Hasan El-Hasan: Lesson from the 1936-39 Palestinian Revolt

By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Special to PalestineChronicle.com

The Palestinians rightfully blame Britain for planting the seeds of the catastrophe that befell them in the Balfour Declaration. But the Palestinian leaders themselves are responsible in large part for what took place since then. The 1936-39 Palestinian revolt against the British and the current fighting between Hamas and Fateh is a case in point.

The 1936 revolt started as a genuine spontaneous uprising and succeeded in its early stages in harassing the British. But once Haj Amin stepped in and brought it under his control, the revolt became identified with him personally, and that led to internal division among the competing leading families and the factionalism of Palestinian society. The rivalry between the Husseinis and Nashashibis divided the country and caused a lasting split that was among the factors which contributed to the failure of the 1936 rebellion and the abeyance of the national movement. The Husseinis and their Palestine Arab Party were pan-Islamist and pan-Arab while Nashashibis and their National defense Party were more local in their orientation and established good relationship with Emir Abdullah of Trans-Jordan. The two leading families had political power bases in their client town quarters and villages through out Palestine.

The Nashashibi clan and their supporters took a moderate stand by opposing the revolt at the risk of being accused by Haj Amin faction of aligning themselves with the British against the national aspirations of the Palestinians. The Palestinians were polarized between the two factions led by the two traditional prominent families who were fighting each other over power and leadership for decades. The lives of those who disagreed with Haj Amin were threatened by the rebels. Nashashibi clan and their supporters were treated as traitors and targeted for assassination by Haj Amin followers.

Many prominent members and local supporters of Nashashibi National Defense party were murdered or terrorized into leaving Palestine. The victims included Mayors, members of municipal councils, village leaders (Mukhtar) and educators. Thousands of fugitives of terror who had to leave Palestine to save their lives crowded Cairo and Beirut. Fakhri Nashashibi, the leader of the Nashashibi faction, was shot dead in the streets of Baghdad after Aref Abdel-Razzak, the henchman of Haj Amin issued a death warrant against him, calling him a traitor. The up-rising of the fragmented Palestinian society was destined to certain failure. By 1938, Britain was able to use its military superiority to “re-conquer Palestine” and crush the rebellion.  With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the exhausted Palestinian Arabs called a halt to the fighting and the revolt came to an end.  

The Palestinian economy was devastated and “more than 5,000 were killed in battles or executed by the British, 14,000 wounded, 5,679 detained, many leaders were exiled and the Arab Higher Committee was proscribed”. The historian Walid Khalidi estimated that 10 percent of the adult Palestinian population were killed, wounded or exiled and the hope for independence was dashed. In the meantime, the Jewish economy thrived, its military capability improved and Jewish immigrants continued to arrive in large numbers.

The serious infighting among the Husseinis and the Nashashibis prevented the Palestinians from having a strong common front. They never established institutions that could have linked the Palestinian population in different regions to each other nor succeeded in unifying the leadership of the prominent families who dominated Palestinian politics since the nineteenth century. The Palestinians continued to suffer from the fallout of the 1936 defeat and never recovered since then.

 As a result, following the termination of the mandate in 1948, there was no coordination or planning on defending their communities, no regular recruitment or mobilization and no weapon acquisition and logistics for defense similar to those achieved by the Zionists. The 1936-39 Palestinians discord helped the British crush their revolt and left them dependent on the Arab states to decide their fate when the British mandate ended.  Then majority of the Palestinians were expelled and Israel was created over 78 percent of Palestine.

The conditions today are even worse than in 1936. After Jordan’s decision to disengage from the West Bank and the signing of the Oslo agreements, the Palestinians had to deal with Israel alone. The Arab states became a third party acting only as mediators and most of the time as spectators. The Palestinians are abandoned by Arab governments and the international community. All Arab states have observed the US-Israeli economic embargo against them leaving them starved under the Israeli occupation. Israel is the superpower of the region and the Arab states are too weak or unwilling to influence the conduct of the Palestinian factions or to challenge the Israeli and the US policies.

 The emerging factional violence under the Israeli occupation today is reminiscent of the fighting between the rival factions in the 1936 uprising when Palestine was under the British mandate. The 1936 Palestinians fragmentation produced alnakbah and Hamas and Fatah internal fighting now will kill the last hope of ending the occupation of what is left of their land and establishing independent state.

The Palestinians do not seem to learn from their own mistakes.

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