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Great Uprising

In 1936, the Arab leadership in the British Mandate of Palestine, led by Haj Amin al-Husayni, declared a general strike to protest Jewish immigration (which by then was already limited by British authorities). The strike quickly deteriorated into a violent rebellion which lasted approximately three years. One of the following two competing explanations are generally given for those riots, depending on the partiality of the speaker:

Rather than inflicting economic damage to the Jewish population, the strike resulted in a sharp economic rise for the Jews of Palestine. The uprising deteriotated into violence, with armed gangs conducting attacks on British and Jewish targets and many lesser acts of violence, often against civilians. The British responded by greatly expanding their military forces and clamping down on Arab society. Many of the practices later adopted by Israel, including "administrative detention" (imprisonment without charges or trial), house demolitions, and so on, derive from British practice during this period. More than 100 Arabs were hanged. The main Arab leaders were arrested or expelled. Amin al-Husayni fled from Palestine to escape arrest.

The mainstream Jewish defence organization, the Haganah (Hebrew for "defence"), maintained a policy of restraint during this period with a few notable exceptions. On the other hand, the smaller Irgun organization (also called by its acronym Etzel), adopted a policy of retaliation and revenge. Their actions, which included setting off bombs in public places, killed hundreds of civilians and did not have the effect of quelling Arab violence.

In 1939, after three years of rioting, the unrest was put down by the British administration with the help of Jewish volunteers from the Hagana. The British government issued a White Paper and, in effect, reversed their support of the Balfour Declaration by announcing an absolute limit of only 75,000 on future Jewish immigration to Palestine.