, those few children, play with the laurel, those who can’t jump, pet the cat,  jump monkey jump!2

  • 1. Ibid, p. 46.
  • 2. Ibid, p. 107.

Every day of the Revolt, women would participate uninterruptedly in resisting the British and Jewish forces. They would engage in physical altercations with British soldiers to help free revolutionaries from their grasp, and would also sabotage British military missions by putting nails under their cars and throwing stones at them.1 They also played an important role in storing and protecting weapons; village women took advantage of home gardens and outdoor kilns, while city women hid them in home water wells.2 Some women would even hide weapons in their loose clothing, which was instrumental in carrying out missions to assassinate informants. One example is that of Shamma al-Hasan, who used to sell fresh yoghurt in Haifa. She carried a gun under her clothing and would transport it from one place to the next until she delivered it to the intended recipient. While she was carrying yoghurt and yelling “Yoghurt! Yoghurt!” the revolutionary would shoot the target and return the gun to Shamma, who would then leave the area while still selling yoghurt.3

  • 1. Ibid, pp. 49-52.
  • 2. Ibid, pp. 83-85.
  • 3. Ibid, p. 107.

Women also took up arms and were trained for direct confrontation with the enemy, for which the women of Tirat Haifa and Ramin were well known. The women of Ramin opened fire on the British when they arrested the ten guards of Abd al-Rahim al-Hajj Muhammad, which they did to make it appear that the fighters were not among the incarcerated, and so the crime could not be proven and charged.1

  • 1. Kabaha, Mustafa, and Nimer, Sarhan. Sijil al-Qada wa al-Thuwar wa al-Mutatau’een Lithawrat 1936-1939 [A Record of Leaders, Revolutionaries, and Volunteers in the Revolution of 1936-1939]. Kuft Qare’: Dar al-Huda, 2009, p. 298.

On May 14 1936, the Arab women of Jaffa assembled and adopted the decisions of the AHC and emphasized the continuation of the strike until they have been given their rights.1 The Jerusalem women’s committee released a statement on July 27 1936, which addressed the resilience of the Arabs of Palestine and their struggle, while also saluting those who were either exiled or imprisoned.2 They even took to the streets and used canes to hit vendors who violated the strike. The most well-known of those women was Mu’minah Sultan Masudi.3

  • 1. Khartabil, Wadi’a. “Dhikrayat wa Muthakarrat Qadura Khartabil, Bahthan ‘an al-amal wa al-Watan, Situn ‘Aman min Kifah Imra’a fi Sabil Qadiyyat Filastin [Memories and Memoirs of Qadura Khartabil, In Search of Hope and a Homeland, Sixty years of a woman’s struggle for Palestine].” Beirut: Bisan Publishing House, 1995, p. 75.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Kabaha, Mustafa, and Nimer, Sarhan, Record of Leaders, Revolutionaries, and Volunteers, p. 723.

In a strategic shift for the Revolt, random attacks and improvised missions were transformed into battles that took on a more organized and effective formation. A few months into the Revolt, the revolutionaries were able to bring down a plane and destroy three cars in the battle of Bala’a. This was followed by the destruction of three British planes and many individual losses among British forces.

Soon, however, the blow came from within, when the Committee announced the dissolution of the strike. This announcement did not mean the end of the Revolt, but rather that the Palestinians would be without a unified national leadership. This caused different parties and revolutionaries to work independently in their attacks and in leading their battles.1

  • 1. Kanafani, Ghassan. Thawrat 36 - 39: Khalfiyyat wa Tafasil wa Tahlil [The 1936 – 1939 Revolt: Background, Details, and Analysis]. Jerusalem: Matba’at al-Nasir, al-Wikala al-Filastiniyya lil-Sahafa wa al-Nashr.
Reopening of stores 1936

In the following two years, feda’iyyin (freedom fighters) and revolutionaries succeeded in many direct attacks against Jewish forces and British authorities. They purposefully targeted members of police, settlements, Jewish properties, and British authorities with bombs. They also worked on destroying train tracks, government roads and buildings, cutting off telegraph communication, assassinations, and blowing up fuel lines. In the first year of the Revolt, the number of attacks by revolutionaries reached 4,076. Amongst these attacks, 1996 of them were against Jewish individuals, while 895 attacks targeted Jewish properties in different cities. The attacks that were directed towards the British army and police were against 795 individuals, and against 380 means of transportation.

At one point during the Revolt, the revolutionaries were able to take control of most of the main roads connecting many key cities. They also gained control of mountainous areas, and were able to move about freely in broad daylight in places such as Nablus.1

Changes on a global scale likely played a significant role in aborting the Great Revolt in 1939. The outbreak of World War II, the state of exile of most Palestinian leaders, the fall of the Revolt’s leadership in the field of battle one after the other—all these developments, put together, were enough to wear down the revolutionaries and cause the Revolt to dissipate, finally ending in the battle of Tarshiha.1 Still, this popular struggle continues to serve as a Palestinian reference point and source of inspiration for resistance.