Aug. 8, 2019
When Jews and Arabs Fought Together Against the Nazis – Nadav Shragai (Israel Hayom)
Thousands of Arabs and Jews from Mandatory Palestine fought side by side in the British Army in World War II against the Nazis. Mustafa Abbasi, a professor of history at Tel-Hai Academic College, has personally interviewed or secured testimonies from dozens of Palestinians who served in the British army in World War II and fought alongside Jews, including Arabs from Jaffa, Jerusalem, Safed, Jenin, and Nablus. Tiberias alone supplied hundreds of Arab volunteers.
In all, some 12,000 Arabs from Mandatory Palestine volunteered for the British army during World War II, approximately half the number of Jewish volunteers who joined up. Approximately 300 died in battle and hundreds were captured. Relations between the Jewish and Arab volunteers were mostly good.
At the time, the Arab population in pre-state Israel was split between the Husseinis, under Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini – a Nazi partner – and the Nashashibi clan, who openly supported the British and usually maintained good ties with the Jewish population.
“About 60% [of the Arabs] supported the British and opposed the Husseinis. A large part was pro-Jew and pro-British and was even willing to compromise and accept the Partition Plan. In contrast to what we were erroneously taught in school, not all of them worshiped the Mufti Husseini,” Abbasi says.
Although many volunteers were motivated by money, there were those who signed up because of ideology, because they opposed the Nazi ideal of a master race and believed in the British and their values. “When the Italians bombed Tel Aviv and Jaffa and Haifa, hundreds were killed, both Jews and Arabs,” Abbasi notes.
Abbasi has discovered that several dozen Jews and Arabs fought together alongside British troops at the First Battle of El Alamein in Egypt in July 1942. Jews and Arabs fought together against the Nazis in Italy and Greece, and a few also took part in the Allied invasion at Normandy in 1944. In the Middle East Commando unit, 240 Jews and 120 Arabs served under British commanders.
The writer, a veteran Israeli journalist, is a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.