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Amin al-Husayni

Haj Amin al-Husseini
Amin al-Husseini (1929)
Grand Mufti of Jerusalem
In office
1921–1937
Preceded by Kamil al-Husayni
Succeeded by Husam Al-din Jarallah
President of the Supreme Muslim Council
In office
1922–1937
Personal details
Born c. 1897
Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem
(Southern Syria)
Died 4 July 1974(1974-07-04)
Beirut, Lebanon
Political party Arab Higher Committee
Profession Mufti
Religion Sunni Islam

Haj Mohammed Effendi Amin el-Husseini (Arabic: محمد أمين الحسيني‎, Muhammad Amin al-Husayni;[1] c. 1897;[2][3]–4 July 1974) was a Palestinian Arab nationalist and Muslim leader in Mandatory Palestine.[4]

Al-Husseini was the scion of a family of Jerusalemite notables.[5] After receiving an education in Islamic, Ottoman and Catholic schools, he went on to serve in the Ottoman army in World War I. At war's end, he positioned himself in Damascus as a supporter of the Arab Kingdom of Syria. Following the fiasco of the Franco-Syrian War and the collapse of the Arab Hashemite rule in Damascus, his early position on pan-Arabism shifted to a form of local nationalism for Palestinian Arabs and he moved back to Jerusalem. From as early as 1920, in order to secure the independence of Palestine as an Arab state he actively opposed Zionism, and was implicated as a leader of a violent riot that broke out over the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.[6] Al-Husseini was sentenced to ten years imprisonment, but was pardoned by the British.[7] From 1921 to 1937[8] al-Husseini was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, using the position to promote Islam and rally a non-confessional Arab nationalism against Zionism.[9]

His opposition to the British peaked during the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. In 1937, evading an arrest warrant, he fled Palestine and took refuge in, successively, the French Mandate of Lebanon and the Kingdom of Iraq, until he established himself in Italy and Germany. During World War II he collaborated with both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, meeting Adolf Hitler and asking him to back Arab independence. He requested, as part of the Pan-Arab struggle, Hitler's support to oppose the establishment in Palestine of a Jewish national home. He was promised the leadership of the Arabs after German troops had driven out the British. He helped recruit Muslims for the Waffen-SS. At war's end, he came under French protection, and went to Cairo to avoid prosecution.

In the lead-up to the 1948 Palestine War, Husseini opposed both the 1947 UN Partition Plan and King Abdullah's designs to annex the Arab part of British Mandatory Palestine to Jordan, and, failing to gain command of the 'Arab rescue army' (jaysh al-inqadh al-'arabi) formed under the aegis of the Arab League, formed his own militia, al-jihad al-muqaddas.[10] In September 1948, he participated in establishment of All-Palestine Government. Seated in Egyptian-ruled Gaza, this government won a limited recognition of Arab states, but was eventually dissolved by Gamal Nasser in 1959. After the war and subsequent Palestinian exodus, his claims to leadership, wholly discredited, left him eventually sidelined by the Palestine Liberation Organization, and he lost most of his residual political influence.[11] He died in Beirut, Lebanon, in July 1974. Husseini was and remains a highly controversial figure. Historians dispute whether his fierce opposition to Zionism was grounded in nationalism or antisemitism or a combination of both.

Early life

Amin al-Husseini was born around 1897[12] in Jerusalem, the son of the mufti of that city and prominent early opponent of Zionism, Tahir al-Husayni.[13] The al-Husseini clan consisted of wealthy landowners in southern Palestine, centred around the district of Jerusalem. Thirteen members of the clan had been Mayors of Jerusalem between 1864 and 1920. Another member of the clan and Amin's half-brother,[14] Kamil al-Husayni, also served as Mufti of Jerusalem. In Jerusalem Amin al-Husseini attended a Qur'an school (kuttub), and Ottoman government secondary school (rüshidiyye) where he learnt Turkish, and a Catholic secondary school run by French missionaries, the Catholic Frères, where he learnt French.[15] He also studied at the Alliance Israélite Universelle with its non-Zionist Jewish director Albert Antébi.[16] In 1912 he studied Islamic law briefly at Al-Azhar University in Cairo and at the Dar al-Da'wa wa-l-Irshad, under Rashid Rida, a salafi intellectual, who was to remain Amin's mentor till his death in 1935.[17] Though groomed to hold religious office from youth, his education was typical of the Ottoman effendi at the time, and he only donned a religious turban in 1921 after being appointed mufti.[15]

In 1913, approximately at the age of 16, al-Husseini accompanied his mother Zainab to Mecca and received the honorary title of Hajj. Prior to World War I, he studied at the School of Administration in Istanbul, the most secular of Ottoman institutions.[18]

World War I

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, al-Husseini received a commission in the Ottoman Army as an artillery officer and was assigned to the Forty-Seventh Brigade stationed in and around the city of Izmir. In November 1916 he obtained a three-month disability leave from the army and returned to Jerusalem. He was recovering from an illness there when the city was captured by the British a year later.[18] The British and Sherifian armies, for which some 500 Palestinian Arabs volunteered, completed their conquest of Ottoman-controlled Palestine and Syria in 1918,[19] alongside Jewish troops. As a Sherifian officer, al-Husseini recruited men to serve in Faisal bin Al Hussein bin Ali El-Hashemi's army during the Arab Revolt, a task he undertook while employed as a recruiter by the British military administration in Jerusalem and Damascus. The post-war Palin Report noted that the English recruiting officer, Captain C. D. Brunton, found al-Husseini, with whom he cooperated, very pro-British, and that, via the diffusion of War Office pamphlets dropped from the air promising them peace and prosperity under British rule, 'the recruits (were) being given to understand that they were fighting in a national cause and to liberate their country from the Turks'.[20] Nothing in his early career to this point suggests he had ambitions to serve in a religious office: his interests were those of an Arab nationalist.[21]

Early political activism

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In 1919, al-Husseini attended the Pan-Syrian Congress held in Damascus where he supported Emir Faisal for King of Syria. That year al-Husseini founded the pro-British Jerusalem branch of the Syrian-based 'Arab Club' (Al-Nadi al-arabi), which then vied with the Nashashibi-sponsored 'Literary Club' (al-Muntada al-Adabi) for influence over public opinion, and he soon became its President.[22][23] At the same time he wrote articles for the Suriyya al-Janubiyya (Southern Syria). The paper was published in Jerusalem beginning in September 1919 by the lawyer Muhammad Hassan al-Budayri, and edited by Aref al-Aref, both prominent members of al-Nadi al-'Arabi.

Al-Husseini was a strong supporter of the short-living Arab Kingdom of Syria, established in March 1920. In addition to his support to pan-Arabist policies of King Faisal I, al-Husseini tried to destabilize the British rule in Palestine, which was declared to be part of the Arab Kingdom, even though no authority was exercised in reality.

