OpinionIsrael at War

100 days after Oct. 7, Part 2: Inconvenient history

From the SS Einsatzgruppen to Hamas.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini visits a Galilee village on April 23, 1947. Photo: The IDF and Defense Establishment Archives in Tel Hashomer (Tel Aviv).
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini visits a Galilee village on April 23, 1947. Photo: The IDF and Defense Establishment Archives in Tel Hashomer (Tel Aviv).
Gwythian Prins
Gwythian Prins
Gwythian Prins is Research Professor Emeritus at the London School of Economics and a past member of the British Chief of the Defence Staff's Strategy Advisory Panel.

On Oct. 7, 2023, death, torture and abduction ended an era in Israel that began in 1948. The hopes and ambitions for peace springing from Camp David and the Oslo Accords, all the rational faith in diplomacy through the quadrilles of the chanceries, were set back to nothing. That realization is seeping across the traumatized populace of Israel. Nothing can ever be the same again.

The phone videos show smiling young people at, ironically, a music festival close to the Gaza border, swaying to music in the desert dawn as specks in the sky grow larger. They materialize as the first wave of the attack, the terrorists with automatic rifles, in motorized paragliders, who start to kill from the sky, soon followed, through defenses breached by bulldozers, by ground assault teams on motorcycles and in light trucks. They, in turn, were followed by thousands of men who would murder, rape, torture, burn babes alive, mutilate and kidnap hostages like Noa Argamani, seized and filmed pleading for her life on the back of a motorbike driven away by a burly Gazan.

There is no secret about the regional history, but it is tangled and too often treated as inconvenient. Customary international law and written League of Nations texts subsequently incorporated by the United Nations hold that Israel, since its re-establishment, has the agreed right to “defensible borders” and an Article 51 U.N. Charter sovereign right of self-defense. The only point under endless contestation is where those borders should run.

The inter-war litany of letters, conferences, mandates and commissions of inquiry is as familiar as it is convoluted: McMahon-Hussein; Sykes-Picot; San Remo; the Balfour Declaration; the June 1922 White Paper reversed in the July 1922 League of Nations Mandate to Britain, which incorporated the Balfour Declaration, Article 2 instructing the mandate power to bring Balfour’s main object of permitting the re-creation of the Jewish homeland in Palestine into effect. Then came a further about-face with the Passfield White Paper of October 1930. Next the Arab Revolt of 1936 brought the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, to the fore as chairman of the Arab Higher Committee—his only formal role but not his only role in Middle East history: in his lifetime he never had any substantive claim to speak for all Arabs.

The 1936 Arab Revolt was ignited by followers of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, a Jew-hating Syrian preacher, like-minded with al-Husseini, whom the British had killed in November 1935. The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas—presently led Mohammed Deif, who is listed as a “specially designated global terrorist” by America—are named after him. Another about-face, in reaction to the Revolt, came with the Peel Commission of 1937, which deemed the Mandate impossible to maintain and therefore partition essential, but on terms aligned to Balfour. It indicated the need for expelling Arabs from Jewish lands.

Another Arab revolt, intensified, was examined by the Woodhead Commission, which once more reversed British support for a Jewish homeland. The principles of that pro-Arab switch—inscribed in the May 1939 White Paper and during the Second World War—brought armed Zionists into violent conflict with the British. As authorities for the British Mandate in charge of the area at the time, they strove to prevent Jewish refugees escaping the Holocaust from reaching or settling in what was then called Palestine.

Meanwhile, contrariwise, the Palestine Jewish Brigade fought with the Allies against the Nazis. In this manner, crabwise, by agonized degrees, the region reached the end of the British Mandate and the re-establishment in 1948 of the State of Israel, born in war and, through a sequence of existential wars—1948, 1956, 1967, 1973—plus many continuous lower-level operations, to today’s “Operation Swords of Iron” in Gaza.

It is no secret that Tehran pulls the strings of its puppets Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Yemenite Houthis, as demonstrated by the role and death of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps senior adviser General Seyed Razi Mousavi in a pinpoint Israeli Air Force airstrike in a Damascus suburb on Dec. 25, 2023. It is also no secret that Arabs are present within the former British Mandate areas because in 1948 their leaders and spokesmen, including the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, rejected the solution of a two-state partition that the newly-minted “United Nations” offered and which Israel’s first premier, David Ben-Gurion, had been willing to accept, imperfect as it was in terms of both patrimonial claims and defensibility.

It is important to remember that these are thrice legitimate Jewish lands: once from original patrimony; once by international mandate and the third time by force of arms after successfully countering assaults in 1948, 1967 and 1973. Antisemitic exceptionalism, however, means that only the Jewish state is not allowed to enjoy the peace of victory that winning wars brings to other nations.

