How the British Eliminated the Intifada of 1936-1939




One picture is worth a million words. Such is the photograph above. It illustrates the method by which the British administration in Palestine successfully eliminated the first Intifada [Arabic for uprising] during the years 1936-1939.

The photo shows a British armored railroad wagon behind a railcar on which two Arab hostages are seated. In this way the British prevented the mining of the railroad tracks by Arab terrorists. This type of railcar preceding the regular trains turned the Arabs seated there (generally Mukhtars and notables from villages along the railway route) into cannon fodder. Should they try to blow up the trains, they would explode along with their own people and their leaders.


This photo was provided by Gadi Talmor, who found it among the effects of his late father, Chaim Kahanov. His father had served in the Hebrew settlement police together with a friend named Zecharia Oryon. While on one of their usual patrols, guarding the fields, they noticed the railcar with the hostages and Oryon took the photograph with a simple box camera. The photograph lay in a drawer and when examining his father’s effects it was found, scanned, and this is the result.


The first Intifada of the Arabs in the Land of Israel exacted a heavy price from the Yishuv [name for pre-state Jewish population] – more than 600 killed and 2,000 wounded in a Yishuv numbering only 400,000. Murderous gangs marauded then as they do today: broke into settlements, murdered men, women, and children, set crops on fire, and destroyed workshops. They also attacked British installations – telephone lines, police stations, railway lines, bridges, and petroleum pipelines. For a time they controlled the entire mountain area of Judea and Samaria and the British did not dare to go there.


Finally, the British decided to apply harsh measures. Anyone caught carrying arms was sentenced to death or a lengthy prison term. About 150 Arab rioters were hanged. Collective punishment was employed in every village from which shots were fired (they had no Kassam rockets then). Heavy fines were exacted, the crops were set alight, and houses destroyed.

Several times the British struck back with cruel retaliatory measures. In response to the murder of the regional governor’s aide by an Arab from Jenin, a convoy of military vehicles loaded with 24 tons of explosives headed there with which they blew up a considerable portion of the town.

When the mining of railroad tracks increased, the British seated the village family-heads living along the rail route in open railcars in front of the train. In this way any explosion would harm the Arabs first. This method was also used in vehicle convoys where the British obliged Arab taxis to precede them and set off any mines.


During the Arab uprising some 2000 Arab homes were destroyed, – 6000 were killed… another 6000 were arrested. Most of the rebel leaders were killed, exiled, or fled the country. The economic damage sustained by the Arab population was enormous – burnt fields, uprooted orchards, a cessation of trade with the Jewish Yishuv, and severe unemployment.



Desyruction of Jaffa 1938


The biggest retaliation was carried out against the ancient neighborhoods in Jaffa, which was a nest of vipers from the very start of the riots. On June 18, 1936, warning leaflets were distributed there. Later the residents were removed from their homes, the area surrounded with barbed wire and engineering units went in and blew the houses up.


A series of appeals in the courts by the Arabs against the destruction of the houses were rejected, but the Chief Justice, [Sir Michael F. J.] McDonnell, censured the destruction of Jaffa, and the Arabs exploited the condemnation in their propaganda.

The response of the High Commissioner, Sir Arthur Wauchope, to the Chief Justice’s declaration was harsh. “This declaration has been interpreted by the Arabs as a direct encouragement in their struggle against the government” – he reported to London. As a result the British judge was recalled.

Tr. Joseph Schachter

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3 Responses to How the British Eliminated the Intifada of 1936-1939

  1. Pingback: היגיון בשיגעון » Archive » כך חיסלו הבריטים את הטרור הערבי

  2. moshe brodetzky says:

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  3. Charles Oren says:

    The result of the destruction in Jaffa is the beautiful park today in the center of the Old city of Jaffa.
    The BBC made a film of how the RAF used the Arab uprising to study the new methods of aerial warfare introduced by the Germans in the Spanish civil war. The RAF fitted machine guns to their planes and used Palestine to study how best to control them to attack troops on the ground. The BBC reported that the results were devastating and nearly brought the Initifada to an end. However, Whitehall politicians realized in 1939 that there may soon be a war and Britain will need Arab oil. Th RAF were ordered to stop and the White Paper was issued.

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