Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Review: Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict

Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East ConflictPalestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict by Oren Kessler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A thorough, well-documented journalistic history of the Great Revolt of 1936. Kessler provides voices from all the key players: Jewish, Arab, and English. And within each of these groups, he brings forwards the continuum of the views. There are a range of more strident and more moderate voices an all sides, and Kessler is able to reconstruct the contemporaneous dialogue between these different factions and how they led up to the revolt, evolved through the revolt, and how the revolt impacted these viewpoints. Kessler does a good job of presenting these views without bias or sentiment, such that one can understand why they thought the way they did. Each is, in their own way, sympathetic.

The main thesis is that this Great Revolt of 1936 was decisive for future of Israel/Palestine. It left the British exasperated and unsure how to proceed: setting the stage for their abandonment of the Mandate. It left the Arab Palestinians in disarray. Many of the Arab elites left during these hostilities, and the long-standing boycott had serious economic consequences for these communities. In putting down the revolt, the British were able to take out much of the fighting capability of the Arab communities. By the time the civil wars and war of independence comes a decade later, they still had not recovered.

On the other hand, the Yishuv (the Jewish community) comes out of the revolt stronger and better able to move forward. The Arab boycott meant the Yishuv had to hasten the construction of much of the economic infrastructure, such as ports and industries, that would be essential in the state building that was to come. The official policy of restraint by the Yishuv (holding back from offensive reprisals against Arab attacks) led the British more and more to rely on and train the Yishuv forces to help keep the peace. This helped to lay the ground work for the ability of the Yishuv to fight the civil war and war of independence that would come in 1947-48.

One of the most striking things about this book is paradoxically that it shows so many points of missed opportunities that might have avoided the decades of conflict that was to come but also how inevitable the conflict was. So many of the statements from the Jews, Arabs, and Brits of the 30s could be slightly edited for timeliness (and swapping out the Brits for the US) and be indistinguishable for statements issued today.

The book is indispensable for anyone wanting to get a much deeper understanding of the roots of the current conflict.

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