It was the Arabs, not the Zionists, who compelled the Nazis to reexamine their pro-Zionist orientation. Between 1933 and 1936, 164,267 Jewish immigrants poured into Palestine; 61,854 came in 1935 alone. The Jewish minority increased from 18 per cent of the population in 1931 to 29.9 per cent in December 1935, and the Zionists saw themselves becoming the majority in the not-too-distant future.
The Arabs reacted first to these statistics. They had never accepted the British Mandate with its declared aim of creating a Jewish National Home in their land. There had been riots in 1920 and 1921; in 1929, after a series of provocations from Zionist chauvinists and Muslim fanatics at the Wailing Wall, the Muslim masses rioted in a wave of atrocious massacres which culminated with 135 Jewish deaths and almost as many Muslims killed, primarily by the British.
Palestinian Arab politics were dominated by a handful of rich clans. The most nationalistic were the Husaynis, led by the Mufti of Jerusalem, al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni. Intensely pious, his response to the Zionist provocations at the Wall was to raise the faithful against the Zionists as infidels rather than as a political enemy. He was suspicious of any social reform and quite unprepared to develop a political programme which could mobilise the largely illiterate Palestinian peasantry. It was this lack of a programme for the peasant majority which guaranteed that he could never create a political force capable of coping with the numerically inferior, but vastly more efficient Zionists. He was compelled to look abroad for a patron to give him some of the strength that his reactionary politics prevented him from generating from within Palestinian society. His choice fell on Italy.
The deal with Rome was completely secret until it was accidentally revealed in April 1935, since it could hardly be justified in the Arab world. Mussolini had used poison gas against the 1931 Senussi uprising in Libya, and was, moreover, openly pro-Zionist. However, Rome was anti-British and was willing to subsidise the Mufti on that account. The first payment was made in 1934, but little was achieved for either the Palestinians or the Italians. Some years later Mussolini's Foreign Minister--his son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano-- had to confess to the German ambassador that:
for years he maintained constant relations with the Grand Mufti of which his secret fund could tell a tale. The return of this gift of millions had not been exactly great and had really been confined to occasional destruction of pipelines, which in most cases could be quickly repaired.
'The Haganah's Goal-A Jewish Majority in Palestine'
Because Hitler did not believe that the Jews could create a state of their own, it did not follow that he would be pro-Palestinian. They too were Semites. In the 1920s many right-wing German political groups began to express sympathy for the oppressed nations of the British Empire as fellow victims of perfidious Albion. However, Hitler would have none of this; the British, after all, were white.
I as a man of Germanic blood, would, in spite of everything, rather see India under English rule than under any other. Just as lamentable are the hopes in any mythical uprising in Egypt... As a volkish man, who appraises the value of men on a racial basis, I am preventd by mere knowledge of the racial inferiority of these socalled 'oppressed nationst from linking the destiny of my own people with theirs.
However, the revolt of the Palestinian Arab masses in 1936 made Berlin re-think the implications of their pro-Zionist policies. Intense unrest had been aroused in October 1935 by the discovery of weapons in a cement cargo bound for Tel Aviv, and the situation became feverish in November when Shaykh Izz al-Din al-Qassam, a popular Muslim preacher, took to the hills with a guerrilla band. British troops soon killed him, but his funeral developed into a passionate demonstration. The crisis dragged on for months before it finally exploded on the night of 15 April 1936, when a remnant of Qassam's band stopped traffic on the Tulkarm road, robbing travellers and killing two Jews. Two Arabs were slain in reprisal the next night. The funeral of the Jews turned into a right-wing Zionist demonstration and the crowd started marching on Arab Jaffa. The police opened fire, four Jews were shot and, again, Arabs were attacked on the streets of Tel Aviv in retaliation. A counter-march soon started for Tel Aviv. The revolt was on. A spontaneous general strike developed and the pressure from below forced the rival cliques within the Arab establishment to unite in an Arab Higher Committee under the leadership of the Mufti. However, the Higher Committee feared that the continuation of the rising would put the peasantry permanently beyond its leaders' control, and finally prevailed upon the strike committees to call off the protest on 12 October, pending the outcome of a British Royal Commission's investigation.
