Monday, 4 February 2008


The 1936-1939 Revolt in Palestine
Ghassan Kanafani

New Jersey Palestine Solidarity

Between 1936 and 1939, the Palestinian revolutionary movement
suffered a severe setback at the hands of three separate enemies that
were to constitute together the principal threat to the nationalist
movement in Palestine in all subsequent stages of its struggle: the
local reactionary leadership; the regimes in the Arab states
surrounding Palestine; and the imperialist-Zionist enemy. The present
study will concentrate on the respective structures of these separate
forces and the dialectical relations that existed among them.

The intensity of the Palestinian nationalist experience, which
emerged since 1918, and was accompanied in one way or another with
armed struggle, could not reflect itself on the upper structure of
the Palestinian national movement which remained virtually under the
control of semi-feudal and semi-religious leadership. This was due
primarily to two related factors:

1. The existence and effectiveness of the Zionist movement, which
gave the national challenge relative predominance over the social
contradictions. The impact of this challenge was being systematically
felt by the masses of Palestinian Arabs, who were the primary victims
of the Zionist invasion supported by British imperialism.

2. The existence of a significant conflict of interests between the
local feudal-religious leadership and British imperialism: It was
consistently in the interest of the ruling class to promote and
support a certain degree of revolutionary struggle, instead of being
more or less completely allied with the imperialist power as would
otherwise be the case. The British imperialists had found in the
Zionists "a more suitable ally."

The above factors gave the struggle of Palestinian people particular
features that did not apply to the Arab nationalist struggle outside
Palestine. The traditional leadership, as a result, participated in,
or at least tolerated, a most advanced form of political action
(armed struggle); it raised progressive slogans, and had ultimately,
despite its reactionary nature, provided positive leadership during a
critical phase of the Palestinian nationalist struggle. It is
relevant to explain, however, how the feudal-religious leadership
succeeded in staying at the head of the nationalist movement for so
long (until 1948). The transformation of the economic and social
structure of Palestine, which occurred rather rapidly, had affected
primarily the Jewish sector, and had taken place at the expense of
the Palestinian middle and petty bourgeoisie, as well as the Arab
working class. The change from a semi-feudal society to a capitalist
society was accompanied by an increased concentration of economic
power in the hands of the Zionist machine and consequently, within
the Jewish society in Palestine. It is significant that Palestinian
Arab advocates of conciliation, who became outspoken during the
thirties, were not landlords or rich peasants, but rather elements of
the urban upper bourgeoisie whose interests gradually coincided with
the expanding interests of the Jewish bourgeoisie. The latter, by
controlling the process of industrialization, was creating its own

In the meantime, the Arab countries surrounding Palestine were
playing two conflicting roles. On the one hand, the Pan-Arab mass
movement was serving as a catalyst for the revolutionary spirit of
the Palestinian masses, since a dialectical relation between the
Palestinian and overall Arab struggles existed, on the other hand,
the established regimes in these Arab countries were doing everything
in their power to help curb and undermine the Palestinian mass
movement. The sharpening conflict in Palestine threatened to
contribute to the development of the struggle in these countries in
the direction of greater violence, creating a revolutionary potential
that their respective ruling classes could not afford to overlook.

The Arab ruling classes were forced to support British imperialism
against their counterpart in Palestine, which was in effect leading
the Palestinian nationalist movement.

Meanwhile, the Zionist-Imperialist alliance continued to grow; the
period between 1936 and 1939 witnessed not only the crystallization
of the militaristic and aggressive character of the colonial society
that Zionism had firmly implanted in Palestine but also the relative
containment and defeat of the Palestinian working class; this was
subsequently to have a radical effect on the course of the struggle.
During that period, Zionism, in collaboration with the mandatory
power, successfully undermined the development of a progressive
Jewish labor movement and of Jewish-Arab Proletarian brotherhood. The
Palestine Communist Party was effectively isolated among both Arab
and Jewish workers, and the reactionary Histadrut completely
dominated the Jewish labour movement. The influence of Arab
progressive forces within Arab labour federations in Haifa and Jaffa
diminished, leaving the ground open for their control by reactionary
leaderships that monopolized political action.


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