During the annual Nabi Musa procession in Jerusalem in April 1920, violent rioting broke out in protest at the implementation of the Balfour Declaration which supported the establishment in Palestine of a homeland for the Jewish people. Much damage to Jewish life and property was caused. The Palin Report laid the blame for the explosion of tensions on both sides.[24] Ze'ev Jabotinsky, organiser of Jewish paramilitary defences, received a 15-year sentence.[25] Al-Husseini, then a teacher at the Rashidiya school, near Herod's Gate in East Jerusalem, was charged with inciting the Arab crowds with an inflammatory speech and sentenced in absentia to 10-years imprisonment by a military court,[26] since by then both had fled to Syria. It was asserted soon after, by Chaim Weizmann and British army Lieutenant Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, that al-Husseini had been put up to inciting the riot by British Field-marshal Allenby's Chief of Staff, Colonel Bertie Harry Waters-Taylor, to demonstrate to the world that Arabs would not tolerate a Jewish homeland in Palestine.[27][28][29] The assertion was never proven, and Meinertzhagen was dismissed.[30]

After the April riots an event took place that turned the traditional rivalry between the Husseini and Nashashibi clans into a serious rift,[31] with long-term consequences for al-Husseini and Palestinian nationalism. According to Sir Louis Bols, great pressure was brought to bear on the military administration from Zionist leaders and officials such as David Yellin, to have the Mayor of Jerusalem, Musa Kazim Pasha al-Husayni, dismissed, given his presence in the demonstration of the previous March. Colonel Storrs, the Military Governor of Jerusalem, removed him without further inquiry, replacing him with Raghib al-Nashashibi of the rival Nashashibi clan. This, according to the Palin report, 'had a profound effect on his co-religionists, definitely confirming the conviction they had already formed from other evidence that the Civil Administration was the mere puppet of the Zionist Organization.'[32]

Until late 1920, al-Husseini focused his efforts on Pan-Arabism and the ideology of the Greater Syria in particular, with Palestine understood as a southern province of an Arab state, whose capital was to be established in Damascus. Greater Syria was to include territory of the entire Levant, now occupied by Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestinian Authority and Israel. The struggle for Greater Syria collapsed after France defeated the Arab forces in Battle of Maysalun in July 1920. The French army entered Damascus at that time, overthrew King Faisal and put an end to the project of a Greater Syria, put under the French Mandate in accordance with the prior Sykes-Picot Agreement. Palestinian notables responded to the disaster by a series of resolutions at the 1921 Haifa conference, which set down a Palestinian framework and passed over in silence the earlier idea of a south confederated with Syria. This framework set the tone of Palestinian nationalism for the ensuing decades.[33][34]

Al-Husseini, like many of his class and period, then turned from Damascus-oriented Pan-Arabism to a specifically Palestinian ideology, centered on Jerusalem, which sought to block Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine.[35] The frustration of pan-Arab aspirations lent an Islamic colour to the struggle for independence, and increasing resort to the idea of restoring the land to Dar al-Islam.[36] From his election as Mufti until 1923, al-Husseini exercised total control over the secret society, Al-Fida’iyya (The Self-Sacrificers), which, together with al-Ikha’ wal-‘Afaf (Brotherhood and Purity), played an important role in clandestine anti-British and anti-Zionist activities, and, via members in the gendarmerie, had engaged in riotous activities as early as April 1920.[37]

Mufti of Jerusalem

Following the death of Amin's half-brother, the mufti Kamil al-Husayni in March 1921, the British High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel pardoned al-Husseini. He and another Arab had been excluded from the general amnesty, six weeks earlier, because they had fled before their convictions had been passed down. Elections were then held, and of the four candidates running for the office of Mufti, al-Husseini received the least number of votes, the first three being Nashashibi candidates. Nevertheless, Samuel was anxious to keep a balance between the al-Husseinis and their rival clan the Nashashibis.[38] A year earlier the British had replaced Musa al-Husayni as Mayor of Jerusalem with Ragheb al-Nashashibi. They then moved to secure for the Husseini clan a compensatory function of prestige by appointing one of them to the position of mufti, and, with the support of Ragheb al-Nashashibi and Sheikh Hussam Jārallāh, prevailing upon the Nashashibi front-runner, Sheikh Hussam ad-Din Jarallah, to withdraw. This automatically promoted Amin al-Husseini to third position, which, under Ottoman law, allowed him to qualify, and Samuel then chose him as Mufti.[39] His initial appointment was as Mufti, but when the Supreme Muslim Council was created in the following year, Husseini demanded and received the title Grand Mufti that had earlier been created, perhaps on the lines of Egyptian usage,[40] by the British for his half-brother Kamil.[41][42][43] The position came with a life tenure.[44]

In 1922, al-Husseini was elected President of the Supreme Muslim Council which had been created by Samuel in 1921.[45] Matthews argues that the British considered the combinations of his profile as an effective Arab nationalist and a scion of a noble Jerusalem family 'made it advantageous to align his interests with those of the British administration and thereby keep him on a short tether.'.[46] The Council controlled the Waqf funds, worth annually tens of thousands of pounds[47] and the orphan funds, worth annually about £50,000, as compared to the £600,000 in the Jewish Agency's annual budget.[48] In addition, he controlled the Islamic courts in Palestine. Among other functions, these courts were entrusted with the power to appoint teachers and preachers.

The British initially balanced appointments to the Supreme Muslim Council between the Husseinis and their supporters (known as the majlisiya, or council supporters) and the Nashashibis and their allied clans (known as the mu'aridun, the opposition).[49] The mu'aridun, were more disposed to a compromise with the Jews, and indeed had for some years received annual subventions from the Jewish Agency.[50] During most of the period of the British mandate, bickering between these two families seriously undermined any Palestinian Arab unity. In 1936, however, they achieved a measure of concerted policy when all the Palestinian Arab groups joined to create a permanent executive organ known as the Arab Higher Committee under al-Husseini's chairmanship.

The Haram ash-Sharif and the Western Wall

The Supreme Muslim Council and its head al-Husseini, who regarded himself as guardian of one of the three holy sites of Islam, launched an international campaign in Muslim countries to gather funds to restore and improve the Noble Sanctuary (Haram ash-Sharif) or Temple Mount, and particularly its mosques, Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock (which houses the holiest site in Judaism).[51] The whole area required extensive restoration, given the disrepair into which it had fallen from neglect in Ottoman times. Jerusalem was the original direction towards which Muslims prayed, until the Qibla was reorientated towards Mecca by Mohammed in the year 624. Al-Husseini commissioned the Turkish architect Mimar Kemalettin.[52] In restoring the site, al-Husseini was also assisted by the Mandatory power's Catholic Director of Antiquities, Ernest Tatham Richmond.[53] Under Richmond's supervision, the Turkish architect drew up a plan, and the execution of the works gave a notable stimulus to the revival of traditional artisan arts like mosaic tesselation, glassware production, woodcraft, wickerwork and iron-mongering.[54][55]

Al-Husseini's vigorous efforts to transform the Haram into a symbol of pan-Arabic and Palestinian nationalism were intended to rally Arab support against the postwar influx of Jewish immigrants. In his campaigning, al-Husseini often accused Jews of planning to take possession of the Western Wall of Jerusalem, which belonged to the waqf of Abu Madyan as an inalienable property, and rebuild the Temple over the Al-Aqsa Mosque.[56] He took certain statements, for example, by the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine, Abraham Isaac Kook regarding the eventual return in time of the Temple Mount back to Jewish hands, and turned them to a concrete political plot to seize control of the area.[57] Al-Husseini's intensive work to refurbish the shrine as a cynosure for the Muslim world, and Jewish endeavours to improve their access to, and establish a ritually appropriate ambiance on the plaza by the Western Wall, led to increased conflict between the two communities, each seeing the site only from their own traditional perspective and interests.[58] Zionist narratives pinpointed al-Husseini's works on, and publicity about, the site and threats to it, as attempts to restore his own family's waning prestige. Arab narratives read the heightened agitation of certain Jewish groups over the Wall as an attempt to revive diaspora interest in Zionism after some years of relative decline, depression and emigration.[59] Each attempt to make minor alterations to the status quo, still governed by Ottoman law, was bitterly protested before the British authorities by the Muslim authorities. If Moslems could cite an Ottoman regulation of 1912 specifically forbidding objects like seating to be introduced, the Jews could cite testimonies to the fact that before 1914 certain exceptions had been made to improve their access and use of the Wall.[60] The decade witnessed several such episodes of strong friction, and the simmering tensions came to a head in late 1928, only to erupt, after a brief respite, into an explosion of violence a year later.