Until the Arab revolt, the Nazis' patronage of Zionism had been warm but scarcely committed, as we have seen. However, with the political turmoil in Palestine and the appointment of the Peel Commission, the WZO saw their chance to persuade the Nazis to make a public commitment to them in Palestine itself. On 8 December 1936 a joint delegation of the Jewish Agency, the highest body of the WZO in Palestine, and the Hitachdut Olei Germania (the German Immigrants Association), went to the Jerusalem office of Doehle, the German Consul-General. The Zionist scholar, David Yisraeli, has related the incident.
They sought through Doehle to persuade the Nazi government to have its Jerusalem representative appear before the Peel Commission, and declare that Germany was interested in an increased immigration to Palestine because of its eagerness to have the Jews emigrate from Germany. The Consul, however, rejected the proposal on the spot. His official reasons were that considerations of increased immigration from Germany would inevitably bring out the matter of the transfer which was detrimental to British exports to Palestine.
Characteristically, the Zionists were more eager to extend their relationship than the Nazis, but Doehle's rejection of their request did not stop them from further approaches. The outcome of the Peel Commission's expedition was thought crucial to the Zionist endeavour and it was therefore the Haganah, then the military arm of the Jewish Agency (de facto the Labour Zionist militia), that obtained Berlin's permission to negotiate directly with the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Security Service of the SS. A Haganah agent, Feivel Polkes, arrived in Berlin on 26 February 1937 and was assigned Adolf Eichmann as his negotiating partner. Eichmann had been a protege of the pro-Zionist von Mildenstein and, like his mentor, had studied Hebrew, read Herzl and was the SD's specialist on Zionism. The Eichmann-Polkes conversations were recorded in a report prepared by Eichmann's superior, Franz-Albert Six, which was found in the SS files captured by the American Army at the end of the Second World War:
Polkes is a national-Zionist He is against all Jews who are opposed to the erection of a Jewish state in Palestine. As a Haganah man he fights against Communism and all aims of Arab-British friendship... He noted that the Haganah's goal is to reach, as soon as possible, a Jewish majority in Palestine. Therefore he worked, as this objective required, with or against the British Intelligence Service, the Surete Generale, with England and Italy... He declared himself willing to work for Germany in the form of providing intelligence as long as this does not oppose his own political goals. Among other things he would support German foreign policy in the Near East. He would try to find oil sources for the German Reich without affecting British spheres of interest if the German monetary regulations were eased for Jewish emigrants to Palestine.
Six definitely thought that a working alliance with the Haganah would be in the Nazis' interest. They still needed the latest inside information on the various Jewish boycott groups and on Jewish plots against the lives of prominent Nazis. He was eager to allow the SS to help the Zionists in return.
Pressure can be put on the Reich Representation of Jews in Germany in such a way that those Jews emigrating from Germany go exclusively to Palestine and not go to other countries. Such measures lie entirely in the German interest and is already prepared through measures of the Gestapo. Polkes' plans to create a Jewish majority in Palestine would be aided at the same time through these measures.
Six's enthusiasm was not shared at the German Foreign Ministry, which saw Palestine as a British sphere. Berlin's prime interest was in an understanding with London on the crucial question of the Balkans; nothing must interfere with that. The officials were also concerned about how Italy would react to German intervention in Mediterranean politics. Therefore, on 1 June 1937 the Foreign Minister, Konstantine von Neurath, sent cables to his diplomats in London, Jerusalem and Baghdad: neither a Zionist state nor a Zionist political structure under British rule would be in Germany's interest, as it 'would not absorb world Jewry but would create an additional position of power under international law for international Jewry, somewhat like the Vatican State for political Catholicism or Moscow for the Comintern'. Germany therefore had 'an interest in strengthening the Arab world', but 'it is not to be expected, of course, that direct German intervention would influence essentially the development of the Palestine question'. Under no circumstances were the Palestinians to get more than token support: 'understanding for Arab nationalist aspirations should be expressed more clearly than before, but without making any definite promises'.