Hajj Amin al-Husseini rejected this “two-state solution” in 1947. He preferred to call for “the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere under the protection of British power” (not his words but Hitler’s) to which disobligingly, by force of arms, the Israelis declined to agree. In consequence, for four generations, those Arabs whose chance for a flourishing future the Mufti and his colleagues betrayed, have since been trapped in the grim limbo of the deliberately maintained pressure-cooker camps of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In UNRWA schools in Gaza, they are taught the Muslim Brotherhood credo to prefer death by martyrdom over life.

Graduates of those schools most likely include those who committed the Oct. 7 attacks. The BBC has used UNRWA voices—preferably, it seems, antipodean ones—as purportedly objective third-party commentators. That is deeply irresponsible journalism, and the BBC most likely knows why that is so. Sadly, UNRWA is deeply, perhaps irremediably, prejudiced.

There is also no secret that many regional states have grown tired of “the Palestinians”—a name shared with Jews and Christians during the British Mandate for Palestine until 1948 but now appropriated by Arabs alone. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will no more accept Israel’s right to exist than do Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar. Not surprisingly, the drafter of the 1964 Palestinian National Covenant, Ahmed Shukairy, first chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), was an aide to the Grand Mufti, as is obvious from its uncompromising fundamentalism. Article 20, for instance, states:

“The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine and everything that has been based on them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood.”

Thus, according to the Covenant and echoing the Mufti in 1943, which we shall come to shortly, there is not, and cannot anywhere be a Jewish state in this world. It is what is written: here we are told that Jews in Palestine are incompatible with “true statehood,” and the Mufti will tell us that it is Allah’s will that Jews shall remain forever stateless. Eternally, the Wandering Jew. Like a dark angel, the double helix always hovers over the Arab view of this history.

Ever since the Abraham Accords were adopted on Sept. 15, 2020, many regional states have shown that they would prefer to skirt around the ever-rejectionist “Palestinians” and to normalize relations with the amazing mighty midget Israel, which is the region’s creative powerhouse in every cultural and technological domain, as well as, by necessity, its dominant military power. Most significantly that includes the Saudis, whom Iran’s ayatollahs have declared their sworn enemies.

Therefore, if we seek for the proximate geopolitical cause of Oct. 7 we are looking at a salamander deliberately biting its own tail. It was Iran’s intention to smash that rapprochement, if possible. It may well not be possible. The Abraham Accords were one of the triumphs of the Trump administration; and it should not be assumed that they have been obliterated. For evidence, look only at the arrivals and departure boards at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport. As Western airlines since Oct. 7 have suspended flights to Israel, the same is not true for Etihad from Abu Dhabi or Emirates from Dubai. Note also Saudi restraint, particularly in the Red Sea in respect of U.S. and U.K. naval action against Houthi missiles and boats, made necessary by epic geopolitical bungling by both Iran and the Biden administration.

It was President Joe Biden’s disastrous incompetence in de-listing Ansar Allah (“the Houthis”) from its proscribed status as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) on Feb. 12, 2021, presumably as part of an unwise attempt to resurrect former President Barack Obama’s misconceived 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear diplomacy with Iran’s ayatollahs, who are a regime with which diplomacy alone cannot be a viable option. The “Iran deal,” as it was called, signaled Western fecklessness or—in the hard eyes of Islamists—weakness.

Biden combined Obama’s Iran foolishness with withdrawing armament supplies from Saudi Arabia, which was seeking to suppress the Houthis. He thus drove Saudi towards the Chinese Communist Party for supplies. His Red Sea blunder over the Houthis was a twin to his shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan, which fired the starting gun for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s revived “interest” in Taiwan, and Iran’s increased expansion to create a “Shi’ite crescent,” a process which had never stopped. Re-proscribing the Houthis now, as has just happened, is to shut the stable door long after the horse has bolted.

Hamas, the acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement), and Al Qaeda and Islamic State are all the spawn of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, an admirer of Hitler. After al-Banna’s assassination in 1949, his successor, the more intellectual and even more remorseless Sayyid Qutb became the ideologue of the Brotherhood.

Qutb’s many works, notably “Milestones,” describe the stark division of the world into the realm of the Muslim righteous and that of unbelief and chaos—jahiliyyah—of the Christians, Jews and other “unbelievers.” His doctrine of Salafist jihadism was the well-spring for Al Qaeda, for Islamic State and for the Hamas Charter of 1988, which is uncompromisingly antisemitic to its core. Article 7, for example, quotes a Muslim hadith [the acts and sayings of Muhammad]:

“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

As evidence of the fabricated Jewish ambition to occupy all lands from the Nile to the Euphrates, Article 32 cites “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the most notorious (and faked) antisemitic libel that emerged from the disintegration of Tsarist Russia.

