On the morning of October 7, waves of Hamas death squads entered Israel for the sole purpose of murdering defenseless Jews. The leaders of the Islamist terrorist movement were so confident they were on the right side of history that they boasted about their atrocities, released graphic videos of butchered Jewish mothers and babies, and then promised to do it again. Unfortunately, they weren’t entirely wrong in their assessment of the likely world reaction. At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council two weeks after the massacre, Secretary General Antonio Guterres opined that the “attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.” Guterres also repeated the 56-year-old UN mantra that “the only realistic foundation for a true peace and stability [is] a two-state solution.” Too bad the secretary general didn’t identify the party to the conflict that is doctrinally opposed (through its founding charter) to any statehood at all for the Jewish people.
It means little that Guterres later tried to walk his comments back somewhat. The widely circulated statement by the head of the world body represented a previously unimaginable propaganda victory for Hamas and the other Palestinian terror groups. And since the “occupation” is not likely to end soon, it surely encourages more Nazi-style death squads.
Credit for Hamas’s achievement belongs as well to the international, pro-Palestinian united front that includes five members of the U.S. House of Representatives known as “the squad.” For the past several decades, this well-organized advocacy network has been arduously promoting the big lie that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, plus the absence of a “two-state solution,” leaves the Palestinians with no recourse other than continued armed resistance, including the killing of innocent civilians. That twin falsehood, now endorsed by the UN chief, was repeated over and over again at the massive pro-Hamas demonstrations in the Western democracies. It is also echoed in parts of the mainstream media.
What’s most astonishing (and depressing) about the durability of this particular libel is not merely that there are mountains of historical evidence debunking it, but that Palestinian leaders themselves have repeatedly acknowledged there is no connection at all between Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the war they have chosen to wage against the Jewish state. Palestinian terrorists were sent to slaughter Jews during the years when there was an occupation, and they murdered innocent Jews when there was no occupation at all.
In the century since the British army liberated the Palestinian people from four centuries of brutal Ottoman occupation, they have had three preeminent political leaders: Haj Amin al-Husseini, Yasser Arafat, and Mahmoud Abbas. At several points during their varied careers, each had to make a fateful choice for their people between two separate historical paths. The first path would have led to an end of foreign occupation (either British or Israeli) and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. But it would also have required the Palestinians to end their war against the Jews and give up the dream of exclusive sovereignty throughout the land. The second path was to persist in trying to eradicate Zionism or (later) the Jewish state, but at the price of continued occupation. On four separate occasions—in 1937, 1947, 2000, and 2008—those leaders chose the second path, meaning more killing of Jews and more occupation, and more misery for their own people.
A foretaste of the ruin to come occurred in Jerusalem on April 4, 1920, during the traditional Muslim procession known as Nebi Musa. As a result of the British miliary victory in the recent Great War, Palestinian Arabs enjoyed significant political rights for the first time in their history. At that moment there was no Zionist occupation anywhere in the land. Nevertheless, Palestinian leaders were not inclined to use politics and public diplomacy to press for their goal of ending Jewish immigration. At the procession, Muslim notables harangued Arab mobs to storm into the Jewish Quarter in an orgy of killings, looting, and rape. The victims were mostly pious Jews who had lived in the Holy City for generations and cared not at all about political Zionism. Because the Palestinian Arabs didn’t yet have guns or bombs, the casualty figures were low by contemporary standards: Only six Jews were murdered, 200 injured, and two Jewish women raped.
One of the ring leaders of the Nebi Musa riots was Haj Amin al-Husseini, the younger brother of the mayor of Jerusalem. Another was Aref al-Aref, the 27-year-old editor of the Palestinian Arab journal Southern Syria. The politically active journalist rode through the gathering crowd on horseback, chanting, “Palestine is our land and the Jews are our dogs.”