Zionist Notions of the Future Israel
British policy towards Palestine at this stage was elegantly expressed in the memoirs of Sir Ronald Storrs, the first military governor of Jerusalem, the Zionist 'enterprise was one that blessed him that gave as well as him that took, by forming for England ''a little loyal Jewish Ulster" in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism'.This was the spirit of the Peel Commission's proposal in July 1937 that Palestine be divided into three parts. All of it would stay under British overlordship; Britain would directly retain a strip from Jerusalem to Jaffa, and would hold Haifa for ten years, after which it would be seconded to a Zionist statelet of two pieces with a combined area the size of the English county of Norfolk. The tiny Zionist entity would contain an enormous Arab minority, some of whom the Commission contemplated moving to the Arab state which would get the rest of the country.
Opinion within Zionism was sharply divided. The 'Jewish Ulster' differed from the original in that the Zionists would never see themselves as fulfilled by the partition. Their Eretz Yisrael included all of Abraham's biblical patrimony. In the end the World Zionist Congress's position was a carefully qualified no, meaning a yes: that particular partition was rejected, but the Executive was empowered to haggle further for a better deal.
What kind of state did the Zionist movement envision for itself, and for millions of Jews, in 1937? The Labour Zionists were by far the strongest force in the movement and there was no greater protagonist of acceptance of the partition than its leader, David Ben-Gurion who, in the summer of 1937, solemnly reassured a Zurich session of the World Council of the Poale Zion that they need have no fears in this regard: later they would definitely expand.
This Jewish state which is now proposed to us, even with all the possible reparations and improvements in our favor, is not the Zionist aim --in this territory one cannot solve the Jewish problem... what will happen, in another fifteen (or any other number of) years, when the proposed territorially limited state reaches the point of saturation of population?... Anyone who wants to be frank to himself should not prophesy about what there will be in another fifteen years... the adversaries of Partition were right when they claimed that this country was not given for us to partition it --for it constitutes a single unit, not only historically, but also from the natural and economic standpoint.
The Labour Zionists certainly realised now that if a Jewish state was going to be achieved, it would inevitably be against the powerful opposition of the Palestinian people. Although they were basically always Jewish nationalists, they had turned resolutely away from their own past socialist rhetoric, as well as their previous, feeble, efforts to organise Arab workers, and started driving them out of their traditional seasonal jobs in the Jewish orange groves. In general, their thinking had become morbid, and they now consciously looked for their own success to come out of the ruination of the European Jewish middle class. It was to be their flight capital that would build Zion. Enzo Sereni, now an emissary to the USA, was quite correct in assessing the attraction Zionism now held for a portion of the Jewish middle class in Central and Eastern Europe:
Two souls dwell within the breast of the Jewish bourgeoisie, one striving after profits, the other seeking for political power... As a political group, the Jewish bourgeoisie cannot really live without the Jewish masses. Only on them can it hope to build its political supremacy. Also, in order to exercise its eventual control over the Arab workers, the Jewish bourgeoisie needs a Jewish proletariat, precisely as the great European powers need a national proletariat for the exercise of their imperial plans.
What separates the Jewish Zionist bourgeoisie from the non-Zionist members of the same class is really only the fact that the Zionists are clearly aware that they can attain their interest as a class only in the domain of a unified people and no longer as mere individuals, as Jewish assimilationists believed.
