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WAINTROP, Edouard. "Lost Arab Heroes of the Spanish War: Portraits of Republican fighters who suffered from racism on their own side."
Translated by Sylvie KASHDAN and Robby BARNES
Article published on 16 December 2006
last modification on 17 October 2016

by r-c.
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This article was published in Libération, Paris (France) Tuesday, January 13, 1998, page 35

Historians have chosen to focus on the Moors who served Franco, but there
were also hundreds of Arab volunteers who fought alongside the Spanish
Republicans from 1936 to 1938. A beginning was made in discussing this
subject during a conference in Lausanne devoted to the International
Brigades. (1)

This topic is quite familiar to Abdelatif Ben Salem, a graduate in sociology
of Tunisian origin living in Paris. A Hispanophile, he has a passion for
history. For years he has been seeking out traces of the unknown
combatants. It is certain that Sail Mohamed, an anarchist worker who lived in a Paris suburb and became the political representative of
foreigners in the Durruti Column wasn’t the only Arab to fight
alongside the anti-Francoists.

In his first contribution to the subject, presented in Valencia in 1988, Ben
Salem showed that numerous Algerians and Tunisians, as well as Palestinians,
joined the International Brigades. Sometimes they joined to prove that,
contrary to claims by Republican propaganda, not all Arabs were fascists.
And sometimes they joined because they felt it their duty as activists.

Belaïdi and the Spanish Squadron

Subsequently Ben Salem has done more research. One of the people who has
especially interested him is Jean Belaïdi. This brigadista is known to
readers of André Malraux in Espoir under the surname of Saïdi; however, his
real first name was Mohamed. In actual history, Mohamed Belaïdi, a
mechanic, became involved to show that it was possible to defeat fascism by
force of arms. At age 25 the volunteer of Algerian origin reached Albacete,
assembly point for the International Brigade forces. It was there that he
was recruited by Malraux, who was in need of mechanics for the Republican
Spanish air squadron. Ben Salem explains that Malraux was quite attached to
Belaïdi, whom he considered an exemplary volunteer because of his courage
and conviction.

At first Belaïdi was only considered part of the ground crew. But on
December 27, 1936 he boarded a Potez 540 as a machine-gunner. On returning
from the mission, near Teruel the plane was intercepted by German Heinkels
and shot down. Most of the crew escaped, but not Belaïdi, who was riddled
with bullets. On hearing the news Malraux organized a rescue mission. He
later retold the episode memorably in the final scene of his film Espoir,
Sierra de Teruel (Hope, Teruel Mountain). It shows a passing casket on
which rests a machine-gun, twisted out of shape, the way that Belaïdi’s
weapon was.

Rabah Oussidhum was another of the Arab fighters. According to his
official biography, no doubt rearranged somewhat by the Bolsheviks, this
French soldier born in Algeria participated, during the 1920s, in the Rif
War (2) where he deserted to join the Rifains. One thing that is known for
certain is that he returned to France, where he joined the Communist Party.
Later he belonged to the party’s "Colonial Affairs" committee. He joined the
International Brigades in Spain as a military officer. As Captain Bombardé
he commanded the Ralph Fox Company, attached to the 14th Brigade. He died in
combat on March 17, 1938 at Rio Guadalupe in Aragon.

Sidqi, of the Palestinian CP.

Of all the volunteers, the Palestinian Nadjati Sidqi was one of the most
passionately involved. Born in 1905 in Jerusalem of a Turkish father and
Arabic mother, during the 1920s Sidqi belonged to the Histadrut, the union
organized by Jews, and the Poale Zion, a Zionist group of the extreme left.

Later he participated in the foundation of the Palestinian Communist Party,
which included both Jewish and Arab militants. As an outstanding activist he
was selected for political training in Moscow.

In 1929 he returned to Jerusalem and worked on the Arabization of the PCP.
In 1930 he was arrested by the British and sentenced to three years in
prison. Afterwards he left for France.

Ben Salem explains that, in August, 1936, following a suggestion by
Manoullski, head of the Eastern section of the Communist International,
Sidqi went to Spain. In his memoirs, unfortunately not published, Sidqi
describes his experience in Spain. He began with enthusiasm for the courage
of the Spanish people. Making contact with the leadership of the PSUC (Party
of Socialist Unification of Catalonia, including socialists and Stalinists,
but controlled by the latter), he decided to involve himself with propaganda
directed toward Franco’s Moroccan soldiers. He went to Madrid, met with the
leaders of the PCE and began to edit appeals in Mundo Obrero, which he
signed with the pseudonym Mustapha Ibnu Jala. He also took on a leading role
in the newly-formed Hispano-Marocaine Association.

But he soon found himself faced with a two-fold contradiction. Firstly, he
had difficulty in making the Spanish left see the need for de-colonization
(except for the Catalan independentistas, the anarchists and the POUMists,
who were all favorable to autonomy). Secondly, he called on the Francoist
Moroccan troops to desert, promising them a warm welcome, but, soon became
aware that their lives were at risk when they surrendered to Republican
troops.

Republican racism.

He also discovered that the governmental and PCE propaganda was not at all
subtle. All Moroccans were denounced as invaders. Dolores Ibarruri, the
best-known of Stalinist leaders, known by her surname Pasionaria, described
Franco’s Moroccan soldiers as "a savage Moorish horde drunk with sensuality,
who atrociously rape girls and women."

"The myth of the bloodthirsty Moor became an infectious fixation," explains
Ben Salem. "Right down to our times it has diverted opinion away from the
tragic errors committed by the Republic in rejecting an alliance with a
Moroccan nationalist movement which could have brought an uprising in the
Rif behind Franco’s lines." Sidqi, cut by his comrades’ racist slogans,
revolted when he heard mention of assassinations of Moroccan prisoners. The
last straw came during the battle of Madrid in November, 1936, when the
Defense Council had Muslims rounded up in the streets and forced into the
army, to be placed in the front lines. Nearly all perished in the combat,
except for some who were shot for abandoning their posts. In December, 1936
Sidqi left Spain: "I felt at the bottom of my heart that my mission was
being defeated," he wrote. "I needed to find another, more useful way..."

He attempted to go to Algeria to set up a Moroccan-language radio station.
He failed. He wished to return to Spain, but the PCF, because of political
disagreements it would later disclose to him, forbade it. In 1940 he
returned to Palestine and worked at a radio station. In 1948, during the
Arab-Israeli conflict, he left for Cyprus. He died in Athens on November 17,
1979.

— Edouard Waintrop

P.S. :

Article en anglais sur Mohamed Sail Ameriane ben Amerzaine (1894-1953)


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