By Richard Mather
The Palestinian Arabs never miss an opportunity to refer to the Israelis as Nazis. This anti-Semitic trope has gone around the world, with Israeli flags regularly mutilated with swastikas and Jews dubbed Zio-Nazis. But the Palestinian Arabs’ greatest triumph is their success in concealing their role in the Holocaust. Indeed, it was the Palestinian Arab leadership in the 1930s and 1940s that colluded and collaborated with Hitler. And it wasn’t just their leaders who admired the Nazis. The Arab people and the Arab media were enthusiastic supporters of Hitler and his virulent brand of anti-Semitism.
In 1938, French magazine Marianne published an article revealing the Palestinian Arabs’ incredible enthusiasm for Hitler. The magazine reported that in the town of Nablus, the Arab population “received British troops with shouts of ‘Heil Hitler’.” Marianne also revealed to the French public that a number of Arab journals were regularly publishing racist editorials but also large portraits of Third Reich leaders. According to the magazine, the Arab newspapers “do not even try to conceal the fact that they have become pupils of the Ministry of Propaganda in Berlin.”
This wasn’t the first display of Palestinian affection for the Fuhrer. When Hitler proclaimed the Nuremberg Race Laws in 1935, a number of Palestinian Arabs sent telegrams congratulating him. Two years later, on the occasion of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, photographs of Hitler and Mussolini, as well as Nazi flags, were carried by Arab demonstrators in Palestine.
The man who did most to bring Nazism to British Palestine and the Middle East was Haj Muhammad Amin el-Husseini, the exiled Mufti of Jerusalem and spiritual leader of the Palestinians. Nicknamed the Arab fuehrer, Husseini collaborated with the Nazis to an astonishing extent during the 1930s and 1940s, and met Hitler on several occasions. His alliance was so successful that the Nazis declared their readiness to eradicate the Yishuv, the Jewish National Home in Palestine.
Husseini was behind the anti-Jewish riots in 1920-21 and the Hebron massacre a few years later. He believed it was a religious impossibility for Muslims to share the land with Jews. Even areas where Jews formed a majority were considered to be a defilement. In 1929, Husseini distributed pamphlets saying: “O Arabs, do not forget that the Jew is your worst enemy and has been the enemy of your forefathers.” He also announced that the Jews had “violated the honour of Islam.” This led to a pogrom in Jerusalem and a massacre in Hebron, where 60 Jews were killed and the town ethnically cleansed. The British attributed the attacks to “racial animosity on the part of the Arabs.”
This wasn’t the first time the British had encountered Muslim animosity towards the Jews. Following the demise of the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled over Palestine for centuries but had lost the First World War, international law recognised that the Jews in Palestine were there “by right.” The British took control of Palestine in 1917 and some years later established the first Palestinian state of Transjordan. The Jews living in this part of Palestine were told to leave. It soon became clear that any Jewish presence in any part of Palestine was not favoured by the Muslims. Aref Pasha Dajani, the mayor of Jerusalem, declared that it was “impossible” to live alongside the Jews because they “suck the blood of everybody.”
It was as early as 1933 that Husseini was in contact with the new regime in Germany. Within weeks of Hitler’s rise to power, the German consul-general in Palestine sent a telegram to Berlin reporting Husseini’s enthusiasm for Nazism and for the spread of fascism in the Middle East. When Husseini and several Arab sheiks met with the consul-general a few weeks later, he expressed his approval of the anti-Jewish boycott in Germany.
Very soon, the Husseini family had set up the Palestinian Arab Party, which was nicknamed the “Nazi Scouts.” Husseini’s brother, Jamal, was chairman of the Palestine Arab Party and a delegate to his brother’s Arab Higher Committee. It was this committee that led a led a campaign of boycotts and terror against Jews, and the bombings of British offices between 1936 and 1939.
In 1937, Husseini visited the Jerusalem German Consul, where he met with Eichmann to discuss “the Jewish question.” This meeting resulted in the Nazis agreeing to finance Husseini’s pogroms against the Jews in Palestine. Hitler publicly expressed his support for the Palestinian Arabs. This support was motivated by anti-Semitism and a suspicion of Britain’s colonial rule in the Middle East. In a speech made before the Reichstag in 1939, Hitler opined that Palestine is “occupied not by German troops but by the English,” and he accused British troops of oppressing the Arabs for “the benefit of Jewish interlopers.”