1929 Palestine Riots

Main article: 1929 Palestine riots

Prelude

On 10 August 1928, a constituent assembly convened by the French in Syria was rapidly adjourned when calls were made for a reunification with Palestine.[61] Al-Husseini and Awni Abd al-Hadi met with the Syrian nationalists[62] and they made a joint proclamation for a unified monarchical state under a son of Ibn Sa'ud. On the 26th.[63] the completion of the first stage of restoration work on the Haram's mosques was celebrated with great pomp, in the presence of representatives from the Muslim countries which had financed the project, the Mandatory authorities, and Abdullah, Emir of Transjordan. A month later, after an article appeared in the Jewish press proposing the purchase and destruction of houses in the Moroccan quarter bordering on the wall to improve pilgrim access and further thereby the 'Redemption of Israel.'[64] Soon after, on 23 September,[65] Yom Kippur, a Jewish beadle introduced a screen to separate male and female worshippers at the Wall. Informed by residents in the neighbouring Mughrabi quarter, the waqf authority complained to Harry Luke, acting Chief Secretary to the Government of Palestine, that this virtually changed the lane into a synagogue, and violated the status quo, as had the collapsible seats in 1926. British constables, encountering a refusal, used force to remove the screen, and a jostling clash ensued between worshippers and police.[64]

Zionist allegations that disproportionate force had been employed during what was a solemn occasion of prayer created an outcry throughout the diaspora. Worldwide Jewish protests remonstrated with Britain for the violence exercised at the Wall. The Jewish National Council Vaad Leumi ‘demanded that British administration expropriate the wall for the Jews’.[66] In reply, the Muslims organized a Defence Committee for the Protection of the Noble Buraq,[67] and huge crowd rallies took place on the Al-Aqsa plaza in protest. Work, often noisy, was immediately undertaken on a mosque above the Jewish prayer site. Disturbances such as opening a passage for donkeys to pass through the area, angered worshippers.[68] After intense negotiations, the Zionist organisation denied any intent to take over the whole Haram Ash-Sharif, but demanded the government expropriate and raze the Moroccan quarter. A law of 1924 allowed the British authorities to expropriate property, and fear of this in turn greatly agitated the Muslim community, though the laws of donation of the waqf explicitly disallowed any such alienation. After lengthy deliberation, a White Paper was made public on 11 December 1928 in favour of the status quo.[69]

After the nomination of the new High Commissioner Sir John Chancellor to succeed Lord Plumer in December 1928, the question was re-examined, and in February 1929 legal opinion established that the mandatory authority was within its powers to intervene to ensure Jewish rights of access and prayer. Al-Husseini pressed him for a specific clarification of the legal status quo regarding the Wall. Chancellor mulled weakening the SMC and undermining al-Husseini's authority by making the office of mufti elective. The Nabi Musa festival of April that year passed without incident, despite al-Husseini's warnings of possible incidents. Chancellor thought his power was waning, and after conferring with London, admitted to al-Husseini on 6 May that he was impotent to act decisively in the matter. Al-Husseini replied that, unless the Mandatory authorities acted, then, very much like Christian monks protecting their sacred sites in Jerusalem, the sheikhs would have to take infringements of the status quo into their own hands, and personally remove any objects introduced by Jews to the area. Chancellor asked him to be patient, and al-Husseini offered to stop works on the Mount on condition that this gesture not be taken as a recognition of Jewish rights. A change of government in Britain in June led to a new proposal: only Muslim works in the sector near where Jews prayed should be subject to mandatory authorisation: Jews could employ ritual objects, but the introduction of seats and screens would be subject to Muslim authorisation. Chancellor authorised the Muslims to recommence their reconstructive work, while, responding to further Zionist complaints, prevailed on the SMC to stop the raucous Zikr ceremonies in the vicinity of the wall.[70] He also asked the Zionist representatives to refrain from filling their newspapers with attacks on the government and Muslim authorities. Chancellor then departed for Europe where the Mandatory Commission was deliberating.[71]

Riots

With Chancellor abroad, and the Zionist Commission itself, with its leader Colonel Frederick Kisch, in Zurich for the 16th. Zionist Congress (attended also by Ze'ev Jabotinsky), the SMC resumed works, confidentially authorised, on the Haram only to be met with outcries from the Jewish press. The administration rapidly published the new rules on 22 July, with a serious error in translation that fueled Zionist reports of a plot against Jewish rights.[72] A protest in London led to a public declaration by a member of the Zionist Commission that Jewish rights were bigger than the status quo, a statement which encouraged in turn Arab suspicions that local agreements were again being overthrown by Jewish intrigues abroad. News that the Zurich Congress, in creating the Jewish Agency on 11 August., had brought unity among Zionists and the world Jewish community, a measure that would greatly increase Jewish investment in British Palestine,[73] set off alarm bells. On 15 August, Tisha B'Av, a day memorializing the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, the revisionist Betar movement, despite Pinhas Rutenberg's plea on 8 August to the acting High Commissioner Harry Luke to stop such groups from participating,[74] rallied members from Tel Aviv to join them in the religious commemoration. Kisch, before leaving, had banned Jewish demonstrations in Jerusalem's Arab quarters. The Betar youth gave the ceremony a strong nationalist tinge by singing the Hatikvah, waving the flag of Israel, and chanting the slogan 'The Wall is Ours'.[75][76] The following day coincided with mawlid (or mawsin al-nabi),[77] the anniversary of the birth of Islam's prophet, Muhammad. Muslim worshippers, after prayers on the esplanade of the Haram, passed through the narrow lane by the Wailing Wall and ripped up prayer books, and kotel notes (wall petitions), without harming however three Jews present. Contacted by Luke, al-Husseini undertook to do his best to maintain calm on the Haram, but could not stop demonstrators from gathering at the Wall.

On 17 August a young Jewish boy was stabbed to death by Arabs while retrieving a football, while an Arab was badly wounded in a brawl with Palestinian Jews.[78] Strongly tied to the anti-Hashemite party,[79] and attacked by supporters of Abdullah in Transjordan for misusing funds marked out for campaigning against France, al-Husseini asked for a visa for himself and Awni Abd al-Hadi to travel to Syria, where the leadership of the Syrian anti-French cause was being contested.[80] Averse to his presence in Syria, the French asked him to put off the journey. Meanwhile, despite Harry Luke's lecturing journalists to avoid reporting such material, rumours circulated in both communities, of an imminent massacre of Jews by Muslims, and of an assault on the Haram ash-Sharif by Jews. On 21 August a funeral cortège, taking the form of a public demonstration for the dead Jewish boy, wound its way through the old city, with the police blocking attempts to break into the Arab quarters. On the 22nd, Luke convoked representatives of both parties to calm things down, and undersign a joint declaration. Awni Abd al-Hadi and Jamal al-Husayni were ready to recognize Jewish visiting rights at the Wall in exchange for Jewish recognition of Islamic prerogatives at the Buraq. The Jewish representative, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, considered this beyond his brief—which was limited to an appeal for calm—and the Arabs in turn refused. They agreed to pursue their dialogue the following week.

On 23 August, a Friday, two or three Arabs were murdered in the Jewish quarter of Mea Shearim.[81] It was also a day of Muslim prayer. A large crowd, composed of many people from outlying villages, thronged into Jerusalem, many armed with sticks and knives. It is not known whether this was organized by al-Husseini or the result of spontaneous mobilisation. The sermon at Al-Aqsa was to be delivered by another preacher, but Luke prevailed on al-Husseini to leave his home and go to the mosque, where he was greeted as 'the sword of the faith' and where he instructed the preacher to deliver a pacific sermon, while sending an urgent message for police reinforcements around the Haram. Deluded by the lenitive address, extremists harangued the crowd, accusing al-Husseini of being an infidel to the Muslim cause. The same violent accusation was launched in Jaffa against sheikh Muzaffir, an otherwise radical Islamic preacher, who gave a sermon calling for calm on the same day.[82] An assault was launched on the Jewish quarter. Violent mob attacks on Jewish communities, fueled by wildfire hearsay about ostensible massacres of Arabs and attempts to seize the Wall, took place over the following days in Hebron, Safed and Haifa. In all, in the killings and subsequent revenge attacks, 136 Arabs and 135 Jews died, while 340 of the latter were wounded, as well as an estimated 240 Arabs.[83]