Anti-Semitism was now conceded to be the main force of Zionism but, in addition, there were also positive attractions in the establishment of a Zionist mini-state. Moshe Beilenson, then editor of Labour's daily newspaper, Davar, naively expressed these hopes for an Israel as the locus of the future capitalist exploitation of the hinterland:
Great perspectives will open before the 'Greater Zionism' that now only a few among us dare to fight for, a Jewish state in Palestine, leading the East... The Jewish state built on such foundations will have the full right, both socially and spiritually, to claim the title of leadership, the title of being the vanguard of the new world in the East...
He qualified the realities behind his rhetorical flourish:
Of what value is our closeness of race to the Arab people compared to the great distance between us in ideas, in existence, in our scale of values? In all these matters we are many degrees closer to the Europeans or Americans despite the existing 'racial differences'... We want peace with the Arab Yishub... with no false philanthropy, and with no make-believe missionaryism. Not for any Revolutionary approach in the Awakening of the East, be it a 'national' East or a 'class' East or a 'religious spiritual' East... Not to free others have we come here, but to free ourselves.
These theoreticians were in the process of creating a self-fulfilling prophesy. By talking so determinedly of the inevitable expropriation of European Jewry, to be followed by the exploitation of a Jewish and Arab proletariat, these self-styled socialists were doing nothing to mobilise the Europeans and everything to arouse the wrath of the Palestinians.
Nazi Admiration for Zionist Efforts in Palestine
The Nazis were quite resigned to the partition of Palestine and their main concern became the fate of the 2,000 Germans then living in the country. A few were Catholic monks, a few were mainline Lutherans, but most were Templars, a nineteenth-century sect of pietists who had come to the Holy Land for the shortly expected return of Jesus. They had eventually settled in six prosperous colonies, four of which would be in the Zionist enclave. No matter how much the WZO leadership wanted to avoid antagonising Berlin over the Templars, now almost all good Nazis, the local Nazi party realised that any spontaneous Jewish boycott after partition would make their position totally impossible. The German Foreign Ministry wanted either to have the colonies under direct British control or, more realistically, to have them moved into the Arab territory.
Popular Arab opinion was overwhelmingly opposed to partition, although the Nashishibis --the clan rivals of the dominant Husaynis-- would have accepted a smaller Jewish state. They very reluctantly opposed the British proposal and their evident lack of zeal in opposing the partition, coupled with an intense factional hatred for the Husaynis, led to a ferocious civil war within the Arab community. Outside the country the only ruler who dared to hint at acceptance of the scheme was Abdullah of Trans-Jordan, whose emirate was to be merged with the Palestinian statelet. Ibn Saud in Arabia remained silent. Egypt and Iraq's ruling cliques publicly lamented, while privately their only concern was that the partition would arouse their own people and trigger a general movement against them and the British. Understandably, the Germans were completely unconvinced of the Arabs, ability to stave off partition, and when the Mufti finally appeared at their consulate on 15 July 1937, Doehle offered him absolutely nothing. He immediately notified his superiors of the interview: 'The Grand Mufti stressed Arab sympathy for the new Germany and expressed the hope that Germany was sympathetic toward the Arab fight against Jewry and was prepared to support it.' Doehle's response to the proffered alliance was virtually insulting. He told the supplicant that: 'after all, there was no question of our playing the role of an arbiter.. I added that it was perhaps tactically in the interests of the Arabs if German sympathy for Arab aspirations were not too marked in German statements.'
In October it was the Zionists' turn to court the Nazis. On 2 October 1937, the liner Romania arrived in Haifa with two German journalists, aboard. Herbert Hagen and his junior colleague, Eichmann, disembarked. They met their agent, Reichert, and later that day Feivel Polkes, who showed them Haifa from Mount Carmel and took them to visit a kibbutz. Years later, when he was in hiding in Argentina, Eichmann taped the story of his experiences and looked back at his brief stay in Palestine with fond nostalgia:
I did see enough to be very irnpressed by the way the Jewish colonists were building up their land. I admired their desperate will to live, the more so since I was myself an idealist. In the years that followed I often said to Jews with whom I had dealings that, had I been a Jew, I would have been a fanatical Zionist. I could not imagine being anything else. In fact, I would have been the most ardent Zionist imaginable.
