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Palestine 1936


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A gripping, profoundly personal, yet even-handed narrative of the origins of the Middle East conflict, with enduring resonance and relevance for our time.

About the Author

Oren Kessler is a journalist and analyst based in Tel Aviv. Previously, he was deputy director for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, Middle East research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society in London, Arab affairs correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, and an editor and translator at Haaretz English edition.

Kessler’s work has appeared in outlets including Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Politico. A frequent contributor to broadcast media, he has also testified to the UK and EU Parliaments on Middle East issues.

Raised in Rochester, New York and Tel Aviv, he holds a BA in history from the University of Toronto and an MA in diplomacy and conflict studies from the Lauder School of Government at Reichman University.

Palestine 1936 is his first book.


A thorough, well-documented journalistic history of the Great Revolt of 1936. Kessler provides voices from all the key players: Jewish, Arab, and English. And within each of these groups, he brings forwards the continuum of the views. There are a range of more strident and more moderate voices an all sides, and Kessler is able to reconstruct the contemporaneous dialogue between these different factions and how they led up to the revolt, evolved through the revolt, and how the revolt impacted these viewpoints. Kessler does a good job of presenting these views without bias or sentiment, such that one can understand why they thought the way they did. Each is, in their own way, sympathetic.... One of the most striking things about this book is paradoxically that it shows so many points of missed opportunities that might have avoided the decades of conflict that was to come but also how inevitable the conflict was. So many of the statements from the Jews, Arabs, and Brits of the 30s could be slightly edited for timeliness (and swapping out the Brits for the US) and be indistinguishable for statements issued today. The book is indispensable for anyone wanting to get a much deeper understanding of the roots of the current conflict.-- "Philosophy Blog"

Although 1936 is not a date in Middle East history that resonates in the way the years 1948, 1967, and now 2023 do, it was a landmark year for both Jewish and Arab nationalism. And, as Oren Kessler points out in his new book, it was also the beginning of the end of British Mandate rule in Palestine. In hindsight, it was a prelude to the creation of the mod­ern State of Israel.... Kessler succeeds in shaping a narrative that is both comprehensive and easy to follow. While he focuses mainly on the Arab revolt of 1936, he also takes the story back and forth in time in a manner that helps us understand our world today.-- "Jewish Book Council"

The historic milestones that led to the creation of the state of Israel are well known: Theodor Herzl's Zionist congresses, the Balfour Declaration, the Partition Resolution, the War of Independence.... [Oren Kessler] believes that a significant chunk of history has been largely overlooked and he sets out to right that wrong in his new book, Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict. The Arab uprising of 1936 to 1939 in Palestine, he writes, 'was the crucible in which Palestinian identity coalesced.' It also set in stone the intransigence toward Jewish self-determination in the region.... Kessler's thesis is that the events of 1936-1939 deserve to be recognized more as pivotal to the history of the region as a whole. There are also voluminous parallels and lessons for contemporary times in his review of that era.-- "Jewish Independent "

In his debut book, journalist Oren Kessler has filled an important gap early in the modern era.... It carefully and accessibly describes the opening acts of this pivotal period, and his introduction and conclusion helpfully show its meaning for the present. The history cannot be changed, but perhaps clarifying it can help heal its wounds and make progress toward peace today.-- "WORLD Radio"

[Kessler] sets out fastidious research into 1930s Palestine and the tensions that culminated in the Great Arab Revolt of 1936, bringing that era back to life and suggesting how it influences contemporary debates. Working through Kessler's exquisitely clear, fair-minded account of the period, and how it changed thinking on all sides, might produce more informed discussion both in the media and on the ramparts....Palestine 1936 exposes how many of the worst phenomena of the 1930s are now repeating themselves--unwillingness to compromise, hatred leading to violence, Arab moderates afraid to speak for fear of execution by Arab extremists, absolutist resistance to seeing any claims to justice on the other side.... What doesn't seem present today is the idea that even some Arab leaders freely expressed in the early 20th century that a Jewish homeland and Jewish entrepreneurship would be good for Palestinian Arabs too. Neither do we see the flexibility with which some Jewish and Arab leaders in the 1920s and 1930s viewed Palestine as, practically speaking, a mixed real estate/religious problem that might be solved on real estate rather than religious principles. We could use more of that thinking today.-- "Moment Magazine"

American journalist Oren Kessler offers a gradual and precise narration of the 1936-39 Arab revolt in Palestine, using personal experiences of British, Palestinian, and Jewish figures. Kessler argues that the Palestinian uprising set off a cycle of escalating violence that crystallized irreconcilable positions between the Zionist and Palestinian national movements, unveiling the Great Revolt's long-lasting effects.-- "The Middle East Journal"