Not surprisingly, Husseini was keen to capitalise on the Fuehrer’s sympathy. Under the Mufti’s influence, the Nazi regime gave the go-ahead for the conversion to Islam of 25,000 Nazis in 1939. The newly-formed Jamait-e-Muslimin (“Muslim group”) were sent to Cairo to assist Nazi operations in Egypt, Palestine, Sudan and Transjordan. In the spirit of cultural exchange, a number of young Arabs were given training in Germany and Italy.
Husseini used his influence to promote Arab nationalism in Iraq. Pro-Nazi Muslims, at the behest of Husseini, slaughtered dozens of Jews in Baghdad in 1941. The Farhud or “violent dispossession” was led by the Hitler youth-modeled Iraqi-Arab Futuwwa paramilitary group under the pro-Nazi Iraqi minister of education, Saib Shawkat. The massacre was the beginning of the end of the Jewish community in Iraq, a community that had existed for 2,600 years.
The Mufti travelled to Berlin in November 1941 to meet Hitler and his foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Hitler, apparently impressed by Husseini’s blond hair and blue eyes, believed that “in more than one case the Mufti’s ancestors must have been Aryan.” In his meeting with the Fuehrer, the Mufti stressed that “the Arab peoples are Germany’s natural friends fighting common enemies.” Husseini pressed for a solution regarding the elimination of Jews in Palestine. Hitler, in response, stated “that Germany is committed to the uncompromising struggle against the Jews.”
During the war Al-Husseini spent most of his time in Berlin. The Nazis paid him huge amounts of money, some of which was used to fund the Arab war against the Jews in 1948. He also petitioned the Nazis leadership on several occasions to prevent thousands of Jewish children leaving for Palestine.
In 1941 Husseini began recruiting Bosnian Muslims to the Nazi cause. In a visit to Bosnia, he convinced Muslim leaders that a Muslim S.S. division would be advantageous to Islam. The Bosnian Muslims were organised into several divisions of the Waffen SS and other units. The largest was the 13th Hanzar division, which had more than 21,000 members. Declaring himself the “protector of Islam,” Husseini and his recruits were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Serbian Christians and Jews.
In a speech to his Bosnian Muslim Waffen-SS Division in 1944, Husseini declared that his Bosnian division was an “example for Muslims in all countries”. He continued:
“Many common interests exist between the Islamic world and Greater Germany, and those make cooperation a matter of course […] Further, National Socialist Germany is fighting against world Jewry […] There are also considerable similarities between Islamic principles and those of National Socialism, namely in the affirmation of struggle and fellowship, in stressing leadership, in the ideas of order, in the high valuation of work. All this brings our ideologies close together and facilitates cooperation.”
Muslim soldiers not only helped the Nazis deport Jews in east Europe, they were also involved in the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943. On another occasion, Husseini dispatched his soldiers to Palestine in order to fight the Jews.
The Palestinian Arabs were willing recipients of Nazi funding and propaganda. On July 7th, 1942, the Voice of Free Arabism aired a program titled, “Kill the Jews Before They Kill You.” Husseini was allowed to broadcast from Berlin. One on occasion in 1944 he urged Arabs to “kill Jews wherever you find them for the love of God, history and religion.”
Operation Atlas was eerily prescient of contemporary fears of terrorists obtaining biological weapons. In 1944, at the behest of Husseini, Hitler ordered a five-man team to dump a lethal toxin in the water supply of Tel Aviv. Luckily, the unit, which comprised three Germans and two Arabs, was caught by police in Jericho before they had chance to execute their plan. It is estimated that a quarter of million people would have died if the plot had succeeded.
As well as petitioning the Nazis to halt the emigration of Jewish children to Palestine, Husseini was also complicit in the mass killings of Jews in Europe. According to Klaus Gensicke, who has studied the relationship between the Mufti and the Nazis, Husseini must have known the full extent of the Holocaust. He cites a radio broadcast made on September 20th, 1944. In this broadcast, Husseini urged the Arabs to give up 11 million Jews. The total number of Jews at the beginning of the war was 17 million. Therefore, Husseini must have known that 6 million Jews had already perished at the hands of the Nazis. Gensicke also points out that Husseini used very similar language when referring to the mass murder of Jews. While the Nazis spoke of a “Final Solution,” Husseini referred to a “Definitive Solution.”