It took the British authorities several days to restore order. Haj Amin al-Husseini and Aref al-Aref were tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison by a British military court, but they escaped the city. After this first of many Palestinian pogroms, the British government appointed Herbert Samuel, a British Jew with alleged Zionist sympathies, as high commissioner of the mandate’s civil administration.
One of Samuel’s first official acts was to pardon al-Husseini and appoint the 26-year-old Islamist agitator as the grand mufti of Jerusalem, charged with overseeing the city’s Muslim holy places. Samuel also rubber-stamped al-Husseini’s election as president of the Supreme Muslim Council. With those titles, the former Nebi Musa rioter became the most powerful political and religious leader among the Palestinian Arabs.
Commissioner Samuel’s strategy, taken from the British imperial playbook, was to contain anti-colonial resistance by doling out political patronage to rebellious leaders of the native population. In the case of the Palestinian Arabs, the approach was doomed to failure. Palestinian Jew-hatred was already deeply entrenched and infused with Islamist religious doctrines. It could not be contained by political concessions then, or for the next hundred years.
In 1929, al-Husseini used his seat of power to instigate new atrocities against the Jews—the Palestinian version of Kristallnacht. There was still no “Zionist occupation” of Arab land, but the mufti spread the rumor that the Jews were plotting to take over the Haram al-Sharif (the Dome of the Rock) above the Western Wall. His followers responded by again attacking the defenseless Jewish Quarter, this time killing more than 130 innocents. A few days later, an Arab mob turned the Orthodox Jewish community in Hebron into a killing field. Sixty-seven Jews were murdered, women were raped, and several men were castrated.
Yet again, the British authorities sought to constrain the violence by offering political gifts to the perpetrators. A white paper issued by the British government declared that Jewish immigration would be limited, based on the country’s “economic absorptive capacity.” The Palestinians and their maximum leader, al-Husseini, were not pacified.
Al-Husseini was soon elected chairman of the eight-member Arab Higher Committee (AHC), which became the ruling political body for the Palestinian Arabs for the next 15 years. The AHC then initiated a full-scale rebellion against the British occupation. This time, the Palestinians had enough guns and bombs to launch hit-and-run guerrilla attacks against the overstretched British military forces. The declared aim of the revolt was the ouster of the mandatory regime and the elimination of the Yishuv, the name given to the organized Zionist community in Palestine.
In the middle of the revolt, the British government offered the Palestinians the biggest political prize yet. A royal commission of inquiry chaired by Lord William Peel investigated the causes of the unrest and, in 1937, recommended the first-ever “two-state solution”—the partition of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. The Arabs would receive 90 percent of the territory for their state with the Jews allocated a tiny strip along the Mediterranean coast. The AHC, with chairman al-Husseini weighing in from exile in Lebanon, immediately rejected the offer and demanded Arab rule over the entire land of Palestine. David Ben-Gurion, the leader of the Yishuv, provisionally accepted the plan.
The debate over the Peel Commission’s recommendations became moot when the AHC resumed the military revolt. British forces didn’t fully succeed in crushing the uprising until the eve of World War II in Europe. In the meantime, al-Husseini had moved on to Iraq, where he participated in the abortive pro-Nazi revolt against the country’s British-backed government. Al-Husseini then fled to Germany, where he was welcomed by the Führer and hailed as a partner in the struggle against world Jewry.
The mufti never felt so appreciated as he did during his years in Berlin. He was provided with a large house and staff and invited to meetings with Heinrich Himmler to discuss the war against the Jews. He had the honor of reviewing troops of the Wehrmacht and directly helped the German war machine by recruiting Bosnian Muslims for the Waffen SS.
As an experienced propagandist, the mufti was put to work overseeing Arabic-language broadcasts promoting the affinities between Nazi ideology and Islamic Jew-hatred. At a private meeting in November 1941, Hitler informed al-Husseini about the coming extermination of the European Jews. In the German archives there is a summary memo of that fateful meeting in which the Führer also tells the mufti that his next objective would be “the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere under the protection of British power.”
