Israeli history photo of the week: Arab Revolt in Palestine

JPost special feature: A Library of Congress photograph collection that documents pre-state Israel.

December 29, 2011 12:16
2 minute read.
Fire in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem

Palestinian disturbances 1936 (311). (photo credit: American Colony-Jerusalem-Photo Dept)


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The Library of Congress has recently digitalized a collection of over 10,000 photographs, taken by the "American Colony" in Jerusalem, a group of Christian utopians who lived in Jerusalem between 1881 and the 1940s. The photographers returned to the US, and bequeathed their massive collection to the Library of Congress in 1978. The collection includes Winston Churchill's visit to Jerusalem, Jewish expulsions from the Old City during Arab riots, and the building of Tel Aviv.

The Arab revolt in Palestine (1936-1939) was a frequent subject for the American Colony photographers. They recorded on film the Arab attacks on Jews, British soldiers, and strategic targets such as the railroad network in Palestine. They also photographed the sometimes draconian British response. 

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The Arab general strike in April 1936 was called by the Arab Higher Committee, headed by the Mufti Haj Amin al Husseini. The strike escalated into widespread attacks by gangs and militias.

By August, "volunteer" Arab guerrilla forces from Syria had invaded. The annual British Mandate report for 1936 revealed that one of the guerrilla leaders "was Fawzi ed Din el Kauwakji, a Syrian who had achieved notoriety in Syria in the Druze revolt of 1925-26. This person subsequently proclaimed himself generalissimo of the rebel forces, and 'communiqués' and 'proclamations' purporting to have emanated from him were circulated in the country."

The consequences of the Arab revolt, labor strikes and attacks were numerous: 

* The British instituted the White Paper in 1939 limiting Jewish immigration into Palestine -- precisely when hundreds of thousands of Jews were trying to flee Nazi Europe.

* It forced the Jews of Palestine to establish their own militias, the precursors of the Israel Defense Forces. 

* The revolt actually fractured Palestine's Arab society, and many of the Arab casualties were caused by competing Arab gangs and clans.

* With strategic facilities subject to the Arab strike, the Jews of Palestine established their own port, key industries, and airfields.

* The British struck back against the Arab militias and gangs with force and sometimes brutality. Aircraft were used to bomb and strafe Arab forces.

Today's feature shows examples of the Arab attacks in 1936.

More photos can be viewed at

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