But the two SS men had made a mistake in contacting their local agent; the British CID had become aware of Reichert's ring, and two days later they summarily expelled the visitors to Egypt. Polkes followed them there, and further discussions were held on 10 and 11 October at Cairo's Cafe Groppi. In their report on their expedition Hagen and Eichmann gave a careful rendering of Polkes's words at these meetings. Polkes told the two Nazis:
The Zionist state must be established by all means and as soon as possible.;. When the Jewish state is established according to the current proposals laid down in the Peel paper, and in line with England's partial promises, then the borders may be pushed further outwards according to one's wishes.
He went on:
in Jewish nationalist circles people were very pleased with the radical German policy, since the strength of the Jewish population in Palestine would be so far increased thereby that in the foreseeable future the Jews could reckon upon numerical superiority over the Arabs in Palestine.
During his February visit to Berlin, Polkes had proposed that the Haganah should act as spies for the Nazis, and now he showed their good faith by passing on two pieces of intelligence information. He told Hagen and Eichmann:
the Pan-Islamic World Congress convening in Berlin is in direct contact with two pro-Soviet Arab leaders: Emir Shekib Arslan and Emir Adil Arslan... The illegal Communist broadcasting station whose transmission to Germany is particularly strong, is, according to Polkes' statement, assembled on a lorry that drives along the German-Luxembourg border when transmission is on the air.
Next it was the Mufti's turn to bid again for German patronage. This time he sent his agent, Dr Said Imam, who had studied in Germany and had for a long time been in contact with the German consulate in Beirut, directly to Berlin with an offer. If Germany would 'support the Arab independence movement ideologically and materially', then the Mufti would respond by 'Disseminating National Socialist ideas in the Arab-Islamic world; combatting Communism, which appears to be spreading gradually, by employing all possible means'. He also proposed 'continuing acts of terrorism in all French colonial and mandated territories inhabited by Arabs or Mohammedans'. If they won, he swore 'to utilize only Gemman capital and intellectual resources'. All of this was in the context of a pledge to keep the Semitic and Aryan races apart, which task was delicately referred to as 'maintaining and respecting the national convictions of both peoples'.
Palestine was now getting intense scrutiny from every relevant branch of the German state and party bureaucracy. The pro-Zionists still had their telling arguments, particularly the economists, who saw the Ha'avara as helping German industry. The critics of the Nazi-Zionist relationship were concemed that the proposed Jewish statelet would be recognised internationally and begin to be seen as a Jewish Vatican, which could create diplomatic problems for the Germans over their treatment of the Jews. This was the main argument of Hagen and Eichmann in their report on their trip.
It was the British who solved the Nazis' dilemma. They had begun to ponder upon what would follow if they created a Zionist statelet. The possibility of a world war was evident and the creation of a Zionist state was guaranteed to drive the Arabs into Hitler's arms. The further possibility of war with the bellicose Japanese made it crucial to maintain the ability of moving troops through the Middle East, by land and via the Suez Canal, without violent native opposition. Peel's partition was therefore hastily buried and the British determined that the Arab revolt was to be extinguished before the emerging Axis alliance could profit from it. The revolt was savagely crushed by the British Army and then Zionist immigration, the cause of the revolt, was curtailed.
Hitler now no longer had to trouble himself over the possibility of a Jewish Vatican, but the fact that the British had actually proposed it made the future possibility of a Jewish state a serious consideration. Long-term German military calculations now made concern for Arab opinion a factor in foreign policy. Many German diplomats insisted that the Ha'avara agreement guaranteed the eventual creation of the state, and Foreign Office opinion began to turn against it; however, it was saved by the intervention of Otto von Hentig, a career diplomat who had dealt with the Zionists under the Kaiser and Weimar. According to Emst Marcus, Ha'avara's Berlin representative, von Hentig 'with his deep love of his nation and its spirit... appreciated the driving forces of Zionism as an element akin to his own feelings'. He therefore worked with his Zionist associate to try and keep 'preferential treatment of Palestine' alive.
