By early May 1936 the Palestinians were in open rebellion. National Committees, which would become the organizational base of the rebels, had been established in April in all the Palestinian towns and larger villages. Before the end of the month, all five Palestinian political parties had united to form the Arab Higher Committee under the chairmanship of Haj Amin al-Husseini. The pressure on Haj Amin to act now intensified. On May 8 he summoned a conference in Jerusalem of all the National Committees. Raising the cry of "No taxation without representation," the conference called for civil disobedience and a general strike to protest British pro-Zionist policies
THE FIRST PHASE
The rebellion endured for three years and fell into three phases. The first phase lasted from May 1936 to July 1937, with the general strike continuing for the first six months of it, from May until October 1936. The strike was strictly observed and brought commercial and economic activity in the Palestinian sector to a standstill. Unrest spread to the countryside, where villagers took up arms and engaged the British security and military forces in open guerrilla warfare.
The British rushed in reinforcements and demolished parts of the Old City of Jaffa as a punitive measure. Some volunteers from the Arab countries came to the aid of the Palestinian rebels, but the brunt of the fighting was borne by the Palestinians themselves. The British intensified their military operations, simultaneously sending a commission of inquiry under Lord Peel to ascertain the causes of the rebellion. The heads of the neighboring Arab states then appealed to the Arab Higher Committee to call off the general strike and appear before the Peel CommisCommission. On October 11, the Arab Higher Committee acceded to their request. There was a short lull in the rebellion between November 1936 and January 1937 while the commission toured the country. But tension subsequently mounted again until it exploded in unprecedented violence in July 1937.
THE SECOND PHASE
The second phase of the rebellion lasted from July 1937 until the fall of 1938. What triggered the new escalation of violence was the publication in July 1937 of the Peel Commission's report, which unhesitatingly declared that "the underlying causes of the disturbances" were two: the desire of the Palestinians for independence, and their "hatred and fear of the establishment of the Jewish national home." The report then proceeded to recommend the partition of the country into a Jewish state, a Palestinian state to be incorporated by Transjordan, and enclaves reserved for the Mandatory.
The Palestinians were outraged by these recommendations. They could not accept the legitimization of a Zionist political title in Palestine. Hundreds of Palestinian villages would fall within the Jewish state, and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians would become a subject minority in it. The Jewish state would acquire about 33 percent of the total area of the country (including the fertile regions of Galilee, all Palestinian- owned, and the coastal plain from the Lebanese border to Jaffa, owned equally by the two communities) at a time when Jewish ownership did not exceed 5.6 percent of Palestine.
The Palestinians feared the confiscation of their land inside the Jewish state through the application of the guidelines governing the activities of the Jewish National Fund. They resented the incorporation of the proposed Palestinian state into Transjordan. Above all they were horrified at the commission's recommendation that they be forcibly transferred, if necessary, out of the Jewish state. Even the commission itself sounded sheepish in its summing up of the report when it hypocritically argued, "Considering what the possibility of finding a refuge in Palestine means to many thousands of suffering Jews, is the loss occasioned by partition, great as it would be, more than Arab generosity can bear?"
The British responded to the escalating Palestinian resistance by determining to break its backbone. Seizing the opportunity afforded by the assassination, in September 1937, of a British senior administrator in Nazareth by Palestinians, they promptly outlawed the Arab Higher Committee in addition to all Palestinian political parties and organizations. They arrested scores of Palestinian leaders and exiled five principal ones to the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. They threw thousands of Palestinians into special "detention camps"; among those detained were professionals, civil servants, clergymen, students, and farmers. In combat they used their air force, tanks, and heavy artillery against the rebels. Military tribunals passed summary sentences, including death by hanging, for the possession of arms. Collective punishment was imposed on towns and villages by blowing up entire residential quarters, closing schools, levying fines in kind or cash, and billeting troops at the expense of the residents.
At the same time, the British built up Jewish military strength. In cooperation with the Jewish Agency's secret army, the Haganah, they organized, trained, and armed a special force called the Jewish Settlement Police (JSP), which by early 1939 was 14,000 strong. In June 1938 they created an Anglo-Jewish unit called the Special Night Squads (SNS) for "special operations" against Palestinian villages. It was during this second phase of the rebellion that the new tactics of throwing grenades and planting time bombs in crowded marketplaces were introduced into the Zionist-Palestinian conflict by the Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization), the military branch of the right-wing Zionist Revisionist Party.
In 1938 alone the number of Palestinians killed in action by the British was conservatively estimated at not less than one thousand, while 54 Palestinians were executed by hanging, and 2,463 Palestinians were detained. The Palestinian population at the time did not exceed one million.
In spite of all these measures the Palestinian rebellion continued unabated during 1938, and several areas of the country, including the Old City of Jerusalem, fell under rebel control. Palestinian resistance elicited strong expressions of support and solidarity from the neighboring Arab countries. In September 1937 a popular pan-Arab congress, held in Bludan, Syria, endorsed Palestinian opposition to partition. Palestinian demands were again endorsed in October 1938 by the Arab Parliamentarians' Congress and the Arab Women's Congress, both held in Cairo.
THE THIRD PHASE
The third phase of the rebellion extended from the fall of 1938 until the summer of 1939. The British seemed to be moving on two tracks. As early as April 1938, they had dispatched another commission of inquiry, under the chairmanship of Sir John Woodhead, ostensibly to study the technical aspects of the implementation of partition. The Woodhead Commission's report was published in November 1938, and its general conclusion was that partition was not practicable. Nevertheless, the British planned an all-out offensive to crush the rebellion. They brought in massive new reinforcements and transferred the administration of the country to military commanders. The ensuing engagements were the severest so far. Fifty-five Palestinians were executed by hanging, at least twelve hundred Palestinians were killed in action by the British, more than twice as many Palestinians were detained as in the previous year (1938), and five times as many rifles were seized from Palestinians in a drive to achieve their total disarmament.
With the publication of the Woodhead report, the British government also announced its intention to hold a general conference in London to be attended both by Zionist and Palestinian leaders and by representatives of the neighboring Arab countries. However, the British shortsightedly vetoed the participation in the conference of paramount Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini, chairman of the still-outlawed Arab Higher Committee. After escaping arrest in September 1937, Haj Amin had been directing the rebellion from his exile in Lebanon. The London Conference lasted from 7 February to 27 March 1939 without reaching a settlement satisfactory to the Zionists and Palestinians.
In May the British government published a new White Paper in which it undertook to implement, irrespective of Palestinian and Zionist objections, the policy enunciated: Britain's obligations to the Jewish national home had been substantially fulfilled; indefinite mass Jewish immigration to and land acquisition in Palestine would contradict Britain's obligations to the Palestinians; within the next five years, 75,000 more Jews would be allowed into the country, after which Jewish immigration would be subject to "Arab acquiescence"; land transfers would be permitted in certain areas, but restricted and prohibited in others, to protect the Palestinians from landlessness; and an independent unitary state would be established after ten years conditional on favorable Palestinian-Jewish relations.
Many Palestinians were positively impressed with the White Paper, but could not accept it because of the ambiguity of the phrase "Arab acquiescence" in relation to continuing future Jewish immigration, and the conditional nature of the promised independent unitary state. The Zionists accused the British of "appeasing" the Arabs and consulting their strategic interests in the area due to the deterioration of the international situation. The 1939 White Paper marked the beginning of the end of the Anglo-Zionist entente ushered in by the Balfour Declaration in 1917.