Overall Chronology

Overall Chronology

Period
III. Second Mandate Period
15 April 1936 to 2 April 1947

Oath of Allegiance

Residents of Abu Ghosh, a village west of Jerusalem, taking the oath of allegiance to the Arab Higher Committee (Lajna).

April 1936
Source: 
G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection

The decade or so of British Mandate rule in Palestine that began in 1936 and ended in early 1947 was pivotal in Palestine’s modern history, setting the stage for the loss of Palestine in 1948. This crucial decade opened with a widespread Palestinian uprising against the British Mandate and the Zionist project in Palestine. Following the brutal suppression of this revolt, Palestine was caught up in the global upheavals of World War II; it experienced an economic boom as the site of British military mobilization, while dissension between Zionists and the British intensified over the question of the illegal immigration to Palestine of European Jews forced out of Europe or fleeing the atrocities of the Holocaust. By the end of the war, the Zionist movement’s search for sponsorship had been redirected from Britain to the United States, and the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine) stood positioned to launch political and military campaigns to force Britain out of Palestine and to establish the State of Israel in defiance of Palestinian will.

In 1936, widespread Palestinian dissatisfaction with Britain’s governance erupted into open rebellion. The Great Arab Revolt, as this uprising came to be known, lasted for three years and can be generally divided into three phases. The first phase lasted from the spring of 1936 to July 1937 and was characterized by the formation of National Committees in major Palestinian cities and the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) as an organizing political body; a general strike throughout Arab Palestine; armed insurrection in rural areas; and the introduction of Arab volunteers from outside Palestine to join in the revolt. Such activities were met by British counterinsurgency—which employed repressive measures including imprisonment, torture, collective fines, and the demolition of parts of Jaffa’s Old City, among other forms of violence—and a diplomatic effort that took the form of a commission of inquiry led by Lord Peel. The weariness of the Palestinian population after six months of general strike, the promise of some political progress through the Peel Commission, and pressure from some Arab heads of state led the AHC to call off the strike in October 1936. From November 1936 to January 1937, the Peel Commission toured Palestine to ascertain the causes of the rebellion, and during this period there was an overall reduction of violence throughout the country. Tensions began to mount in the spring of 1937, however, and when the Peel Commission published its report in July 1937, proposing that Palestine be partitioned into Jewish and Arab states, Palestine exploded anew.

This marked the beginning of the second phase of the revolt, which lasted until the fall of 1938. In the face of renewed Palestinian resistance, the British government outlawed the AHC and all Palestinian political parties and organizations. Individual Palestinian political leaders and activists were arrested and the most prominent were exiled. Collective punishment was imposed in the form of mass detentions, the destruction of residential quarters, and the levying of collective fines, among other methods. Although martial law was not officially declared, military tribunals issued summary executions solely for arms possession. British military reinforcements were called in and aircraft, tanks, and heavy artillery were deployed against the rebels. The AHC, reconstituted in Damascus, was effectively marginalized and initiative increasingly passed to the field commanders. (Though there had always been a significant rural component, the revolt was increasingly peasant-oriented.) The Palestinian rebels made considerable gains on the ground, even extending their control to Jerusalem’s Old City for some time. Meanwhile, British-Zionist cooperation against the rebels meant the subsidization and entrenchment of Zionist military structures on the ground.

In the third phase, from the fall of 1938 to the summer of 1939, the British launched a full-scale military offensive against the insurgency even as they backed away from partition and expressed a willingness to concede to some of the rebels’ demands. However, the pressure under which the rebels found themselves exposed various fractures in Palestinian society, and the British took advantage of this to turn some Palestinians against the rebels. Palestinian society was exhausted and depleted from three years of revolt: some 5,000 Palestinians were killed and nearly 15,000 wounded (in a population that did not exceed one million) and the political leadership had been exiled, killed, or set against one another. In this context, the British published the MacDonald White Paper in May 1939, which proposed limitations on Jewish immigration and land purchases and promised an independent unitary state after ten years, conditioned on favorable Palestinian-Jewish relations. Despite its limitations, it seemed to offer an escape from the crushing weight of Britain’s military counterinsurgency, and the revolt drew to a close over the summer of 1939.