Aftermath

Two official investigations were subsequently conducted by the British and the League of Nations's Mandatory Commission. The former, The Shaw Report, concluded that the incident on 23 August consisted of an attack by Arabs on Jews, but rejected the view that the riots had been premeditated. Al-Husseini certainly played an energetic role in Muslim demonstrations from 1928 onwards, but could not be held responsible for the August riots, even if he had 'a share in the responsibility for the disturbances'.[84] He had nonetheless collaborated from the 23rd. of that month in pacifying rioters and reestablishing order. The worst outbreaks occurred in areas, Hebron, Safed, Jaffa, and Haifa where his Arab political adversaries were dominant. The root cause of the violent outbreaks lay in the fear of territorial dispossession.[85] In a Note of Reservation, Mr. Harry Snell, who had apparently been swayed by Sir Herbert Samuel's son, Edwin Samuel[86] states that, although he was satisfied that the Mufti was not directly responsible for the violence or had connived at it, he believed the Mufti was aware of the nature of the anti-Zionist campaign and the danger of disturbances.[87] He therefore attributed to the Mufti a greater share of the blame than the official report had.[87] The Dutch Vice-Chairman of the Permanent Mandates Commission, M. Van Rees, argued that 'the disturbances of August 1929, as well as the previous disturbances of a similar character, were, in brief, only a special aspect of the resistance offered everywhere in the East, with its traditional and feudal civilisation, to the invasion of a European civilisation introduced by a Western administration' but concluded that in his view 'the responsibility for what had happened must lie with the religious and political leaders of the Arabs'.[88]

Many observers saw al-Husseini as the mastermind behind the riots, accusing him of dispatching secret emissaries to inflame regional passions [citation]. In London, Lord Melchett demanded his arrest for orchestrating all anti-British unrest throughout the Middle East. Consular documentation discarded the plot thesis rapidly, and identified the deeper cause as political, not religious, namely in what the Palin report had earlier identified[89] as profound Arab discontent over Zionism. Arab memoirs on the fitna (troubles) follow a contemporary proclamation for the Defence of the Wall on 31 August, which justified the riots as legitimate, but nowhere mention a coordinated plan. Izzat Darwaza, an Arab nationalist rival of al-Husseini, alone asserts, without details, that al-Husseini was responsible. Al-Husseini in his memoirs never claimed to have played such a role.[90]

The High Commissioner received al-Husseini twice officially on 1 October 1929 and a week later, and the latter complained of pro-Zionist bias in an area where the Arab population still viewed Great Britain favorably. Al-Husseini argued that the weakness of the Arab position was that they lacked political representation in Europe, whereas for millennia, in his view, the Jews dominated with their genius for intrigue. He assured Chancellor of his cooperation in maintaining public order.[91]

Political Activities 1930-1935

By 1928-1929 a coalition of a new Palestinian nationalist group began to challenge the hegemony so far exercised by al-Husseini. The group, more pragmatic, hailed from the landed gentry and from business circles, and was intent on what they considered a policy of more realistic accommodation to the Mandatory government. From this period on, a rift emerged, that was to develop into a feud between the directive elite of Palestinian Arabs.[92]

In 1931, al-Husseini founded the World Islamic Congress, on which he was to serve as president. Versions differ as to whether or not al-Husseini supported Izz ad-Din al-Qassam when he undertook clandestine activities against the British Mandate authorities. His appointment as imam of the al-Istiqlal mosque in Haifa had been approved by al-Husseini. Lachman argues that he secretly encouraged, and perhaps financed al-Qassam at this period. Whatever their relations, the latter's independent activism, and open challenge to the British authorities appears to have led to a rupture between the two.[93] By 1935 al-Husseini did take control of one clandestine organization, of whose nature he had not been informed until the preceding year,[94] which had been set up in 1931 by Musa Kazim al-Husayni's son, Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni and recruited from the Palestinian Arab Boy Scout movement, called the 'Holy Struggle' (al-jihad al-muqaddas).[95] This and another paramilitary youth organization, al-Futuwwah, paralleled the clandestine Jewish Haganah. Rumours, and occasional discovery of caches and shipments of arms, strengthened military preparations on both sides.[96]

Arab revolt of 1936-1939

Main article: 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine

On 19 April 1936, a wave of protest strikes and attacks against both the British authorities and Jews was unleashed in Palestine. Initially, the riots were led by Farhan al-Sa'di, a militant sheik of the northern al-Qassam group, with links to the Nashashibis. After the arrest and execution of Farhan, al-Husseini seized the initiative by negotiating an alliance with the al-Qassam faction.[97] Apart from some foreign subsidies, including a substantial amount from Fascist Italy,[98] he controlled waqf and orphan funds that generated annual income of about 115,000 Palestine pounds. After the start of the revolt, most of that money was used to finance the activities of his representatives throughout the country. To Italy's Consul-General in Jerusalem, Mariano de Angelis, he explained in July that his decision to get directly involved in the conflict arose from the trust he reposed in Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's backing and promises.[99] Upon al-Husseini's initiative, the leaders of Palestinian Arab clans formed the Arab Higher Committee under the Mufti's chairmanship. The Committee called for nonpayment of taxes after 15 May and for a general strike of Arab workers and businesses, demanding an end to the Jewish immigration. The British High Commissioner for Palestine, Sir Arthur Wauchope, responded by engaging in negotiations with al-Husseini and the Committee. The talks, however, soon proved fruitless. Al-Husseini issued a series of warnings, threatening the 'revenge of God Almighty' unless the Jewish immigration were to stop, and the general strike began, paralyzing the government, public transportation, Arab businesses and agriculture.[100]

As the time passed, by autumn the Arab middle class had exhausted its resources.[101] Under these circumstances, the Mandatory government was looking for an intermediary who might help persuade the Arab Higher Committee to end the rebellion. Al-Husseini and the Committee rejected King Abdullah of Transjordan as mediator because of his dependence on the British and friendship with the Zionists, but accepted the Iraqi Foreign Minister Nuri as-Said. As Wauchope warned of an impending military campaign and simultaneously offered to dispatch a Royal Commission of Inquiry to hear the Arab complaints, the Arab Higher Committee called off the strike on 11 October.[102] When the promised Royal Commission of Inquiry arrived in Palestine in November, al-Husseini testified before it as chief witness for the Arabs.[102]

In July 1937, British police were sent to arrest al-Husseini for his part in the Arab rebellion, but, tipped off, he managed to escape to the sanctuary of asylum in the Haram. He stayed there for three months, directing the revolt from within. Four days after the assassination of the Acting District Commissioner for that area Lewis Yelland Andrews by Galilean members of the al-Qassam group on 26 September, al-Husseini was deposed from the presidency of the Muslim Supreme Council, the Arab Higher Committee was declared illegal, and warrants for the arrest of its leaders were issued, as being at least 'morally responsible', though no proofs existed for their complicity.[103] Of them only Jamal al-Husayni managed to escape to Syria: the remaining five were exiled to the Seychelles. Al-Husseini was not among the indicted but, fearing imprisonment, on 13–14 October, after sliding under cover of darkess down a rope from the Haram's wall, he himself fled via Jaffa to Lebanon, disguised as a Bedouin,[104][105] where he reconstituted the committee under his leadership.[106] Al-Husseini's tactics, his abuse of power to punish other clans, and the killing of political adversaries he considered 'traitors',[107] alienated many Palestinian Arabs. One local leader, Abu Shair, told Da'ud al-Husayni, an emissary from Damascus who bore a list of people to be assassinated during the uprising that:

'I don’t work for Husayniya ('Husayni-ism') but for wataniya (nationalism).'[108]
He remained in Lebanon for two years, under French surveillance in the Christian village of Zouk,[109] but, in October 1939, his deteriorating relationship with the French and Syrian authorities led him to withdraw to the Kingdom of Iraq. By June 1939, after the disintegration of the revolt, Husseini's policy of killing only proven turncoats changed to one of liquidating all suspects, even members of his own family, according to one intelligence report.[110]

The rebellion itself had lasted until March 1939, when it was finally quelled by British troops. It forced Britain to make substantial concessions to Arab demands. Jewish immigration was to continue but under restrictions, with a quota of 75,000 places spread out over the following five years. On the expiry of this period further Jewish immigration would depend on Arab consent. Besides local unrest, another key factor in bringing about a decisive change in British policy was Nazi Germany's preparations for a European war, which would develop into a worldwide conflict. In British strategic thinking, securing the loyalty and support of the Arab world assumed an importance of some urgency. While Jewish support was unquestioned, Arab backing in a new global conflict was by no means assured. By promising to phase out Jewish immigration into Palestine, Britain hoped to win back support from wavering Arabs.[111] Al-Husseini nonetheless felt that the concessions did not go far enough, and he rejected the new policy. See also Peel Commission, White Paper of 1939.

