1948 Arab-Israel war a continuation of Nazi war

article by the scholar Mattias Kuntzel posits the intriguing thesis  that an Arab war against the United Nations’ 1947 
decision in favour of the partition of Mandatory Palestine was not
inevitable. It deals with the after-effects of Nazi anti-Zionist
propaganda in the Arab world and the antisemitic campaign of the Mufti
of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin el-Husseini, who was supported by the Muslim
. The expulsion of the Jews in Arab lands was a direct result of the Arab resolve to go to war. 

The Mufti: his wartime antisemitism was redirected against Israel

Even though the Arab world rejected the Partition Plan, there was at
the same time a general reluctance to go to war, not only among the
Arabs in Palestine but also among the governments of major Arab League
states such as Egypt. It was the mobilization of the Muslim Brotherhood
that caused the Arab League to embrace the Mufti, a Nazi-collaborator
and war criminal, as leader of the Palestinian Arabs. By staging
destabilizing mass demonstrations and a murderous campaign of
intimidation, Hajj Amin el-Husseini and the Muslim Brotherhood dragged
Egypt and other Arab states into a full-scale war against the Jews of
Mandatory Palestine. The inability of key Arab actors to stand their
ground, combined with the cowardice of the Western powers who tacitly
anticipated a Jewish defeat, paved the way for one of the most fateful
turning points in twentieth-century history, one that has shaped the
Middle East conflict to the present.

The Setting: On 29 November 1947 over two-thirds of the United Nations membership
voted in favor of General Assembly Resolution 181 proposing a partition
of Palestine: 56% of the mandate territory was assigned to a Jewish
state and 43% to an Arab state, with Jerusalem under international
The Jews in Palestine danced for joy in the streets all night. The
following day, eight Jews were murdered in three Palestinian Arab
attacks. The Arab war to prevent the implementation of the UN resolution
had begun.

The struggle lasted an entire year. The first phase of the war was
conducted by irregular Arab guerrilla groups and units. The second phase
began on 14 May 1948. During the afternoon of that day, David Ben
Gurion announced the birth of the State of Israel. Around midnight the
country was invaded from the north by Syrian and Lebanese units, from
the east by Jordanian troops and from the south by the Egyptian army.2
As the British Mandate had ended on the same day, there was no one to
stop them. Some 6,000 Jews and an unknown number of Arabs lost their
lives before the first ceasefire agreements were signed at the beginning
of 1949.3

While this war has been the subject of a vast literature, scholars
have not devoted sufficient attention to the reasons why the Arabs chose
war. This issue requires renewed examination in the light of the
disclosure of important new evidence. In recent years our understanding
of the scale and significance of Nazi antisemitic propaganda directed at
the Arab world has been enriched by several major new studies.4
Furthermore, there has been important new research on the role of Hajj
Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem and of the Muslim Brotherhood.5
As a consequence, the assertion by Jamal el-Husseini, a cousin of the
Mufti, that “the Arabs are not antisemitic, but anti-Zionist” is no
longer a convincing argument.6
We now understand that there has been and there still exists an
anti-Zionist antisemitism in which everything that antisemites
traditionally attribute to “World Jewry” is projected onto the Jewish
State of Israel.7

The above raises the following questions: Are there elements of
continuity between the Nazi war of 1939-45 and the subsequent Arab war
against Israel? If so, what do they reveal about the history of the era?
I hope that this paper will stimulate further research into these

Who Wanted War in 1947? The Arab world was unanimous in its public rejection of the UN Partition Plan. According to the Middle East Journal,
early in 1948, “even those Arabs who sincerely hoped for an eventual
understanding with the Jews of Palestine could see no reasonable basis
for acquiescence in the partition scheme.”8
After the First World War, many Arabs considered that they had been
betrayed by the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 by which Britain
and France had designated their respective spheres of influence,
disregarding the prospect of independence that London had been holding
out to the Arabs. Following the Second World War, according to the Middle East Journal,
“Palestine had become the test of the Arabs‘ independence; to surrender
would mean a repetition of the defeat which had come upon them after
World War I.”9

More controversial, however, was the question of whether military
force should be used to thwart a two-state solution. In 1947 most Arabs
in Mandatory Palestine were opposed to war. Tens of thousands of them
had found work in Jewish-dominated economic sectors such as citrus fruit
production. Moreover, they were aware of the Zionists’ military
strength. As Ben Gurion noted in February 1948, “most of the Palestinian
Arabs refused, and still refuse, to be drawn into fighting.”10
In his groundbreaking study of Palestinian collaborators, Hillel Cohen
introduces many examples of stubborn resistance on the part of
Palestinian Arabs to their leaders’ calls to arms, of non-aggression
pacts with nearby Jewish communities and of denial of assistance to the
Mufti’s forces.