The policies outlined in the White Paper were soon overtaken by the exigencies of a much larger geopolitical crisis within which Britain was engaged: World War II. During the war years, the AHC and other Palestinian political activity remained illegal, and much of the Palestinian political leadership thus remained in exile. Haj Amin al-Husseini, Mufti of Jerusalem and head of the AHC, fled in 1941 to the Axis countries, where he spent the war years—a fact later exploited by Zionists to allege widespread Palestinian collaboration with Nazism. In fact, some 23,000 Palestinians volunteered for service with British forces in North Africa and the Arab Legion. Many others worked in the various jobs that served British military forces stationed in Palestine during the war, and the economy in Palestine enjoyed a boom. Despite continued disillusionment with certain British policies, Palestinian sympathy for the Axis powers was a marginal phenomenon.

The war years are characterized by the increasing friction between Britain and the Zionist movement. Already strained by Zionist dissatisfaction with the 1939 White Paper, relations deteriorated further as Zionist organizations pressured Britain to raise limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine in light of the ongoing Holocaust in Europe. Illegal immigration continued and British attempts to stop it resulted in the sinking of ships carrying Jewish refugees in 1940 and 1942. Although some 27,000 Jews from Palestine enlisted in the British armed forces, the Zionist Right (Irgun and the Stern Gang) launched violent attacks against British officials, and the Zionist movement more broadly began to seek out alternative sponsorship.

In May 1942, a conference at the Biltmore Hotel in New York, attended by leading American Zionists and David Ben-Gurion representing the Jewish Agency, concluded with a call for the establishment of a “Jewish commonwealth” in all of Palestine and the organization of a Jewish army. In August 1945, U.S. President Harry S. Truman requested that the British admit 100,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors into Palestine and in December the U.S. Congress requested unlimited Jewish immigration into Palestine. American pressure on the British continued into 1946. With the support of a new Great Power sponsor thus secured and with their own position toward the Palestinians strengthened, the Zionists in Palestine would embark upon a concerted campaign—political and military—to push Britain out of Palestine and impose a Jewish state on the Palestinian population.

AW

 

Selected Bibliography

 ‘Amr, Sami. A Young Palestinian’s Diary, 1941–1945, trans. and introduced by Kimberly Katz, foreword by Salim Tamari. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.

Hughes, Matthew. “From Law and Order to Pacification: Britain’s Suppression of the 1936–1939 Arab Revolt in Palestine.Journal of Palestine Studies 39, no.2 (Winter 2010): 6–22.

Kanafani, Ghassan. The 1936–39 Revolt in Palestine. New York: Committee for a Democratic Palestine, 1972.

Swedenburg, Ted. Memories of Revolt: The 1936–1939 Rebellion and the Palestinian National Past. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003.

