State Formation from Below and the Great Revolt in Palestine
The Great Revolt (1936–39) represented the most fervent and sustained Palestinian challenge to British and Zionist colonialisms during the thirty years of British rule in Palestine. Although its ultimate defeat has led to negative appraisals of its historical significance, the uprising was in its day the largest mass mobilization in Palestinian history and, at its apex, threatened to overturn the British regime. The rebellion was characterized by considerable organizational ingenuity as Palestinians created novel institutions that embodied their drive for popular sovereignty and an end to colonial domination. This article principally examines two such sets of institutions, the national and popular committees of 1936, and the rebel court system from 1937–39. In doing so, it argues that much like revolutionary peasant-based movements elsewhere in the colonial world, insurgent forces in Palestine embarked on a process of state formation from below. This process aimed to sap the colonial regime of its authority and weaken its capacities while augmenting those of the rebels by integrating broad segments of the population into insurgent frameworks. It further contends that it is the dynamic of state formation from below, and the popular character and leadership of the rebel movement, that lent the revolt its resilience and enabled it to push the colonial state to the wall.