Neve Gordon writes that al-Husseini regard all alternative nationalist views as treasonous, opponents became traitors and collaborators, and patronizing or employing Jews of any description illegitimate.[112] From Beirut he continued to issue directives. The price for murdering opposition leaders and peace leaders rose by July to 100 Palestinian pounds: a suspected traitor 25 pounds, and a Jew 10. Notwithstanding this, ties with the Jews were reestablished by leading families such as the Nashashibis, and by the Fahoum of Nazareth.[113]

Ties with the Axis Powers during World War II

The nature of al-Husseini's support for the Axis powers, and his alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy is hotly disputed. Some, like Renzo De Felice, deny that the relationship can be taken to reflect a putative affinity of Arab nationalism with Nazi/Fascist ideology, and that men like Husseini chose them as allies for purely strategic reasons.[114] on the grounds that, as Husseini later wrote in his memoirs,'the enemy of your enemy is your friend',[115] Others think that Husseini's motives were deeply inflected by antisemitism from the outset.[116] When Haj Amin met with Hitler and Ribbentrop in 1941, he assured Hitler that 'The Arabs were Germany's natural friends because they had the same enemies... namely the English, the Jews, and the Communists'.[117]

Pre-war

In 1933, within weeks of Hitler's rise to power in Germany, the German Consul-General in Palestine, the pro-nazi Heinrich Wolff,[118] sent a telegram to Berlin reporting al-Husseini's belief that Palestinian Muslims were enthusiastic about the new regime and looked forward to the spread of Fascism throughout the region. Wolff met al-Husseini and many sheiks again, a month later, at Nabi Musa. They expressed their approval of the anti-Jewish boycott in Germany and asked Wolff not to send any Jews to Palestine.[119] Wolff subsequently wrote in his annual report for that year that the Arabs' political naïvety led them to fail to recognize the link between German Jewish policy and their problems in Palestine, and that their enthusiasm for Nazi Germany was devoid of any real understanding of the phenomenon.[120] The various proposals by Palestinian Arab notables like al-Husseini were rejected consistently over the years out of concern to avoid disrupting Anglo-German relations, in line with Germany's policy of not imperilling their economic and cultural interests in the region by a change in their policy of neutrality, and respect for British interests. Hitler's Englandpolitik essentially precluded significant assistance to Arab leaders.[121] Italy also made the nature of its assistance to the Palestinian contingent on the outcome of its own negotiations with Britain, and cut off aid when it appeared that the British were ready to admit the failure of their pro-Zionist policy in Palestine.[122] Al-Husseini's adversary, Ze'ev Jabotinsky had at the same time cut off Irgun ties with Italy after the passage of antisemitic racial legislation.

Though Italy did offer substantial aid, some German assistance also trickled through. After asking the new German Consul-General, Hans Döhle on 21 July 1937 for support, the Abwehr briefly made an exception to its policy and gave some limited aid. But this was aimed to exert pressure on Britain over Czechoslovakia. Promised arms shipments never eventuated.[123] This was not the only diplomatic front on which al-Husseini was active. A month after his visit to Döhle, he met with the American Consul George Wadsworth (August 1937), to whom he professed his belief that America was remote from imperialist ambitions and therefore able to understand that Zionism 'represented a hostile and imperialist aggression directed against an inhabited country’. In a further interview with Wadsworth on 31 August, he expressed his fears that Jewish influence in the United States might persuade the country to side with Zionists.[124] In the same period he courted the French government by expressing a willingness to assist them in the region.[125]

In the Middle East

With the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 the Iraqi Government complied with a British request to break off diplomatic relations with Germany, interned all German nationals, and introduced emergency measures putting Iraq on a virtual war-footing.[126] A circle of 7 officers opposed this decision and the measures taken. With Nuri as-Said's agreement—he wished to persuade al-Husseini of the value of the British White Paper of 1939—they invited al-Husseini to Iraq in October 1939, and he was to play an influential role there in the following two years.[127] A quadrumvirate of four younger generals among the seven, three of whom had served with al-Husseini in World War I, were hostile to the idea of subordinating Iraqi national interests to Britain's war strategy and requirements.[128][129] In March 1940, the nationalist Rashid Ali replaced Nuri as-Said. Ali made covert contacts with German representatives in the Middle East, though he was not yet an openly pro-Axis supporter, and al-Husseini's personal secretary Kemal Hadad acted as a liaison between the Axis powers and these officers.[130] As the European situation for the Allies deteriorated, Husseini advised Iraq to adhere to the letter to their treaty with Great Britain, and avoid being drawn into the war in order to conserve her energies for the liberation of Arab countries. Were Russia, Japan and Italy to side with Germany however, Iraqis should proclaim a revolt in Palestine.[131]

In mid May 1940, despairing of their ability to secure control of Iraq's oil fields and deny access to Germany, the British turned to the extremist Irgun, approaching one of its commanders, David Raziel, whom they had imprisoned in Mandatory Palestine. They asked him if he would undertake to destroy Iraq's oil refineries, and thus turn off the spigots to Germany. Raziel agreed on condition he be allowed to "acquire"(kidnap) the Mufti and bring him back to Palestine. The mission plan was changed at the last moment, however, and Raziel died when his plane was shot down by a German fighter.[132][133][134]

Al-Husseini used his influence and ties with the Germans to promote Arab nationalism in Iraq. He was among the key promoters of the pan-Arab Al-Muthanna Club, and supported the coup d'état by Rashid Ali in April 1941. The situation of Iraq's Jews rapidly deteriorated, with extortions and sometimes murders taking place.[135] When the Anglo-Iraqi War broke out, al-Husseini used his influence to issue a fatwa for a holy war against Britain. As the British advanced on the capital, the Farhud pogrom in Baghdad, led by members of the Al-Muthanna Club,[136] which had served as a conduit for German propaganda funding,[137] erupted in June 1941, following the Iraqi defeat and the collapse of Rashid Ali's government. The pogrom was rooted in antisemitic incitement during the preceding decade against the backdrop of the conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine.[135]

When the war failed for the Iraqis - given its paucity, German and Italian assistance played a negligible role in the war -[138] al-Husseini escaped to Persia (together with Rashid Ali), where he was granted legation asylum first by Japan, and then by Italy. On 8 October, after the occupation of Persia by the Allies and after the new Persian government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi severed diplomatic relations with the Axis powers, al-Husseini was taken under Italian protection and conveyed through Turkey to Axis Europe[139][140] in an operation organized by Italian Military Intelligence (Servizio Informazioni Militari, or SIM).[141]

In Nazi-occupied Europe

Al-Husseini arrived in Rome on 10 October 1941. He outlined his proposals before Alberto Ponce de Leon. On condition that the Axis powers 'recognize in principle the unity, independence, and sovereignty, of an Arab state, including Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Transjordan', he offered support in the war against Britain and stated his willingness to discuss the issues of 'the Holy Places, Lebanon, the Suez Canal, and Aqaba'. The Italian foreign ministry approved al-Husseini's proposal, recommended giving him a grant of one million lire, and referred him to Benito Mussolini, who met al-Husseini on 27 October. According to al-Husseini's account, it was an amicable meeting in which Mussolini expressed his hostility to the Jews and Zionism.[142]