Overall Chronology
E.g., 2020/01/22
E.g., 2020/01/22
Event Date Subject
First Phase of the Great Arab Revolt 15 April 1936 - 23 July 1937
Launch of the Great Revolt 15 April 1936 - 7 May 1936
Enactment of Emergency Regulations 19 April 1936
Rebels Launch Armed Resistance May 1936
British Violent Repression May 1936 - June 1936
British Secure Military Reinforcements May 1936 - September 1936
Appointment of the Peel Commission 18 May 1936
Memorandum of Arab Senior Government Officials to the High Commissioner 30 June 1936
British Authorities' Collective Punishment 4 August 1936
Fawzi al-Qawuqji Aids the Great Palestine Rebellion 25 August 1936
Great Britain Issues the Palestine Martial Law (Defence) Order-in-Council, 1936 30 September 1936
General Strike Called Off 11 October 1936
Peel Commission Investigates the Cause of the Great Palestinian Rebellion 11 November 1936 - 24 January 1937
Great Britain Issues the Palestine (Defence) Order-in-Council, 1937 18 March 1937 - 20 March 1937
Second Phase of the Great Arab Revolt July 1937 - September 1938
Peel Commission Issues its Report 7 July 1937
Palestinians Reject Peel Commission Report 23 July 1937
20th Zionist Congress Meets in Zürich 3 August 1937 - 16 August 1937
Arab National Congress Convenes in Bludan 8 September 1937 - 9 September 1937
British Commissioner Is Assassinated 26 September 1937
Arab Higher Committee Is Banned October 1937 - November 1937
Irgun Attacks on Palestinians 11 November 1937 - 14 November 1937
Charles Tegart's Means of Control 3 December 1937
Palestine Partition (Woodhead) Commission 4 January 1938
Irgun Attacks Against Palestinians Intensify July 1938 - August 1938
Third Phase of the Great Arab Revolt September 1938 - July 1939
Anti-British Operation and British Retaliation in al-Bassa 6 September 1938 - 10 September 1938
British Military Officers Replace Civilian Commissioners October 1938
The "International Parliamentarian Congress of Arab and Islamic Countries in Support of Palestine" Is Held in Cairo 7 October 1938 - 11 October 1938
The Eastern Women's Congress in Defense of Palestine Is Held in Cairo 15 October 1938 - 18 October 1938
British "Divide-and-Rule" Policy November 1938 - May 1939
Partition (Woodhead) Commission Report Is Published 9 November 1938
Jewish-Arab Attacks Resume 30 January 1939 - 26 February 1939
London Round Table Conference Convenes 7 February 1939 - 27 March 1939
Killing of Abd al-Rahim al-Hajj Muhammad 27 March 1939
MacDonald White Paper of 1939 Is Published 17 May 1939 - 23 May 1939
Wave of Irgun Attacks 2 June 1939 - 1 August 1939
21st Zionist Congress Meets in Geneva 16 August 1939 - 25 August 1939
Outbreak of World War II 1 September 1939
Military Recruitment in Palestine 3 September 1939
Stern Gang Calls for Alliance with Axis October 1939
Land Transfer Regulations 20 February 1940
Blowing up of SS Patria November 1940
Palmach Underground Is Established 14 May 1941
Killing of Avraham Stern February 1942
Zionist Biltmore Conference Is Held in New York 6 May 1942 - 11 May 1942
Support in the United States for a Jewish Army November 1942
Haganah Stockpiles Weapons March 1943
Arab National Fund Reestablished August 1943
Five-year Limit on Jewish Immigration Extended November 1943
British Recommend Partition December 1943
The US Congress Endorses the Biltmore Program in Joint Resolution January 1944
Stern Gang and Irgun Start Operations Against British January 1944 - March 1944
British Labour Party Favors Transfer of Palestinians May 1944
Alexandria Protocol and the League of Arab States 7 October 1944 - 22 March 1945
Stern Gang Assassinates Lord Moyne in Cairo 6 November 1944
US House of Representatives Supports Jewish Immigration to Palestine January 1945
Roosevelt and Ibn Saud Meet 14 February 1945
End of World War II 8 May 1945 - 15 August 1945
Pledge to Buy US Armament for the Haganah July 1945
Labor Victory in Great Britain 26 July 1945
Truman and Jewish Immigration to Palestine 31 August 1945
The British Mandate Issues the Defence (Emergency) Regulations 27 September 1945
Coordinated Zionist Anti-British Activism 1 October 1945 - 31 October 1945
Bevin's Statement on Palestine 13 November 1945
Attempt to Reconstitute the Arab Higher Committee for Palestine 22 November 1945 - 29 May 1946
Organized Irgun and Lehi Anti-British Attacks 24 November 1945 - 19 January 1946
Palestinians Declare Strike to Protest Bevin's Policy Statement of November 1945 February 1946
Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry 6 March 1946 - 30 April 1946
An Irgun Attack on British 25 April 1946
Haganah's Plan Gimmel May 1946
Independence of the Emirate of Transjordan and Establishment of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan 25 May 1946
Arab League Holds First Summit on Palestine in Anshas 28 May 1946 - 29 May 1946
President Truman Supports Jewish Immigration to Palestine 6 June 1946
Arab League Meets in Bludan and Supervises the Establishment of a Unified Palestinian Arab Higher Committee 8 June 1946 - 12 June 1946
Series of Zionist Anti-British Attacks 17 June 1946 - 22 July 1946
Round Table Conference on Palestine Held in London 25 July 1946 - 30 September 1946
Anglo-American Conference Meets in London 31 July 1946
Jewish Agency Partition Plan Secures US Endorsement 5 August 1946 - 14 August 1946
New Wave of Zionist Anti-British Attacks 9 September 1946 - 2 December 1946
22nd Zionist Congress Is Held in Basel 9 December 1946 - 24 December 1946
Irgun Operations Against British Resume 29 December 1946 - 28 January 1947
London Round Table Conference Reopens and Fails 27 January 1947 - 18 February 1947
Deadly Zionist Anti-British Attacks 28 February 1947 - 1 March 1947