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Monday, March 24, 2008

Sixty years ago: Lovable loser

From Time, March 15, 1948 (and quoted in the March 24, 1948 Palestine Post):
In Damascus last week, two Chevrolet pickup trucks and two black sedans pulled up before a plaster and stone bungalow. Arab soldiers piled in bedrolls, crates, map rolls. Then a redhaired, blue-eyed man, who looked more German than Arab,* climbed into one of the sedans. The convoy filed out of Damascus, swung southward into Palestine. The Teutonic-looking man borrowed a phrase from General Douglas MacArthur. Said he: "I have returned." Ahead of Fawzi Bey Kawukji had come some 10,000 Arab volunteers. About one thousand more are entering each week. The Arab "rescue" of Palestine had begun.

Although Fawzi Bey, once an officer in the Turkish army, was born in Lebanon 53 years ago, he was no stranger to Palestine. There he got some of the 80-odd wounds which still sometimes make his popeyes water with pain. He had spent a lifetime fighting for Arab independence against the British and French. Now he was returning to Palestine to command the northern sector in the fight against Zionism.

Fawzi Bey had yet to prove that he could capably command a force of many thousands. So far his battles had ended in defeats: by the French in Syria, by the British in Palestine, and in Iraq (where he fought with Nazi help) during World War II. A British plane strafed, and almost killed him, in Iraq. He went to Germany to recuperate. There he helped stir up the Arab world against the British, married a German girl (his third wife), was held by the conquering Russians until February 1947.

Whatever the doubts of his military ability, there was no doubt about the magic of his name among Arabs. ...Every peasant and Bedouin knows his name. He likes to dress dramatically, to fit his dramatic legend. His favorite garments: a fleece-lined flying jacket, or long sheep-lined cape draped over his shoulders. After his escape from France last year (TIME, March 10, 1947), crowds often appeared before the Orient Palace Hotel in Damascus, and clamored to see him. He began every speech with the words: "I am not a man of words; I am a man of action." The crowd loved it.

Last week, after Fawzi Bey had moved to Palestine, one Syrian said: "Arab history is repeating itself. In the Crusades, Saladin had to free Jerusalem from the infidels. Today Fawzi Bey is our Saladin."

* Other blond Arab leaders: Haj Amin el Husseini, ex-Mufti of Jerusalem; Hussein Khalidi, secretary of the Arab Higher Committee: Sheik Hassan Salameh, Arab commander in the Jaffa sector of Palestine.