Combating Insurgency in British Palestine
University of Utah
Published in Utah Historical Review, Vol IV.
Insurgencies are the new normal of warfare in this emerging century. Of course, resistance against an opposing armed force is nothing new, but globalization and the ever-present eye of international attention on these conflicts creates a completely new dynamic. Such was the case during the turbulent years prior to the establishment of Israel in British Palestine. To date, much of the research on this topic has lacked a comprehensive discussion of the international context of the British occupation of Palestine in addition to insurgent and counterinsurgent forces. As one of the first major insurgencies following the Second World War, Palestine serves as an excellent model for demonstrating the complexities of the insurgent-counterinsurgent relationship, and how this relationship changes once the international community starts observing.
This analysis will use the “Tri-Partite Counter-Insurgency Model” developed by Andrew Mumford as a starting point for examining the end of the British Mandate in Palestine. The model contends that a comprehensive study of an insurgency should consider the interactions of three critical actors in an insurgency situation: the insurgents themselves, the counter-insurgent power, and concerned international interests. It is this interplay between these three forces in Palestine that is the focus of this article. This paper, while not attempting to “prove” the model, will use it as a point of departure for a comprehensive examination of the influences at work in the British withdrawal from Palestine.
Throughout the last years of the Mandate, from around 1944 to 1947, the British faced considerable opposition to their management of Palestine from primarily Jewish insurgent groups. Chief among these was the Irgun Zvai Leumi. The Irgun and other insurgent groups such as the Haganah and the Stern Gang carried out a number of deadly attacks on British military targets throughout this time, which helped create an atmosphere of lawlessness and disgust with the British presence in the region. The British in turn devoted significant resources to ending the insurgency, but were ultimately unsuccessful in maintaining control of the situation as their tactics focused too broadly on the general population rather than individual insurgent groups. Finally, international pressures and waning public support in Britain further encouraged the British withdrawal. Ultimately, primary source research from Irgun and British administration documents show that these three factors all coalesced to facilitate the British withdrawal from the Palestinian Mandate.