There were even cases where Arabs actively supported
Jewish fighters.11
There was a similar absence of war-like intentions in the Arab League
states of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Transjordan, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. In
August 1946, the Jewish Agency reported that “the Egyptians agree that
there is no other acceptable solution to the Palestine question except
partition.” 12

Such views were no longer openly expressed after the UN partition
resolution. However, in December 1947 both Egypt and Saudi Arabia flatly
rejected the possibility of military intervention.13
The Arab League repeated that position as well. Although it was agreed
that recruitment centers for guerrilla volunteers should be established
in Palestine, no further measures were taken. Indeed, in February 1948,
Abd al-Rahman Azzam, Secretary-General of the Arab League, defined “the
conflict in Palestine as a civil war into which they would send their
regular troops only if foreign armies were to get involved and implement
the partition by force.”14
In light of the international support for partition, such caution was
understandable. “It would be a dangerous and tragic precedent if a
General Assembly resolution were to be thwarted by force,” the UN
Palestine Commission asserted in February 1948.15 At the same time, the United States designated any attempt to change the decision by force as an “act of aggression.”16

Foreign policy considerations, however, were not the only reason for
the Arab League’s cautious stance. In private, some Arab leaders were
not as unhappy with the partition plan as their public statements
suggested. As Transjordan’s ruler King Abdullah stated: “The partition
of Palestine was the only viable solution to the conflict.”17
The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Abd al-Rahman Azzam,
expressed a similar view. According to a Jewish Agency report of August
1946, “there was only one solution, in his view, and that was partition…
But as Secretary of the Arab League he could not appear before the
Arabs as the initiator of such a proposal.”18
Therefore, “before the Arabs” Azzam placed exactly the opposite
position on the agenda. In conclusion, while the Arab world unanimously
rejected partition in public, it was divided regarding embarking upon a
regular war. Why then did this war – so costly for both sides – take
place? Why, out of a range of possible responses to the partition, did
the most extreme, that of Hajj Amin el-Husseini, prevail? We must now
look at his activities prior to the outbreak of the war.

Preparing for War: On 28 November 1941, Adolf Hitler assured his guest, the Mufti of
Jerusalem, that as soon as the Wehrmacht reached the southern gates of
the Caucasus, “Germany’s objective would then be solely the destruction
of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere.”
Three years later, with defeat looming, the Nazis started looking
toward the post-war period. Europe may have been in ruins, but there was
still a will to prevent the emergence of a Jewish state even after the
defeat of Germany. The following excerpt from the Mufti’s memoirs is

In 1944, “Germany agreed to supply us with arms for the approaching
tasks, and to this end created a large store with light arms suitable
for guerrilla action… In addition, the authorities put at our disposal
four light, four-engine airplanes for the transportation of war materiel
to Palestine, to be stored in secret shelters, for the training of
Palestinian fighters and for their preparation for the battles to
follow.” The material included “tens of thousands of rifles, machine
guns and light weapons and great quantities of equipment and
As part of this effort, in October 1944, five parachutists in German
uniforms landed in the Jordan Valley on a mission to hide boxes of
weapons previously dropped by the Luftwaffe. While these may have been
isolated events, they do indicate that there was a direct link between
the Nazi war effort and the subsequent struggle for Palestine regarding
the supply of weapons.