The reason that the mufti allied himself with Germany was not that Germany was the enemy of his enemy, i.e., the British occupiers. Beginning in the mid-1930s, he came under the influence of Nazi racial doctrines and created a Palestinian organization modeled after the Hitler youth. He also sent Palestinian delegations to the Nazi Nuremberg rallies. According to the widely respected German historians Klaus Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers, if Rommel’s Afrikacorps had won the battle at El Alamein and then conquered Palestine, the Mufti would have gone along to supervise another Final Solution for the Jews of Palestine.
After the German surrender, the mufti was captured by French military forces and placed under “house arrest” in a villa outside Paris. The Yugoslav government requested his extradition to face trial for the war crimes he had committed in the Balkans. But al-Husseini was shielded from prosecution by high-level government officials in the U.S. and France determined to protect Western influence in the Arab world.
In June 1946, French security forces guarding the house where al-Husseini was detained conveniently left the door open and he “escaped” to Egypt. The mufti was granted asylum and received a rapturous reception. In Cairo, he was greeted as a conquering hero by the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna. The mufti, al-Banna declared, “challenged an empire and fought Zionism with the help of Hitler and Germany. Germany and Hitler are gone, but Amin al-Husseini will continue the struggle.”
Within months, al-Husseini was reinstated as chairman of the Arab Higher Committee, now officially recognized in international forums as representing the Palestinian Arabs. With Great Britain winding down the Palestine mandate, the AHC vehemently opposed any discussion of partition, and al-Husseini’s armed gangs threatened and intimidated Palestinians who thought otherwise. After the passage of the UN partition resolution in November 1947, al-Banna and al-Husseini combined forces and sent thousands of fighters into Palestine to begin the first full-scale war against the Yishuv with the intent of aborting the Jewish state. It was the second time during the mufti’s tenure that he chose to continue the war against the Jews rather than accept a plan that would free his people from foreign occupation and allow them to establish an independent state in most of the homeland.
During that period, the American left understood that the emerging Jewish state was threatened by enemies steeped in Nazi doctrines of eliminationist anti-Semitism. Before the UN General Assembly voted on the partition resolution, the Nation magazine submitted a lengthy report to all the member states titled “The Arab Higher Committee: Its Origins, Personnel, and Purposes.” Supervised by longtime Nation editor Freda Kirchwey, the report urged a vote for partition and declared that the AHC was “an almost exact equivalent, in Middle Eastern terms, of the cabal that ruled Hitler’s Germany.”
The theme that the Palestinians were led by Nazi collaborators was also stressed in the dispatches written by the legendary leftist reporter I.F. Stone. In This Is Israel, Stone’s book about the 1948 War of Independence, he refers to the Jewish state as a “tiny bridgehead” of 650,000 surrounded by 30 million Arabs. He quotes the head of the Arab League, Abdul Rahman Azzam, declaring, “This war will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongol massacres and the Crusades.”
Stone blamed al-Husseini and the Arab Higher Committee for creating the Palestinian refugee crisis. The Palestinian leaders reminded him of the fascists he had fought with his pen since the Spanish Civil War, and he ticked off the names of Nazi veterans leading Palestinian military units attacking Jewish settlements. “German Nazis, Polish reactionaries, Yugoslav Chetniks, and Bosnian Moslems flocked [into Palestine] for the war against the Jews,” Stone reported.
The Jewish state won its war of independence, but 90 percent of the Palestinian people came under foreign occupation. The Kingdom of Jordan annexed the West Bank, Egypt took control of Gaza, yet there were no anti-occupation protests by the local population. The new arrangement was particularly rewarding for Aref al-Aref, veteran of the 1920 Nebi Musa riots. He became mayor of Arab Jerusalem and loyally served the kingdom of Jordan for the duration. He also had time to write a history of the Palestinian struggle, titled The Nakba of Jerusalem and the Lost Paradise.