Proof that yesterday's history is today's news, Oren Kessler's account of the Great Arab Revolt of 1936 in the British-controlled Palestine Mandate shows how Jewish-Arab relations were altered ever after. The author skillfully uses English, Hebrew and Arabicsources to find human stories in a battle of ideas and identities, providing rare insight into the grim pattern of conflict that grinds onin the region.-- "The Wall Street Journal"

"The 1936 uprising has virtually receded from memory due to the passage of time and the dearth of books about it in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Oren Kessler, an Israeli journalist, has filled the gap admirably with Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict. A lucid writer, he deals not only with the revolt itself -- the first major clash between the Zionist and the Palestinian national movements -- but also delves into its causes and legacy. Kessler provides readers with a thorough and thoughtful history of Palestine before addressing the theme at hand.... Kessler convincingly argues that the Jews of Palestine consolidated the demographic, geographic and political basis of their state during this period rather than in 1948, when the first Arab-Israeli war broke out."-- "The Times of Israel"

[Kessler] has taken up a topic that ought to be well studied but, as he notes, is not. His impressive immersion in the sources and his lively writing bring the "Great Arab Revolt" of 1936-39 to life and show its continued significance.... It is a great book.-- "Middle East Quarterly"

[The] historical context of the never-ending Israeli Palestinian conflict is still as controversial and emotion-provoking as that last sentence is long. The critical thinking desperately needed to attempt to resolve the conflict for the hundredth time has often been replaced by radical religious and emotion-based violence on both sides. And events today, including the most recent unprecedented attack on Israel by Hamas in Gaza, can be seen within the long line of events since the 19th century... Kessler does a very good job of explaining the context and the Revolt itself. His first book is a must read for serious students of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as for the general public.--Brett Kline, Journalist "The Markaz Review"

A former journalist and longtime Middle East analyst, Kessler examines a period that is as formative as it is overlooked in this well-written volume. Kessler utilizes recently declassified documents and memoirs, among other sources, to paint a briskly moving picture of what might properly be considered the first Palestinian Intifada. Kessler skillfully tells the tale, relying on deft character sketches and lively prose to convey a story whose tragic consequences echo to the present day.-- "The Jewish Voice"

An overall history of the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939--the biggest and most significant nationalist uprising against the British Empire in the twentieth century--has long been a lacuna in the historiography of Palestine/Israel. Oren Kessler has at last plugged that gap with this very well-researched, highly readable, and balanced study, studded with fine portraits of the main actors and moving stories of personal tragedy and accomplishment. Highly recommended reading for anyone interested in the history of the Zionist-Arab conflict.--Benny Morris, author of 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War

In Palestine 1936, Oren Kessler has given us a clear, fast-paced, and accessible account of a crucial chapter in the Middle East, introducing a general readership to a fascinating piece of overlooked history while shedding light on the present. I learned a great deal from this book.--Matti Friedman, author of Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel

Kessler perceives the start of the massive displacement caused by the founding of Israel in 1948 in the Great Arab Revolt of 1936-39, the longest sustained rebellion against British control of the region. Faced with a burgeoning Zionist movement intent on settling threatened European Jews in Palestine and an intransigent Arab Higher Committee, British officials dithered and made feckless promises to first one side and then the other, rarely acknowledging their own role in exacerbating the tensions. While there is plenty of blame to go around, Kessler exposes the arrogance of British imperialism at its worst. When Jewish immigration skyrocketed to 30- percent of the population, the British High Commissioner of Jerusalem dismissed Arab concerns. The Arab-Jewish violence that followed established the current mechanisms for Israeli suppression of Palestinian resistance: dominating military force, home demolitions as collective punishment, and ironclad commitment to settlements. Ultimately, Britain abandoned both the Jews and the Arabs of Palestine, strictly limiting Jewish immigration as Hitler's Final Solution was closing in and refusing to recognize Arab rights to independence and self-government. With indelible portraits of such leaders as Musa Alami, George Antonius, David Ben-Gurion, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, Vladimir Jabotinsky, and Chaim Weizmann, Kessler's history is key to understanding the current situation between Israelis and Palestinians.-- "Booklist, Starred Review"

Oren Kessler's book is an informative, well-documented, scholarly portrayal of life in 1936-1939 Mandate Palestine. It is a remarkable work that blends religion, history, and politics. I strongly recommend its translation to Arabic so that it is available to a wide Palestinian audience.--Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, director of the Wasatia Academic Institute, Jerusalem

Oren Kessler's book, Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict, offers valuable insights into the tragedies and human stories in the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt in Palestine. As one of the first books of general interest on this critical period, it serves as a timely reminder of the immense suffering on both sides.... [The book] proves to be a valuable and accessible resource that provides a digestible account of the events, motivations, identities, and backgrounds of critical players. It is an engaging read regardless of background knowledge, offering insights into how British control of the region and their decisions led to tensions in the 1930s.-- "Global Voices"