Indeed, Husseini made several visits to the camps. He is known to have visited Auschwitz at least once, as well as Sachsenhausen and Majdanek. Husseini was apparently impressed by what he saw and gloated over the deaths of the Jews. He deliberated the possibility of building a concentration camp in the Palestinian town of Nablus.
It could be argued that it was Husseini’s fanatical hatred of Jews that encouraged the Nazis to press on with their plan to make Europe Judenrein (“Jew free”). According to testimony given at Nuremberg by Dieter Wisliceny, Adolf Eichmann’s deputy, 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.”
There is no doubt that had the war gone Hitler’s way, Husseini would have been able to execute his ‘Definitive Solution’ in Palestine, probably starting with a concentration camp in Nablus. The fact that his first task in Europe was to press Mussolini, and then Hitler, for their support in his vision of a Jew-free Palestine strongly suggests that the Holocaust would not have ended in Europe in 1945 but would have continued for several more years across the Middle East and North Africa. It goes without saying that a world run by Hitler and Husseini would not be a world in which the State of Israel exists. (Following the Second World War, Egypt’s King Farouk I attempted to build an anti-Israel army comprising German spies, SS generals and Nazi propagandists. Meanwhile, Syria hired around fifty Nazis between 1948-9, including many former SS soldiers and Holocaust functionaries.)
In his memoirs, Husseini wrote: “Our fundamental position 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 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’.”
Husseini’s legacy is considerable. Having escaped to Egypt, Husseini used his influence to persuade the Arabs to reject the UN’s partition plan, the source of today’s Israeli-Palestinian crisis. He also encouraged the participation of Egypt in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Hassan Al-Banna, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood (which went on to form Hamas in 1987), hoped that Husseini would continue Hitler’s war on the Jews. He wasn’t disappointed. The Arab League, co-founded by Husseini, was involved in all major wars against Israel, as well as the two Intifadas.
Husseini also had disciples who would continue his work. Husseini’s nephew, Yasser Arafat, began working for the Mufti when he was 16. Arafat was involved in the Mufti’s covert terrorist network and assisted in the smuggling of weapons to attack Jewish settlers in Palestine. Arafat, who went on to become the chairman of the PLO and president of the Palestinian Authority, considered Husseini to be a hero of the Palestinians.
Another of Husseini’s disciples was Albert Huber, a Swiss-German journalist who converted to Islam in 1962 and became increasingly sympathetic to both Arab nationalism and Nazism. Like Husseini, Huber believed Nazism and Islam shared the same ideologies and he spent much of his life advancing the Nazi-Islam axis. Huber not only admired Osama bin Laden, he also met with bin Laden sympathizers in Lebanon before 9/11. Two months after the attack on New York, Huber was accused by the US government of funding Al Qaeda.
Husseini was the Middle East’s answer to Hitler. He had the support of fellow Muslim leaders and the backing of the Palestinians, who were very amenable to Nazism. Palestinian scholar Edward Said, who is no friend of Israel, has conceded that Husseini “represented the Palestinian Arab national consensus.” He had “the backing of political parties that functioned in Palestine,” and was “recognised in some form by Arab governments as the voice of the Palestinian people.”
There is no doubt that Husseini’s pathological hatred for Jews and Zionism, as well as his admiration for Nazism, left a deep impression on his followers. His influence can be detected in the rejectionist policies of the PLO and Hamas, the violent uprisings of 1987 and 2000, and the anti-Semitic hate speech of radical clerics that permeates the airwaves in the Palestinian territories.
For decades, the Palestinian Arabs have been in a state of war with the Israeli people. The widespread desire to see Israel wiped off the face of the map is a continuation of Hitler’s vision of a world without Jews. The Palestinians’ unwillingness to admit their Nazi past is perhaps not surprising as it would destroy their credibility as victims, a status they have been honing for several decades. (Bizarrely, the Nazis also claimed they were the victims of the Jews.) Due to the malevolent influence of Husseini and other Nazi sympathisers in the Middle East, the spirit of Hitler lives on.
Palestinian nationalism is not only historically intertwined with the Nazis, it is Nazism’s immediate successor.