He advised me to prepare suitable material in order to prove that the number of Jewish emigrants from Germany to Palestine as well as their financial contribution to the upbuilding of the Jewish homeland were far too small to exert a decisive influence on the development of the country. Accordingly, I compiled a memorandum which emphasised the share of Polish Jews in the work of reconstruction in all its important phases, described the financial contribution of American Jewry and contrasted it with the small effort made by the Jews of Germany.
Von Hentig knew that the task of persuading Hitler to help Zionism had to be done in person and at the 'favourable moment', when he was laughing and jolly and full of his customary goodwill toward Jews. One day in early 1938, von Hentig called with the good news: 'The Fuehrer had made an affirmative decision and that all obstacles in the way of emigration to Palestine had now been removed.'
At first the Nazis had tried to stay neutral during the Arab revolt. On Coronation Day in 1937 all the Templar colonies flew the swastika in sympathy with Britain and they were under strict orders not to solicit the British troops nor to have anything to do with the Mosleyites. But Berlin kept the pressure on and, while Jewish money and emigrants were still pushed towards Palestine, in 1938 Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr Intelligence Division, put the Mufti on his payroll. However, the Mufti showed no signs of political or military competence and the money, which was always irregular, finally stopped. Further military non-involvement in the Arab revolt remained strict policy until the Munich Conference in September 1938, and arms shipments were prepared only in late 1938. Even then the desire not to antagonise London with threats to the British Empire led to the sudden cancellation of the first shipment via Saudi Arabia when the Germans became convinced that the Saudi Foreign Minister was a British agent.With the aborting of the arms shipment, German concern for the Arab revolt ceased.
The Failure of the Mufti's Collaboration with the Dictators
The Mufti gained nothing, then or later, from his collaboration with either Rome or Berlin, nor could the Palestinian interest ever have been served by the two dictators. When the Mufti approached the Nazis, they were encouraging Jews to emigrate to Palestine; yet not once in all of his pre-war dealings with the Nazis did he suggest that they stop the very emigration which was the source of Zionism's new strength. Later, during the Second World War, his Jew-hatred and his anti-Communism persuaded him to go to Berlin and to oppose any release of Jews from the camps for fear that they would end up in Palestine. He eventually organised Muslim SS troops against the Soviets and the Yugoslav partisans.
The Mufti was an incompetent reactionary who was driven into his anti-Semitism by the Zionists. It was Zionism itself, in its blatant attempt to turn Palestine from an Arab land into a Jewish state, and then use it for the yet further exploitation of the Arab nation, that generated Palestinian Jew-hatred. Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner of Aguda Yisrael gave a perceptive explanation for the Palestinian's career.
It should be manifest, however, that until the great public pressures for the establishment of a Jewish state, the Mufti had no interest in the Jews of Warsaw, Budapest or Vilna. Once the Jews of Europe became a threat to the Mufti because of their imminent influx into the Holy Land, the Mufti in turn became for them the Malekh Hamoves --the incarnation of the Angel of Death. Years ago, it was still easy to find old residents of Yerushalayim who remembered the cordial relations they had maintained with the Mufti in the years before the impending creation of a Jewish State. Once the looming reality of the State of Israel was before him, the Mufti spared no effort at influencing Hitler to murder as many Jews as possible in the shortest amount of time. This shameful episode, where the founders and early leaders of the State were clearly a factor in the destruction of many Jews, has been completely suppressed and expunged from the record.
If the Mufti's collaboration with the dictators cannot be justified, it becomes absolutely impossible to rationa1ise the Haganah's offers to spy for the Nazis. Given the outcry against the Ha'avara and the servile posture of the ZVfD, it seems certain that, at the very least, a signiflcant minonty of the WZO would have voted with their feet had they known of the Haganah's subterranean betrayal.