Back in the summer of 1940 and again in February 1941, al-Husseini submitted to the Nazi German Government a draft declaration of German-Arab cooperation, containing a clause:
Germany and Italy recognize the right of the Arab countries to solve the question of the Jewish elements, which exist in Palestine and in the other Arab countries, as required by the national and ethnic (völkisch) interests of the Arabs, and as the Jewish question was solved in Germany and Italy.[143]

Now, encouraged by his meeting with the Italian leader, al-Husseini prepared a draft declaration, affirming the Axis support for the Arabs on 3 November. In three days, the declaration, slightly amended by the Italian foreign ministry, received the formal approval of Mussolini and was forwarded to the German embassy in Rome. On 6 November, al-Husseini arrived in Berlin, where he discussed the text of his declaration with Ernst von Weizsäcker and other German officials. In the final draft, which differed only marginally from al-Husseini's original proposal, the Axis powers declared their readiness to approve the elimination (Beseitigung) of the Jewish National Home in Palestine.[144]


On 20 November, al-Husseini met the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop[145] and was officially received by Adolf Hitler on 28 November.[146] He asked Adolf Hitler for a public declaration that 'recognized and sympathized with the Arab struggles for independence and liberation, and that would support the elimination of a national Jewish homeland'.[147] Hitler refused to make such a public announcement, saying that it would strengthen the Gaullists against the Vichy France,[148] but asked al-Husseini to 'to lock ...deep in his heart' the following points, which Christopher Browning summarizes as follows, that
‘Germany has resolved, step by step, to ask one European nation after the other to solve its Jewish problem, and at the proper time, direct a similar appeal to non-European nations as well'. When Germany had defeated Russia and broken through the Caucasus into the Middle East, it would have no further imperial goals of its own and would support Arab liberation... But Hitler did have one goal. "Germany’s objective would then be solely the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere under the protection of British power". (Das deutsche Ziel würde dann lediglich die Vernichtung des im arabischen Raum unter der Protektion der britischen Macht lebenden Judentums sein). In short, Jews were not simply to be driven out of the German sphere but would be hunted down and destroyed even beyond it.’[149]


According to Amin's account, when Hitler expounded his view that the Jews were responsible for World War I, Marxism and its revolutions, and this was why the task of Germans was to persevere in a battle without mercy against the Jews, he replied:-

'We Arabs think that Zionism, not the Jews, is the cause of all of these acts of sabotage.'[150]

A separate record of the meeting was made by Fritz Grobba, who until recently had been the German ambassor to Iraq. His version of the crucial words reads 'when the hour of Arab liberation comes, Germany has no interest there other than the destruction of the power protecting the Jews".[151] Al-Husseini's own account of this point, as recorded in his diary, is very similar to Grobba's.[152]

In December 1942, al-Husseini held a speech at the celebration of the opening of the Islamic Central Institute (Islamische Zentralinstitut) in Berlin, of which he served as honorary chair. In the speech, he harshly criticised those he considered as aggressors against Muslims, namely "Jews, Bolsheviks and Anglo-Saxons." At the time of the opening of the Islamic Central Institute, there were an estimated 3,000 Muslims in Germany, including 400 German converts. The Islamic Central Institute gave the Muslims in Germany institutional ties to the 'Third Reich'.[153]

The Holocaust

Al-Husseini and the Holocaust

Al-Husseini settled in Berlin in late 1941 and resided there for most of the war.[154] Various sources have repeated allegations, mostly ungrounded in documentary evidence, that he visited the death camps of Auschwitz, Majdanek, Treblinka and Mauthausen.[154] At the Nuremberg trials, one of Adolf Eichmann's deputies, Dieter Wisliceny, stated that al-Husseini had actively encouraged the extermination of European Jews, and that he had had an elaborate meeting with Eichmann at his office, during which Eichmann gave him an intensive look at the current state of the “Solution of the Jewish Question in Europe” by the Third Reich. Most of these allegations are completely unfounded.[154] A single affidavit by Rudolf Kastner reported that Wisliceny told him that he had overheard Husseini say he had visited Auschwitz incognito in Eichmann's company.[155] Eichmann denied this at his trial in Jerusalem in 1961. He had been invited to Palestine in 1937 by a representative of the Haganah, Feival Polkes,[156] for office business, apparently concerning the Ha'avara Agreement for Jewish immigration into Palestine from Germany, at a time when he was not even a commissioned officer. As for contacting the Arab rebels in Palestine, or their leader the Mufti, Eichmann was turned back by the British authorities at the Egyptian border.[157] Eichmann stated that he had only been introduced to al-Husseini during an official reception, along with all other department heads. In the final judgement, the Jerusalem court stated: 'In the light of this partial admission by the Accused, we accept as correct Wisliceny's statement about this conversation between the Mufti and the Accused. In our view it is not important whether this conversation took place in the Accused's office or elsewhere. On the other hand, we cannot determine decisive findings with regard to the Accused on the basis of the notes appearing in the Mufti's diary which were submitted to us.'[158] Hannah Arendt, who attended the complete Eichmann trial, concluded in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil that, 'The trial revealed only that all rumours about Eichmann's connection with Haj Amin el Husseini, the former Mufti of Jerusalem, were unfounded.'[159]

Rafael Medoff concludes that 'actually there is no evidence that the Mufti's presence was a factor at all; the Wisliceny hearsay is not merely uncorroborated, but conflicts with everything else that is known about the origins of the Final Solution.'[160] Bernard Lewis also called Wisliceny's testimony into doubt: 'There is no independent documentary confirmation of Wisliceny's statements, and it seems unlikely that the Nazis needed any such additional encouragement from the outside.'[161]

An associate of al-Husseini's, together with three associates of former Iraqi Prime Minister did visit the Sachsenhausen concentration camp as part of a "training course" in July 1942. At the time, the Sachsenhausen camp housed large numbers of Jews, but was only transformed into a death camp in the following year.[162] Their tour through the camp presented it as a re-educational institution, and they were shown the high quality of objects made by inmates, and happy Russian prisoners who, reformed to fight Bolshevism, were paraded, singing, in sprightly new uniforms. They left the camp very favourably impressed by its programme of educational indocrination.[163] Wolfgang G. Schwanitz notes that in his memoirs Husseini recalled that Heinrich Himmler, in the summer of 1943, while confiding some German war secrets, inveighed against Jewish "war guilt", and, speaking of Germany’s persecution of the Jews said that "up to now we have exterminated (in Arabic, abadna) around three million of them". In his memoirs, Husseini wrote he was astonished to hear this. Schwanitz doubts the sincerity of his surprise since, he argues, Husseini had publicly declared that Muslims should follow the example Germans set for a "definitive solution to the Jewish problem".[164]

Al-Husseini's attempts to block Jewish refugees

Husseini intervened on 13 May 1943, before the meeting with Himmler when he was informed of the Holocaust,[165] with the German Foreign Office to block possible transfers of Jews from Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, after reports reached him that 4,000 Jewish children accompanied by 500 adults had managed to reach Palestine. He asked that the Foreign Minister "to do his utmost" to block all such proposals and this request was complied with.[166] According to Idith Zertal, none of the documents presented at Eichmann's trial prove that it was the Mufti's interference, in these 'acts of total evil,' that prevented the children's rescue.[167] A year later, on 25 July 1944, he wrote to the Hungarian foreign minister to register his objection to the release of certificates for 900 Jewish children and 100 adults for transfer from Hungary, fearing they might end up in Palestine. He suggested that if such transfers of population were deemed necessary, then:

"it would be indispensable and infinitely preferable to send them to other countries where they would find themselves under active control, as for example Poland, thus avoiding danger and preventing damage."[168]

In September 1943, intense negotiations to rescue 500 Jewish children from the town of Arbe in Croatia collapsed due to the objection of al-Husseini who blocked the children's departure to Turkey because they would end up in Palestine.[169]