During the period of Jordanian and Egyptian occupation, there were few opportunities for Palestinians to fight the war against the Jews directly. Instead, the legend of the Nakba was used to depict the creation of the Jewish state as a “catastrophe” for the land’s native people. So much so that Israel had to be erased by any means necessary. During this brief interregnum, the Nakba myth allowed the Palestinians to continue the struggle through historical narrative.
It is true that after winning the 1967 war, Israel took over the West Bank and the occupation continued for the next 56 years. (The occupation of Gaza was ended unilaterally by Israel 18 years ago.) It is equally true that Israeli governments of both the left and right worked assiduously to end the occupation and allow the Palestinians to create their own independent state. Israel’s left-wing labor government initiated the Oslo process in early 1993. By September of that year, it culminated with the famous handshake on the White House lawn between Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
At the time, Arafat was stranded in Tunis in a very precarious position. His PLO cadres were expelled from Jordan in 1970, thrown out of Beirut by Israel’s army in 1982, and then again kicked out of Tripoli, Lebanon, by the Syrians. Arafat’s reputation was in tatters among the Arab governments because of his impetuous decision to support Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Yet the Rabin government was so determined to end the occupation and achieve a two-state solution that it threw Yasser Arafat a lifeline and made him a serious negotiating partner. According to their signed agreement, Arafat would be brought back to the West Bank to preside over a fledgling Palestinian government. After a five-year interim period, the parties would negotiate a final-status arrangement that contemplated an independent Palestinian state living in peace with Israel.
In the spring of 1998, Arafat and his top lieutenants in the Palestinian Authority (PA) began conferring about the final-status negotiations due to begin shortly. It was at this point that Arafat announced the first commemoration of Nakba Day. To avoid delivering on the promises he had made five years earlier, Arafat chose to weaponize the Palestinian Nakba narrative into a declaration of permanent war against the Jewish state. The key element of his May 15 Nakba Day speech was the claim of 5 million Palestinian refugees who had a sacred “right of return” to their homes in Jaffa, Haifa, and dozens of formerly Arab towns and villages in Israel. From his Ramallah headquarters, the PA president read out the marching orders for the day’s violent demonstrations over Palestinian radio stations and public loudspeakers:
The Nakba has thrown us out of our homes and dispersed us around the globe. Historians may search, but they will not find any nation subjugated to as much torture as ours. We are not asking for a lot. We are not asking for the moon. We are asking to close the chapter of Nakba once and for all, for the refugees to return and to build an independent Palestinian state on our land, our land, our land, just like other peoples.
By “our land” Arafat included Israel, thus unilaterally ending the Oslo process.
At the time, only one exceptional Palestinian leader knew exactly what Arafat intended and was willing to say so. It was Sari Nusseibeh, the PA’s representative in Jerusalem. In his memoir, Once Upon a Country, Nusseibeh describes a meeting with Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas on the issue of the refugees’ right of return. He recounts the following exchange with Abbas:
Nusseibeh: You have to level with us. What is it you want, a state or the right of return?
Abbas: Why do you say that? What do you mean by either/or?
Nusseibeh: That’s what it boils down to. Either you want an independent state or a policy aimed at returning all the refugees to Israel. You can’t have it both ways.
The “right of return” for 5 million (now 7 million) alleged refugees was a deal-breaker not only for Israel, but also for the Clinton administration that brokered the Oslo Accords. Nevertheless, Arafat was dragooned by President Clinton to go to Camp David in 2000 for the final-status negotiations. The outcome was a foregone conclusion. The PA president stormed out of the meeting after turning down a generous offer for an independent state. Mark the year 2000, then, as the third occasion that a Palestinian leader chose to continue the war against the Jews, even if that also meant continuation of the occupation.
