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Yusuf Abu Durra
Abu Durra posing with his rifle, 1936
Abu Durra posing with his rifle, 1936
Born 1900
Silat al-Harithiya, Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem, Ottoman Empire
Died 30 September 1939(1939-09-30)
Mandatory Palestine
Nationality Palestinian
Other names Abu Abed
Known for Regional Commander of the 1936–39 Palestine revolt

Yusuf Said Abu Durra (1900 – 30 September 1939) (nom de guerre: Abu Abed) was one of the chief Palestinian Arab rebel commanders during the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine.[1]

Early life and work

Abu Durra was born in 1900 in the village of Silat al-Harithiya, located near Jenin in the Jabal Nablus (Samarian highlands) region, during the Ottoman era. He hailed from the Jaradat clan, which at the time was part of a larger confederation of clans and tribes in Palestine and Transjordan known as the Qais, including the Tuqan, Jarrar, and Beni Sakhr.[2]

During the period when the British controlled Palestine, Abu Durra worked as a porter at a railway station in Zikhron Ya'akov.[1] Later he became a day laborer in the port city of Haifa,[1] working with the Iraqi Petroleum Company.[3]

Early actvism

During his time in Haifa, he became a close disciple of the Muslim reformist preacher and anti-British rebel Izz ad-Din al-Qassam.[1] As part of his efforts against British rule, Abu Durra actively sought recruits to join an armed struggle led by al-Qassam.[3]

When the British authorities believed al-Qassam was responsible for the killing of a British police officer, they set out to arrest him. Al-Qassam and twelve of his close supporters (known as "Qassamiyun" or "Qassamites"), including Abu Durra, evaded the authorities for a time before being cornered in the hills near Ya'bad in October 1935. The men refused to surrender and opened fire at the besieging British troops; in the ensuing firefight, al-Qassam and three of his men were killed and five arrested,[4][5] but Abu Durra managed to escape the area.[6]

Regional commander in 1936 revolt

Abu Durra (seated) and members of his rebel unit, sometime between 1936 and 1938

The 1935 confrontation served as a prelude to a countrywide revolt against the British by Palestinian Arabs that broke out in 1936. Abu Durra emerged as one of the major Qassamite commanders of rebels, particularly after the death of commander Ahmad Attiyah Awad in March 1938.[1] Subsequently, Abu Durra assumed the latter's position as the main commander of the region extending from Haifa to Jenin.[2] He eventually became one of four regional commanders of the revolt, the other three being Abu Ibrahim al-Kabir of the Upper Galilee, Abd al-Rahim al-Hajj Muhammad of the Tulkarm area, and Aref Abd al-Razziq of Arraba.[7] These four commanders were appointed by the Damascus-based Central Committee of National Jihad in Palestine to form the Bureau of the Arab Revolt in Palestine, which was meant to increase coordination among the disparate rebel factions and the exiled Palestinian leaders serving on the Central Committee.[1]

Like other local rebel leaders, Abu Durra organized his forces into a relatively small, semi-permanent unit and non-permanent, volunteer-based bands (fasa'il) headed by local commanders subordinate to the main commander. The fasa'il normally launched nighttime attacks and were often used by Abu Durra for specific operations.[8] His principal unit was based in the vicinity of Haifa and he presided over 17 fasa'il, totaling an estimated 250 fighters.[1] His second-in-command was Yusuf Hamdan, who commanded a rebel band in the Umm al-Fahm area.[9]

Abu Durra soon entered into confrontations with the Druze of Mount Carmel due to a number of factors. His earlier recruitment efforts of Druze fighters in Haifa were relatively unsuccessful, and his demand for financial contributions by the Mount Carmel villages to purchase 30 rifles were rebuffed.[3] There was also general suspicion among the rebels that the Druze chiefs of Mount Carmel were cooperating with the authorities against their cause.[10] In early October 1938, Abu Durra led two successive assaults against the villages of Isfiya and Daliyat al-Carmel. Three Druze male residents were killed and some local Druze chiefs were taken prisoner. The rebels also allegedly desecrated Druze religious texts.[10]

Due in part to an alert sent by the Druze residents of Mount Carmel following an attack by Abu Durra in late November 1938, the British Army launched an ambush on his men,[11] who were en route to their base in Umm al-Fahm.[12] The November battle became known as the Battle of Umm al-Zinat or Umm al-Daraj, due to the location of the confrontation outside the village of Umm al-Zinat, just south of Mount Carmel. The British forces numbered over a thousand and were backed by 13 fighter planes, while the rebel force was considerably smaller.[6] Abu Durra was wounded and 43 of his fighters were killed,[12] but he managed to escape.[6]

Head of Haifa rebels court

In the course of the revolt, Abu Durra headed a rebel court in his areas of operation, which were the vicinity of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Wadi Ara, and the Jezreel Valley. The court dealt with issues that ranged from suspected treachery to petty crimes.[13] Abu Durra gained a reputation for ordering the deaths of suspected collaborators among Palestinian village headmen (makhatir, singular: mukhtar).[14] In interviews conducted by historian Ted Swedenberg of former Palestinian rebels and civilians who lived during the revolt, offhand estimates of the number of makhatir Abu Durra had executed ranged from around 20 to 85. However, the latter figure was considered "fantastical" by Swedenberg.[15]

In the memoirs of Palestinian historian Izzat Darwaza, a British citizen who went to the Haifa Magistrates' Court to speed up the recovery of her stolen jewelry from known suspects was told by the judge that her request would take time to be satisfied and that she might have better luck with Abu Durra's court. Although the judge made the latter suggestion in jest, the woman did go to one of Abu Durra's courts in Ein al-Sahala with the suspects' names; one week later she was summoned back to the court, where her jewelry was restored to her.[13]

Arrest and execution

In 1939, as the armed revolt was close to being completely suppressed, Abu Durra departed Palestine for Damascus.[6] Sometime later, he set out for Hashemite Transjordan. On 24 July, while he was traveling in the Jordan Valley, apparently with the intention to return to Palestine, he was arrested by the Arab Legion headed by British general John Glubb Pasha. According to Glubb, he was dressed in civilian attire, but had in his possession a military uniform and a "rebel order of battle".[16] He was subsequently held in a prison in al-Karak until he was extradited to Palestine.[17] Abu Durra's arrest and extradition were very unpopular among Transjordanians and he was celebrated by crowds as his convoy passed through various towns on its way to Palestine.[18] Abu Durra was tried and sentenced to death and, on 30 September 1939, he was executed.[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Kedourie, Elie (2015). "Zionism and Arabism in Palestine and Israe". Routledge. ISBN 9781317442721. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Swedenberg, 2003, p. 132.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Firro, 1992, p. 337.
  4. Segev, 1999, pp. 360–362.
  5. Milton-Edwards, 1999, p. 19.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Jayyusi, 1992, p. 623.
  7. Great Britain and the East, 1939, p. 126.
  8. Thomas, 2008, p. 247.
  9. Patai, 1970, p. 232.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Swedenberg, 2003, pp. 92–93.
  11. Firro, 1992, p. 339.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Artzi, 1978, p. 177.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Singer, Amy (2010). "Untold Histories of the Middle East: Recovering Voices from the 19th and 20th Centuries". Routledge. ISBN 9781136926655. 
  14. Swedenberg, 2003, p. 118.
  15. Swedenberg, 2003, pp. 118–119.
  16. Morris, 2003, p. 54.
  17. Great Britain and the East, 1939, p. 114.
  18. Morris, 2003, pp. 54–55.


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