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The First Intifada: Rebellion in Palestine 1936-39

Palestinian revolt - not in Israel today but under the British mandate fifty years ago. Charles Townshend traces its impact and discusses its character.

Panorama of Jerusalem in the early 20th centuryJerusalem was surely one of the glittering prizes of the Great War, won by the 'stout hearts and sharp swords' which Lord Birkenhead would later commend to the under- graduates of Glasgow University. When General Allenby captured the city in December 1917, he dispelled much of the gloom of the war's grimmest year. The humility of his entry into the old city through the Jaffa gate, on foot, trumped the earlier gaudy processions of European emperors for whom the wall had been barbarously breached. Allenby was a Christian conqueror, and thou he was to prove a sage governor in Egypt after the war, the salient fact for Palestine of his march to Damascus was conquest. Britain occupied Palestine by force of arms and exercised a conqueror's rights.

The chief of these was the distribution of the conquered – or, as the leaders of the Arab national movement hoped, liberated – territory. The discrepancy between conquest and liberation was ultimately to prove disastrous. For the Arab fighters who advanced out of the Hejaz with T.E. Lawrence, the goal was Syria. Palestine as a concept scarcely figured in their mental map of the new Arab state. Though Jerusalem was one of the three most sacred sites of lslam, negotiations between the Arabs and the British centred on the great Syrian cities, Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus. Sherif Hussein almost casually agreed to the exclusion of 'portions of Syria lying to the west of' these cities from the planned kingdom.

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