Yet another round of negotiations that might have ended the occupation took place eight years later, this time directly between Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The two leaders held 35 one-on-one meetings in Jerusalem over a span of seven months. At the last session, on September 16, 2008, Olmert offered Abbas an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. He shared with Abbas a proposed map of the borders of the two states that, through territorial swaps, would give the Palestinians almost 100 percent of the territory of the West Bank and Gaza that the Arabs had held before the 1967 war.
Abbas took the map. He said he would consider the offer and return in a few days with his answer. But he never came back, and the negotiations abruptly ended. It was the fourth time in 70 years that the recognized political leader of the Palestinians made the choice to continue the war against the Jews, which also meant extending the Israeli occupation.
In a scoop, the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz published the map that Olmert gave to Abbas. The PA president should have been embarrassed by the map’s release, since it made clear that he had missed the best chance in 56 years to end the Israeli occupation. Instead, Abbas claimed his hands were tied over the refugee issue because the Palestinian masses would settle for nothing less than the right of return.
The Olmert map remains an indispensable historical document, the most graphic proof yet that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is not about the occupation. It should be displayed on posters and banners and waved in front of all UN officials and pro-Palestinian demonstrators who continue to claim, against all the evidence, that Hamas and its allied Islamic terrorist networks are merely resisting oppression.
Like other days of infamy and horror, including December 7, 1941 and 9/11, October 7 should be remembered as a moment of illumination and clarity. Eighteen years after Israel unilaterally evacuated the Gaza Strip, Hamas sent its killing squads across the border to fight what the group believes is an “occupation.” For Hamas, though, the goal is to end the 75-year-old Zionist occupation of Tel Aviv and every other city and settlement in Israel today. Or, to put it more directly, the Jewish state is still fighting its war of independence.
Even the allegedly more moderate Palestinian Authority declares that the 1948 war is still ongoing every Nakba Day when it sends tens of thousands of violent demonstrators to the streets, chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The very same slogan is now also routinely chanted at college campuses and public squares all over the Unites States.
The mass-murder events of October 7 have understandably evoked memories of the Holocaust. In a phone call with President Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Hamas committed acts “as in Babyn Yar where Jews where machine-gunned in killing pits.” Although morally correct, the comparison is not quite precise enough. Babyn Yar occurred a thousand miles away from the Middle East; Haj Amin al-Hussein and Hassan al-Banna worked for a Final Solution for the Jews of Palestine.
It’s more appropriate now for Israelis to focus on the strictly local political and religious antecedents of the October 7 massacres. The Hamas shahids of today are the spiritual children of al-Husseini and al-Banna, and of the alliance between Islamic Jew-hatred and Nazi eliminationist anti-Semitism.
Hamas was created in 1987 as the Palestinian branch of the Egyptian Brotherhood. Its founding charter speaks of a sharia state similar to the Caliphate. Its religious slogan is “Islam is the solution.” But it is the legacy of al-Husseini and his embrace of Nazi Jew-hatred that drives Hamas’s political and military policies.
How dispiriting it is, then, to recall the many occasions over the past hundred years on which otherwise well-meaning British and Israeli officials fell into the trap of believing that this Islamist/Nazi ideological movement could be bribed into relative normalcy with political gifts and accommodations. Even the allegedly hardline Netanyahu governments of the past 15 years willfully ignored the lessons of history and complacently believed that Hamas had been deterred by bundles of cash.
The slogan “never again” has historically referred to the catastrophe in Europe where defenseless Jews were led to the slaughter. It must now take on a second meaning in the Jewish homeland. Self-defense is not the issue there. The people, the ordinary citizens of Israel, have shown over and over again that they can come together as one, rise to the occasion and defend their communities. It is rather that Israel’s governments and politicians must now pledge, “Never again.” Meaning, never again will we be lulled into complacency or forget the brutal lesson of the past 100 years. When avowed enemies steeped in Nazi and Islamic Jew-hatred announce they want to kill us, we should take them seriously and prepare to kill them first. Finally, never again will we believe that such enemies can be bribed into decent human behavior.
Photo: AP Photo/Hatem Moussa
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