Nazi Roots of Palestinian Nationalism
Nazi Roots of Palestinian Nationalism
“Our fundamental condition for cooperating with Germany was a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world. I asked Hitler for an explicit undertaking to allow us to solve the Jewish problem in a manner befitting our national and racial aspirations and according to the scientific methods innovated by Germany in the handling of its Jews. The answer I got was: The Jews are yours.”
- Former Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini in his post-World War II memoirs.
“The Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and adviser of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of this plan… He was one of Eichmann’s best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures.”
- Adolf Eichmann’s deputy Dieter Wisliceny in his Nuremberg Trials testimony.
Within weeks of Adolf Hitler’s ascendance to power, Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini contacted the German counsel-general in Palestine. With the exception of funding some anti-Semitic riots, Germans rejected the Arab’s overtures until 1937, when Adolf Eichmann and Herbert Hagen were sent to Palestine to establish a framework to provide Husseini with military and financial aid by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
By then, the Mufti had already proven his anti-Jewish credentials to the Germans by organizing a three-year-long series of riots and massacres.
On April 19, 1936, a crowd of Arabs stumbled upon Jews in the town of Jaffa. Having been incited by Mufti-spread rumors that Zionists were killing Muslims, the crowd decided to kill three of the Jews they met. Six days later, the Arab Higher Committee was created, with al-Husseini presiding over the new body. The committee openly endorsed past violence and began organizing future terror.
On May 5, the British colonial authorities warned al-Husseini against committing illegal acts but did not appear particularly decisive, leading the Arab to conclude that he could organize mass violence with impunity. By October 1936, nearly 300 people were killed and another 1,100 wounded.
Colonial forces arrested a few pawns and one major leader, but took no action against the Mufti. The New York Times reported on June 14, 1936 that al-Husseini had succeeded “in convincing experienced high British civil servants that he is working for the government’s interests [and that] it was in the interest of the government that he should also be president of the new Arab High Committee,” so that Haj Amin el-Husseini enjoys the government’s complete confidence as its unofficial adviser on the Arab side of the situation….The government believes that he and only he is in a position to appease the Moslem masses; therefore it gives him every support while at the same time playing into his hands.”
Continuing its policy of siding with the Mufti, in June the Brits arrested scores of members of the Defense Party sponsored by the rival Nashashibi clan, despite lack of any evidence that the Nashashibis were involved in the massacres. Ninety percent of Arabs in the Sinai concentration camp belonged to the Defense Party, with another 10 percent coming from smaller political movements. Noe of the Husseini-backed people were sent to the camp.
The UK was not the only power helping the Mufti in 1936. The USSR-sponsored Communist Party of Palestine also did its part. After the 1929 massacres (including the slaughter of 68 Jews in Hebron), the Communist Party issued a statement that “revolutionary movement without pogroms [anti-Semitic riots] is impossible.” The Communists even considered the Mufti “too moderate”in his fight against Jews.
In the run-up to the 1936-39 riots, the Palestinian leader began coordinating the organization of anti-Jewish violence. In November 1935, Communists declared that Zionists were killing Arabs, helping the Mufti’s propaganda campaign to spark Arab rage against the Jews. On the eve of the first riots, Communists met al-Husseini to work out the final terms of their roles in the upcoming violence. Communist Party member Nimr Uda became the intelligence chief for the Mufti’s military units. Another Communist representative, Fuad Nasir, was named deputy to Abdul Qadir Husseini, commander of Arab fighters in the southern West Bank.
By 1937, Britain realized the Mufti was sponsoring the violence not just against Jews, but against the English as well. Al-Husseini fled Jerusalem and settled in Lebanon. So glad were the British to see the Mufti leave that they did not even bother to ask the French powers governing Lebanon to extradite him.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to please the Arabs, the UK’s Peel Commission violated the League of Nations Mandate by offering a proposal to divide the land designated as the “Jewish National Home” by the League of Nations Mandate of 1922. Instead, under the Peel Commission proposal of 1937, only a small part of the land would become the Jewish state.