Similarly, continuity with the Nazis existed on an individual level.
One of the October 1944 parachutists was Ali Salameh, who served as a
major in the Wehrmacht at the time. During the 1947/48 war, he was a
commander in the Mufti’s jihad army (al-jihad al-muqaddas) where he chose another German Wehrmacht officer as his adviser.21
The jihad army’s most famous commander and its leader in Jerusalem, Abd
al-Qadir el-Husseini, had also been a Nazi collaborator who had
participated in the defense of the pro-Nazi regime in Baghdad.

The second volunteer force, the Arab League-sponsored Arab Liberation
Army, was led by another former Wehrmacht officer, Fawzi el-Kawkji.
According to Der Spiegel, “important positions in Fawzi’s
headquarters are occupied by members of the old German Wehrmacht… They
are mainly former soldiers in Rommel’s Africa Corps, escapees from
Egyptian POW camps or Muslim Yugoslavs and Albanians who Jerusalem’s
ex-Mufti had previously recruited to a pro-German Mufti Brigade.” “No
one,” the report continues, “is troubled by the fact that the German
volunteers, as in the old days, have adopted “Die Fahne Hoch” [the Horst
Wessel Song] as their marching song.”22

This report was later confirmed by researchers who found that at
least 520 Bosnians, 67 Albanians and 111 Croatians came to Syria or
Beirut in order to fight in Palestine. For example, on 14 March 1945, “a
party of 67 Albanians, 20 Yugoslavs, and 21 Croats, led by an Albanian
named Derwish Bashaco, arrived by boat in Beirut from Italy. A Haganah
report mentions that there was a German officer among them. They were
hosted by the Palestine Arab Bureau and made their way to Damascus to
join the ALA, &ndash the Arab Liberation Army.23
These former Wehrmacht soldiers did not play a significant military
role, but their presence had a political importance. They embodied the
continuity of the anti-Jewish war of extermination initiated by the
Nazis. The Jews regarded their presence as proof that what was at stake
in the 1947/48 war was nothing less than a repetition or continuation of
the Holocaust.

However, the true embodiment of the continuity between the two wars
was the Mufti himself. His antisemitism, which had cost the lives of
thousands of Jews in 1944, was redirected against Israel in 1948. “Our
battle with World Jewry … is a question of life and death,” Al-Husseini
wrote after his return to Cairo. It is “a battle between two conflicting
faiths, each of which can exist only on the ruins of the other.”24 The Arabs must “together attack the Jews and destroy them as soon as the British forces have withdrawn.”25

Prior to the end of the war on 8 May 1945, the Mufti had, “with
astute foresight,” according to Joseph Schechtman, moved a “large
proportion of his Nazi financial backing” from Germany to Switzerland
and Iraq.26
Moreover, officials in Berlin also entered the post-war period. Why
else would the Foreign Office have signed a contract to continue
subsidizing the Mufti with some 12,000 marks per month after 1 April
1945? The ongoing contractual relationship indicates “that Nazi
officials … hoped to continue their joint or complementary
political-ideological campaign in the post-war period.”27

At the end of May 1946, when the Mufti arrived in Cairo, he had to
remain in hiding for weeks, as he faced charges as a war criminal by
Britain, the United States and Yugoslavia. Therefore, we must ask how he
resumed his position as the leader of the Palestinian Arabs despite his
commitment to the Nazi cause and to the side that had suffered such a
bitter defeat.

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More about Mattias Kuntzel

One Comment

  • 'For example, on 8 September 1943, Radio Berlin asserted that the Jews would not be satisfied until they had made “every territory between the Tigris and the Nile Jewish.” If they succeeded, “there will remain not a single Arab Moslem or Christian in the Arab world. Arabs! Imagine Egypt, Iraq and all the Arab countries becoming Jewish with no Christianity or Islam there.”'

    Look at the irony right here when we know that Islamic regimes are the ones pushing out and destroying Christian and Jewish populations plus others in the quest to be most expansive. Older populations that Islam owes its existence to.

    '“We have decided that Zionism poses a danger not only to Palestine but also to all other Arab countries and to all nations of Islam. Therefore it is the duty of all Arab countries and Islamic countries to resist the danger of Zionism'

    And this seems to be the source of why almost every Muslim in the world blindly supports the Palestinian cause. Because this is a way to defend Islam and every Muslim I've spoken to on the matter (including ex friends of mine) parrot that view. They are still being taught this


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