Revisiting Palestinian Revolt
Published: Friday, January 31, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 31, 2014 02:01
Charles Anderson, a Jamal Daniel post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, on Wednesday discussed the Great Revolt in Palestine suggesting a new understanding of this pivotal moment in Middle Eastern history.
The event, entitled “Popular State Formation during the ‘Great Revolt’ in Palestine” was held in the CCAS boardroom.
Anderson’s focus on the revolt, which took place from 1936 to 1939, moves away from the traditional characterization of the movement as chaotic and failed. Rather, he posited that the Great Revolt was an organized peasant rebel campaign for independence.
Anderson focused his talk on breaking down the traditional scholarly understanding of the Great Revolt as a disorderly and chaotic failure, and how he believes this has hindered revelation about much of Palestinian history under British rule.
“The dominant representation of the Great Revolt within scholarly literature is generally exceedingly negative. We are better served by stepping away from teleological narratives that associate the Great Revolt with 1948,” Anderson said. “Seeing the revolt as a precursor to and precondition of national failure in 1948 has foreclosed a more thorough analysis of the uprising for its dynamic qualities, its remarkable tenacity, and importantly of its social origins and bases.”
Anderson argued that the vigor of the Palestinian insurgency, with its popular character and wide appeal among peasants, youth and workers helped to develop a vibrant organizational infrastructure that underpinned the uprising. Rather than labelling it a catalyst of the Palestinians’ defeat a decade later in the 1948 war with Israel, Anderson argues that the revolt should be regarded as a peasant rebel attempt to push the British Mandate to the verge of collapse.
“The stakes for the revolt could hardly be higher. Although it has not been entirely acknowledged in the literature, it was a struggle for independence. It also represented a major popular effort at the reconstitution of Palestinian society,” Anderson said. “For the peasants, workers and youth that drove the rebellion, it was both a life and death campaign for political independence and a project of social reformation that sought to uplift the downtrodden masses.”
In his presentation, Anderson explored the significance of key rebel institutions during the revolt and the dynamics of popular state formation. He linked these groups to the importance and power of mass politics.
“Mass politics, as I am arguing, was not simply built on greater political participation by large numbers of people,” Anderson said. “Rather, it is my contention that modern mass politics is inextricably related to the increasing salience of horizontal affinities, identities and associational culture.”
At the end of the event, Anderson urged the audience to explore other studies of colonialism from a similar “view from below,” an approach that event attendees voiced interest in. Others appreciated learning about a topic they had not previously known much about.
“I thought it was really interesting because it’s a topic I haven’t seen much scholarship about,” Nusayba Hammad, a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, said.
Michelle Munjanattu (SFS ’11) appreciated Anderson’s presentation in contrast with other scholarship, but felt that he overplayed the role of the revolt in Palestinian identity.
“I think it’s an important contribution to the idea of horizontal struggle against imperialism, but it’s an interesting contrast of what Dr. Anderson says and just the body of history on Palestinian diaspora from Latin America, Central America,” Munjanattu said. “To me it’s an important work, but I think it’s not the sole determinate of Palestinian identity.”