A year later, the Peel Commission issued another proposal, with even less land offered to Jews. Some time after that, the British issued the White Paper of 1939 rejecting the idea of a Jewish National Home and severely restricting Jewish immigration. It was hoped for in London that such concessions to Arab nationalists would appease al-Husseini and his supporters. Yet, only two years after the White Paper, the Mufti would come back to strike the British again.
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In 1940 it looked as if Hitler’s armada was unstoppable. Having already conquered France, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, Hitler and his friends in Italy, Spain and the occupied countries were clearly the rulers of continental Europe. Hitler had also allied himself with the USSR under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 which divided Eastern Europe by giving the Baltic states and parts of Poland and Romania to the USSR, while letting the Germans take over western Poland, Romania and other European nations.
Meanwhile, the Japanese were the dominant force of Asia, seemingly set to impose their control on that continent. Britain’s Winston Churchill stood virtually alone against the Fascist onslaught, with the United States mired in radical isolationism, refusing to take part in what many Americans saw as a European war.
The one region where the British still had significant influence was the Middle East. Hitler set out to change that. Al-Husseini wanted to get rid of the Hashemite-clan rulers in Iraq and Transjordan. Both men wanted to get rid of the Jews and the Brits. It was a marriage made in heaven.
Despite boasting a powerful navy, the United Kingdom had an army that was modest in size and spread too thin. The Middle East, especially Iraq, seemed likely to be the next pawn to fall to the Third Reich.
In 1940, King Ghazi (son of King Faisal I) died, leaving only his four-year-old son to govern. Emir Abdul-Illah, the regent for the young Iraqi king, felt the need to bring Rashid Ali al-Kaylani into the government as the prime minister, despite the latter’s support for Nazi Germany and links with al-Husseini. The new head of state immediately shifted the policies of Iraq in favor of Nazi Germany, guaranteeing suply of natural resources to Hitler and refusing to cut ties with Italy. The former Mufti of Jerusalem and his surrogates frequently acted as the government’s representatives with foreigners. Kaylani also asked from Hitler the right to “deal with Jews” in Arab states – a request that was granted.
Britain responded with severe economic sanctions which, coupled with the UK’s initial defeat of German forces in North Africa and pressure from the Iraqi royal family, brought down the pro-German government on January 31, 1941. Kaylani and other pro-Axis Iraqis, under the influence of al-Husseini, conspired, unsuccessfully, to murder Abdul-Illah. But thanks to widespread support for Kaylani among government officials, he was back in power two months later.
As one of its first acts, the restored pro-German administration sent its artillery to attack the British air base at Habbaniya, causing the Brits to respond by invading Basra. The hoped-for support from Nazi Germany never came and Kaylani eventually fled to Saudi Arabia.
Haj Amin al-Husseini, who issued a fatwa (Islamic religious ruling) calling on all Muslims to help the pro-Axis government in Iraq, became one of England’s most wanted men. In May 1941, a group of Jewish fighters, including David Raziel, leader of the right-wing Irgun, set out for Iraq to assassinate the former Mufti on a mission sponsored by the Churchill government. The mission ended prematurely when Raziel was killed by a bomb dropped from a German plane. Aware that his life was in danger, al-Husseini fled to Europe dressed as a woman.
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On November 28, 1941 the former Mufti was officially received by Hitler, who agreed to establish a bureau for al-Husseini which was used to spread propaganda on behalf of Nazi Germany, organize spy rings in Europe and the Middle East, and, most importantly, establish Muslim Nazi SS divisions and Wehrmacht units in Bosnia, the Balkans, North Africa and Nazi-occupied parts of the Soviet Union. After the meeting, the Mufti was also named SS gruppenfuehrer by Heinrich Himmler and referred to as the “Fuhrer of the Arab World” by Hitler himself.
The largest Muslim Nazi SS unit was the 13th division, known as Hanjar. Husseini also encouraged the creation of smaller, less efficient units, including the Waffen SS divisions known as Skanderbeg (made up predominantly of Albanians) and Kama (made up mostly of Yugoslavian Muslims). Thus, Hitler’s Mufti organized or encouraged three out of 27 Waffen SS divisions formed before 1945 (eleven other SS divisions were formed in 1945, but most of these were of questionable caliber and accepted soldiers of questionable skill).