Oren Kessler's brave new history book Palestine 1936 reveals the deep roots of today's Israel-Palestine conflict.-- "Foreword Reviews"

Palestine 1936 is an eminently readable account of how the State of Israel emerged from the flames of Mandate Palestine, but it is much more. It is the first scholarly, extensively researched, investigation into the formative events of 1936-39 in the Holy Land.... Kessler recounts, with the pin-point accuracy only achieved through assiduous research, the details, one after another, that built to a full-scale riot in Jaffa known as the Bloody Day.... It is his journalistic skills that make Palestine 1936 so absorbing a read for everyone, scholar and general public alike. This detailed account of a seminal period in the history of both Israel and the Arab world is highly recommended.-- "The Jerusalem Report"

Refreshingly unbiased and captivating....Palestine 1936 provides a revealing understanding of the origin of today's Israel-Palestine conflict--it also makes the situation seem all the more impossible to untangle-- "The American Scholar"

The brilliance of "Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict" lies in the fact that Kessler took a truly archetypical yet understudied event in the history of the world's most intractable conflict and, following extremely intensive research, made that event -in the historical context in which it happened, as well as the decades-long conflict which has ensued - supremely approachable.-- "Ha'aretz"

The history of the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be understood without a thorough investigation of the 1936 revolt, and Oren Kessler has written the definitive study. Palestine 1936 is an accessible and essential source for scholars, journalists, decision makers, and serious students of the Middle East.--Michael Oren, historian and former Israeli ambassador to the United States

The struggle between Jews and Arabs for the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is a modern war fought with ancient maps. When did the conflict assume its current parameters?... In 'Palestine 1936, ' the Tel Aviv-based political analyst Oren Kessler argues that the crucial moment was an overlooked episode a decade before Israel's birth. He makes a convincing case..... [Kessler] is the first to tell this story from all three sides (British, Arab, Jewish) and use sources in all three languages (English, Arabic, Hebrew). He has done an exceptional job and opened new vistas on troubles past and present.-- "The Wall Street Journal"

The Arab Revolt essentially set the frame work of the subsequent Arab-Israeli conflict. Kessler's reminder of the historical importance of the revolt makes his book an integral part of the literature on the conflict.-- "Israel Affairs"

Unlike other notable books about this longstanding conflict... Kessler's Palestine 1936 presents the historical origins of the Palestinian-Zionist conflict in as impartial, nonjudgmental and non-editorializing a manner as possible, without attempting to cast blame, exculpate, justify or even propose viable solutions.What emerges from Kessler's study of this controversial and much-debated subject is a richer and fuller picture of how and why the Palestinian-Zionist conflict became something very close to a zero-sum game well before the establishment of the state of Israel. Consequently, Palestine 1936 also helps explain why this conflict goes on so heatedly to this very day and why even good-faith efforts to end it largely fail.-- "Literature Salon"

What is the world's obligation to a group that's everywhere a minority, has nowhere to call home, and faces persecution and possible extinction? Does such a plight compel the creation of a homeland--on another group's territory? Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict raises these profound questions. Oren Kessler's exacting and evenhanded debut granularly examines for the first time the conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine from 1936 to 1939--otherwise known as The Great Revolt--and convincingly makes the case that it formed the foundation and blueprint for a century-old dispute that continues today. As well, Kessler illuminates the world's role in the prewar conflict: its foibles, biases, pragmatism, and, ultimately, its failures.... Palestine 1936 earns a prestigious four out of four trench coats.-- "The Cipher Brief"

When did the Arab-Israeli conflict begin? Over the decades, historians, politicians, and activists have posited numerous dates.... Oren Kessler proposes a new and under-explored starting point for the conflict.... As Kessler demonstrates in this sobering and engaging history, 1936 crystallized the many elements of the Arab-Israeli conflict in ways that other hinge dates did not.-- "COMMENTARY"

With his narrative style of history, Oren Kessler offers a compelling account of the seminal events that helped shape Palestine during the British mandate and for many years to come. His welcome focus on a series of riveting Arab Palestinian, Jewish, and British personalities makes Palestine 1936 a brisk and relatable read. Basing his work on rigorous and impressive research in both primary and secondary sources, Kessler helpfully pays attention to seemingly small details that come together to weave the tapestry of history. This is both a delightful and a necessary read that will be of interest both to specialists and to those approaching the topic for the first time.--Arash Azizi, author of The Shadow Commander: Soleimani, the U.S. and Iran's Global Ambitions

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