Middle East Archive  |  Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism

Hidden History of Zionism

Ralph Schoenman

The Hidden History of Zionism

Chapter 3
Colonizing Palestine

2. Zionist Objectives   |   4. Tragic Consequences


In 1917, there were 56,000 Jews in Palestine and 644,000 Palestinian Arabs. In 1922, there were 83,794 Jews and 663,000 Arabs. In 1931, there were 174,616 Jews and 750,000 Arabs. [32]

Collaborating with British Colonialism

With the forging of a tacit alliance with the British, the Zionists now received support on the ground for their conquest of the land. The process was described by the Palestinian poet and Marxist analyst, Ghassan Kanafani:

Despite the fact that a large share of Jewish capital was allocated to rural areas, and despite the presence of British imperialist military forces and the immense pressure exerted by the administrative machine in favor of the Zionists, the latter achieved only minimal results with respect to the settlement of land.

They, nevertheless, seriously damaged the status of the Arab rural population. Ownership by Jewish groups of urban and rural land rose from 300,000 dunums in 1929 [67,000 acres] to 1,250,000 dunums in 1930 [280,000 acres]. The purchased land was insignificant from the point of view of mass colonization and of the settlement of the “Jewish problem”. But the expropriation of one million dunums – almost one third of the agricultural land – led to a severe impoverishment of Arab peasants and Bedouins.

By 1931, 20,000 peasant families had been evicted by the Zionists. Furthermore, agricultural life in the underdeveloped world, and the Arab world in particular, is not merely a mode of production, but equally a way of social, religious and ritual life. Thus, in addition to the loss of land, Arab rural society was being destroyed by the process of colonization. [33]

British imperialism promoted the economic destabilization of the indigenous Palestinian economy. The Mandatory Government granted a privileged status to Jewish capital, awarding it 90% of the concessions in Palestine. This enabled the Zionists to gain control of the economic infrastructure (road projects, Dead Sea minerals, electricity, ports, etc.).

By 1935, Zionists controlled 872 of a total of 1,212 industrial firms in Palestine. Imports related to Zionist industries were exempted from taxes. Discriminatory work laws were passed against the Arab workforce resulting in large scale unemployment and a substandard existence for those who were able to find employment.

The 1936 Uprising

Loss of land and repression heightened Palestinian awareness of the fate intended for them and fueled a great uprising which lasted from 1936 to 1939.

The revolt assumed the form of civil disobedience and armed insurrection. Peasants left their villages to join fighting units which were formed in the mountains. Arab nationalists from Syria and Jordan soon entered the struggle.

The decision to withhold taxes was taken May 7, 1936, at a conference attended by one hundred fifty delegates representing all sectors of the population and a general strike swept Palestine.

British reaction was immediate and harsh. Martial law was declared July 30, 1936 – approximately five months after the uprising had begun – and widespread repression was unleashed. Anyone suspected of organizing or sympathizing with the general strike or other resistance was detained. Houses were blown up throughout Palestine. A large section of the city of Jaffa was destroyed by the British on June 18, 1936, rendering 6,000 people homeless. Homes, as well, in the surrounding communities were demolished.

Britain sent large numbers of troops to Palestine to quell the revolt (estimated at 20,000). By the end of 1937 and the beginning of 1938, however, British forces were losing control to the armed popular revolt.

The Zionists as Police Enforcers

It was at this point that the British began to rely on the Zionists who provided them with a unique resource they had never tapped in any of their colonies: a local force which had made common cause with British colonialism and was highly mobilized against the indigenous population. If before this the Zionists had handled many of the tasks of reprisal, they now played a larger role in the escalated repression which was to include mass arrests, assassinations and executions. In 1938, 5,000 Palestinians were imprisoned, of whom 2,000 were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment; 148 people were executed by hanging and over 5,000 homes were demolished. [34]

Zionist forces were integrated with British intelligence and became the police enforcers of draconian British rule. A “quasi-police force” was established to provide cover for the armed Zionist presence encouraged by the British. There were 2,863 recruits to the quasi-police force, 12,000 men were organized in the Haganah, and 3,000 in Jabotinsky’s National Military Organization (Irgun). [35] In the summer of 1937 the quasi-police force was named the “Defense of the Jewish Colonies”, and later the “Colony Police”.

Ben Gurion called the quasi-police force an ideal “framework” for the training of the Haganah. Charles Orde Wingate, the British officer in charge, was, in essence, the founder of the Israeli army. He trained such figures as Moshe Dayan in terrorism and assassination.

By 1939, Zionist forces working with the British rose to 14,411 organized into ten well-armed groups of Colony Police, each commanded by a British officer, with an official of the Jewish Agency as second in command. By the spring of 1939, the Zionist force included sixty-three mechanized units, each consisting of eight to ten men.

The Peel Report

A Royal Commission was established in 1937, under the direction of Lord Peel, to determine the causes of the 1936 revolt. The Peel Commission concluded that the two primary factors were Palestinian desire for national independence and Palestinian fear of the establishment of a Zionist colony on their land. The Peel Report analyzed a series of other factors with uncommon candor. These were:

  1. The spread of the Arab nationalist spirit outside Palestine
  2. Increasing Jewish immigration after 1933
  3. The ability of the Zionists to dominate public opinion in Britain because of the tacit support of the government
  4. Lack of Arab confidence in the good intentions of the British government
  5. Palestinian fear of continued land purchases by Jews from absentee feudal landowners who sold off their landholdings and evicted the Palestinian peasants who had worked the land
  6. The evasiveness of the Mandatory government about its intentions regarding Palestinian sovereignty.

The national movement consisted of the urban bourgeoisie, feudal landowners, religious leaders and representatives of peasants and workers.

Its demands were:

  1. An immediate stop to Zionist immigration
  2. Cessation and prohibition of the transfer of the ownership of Arab lands to Zionist colonists
  3. The establishment of a democratic government in which Palestinians would have the controlling voice. [36]


Analysis of the Revolt

Ghassan Kanafani described the uprising:

The real cause of the revolt was the fact that the acute conflict involved in the transformation of Palestinian society from an Arab agricultural-feudal-clerical one into a Jewish (Western) industrial bourgeois one, had reached its climax ... The process of establishing the roots of colonialism and transforming it from a British mandate into Zionist settler colonialism ... reached its climax in the mid-thirties, and in fact the leadership of the Palestinian nationalist movement was obliged to adopt a certain form of armed struggle because it was no longer able to exercise its leadership at a time when the conflict had reached decisive proportions. [37]

The failure of the Mufti and other religious leaders, of feudal land owners and the nascent bourgeoisie to support the peasants and workers to the end, enabled the colonial regime and the Zionists to crush the rebellion after three years of heroic struggle. In this the British were aided decisively by the treachery of the traditional Arab regimes, who were dependent upon their colonial sponsors.

The Palestinian national struggle has been continuous since 1918 and has been accompanied by one or another form of organized armed resistance. It has also included civil disobedience, general strikes, nonpayment of taxes, refusal to carry identity cards, boycotts and demonstrations.


32. Sami Hadawi, Bitter Harvest (Delmar, N.Y.: The Caravan Books, 1979), pp.43-44.

33. Ghassan Kanafani, The 1936-1939 Revolt in Palestine (New York, Committee for a Democratic Palestine).

34. Ibid., p.96.

35. Ibid., p.39.

36. Ibid., p.31.

37. Ibid.


Middle East Archive | Encyclopedia of Trotskyism

Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 22.8.2006