According to the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, al-Husseini “organized in record time” Croatian units that went on to massacre hundreds of thousands of Serbian Orthodox Christians. Jacenovac, the third largest death camp, where more than 200,000 people met their death, was run by Croatian Ante Pavelic with the aid of al-Husseini. In all, at least 800,000 Yugoslavian civilians were murdered by Pavelic’s pro-Axis Ustaschi regime.
Despite the relative inefficiency of the Hanjar division and the total incompetence of the other two divisions, it can still be said that the units established and encouraged by the “Fuhrer of the Arab World” played a significant role in the genocide. Tens of thousands of Jews outside Yugoslavia also perished when the Mufti argued against trading them for German POWs held by the Allies.
Al-Husseini opened a North African Bureau in Germany with the goal of recruiting 500,000 Arab soldiers from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. The plan failed when German forces were forced to withdraw from much of North Africa after a successful British operation.
But an Arab Legion was founded, and it fought under the German flag. Arab soldiers had hoped to fight in the Middle East but were instead sent to the Russian front, where they were completely wiped out while fighting in the Caucasus region. Some time later, in responseto the British decision to create a Jewish Brigade made up of some of the 26,000 Palestinian Jews who had fought under the United Kingdom’s flag, the Mufti convinced the Germans to create an Arab Brigade. The unit, however, either did not fight or was not very efficient because very little is known about it.
The Mufti also made a particularly strong effort to recruit Soviet Muslims. “It was largely due to Haj Amin’s propaganda that on the arrival of German armies in the northern Caucasus in 1942, five indigene tribes – the Chechens, the Ingushes, the Balkars, the Karachais, and the Kabardines – welcomed them with bread and salt,” wrote Joseph Schechtman in The Mufti and the Fuhrer. Stalin’s response was deadly. Caucasian Muslims, including nearly all Chechens and Ingush, were exiled from their land, with up to a third dying as a result of inhumane treatment by Soviet authorities.
The Mufti was similarly instrumental in the recruitment of the Azerbaijani battalion, which “proved their valor, were included in German Storm Troops and decorated by the German Army,” according to a November 1943 broadcast by DNB, the German News Agency. The Mufti’s representatives in Central Asia recruited some Muslim fighters for Nazi Germany there as well, despite widespread sympathy among the majority of Central Asian Muslims for the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust.
The Mufti’s hatred of the West was matched only by his hatred of the Jews. It is not a coincidence that Germany suddenly abandoned the policy of expelling Jews and adopted far harsher methods a short time after the Mufti arrived in Germany. When Haj Amin came to Germany again, the Nazis decided to execute the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.
“The Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry,” reported Eichmann’s deputy, Dieter Wisliceny. “[He had] played a role in the decision to exterminate the European Jews. The importance of this role must not be disregarded…. The Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry.”
We do not know if al-Husseini played a major role in shaping the Final Solution. “There is, however,” wrote Joseph Schechtman, “abundant first-hand evidence of the part the Mufti played in making foolproof the ban on emigration (of Jews out of Germany).”
When the war ended, al-Husseini returned to the Middle East as a hero. On October 1, 1948, he was proclaimed the president of the government of All-Palestine. The government was fictional, however, because it did not control any land and was recognized by only a handful of Arab nations. In 1959 it was dispersed by its sponsor, Egypt.
By that time, however, another member of the al-Husseini clan was planning terror. Around the same time that the All-Palestine government was disbanded, a man by the name of Muhammad Abd al-Rahman ar-Rauf al-Qudwah al-Husaini – better known as Yasir Arafat – was busy organizing Fatah, which would go on to become the main faction of the PLO.David Storobin, Esq., is a New York attorney who is currently writing a book titled “The Root Cause: The Rise of Fundamentalist Islam and its Threat to the World.” He is also editor-in-chief of the Global Politician (GlobalPolitician.com), an online journal of politics, economics and world affairs.