Yet in all the intertwined and contested origins story, it is the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who for present purposes is our leading Person of Interest.

Hajj Amin al-Husseini was a friend of al-Banna, a member of the Brotherhood and was, for a period, within its leadership. He was a practical as well as passionate antisemite, an unconditional supporter of the Third Reich and also a boastful self-promoter.

During the war, the Mufti and his entourage lived in Berlin in fine style on an annual budget of 4,993,860 Reichsmarks ($1,997,544 at prevailing exchange rate). His personal Nazi stipend was 802,200 Reichsmarks ($320,000). Only few foreign supporters of the Third Reich were so embraced; and the Nazis made a huge investment in him. Al-Husseini served as a Nazi propagandist. However, Hitler was not naïve about the Mufti’s self-promotion, as his conduct towards him showed.

The Mufti went to see Hitler on Nov. 28, 1941 to drink lemonade (Hitler disliked coffee in his presence) and to congratulate Hitler on his work in killing Jews. He sought audience to offer material Arab support to the Nazi war effort—the invasion of the USSR was reaching furthest penetration close to Moscow and the Einsatzgruppen (the genocide liquidation squads) were hard at work. According to an official German record of the meeting, he told Hitler that:

“The Arabs were Germany’s natural friends because they had the same enemies as had Germany, namely the English, the Jews and the Communists. Therefore they were prepared to cooperate with Germany with all their hearts and stood ready to participate in the war, not only negatively by the commission of acts of sabotage and the instigation of revolutions, but also positively by the formation of an Arab Legion.”

In March 1943, Heinrich Himmler, commander of the SS, together with a group of Muslims, asked that the Mufti might assist in raising a Bosnian Muslim SS Division. It was incorporated into the SS order of battle as the 13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar (1st Croatian). But in the winter of 1941 the Mufti’s heart’s desire was different.

On Nov. 28, al-Husseini twice requested but did not obtain from Hitler a “counter Balfour” written declaration, even as a secret document. Hitler was wary of him. However, Hitler did state to him verbally, for the record, that once German forces commanded the Middle East theater, Germany’s objective would be “solely the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere under the protection of British power. In that hour the Mufti would be the most authoritative spokesman for the Arab world.”

Yet, this was by no means the end of the matter. Others in the Nazi High Command were more willing to indulge the Mufti and, it seems, were considerable enthusiasts for Islam. Most notable among them was Himmler, who regarded Islam as a “manly and soldierly” religion. He wrote that Muslim men would make excellent SS soldiers because Islam “promises them Heaven if they fight and are killed in action.” Therefore, on the 26th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, on Nov. 2, 1943, the Nazis laid on an extravagant, broadcast “protest rally” at the Luftwaffe Hall in Berlin at which al-Husseini was the star and to which representatives from across the Muslim world were invited.

The event is described in detail by the historian Joel Fishman in “Heinrich Himmler’s Telegram“; the most sensational news in his article was that on March 29, 2017, the National Library of Israel had discovered the original of the telegram which Himmler sent to the Grand Mufti for his rally: a text which al-Husseini had read out (as has long been known).

It was the “anti-Balfour” document that al-Husseini had long craved. In it, Himmler applauded “the firm foundation of the natural alliance between National-Socialist Greater Germany and the freedom-loving Muslims of the whole world” and “followed with special sympathy the struggle of the freedom-loving Arabs, foremost in Palestine, against the Jewish intruders.” He commiserated on the anniversary of the “wretched Balfour declaration” and extended “heartfelt greetings and wishes for the successful pursuit of your struggle.” The Grand Mufti could hardly have asked for more.

In his platform speech, al-Husseini responded by stating that Germany “understood the Jews perfectly and decided to find a final solution to the Jewish menace, which will contain their mischief in the world” and, in another incendiary passage that still burns down the years, claimed that “Allah has determined that there never will be a stable arrangement for the Jews, and that no state should be established for them.” This, according to Fishman, is the moment of fusion between religion and politics that created Islamism.

Thus, in antisemitic ideology, in the genocidal antisemitic mission and in studied and consistent inhumanity, the inconvenient history which can be traced in evidence from the SS liquidation task forces—the Einsatzgruppen—to Hamas, is detailed, documented and direct.

One hundred days after Oct. 7, Part 1: Double Helix over Gaza” is available here.

Originally published by The Gatestone Institute.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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