The Jews Who Helped the Allies Take Algeria

In 1942, Allied forces invading Algeria, then under the control of Vichy France, cooperated with a group of mostly Jewish local resistance fighters. The story is the subject of a new Israeli film, Night of Fools, directed by Rami Kimchi. Eliezer Hayon explains:

“The [Algerian] underground numbered 800 fighters, half of them Jewish. But at the moment of truth, 400 of them had cold feet, and just 400 were left—almost all of them Jewish,” says [one of their commanders, Jacques] Zermati. They were led by José Aboulker, the Jewish head of the underground. . . .

The plan was simple, yet almost surreal: Allied forces would land on the coast of north-western Africa, and the underground would take care of paralyzing the regime’s troops in order to hand over the city of Algiers to the Allies. It might sound simple enough, until one takes into account the fact that there were just 400 underground fighters, and 200,000 Vichy and Axis soldiers.

How did they do it? The resistance, with the help of some sympathetic Vichy officers, disguised themselves as French troops and succeeded in rounding up the entire French garrison without firing a shot. And why did they do it? Kimchi’s answer:

“The Jews in Algeria were proud of their French citizenship, and even today they live in France. But the film shows that Jewish motivation was a dominant factor. This was a war against the fascists, but what motivated them was not just French identity, otherwise they would have withdrawn like the other 400 fighters.”

Read more at Ynet

More about: Algeria, History & Ideas, Mizrahi Jewry, Resistance, Vichy France, World War II

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood