Daniel Braun
's TOI Blog

The palestinian terror tactics pt.1

The attack on Israel’s south on October 7th was unprecedented in both Israel’s and global history. Terrorism, on the other hand, has been a constant since even before the creation of the state of Israel. The conflict in Israel and the Middle East is complex since it can be seen from many different perspectives. The focus of this article (and the following ones) will be specifically on the conflict between the state of Israel and Palestinian armed factions and individuals.

From this perspective, the conflict is asymmetrical (as opposed to the conflict with state actors) in the sense that there is no comparison between these armed factions and an official state with an official army. Armed factions and individuals are non-state actors, that can be or not be influenced by state interests. Let’s take as an example Hamas. Hamas is a non-state actor in the conflict, that has on one side its own interests, but on the other, has a certain level of influence from the Iranian regime.

In asymmetrical conflicts like this one, the weaker player will rely on different tactics that will try to challenge the status quo between the parts. In the case of Israel-Palestine, and the Middle East in general, terrorism on innocent civilians has become a tactic from the early days of this conflict.

This series of articles will explore the evolution of different tactics that have been employed by the Palestinian armed factions against Israeli civilians, to gain an understanding of how did we get to the current situation? I’m in no way trying to justify terrorism, just the opposite, I believe in understanding the phenomenon as a means to combating it.

What is terrorism?

Terrorism isn’t any kind of violence. Terrorism is violence aimed at creating mass terror throughout a society. The purpose of employing terrorism is to try and balance the power in an asymmetrical conflict. In most cases, there is definitely an ideological ethos as well (like Yihad), and interests (most times, financial or political interests) but in the end, the aim of a terrorist attack is to shake a society so much, hoping that things start changing.

The October 7th Attack has led to such a big chain of events that has brought Israel to an international case for committing genocide, it has put the Palestinian statehood issue back on the table and it broke down normalization talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia. This way, a non-state actor, an armed faction, managed to break down the status quo with an official country through large-scale terrorism.

Tactics employed by Palestinian Arabs against Zionists in the pre-state era

Talking about the pre-state era is very different from discussing the current asymmetrical conflict. During the pre-state era, the Jewish establishment, the Yishuv, was a non-state actor too. Some groups within the Yishuv (Etzel and Lechi) resorted to terrorism as a fighting tactic against the British and the Arabs as well.

During this period, there was no Palestinian national consciousness, or it was only starting to develop. The first Palestinian congresses were held in 1919 and revolved around being part of a Greater Syria rather than an independent nation. With France’s takeover of Faisal’s Syria in 1920, the focus started to shift from Greater Syria to Palestine specifically, leading to the first Arab revolts in Jerusalem in 1920 and Jaffa in 1921.

  1. The Riot Tactic

From 1920 until 1939, the main tactic employed by the Arab Palestinian factions against Jews in the mandate was rioting. The elites and leading groups often fomented these riots among the masses of peasants.

The 1929 revolt started when Jews began asking for more praying permits on the Western Wall, which were largely conceded. At the beginning of 1929, large Arab protests started around this topic. Word started to go around, that these permits would eventually become an undermining of the Muslim religious places and even the destruction of the Al Aqsa mosque. This conspiracy was mainly promoted by the mufti of Jerusalem Aj Amin El Husseini and led thousands of Muslims to revolt against Jews praying at the Western Wall in August 1929.

The biggest extent of the 1929 riots was in August 24 with the Hebron massacre, which ended the lives of more than 60 Jews in less than 5 hours. The official British report described the Hebron riot as a “savage attack… of which no condemnation can be too severe,… was accompanied by wanton destruction and looting”.

Many other Jewish communities were affected later by the 1929 riots, mainly in Kibutz Bet Alpha, Motza, Tzfat, and Jerusalem and its suburbs. By August 29, 133 Jews had been murdered. Many attacks were successfully held off by the Haganah, like in Kibbutz Hulda. Many settlements had to be abandoned like Kfar Uriyah.

The riot tactic could be seen as well during the 1936-1939 Arab revolt. This revolt has 2 main starting components.

The first one was the preaching and assassination of Izz Ad-Din Al Qassam. Al Qassam was a Muslim preacher from Syria, that spent the 1930’s preaching in northern Palestine. He became an icon for the Palestinian struggle against Zionism, the founding father of the armed struggle. He applied the Muslim concept of Jihad to the struggle against Zionists and the British. He was killed by the British in 1935 during a clash.

The second component is the increase of the Jewish population during the 1930’s due to the rise of antisemitism in Europe and Hitler’s rise to power that led to the 5th Aliyah. The Jewish population rose from 235,000 in 1933 to 384,000 in 1936. As a protest against this, the Arabs started a general strike on April 15, 1936. The following day, the Jewish military faction, Etzel carried reprisals against Arab workers in Tel Aviv. During May, Arab leaders started demanding a halt to Jewish immigration, and riots started spreading all over the mandate. Farms were assaulted, houses burnt to the ground, shops plundered, and attacks on individuals started to happen regularly.

This violence would go on until 1939, with different events happening in between. It culminated with the 1939 McDonald White Paper that limited Jewish Immigration to Palestine in the next 10 years to 75,000, giving a major blow to the Zionist enterprise, and forcing new immigrants to come illegally.

The riot tactic in general hurt a lot the Arab Palestinian factions. It led to the exile of many of its leaders like Al Husseini by the British. It opened many gaps between Arab groups and clans, such as the Husseinis and the Nashashibis. It eventually created a situation where the masses didn’t have a clear leadership leading them to the decisive events of the 1940’s. It also affected the Jewish establishment, but its institutions remained strong, and kept on fighting for the Zionist vision anyway. This led to the end of rioting as the main tactic, even though riots are still a prominent behaviour among Palestinian Arabs and even Israeli Arabs nowadays.

The second tactic employed by Palestinian factions in the pre-state era was massacres, such as the Hebron massacres. They became more prominent during the first months of the Independence War and the weeks leading to the Independence Declaration. This tactic will be analyzed deeply in the next article on this series.


Gilbert, M. (1998,2008). HarperCollins Publishers. Israel: a history.

Susser, A. (w/y.). Tel Aviv University / Coursera. An introduction to the modern middle east: part 1 & part 2.

About the Author
Hi! This is Daniel Braun, a young Jew and proud zionist from Mexico learning about his background and other stuff, and trying to make an impact in this world. I hope you enjoy my ideas!