When Palestinians Fought in WWII – Bruno Ribeiro Oliveira – Medium
When we talk about World War II history we tend to focus on the major players such as Germany, USSR, the U.S., also big figures appear, Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, etc. Large theaters of operations are also pretty focused by professional and amateur historians. But the history of WWII is so wildly large and so full of history that it is impossible to grasp everything that happened during those six years of war.
Besides the big players, many smaller countries and different people had their share of blood, sweat, and toil. Kenyans lost their lives in the forests of Asia and Brazilians ships were sunk by U-Boats and many have lost their lives in Italian battlefields, for example. But the role of Palestinians is still new in the WWII historiography.
The article released by the historian Mustafa Abbasi give us one interesting insight into the war. Abbasi researched the role of the Palestinians who served under the Union Jack in many theaters of the war. According to him, the investigation wasn’t easy. First, because there is little documentation, second, because there are few references and the historiography of Palestine is mainly concerned with the fight against the United Kingdom and later Israel.
The Palestinians who served in WWII
The initial plan was to gather around 2.000 personnel for the British military. Most of the recruited were from small rural villages attracted by the war propaganda of the Empire. Urban recruits were fewer and most of them were poor men who found better living conditions under the army.
There is no precise number of how many Palestinians served under the Union Jack. Numbers run from 9.000 to 17.000 but according to Abbasi, the number must be something near 12.000. These soldiers saw action in Egypt, Lybia, Eritrea, Italy, France, England, and Greece.
The Middle East force was composed of both Jews and Palestinians. According to Abbasi:
We also saw in this research that Arab and Jewish volunteers served in mixed units during the first half of the war period, and received their training in the same military bases from the same British officers. In many cases they fought in the same battle shoulder to shoulder, fell in the fighting or were taken prisoner.
Both Palestinians and Israelis served in the same units but fighting and quarrel among them were rare.
What is more interesting is the role of women during war times. Abbasi says:
The women’s corps in Palestine was part of the Middle East women’s corps. Its headquarters was in the General British Headquarters in Cairo. It was established in 1942 by Audrey Chitty who was the Chief Commander of the corps in the Middle East and remained at its head until 1944. The units of the corps in Palestine and Syria were under the command of Katherine Morrison-Bell and were deployed mainly in Egypt and Palestine. Most of the Arab women recruited served in camps in Palestine.
Around 200 women served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. They were trained by British and Arab officers and they all served in non-combat duties such as nurses and store-keepers.
No celebration or memory of this event was made or preserved beside the few interviewed by Abbasi and documents in the British National Archives or in the Haganah Archives, for example. It is an important piece of history that is being recovered and is of great importance to understand how the World War was not just a European centered event, but something that shook many places of the globe. Abbasi brings the Palestinian and World War II historiographies together with a new theme of research.
The work made by Abbasi is impressive for its originality and quality. It is also one important piece for World War II history, for the history of Palestine and for the history of the British Empire too.