Intervention in Palestine and the ATLAS affair

Among the acts of sabotage al-Husseini attempted to implement, Michael Bar Zohar reports a chemical warfare assault, on the second largest and predominantly Jewish city in Palestine, Tel Aviv, nicknamed operation ATLAS. According to him, five parachutists were sent with a toxin to dump into the water system. The police caught the infiltrators in a cave near Jericho, and according to Jericho district police commander Fayiz Bey Idrissi, 'The laboratory report stated that each container held enough poison to kill 25,000 people, and there were at least ten containers.' Medoff concludes,

Under Husseini's direction, teams of Arab saboteurs were parachuted into Iraq, Transjordan and Palestine, where they attacked Allied facilities such as telephone lines, pipelines, bridges and railways. One such sabotage team was armed with a substantial quantity of poison that they were supposed to dump into the Tel Aviv water system. In a separate but related matter, the Mufti repeatedly urged the Germans to bomb Tel Aviv.[170] and Jerusalem 'in order to injure Palestinian Jewry and for propaganda purposes in the Arab world', as his Nazi interlocutors put it. The proposals were rejected as militarily unfeasible.[171]

Propaganda and recruitment


Throughout World War II, al-Husseini worked for the Axis Powers as a broadcaster in propaganda targeting Arab public opinion. The Mufti was paid “an absolute fortune” of 50,000 marks a month (when a German field marshal was making 25,000 marks a year).[173] Walter Winchell called him 'the Arabian Lord Haw-Haw.'[174]

He recruited Muslim volunteers for the German armed forces operating in the Balkans. Beginning in 1941, al-Husseini visited Bosnia, and convinced Muslim leaders that a Muslim S.S. division would be in the interest of Islam. In spite of these and other propaganda efforts, "only half of the expected 20,000 to 25,000 Muslims volunteered'.[175] The largest division was the 13th Handschar division, which conducted operations against Communist partisans in the Balkans from February 1944. The creation of this division displeased the Croatian government, which raised numerous minor obstacles to its activities, out of fear that it would serve as a basis for Muslim autonomy.[176]

In 1942, al-Husseini helped organize Arab students and North African emigres in Germany into the "Arabisches Freiheitkorps," an Arab Legion in the German Army that hunted down Allied parachutists in the Balkans and fought on the Russian front.[160]

On 1 March 1944, while speaking on Radio Berlin, al-Husseini said: 'Arabs, rise as one man and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion. This saves your honor. God is with you.'[177][178][179]

Activities after World War II

Arrest and flight

After the end of the Second World War, al-Husseini attempted to obtain asylum in Switzerland but his request was refused.[180] He was taken into custody at Constanz by the French occupying troops on 5 May 1945, and on 19 May, he was transferred to the Paris region and put under house arrest.[181]

At around this time, the British head of Palestine’s Criminal Investigation Division told an American military attaché that the Mufti might be the only person who could unite the Palestinian Arabs and 'cool off the Zionists'.[182]

Henri Ponsot, a former ambassador of France in Syria, led the discussions with him and had a decisive influence on the events.[181] The French authorities expected an improvement in France's status in the Arab world through his intermediaries and accorded him "special detention conditions, benefits and ever more important privileges and constantly worried about his well-being and that of his entourage'.[181] In October, he was even given permission to buy a car in the name of one of his secretaries and enjoyed some freedom of movement and could also meet whoever he wanted.[181] Al-Husseini proposed to the French two possibilities of cooperation: 'either an action in Egypt, Iraq and even Transjordan to calm the anti-French excitement after the events in Syria and because of its domination in North Africa; or that he would take the initiative of provocations in [Palestine], in Egypt and in Iraq against Great Britain', so that the Arabs countries will pay more attention to British policy than to that of France.[181] Al-Husseini was very satisfied with his situation in France and stayed there for a full year.[181]

As early as 24 May, Great Britain requested al-Husseini's extradition, arguing that he was a British citizen who had collaborated with the Nazis.[181] Despite the fact that he was on the list of war criminals, France decided to consider him as a political prisoner and refused to comply with the British request. France also refused to extradite him to Yugoslavia where the government wanted to prosecute him for the massacres of Serbs.[181] Poussot believed al-Husseini's claims that the massacre of Serbs had been performed by General Mikhailovitch and not by him. Al-Husseini also explained that 200,000 Muslims and 40,000 Christians had been assassinated by the Serbs and that he had established a division of soldiers only after Bosnian Muslims had asked for his help, and that Germans and Italians had refused to provide any support to them.[181] In the meantime, the Zionist authorities—fearing that al-Husseini would escape—backed Yugoslavia's request for extradition. They stated that al-Husseini was also responsible for massacres in Greece and pointed out his action against the Allies in Iraq in 1941; additionally they requested the support of the United States in the matter.[181]

In June, Yishuv leaders decided to eliminate al-Husseini. Although al-Husseini was located by Jewish Army members who began to plan an assassination, the mission was canceled in December by Moshe Sharett or by David Ben-Gurion,[183] probably because they feared turning the Grand Mufti into a martyr.[181]

In September, the French decided to organize his transfer to an Arab country. Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Yemen were considered and diplomatic contacts were made with their authorities and with the Arab League.[181]

On 29 May, al-Husseini left France on a TWA flight for Cairo using a fake Syrian passport. It took more than 12 days for the French Foreign Minister to realize he had fled, and the British were not able to arrest him in Egypt.[181]

On 12 August 1947, al-Husseini wrote to French Foreign Minister Georges Bidault, thanking him for French behavior towards him and suggesting that France continue this policy to increase its prestige in the eyes of all Muslims. In September, a delegation of the Arab Higher Committee went to Paris and proposed that Arabs would adopt a neutral position on the North African question in exchange of France's support in the Palestinian question.[181]

1948 Palestine War


During the civil war

When the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine delivered its recommendations for the partition of Palestine, the High Commissioner of Palestine, Alan Cunningham sent emissaries to Cairo to sound out the Mufti, though transferring any power of state to him was unthinkable. Interviewed on the Ist of September, he said that the proposed partition was unjust, since it deprived the Arabs of Palestine of what belonged to them, and would not satisfy in any case the Zionists, who desired all of the country. He cited the example of Chaim Weizmann, who opposed the idea of a Jewish state in 1922, approved partition in 1937, and at the Biltmore Conference in 1942, laid claim to the whole of Palestine. It was said of Hitler, he added, that he would never try to apply the ideas he set forth in Mein Kampf. The Zionists, he asserted, would never restrict their programme to a part of Palestine, for l'appétit vient en mangeant(the more you get the more you want). The English would never have ceded a part of their country in exchange for peace with the Nazis. Zionism was a bluff like Italian fascism, which would collapse at the first shock.[184]

The wartime reputation of Haj Amin al-Husseini was employed as an argument for the establishment of a Jewish State during the deliberations at UN in 1947. The Nation Associates prepared a booklet for the United Nations entitled The Arab Higher Committee, Its Origins, Personnel and Purposes. This booklet included copies of communications between Haj Amin al-Husseini and high ranking Nazis (e.g. Heinrich Himmler, Franz von Papen, Joseph Goebels), the Mufti's diary on his meeting with Adolf Hitler, several letters from the Mufti requesting that Jews never be permitted to emigrate from Europe to a Jewish Home in Palestine that he sent to officials in Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, and Hungary, and many photographs of the Mufti, Rashid Ali, and other Arab politicians in the company of Nazis and their Italian and Japanese allies. 'The Arab Higher Committee' document's veracity was endorsed by an Advisory Council that included US Congresspersons and a Senator (e.g. Helen Gahagan Douglas, Thomas H. Eliot, Joseph F. Guffey ) distinguished attorneys and civil rights leaders (e.g. Thurman Arnold, Roger Nash Baldwin, Walter White), investigative journalists (e.g. Jay Allen), authors (e.g. Thomas Mann, Erskine Caldwell, Eugene O'Neill, Lillian Hellman, Lewis Gannett, Reinhold Niebuhr, John P. Lewis), and others. This collection of documents (backed by the reputation and gravitas of the Nations Associates Advisory Council) claim to demonstrate that German Nazis and Palestinian politicians (some of whom were requesting recognition at the UN in 1947 as representatives of the Palestinian Arab population) had made common cause during World War II in their opposition to the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine.[185] Freda Kirchwey, the President of Nation Associates, claimed credit for pressuring the Republic of China to abstain when the UN voted to partition Palestine in November 1947, as well as helping to influence the favorable votes of Yugoslavia, Haiti and Liberia. in May 1948, the Israeli government thanked Kirchwey for "having a good and honorable share of our success", at least partly as a consequence of distributing information on al-Husseini to the UN representatives.[186]

On the eve of the United Nations' partition of Mandatory Palestine, King Abdullah, who shared with Zionists a hostility to Palestinian nationalism, reached a secret entente with Golda Meir to thwart the mufti and annex the part of Palestine in exchange for Jordan's dropping its opposition to the establishment of a Jewish state. The meeting, in Shlaim's words, 'laid the foundations for a partition of Palestine along lines radically different from the ones eventually envisaged by the United Nations'.[187] Husseini's popularity in the Arab world had risen during his time with the Nazis, and Arab leaders rushed to greet him on his return, and the masses accorded him an enthusiastic reception, an attitude which was to change rapidly after the defeat of 1948, when he was singled out as a scapegoat to blame for the failure.[188]

From his Egyptian exile, al-Husseini used what influence he had to encourage the participation of the Egyptian military in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He was involved in some high level negotiations between Arab leaders—before and during the War—at a meeting held in Damascus in February 1948, to organize Palestinian Field Commands and the commanders of the Holy War Army. Hasan Salama and Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni (Amin al-Husseini's nephew), were allocated the Lydda district and Jerusalem respectively. This decision paved the way for undermining the Mufti's position among the Arab States. On 9 February 1948, four days after the Damascus meeting, he suffered a severe setback at the Arab League's Cairo session, when his demands for more Palestinian self-determination in areas evacuated by the British, and for financial loans were rejected.[189] His demands included, the appointment of a Palestinian Arab representative to the League's General Staff, the formation of a Palestinian Provisional Government, the transfer of authority to local National Committees in areas evacuated by the British, and both a loan for Palestinian administration and an appropriation of large sums to the Arab Higher Executive for Palestinian Arabs entitled to war damages.[189]

The Arab League blocked recruitment to al-Husseini's forces,[190] and they collapsed following the death of one of his most charismatic commanders, Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, on 8 April 1948.

Establishment of All-Palestine Government

Following rumors that King Abdullah I of Transjordan was reopening the bilateral negotiations with Israel that he had previously conducted clandestinely with the Jewish Agency, the Arab League—led by Egypt—decided to set up the All-Palestine Government in Gaza on 8 September 1948, under the nominal leadership of al-Husseini. Avi Shlaim writes:

'The decision to form the Government of All-Palestine in Gaza, and the feeble attempt to create armed forces under its control, furnished the members of the Arab League with the means of divesting themselves of direct responsibility for the prosecution of the war and of withdrawing their armies from Palestine with some protection against popular outcry. Whatever the long-term future of the Arab government of Palestine, its immediate purpose, as conceived by its Egyptian sponsors, was to provide a focal point of opposition to Abdullah and serve as an instrument for frustrating his ambition to federate the Arab regions with Transjordan'.[191]

The All-Palestine Government was declared in Gaza on September 22, in a way as a countermeasure against Jordan. Pre-conference by the Arab League obtained an agreement to have Ahmad Hilma Pasha preside over the government, while giving al-Husseini a nominal role, devoid of responsibilities. A Palestinian National Council was convened in Gaza on 30 September 1948, under the chairmanship of Amin al-Husseini. On September 30, al-Husseini was elected unanimously as President, but had no authority outside the areas controlled by Egypt. The council passed a series of resolutions culminating on 1 October 1948 with a declaration of independence over the whole of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital.[192]

The All-Palestine Government was hence born under the nominal leadership of Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, named as its President.[193][194] Ahmed Hilmi Abd al-Baqi was named Prime Minister. Hilmi's cabinet consisted largely of relatives and followers of Amin al-Husseini, but also included representatives of other factions of the Palestinian ruling class. Jamal al-Husayni became foreign minister, Raja al-Husayni became defense minister, Michael Abcarius was finance minister, and Anwar Nusseibeh was secretary of the cabinet. Twelve ministers in all, living in different Arab countries, headed for Gaza to take up their new positions. The decision to set up the All-Palestine Government made the Arab Higher Committee irrelevant, but Amin al-Husseini continued to exercise an influence in Palestinian affairs.

Jordan's Abdullah retaliated on October 2 by organizing a Palestinian congress, which countermanded the decision taken in Gaza. Abdullah regarded the attempt to revive al-Husseini's Holy War Army as a challenge to his authority and on 3 October, his minister of defense ordered all armed bodies operating in the areas controlled by the Arab Legion to be disbanded. Glubb Pasha carried out the order ruthlessly and efficiently.[195] Nonetheless, Egypt, which manipulated its formation, recognized the All-Palestine Government on 12 October, followed by Syria and Lebanon on 13 October, Saudi Arabia the 14th and Yemen on the 16th. Iraq's decision to the same was made formally on the 12th, but was not made public. Both Great Britain and the US backed Jordan, the US saying that the mufti's role in World War II could be neither forgotten nor pardoned.[196] The sum effect was that:

'The leadership of al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni and the Arab Higher Committee, which had dominated the Palestinian political scene since the 1920s, was devastated by the disaster of 1948 and discredited by its failure to prevent it.'[197]
The nakba narratives, according to Hillel Cohen, tend to ignore the open resistance to al-Husseini by many influential Palestinians. A member of the Darwish family on expressing dissent with Husseini's war objective in favour of negotiation was told by the mufti: idha takalam al-seif, uskut ya kalam – 'when the sword talks, there is no place for talking'.[198] Many recalled his policy of assassinating mukhtars in the Revolt of 1936-39 and viewed Husseini and his kind as 'an assembly of traitors'.[199]

Exile from Palestine

King Abdullah I had assigned the position of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem to Husam Al-din Jarallah. The king was assassinated on 20 July 1951, on the eve of projected secret talks with Israel, by a militant, Mustafa Ashu, of the jihad al-muqaddas, while entering the Haram ash-Sharif to pray. There is no evidence al-Husseini was involved, though Musa al-Husayni was among the six indicted and executed after a disputed verdict.[200] Abdullah was succeeded by King Talal—who refused to allow al-Husseini entry into Jerusalem. Abdullah's grandson, Hussein, who had been present at the murder, eventually lifted the ban in 1967, receiving al-Husseini as an honoured guest in his Jerusalem royal residence after uprooting the PLO from Jordan.[201]

The Palestinian Government was entirely relocated to Cairo in late October 1948 and became a government-in-exile, gradually losing any importance. Having a part in the All-Palestine Government, al-Husseini also remained in exile at Heliopolis in Egypt throughout much of the 1950s. As before 1948, when the Yishuv believed the ex-Mufti's hand could be detected 'behind every anti-Jewish pogrom, murder, and act of sabotage',[202] Israel persisted in asserting that al-Husseini was behind many border raids from Jordanian and Egyptian-held territory, and Egypt expressed a readiness to deport him if evidence were forthcoming to substantiate the charges.[203] The All-Palestine Government was eventually dissolved in 1959 by Nasser himself, who envisaged a United Arab Republic embracing Syria, Egypt and Palestine. That year he moved to Lebanon. He refused requests to lend his support to the emergent PLO after the Six Day War of 1967.[180]

Al-Husseini died in Beirut, on 4 July 1974. He had wished to be buried on the Haram ash-Sharif in Jerusalem. However, Israel had captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War. The Supreme Muslim Council asked the Israeli government permission to bury him there but permission was refused. Three days later, al-Husseini was buried in Beirut. Within two years, the Christian Lebanese Phalange sacked his villa, and stole his files and archives.[204] His granddaughter married Ali Hassan Salameh, the founder of PLO's Black September, who was later killed by Mossad for his involvement in the Munich massacre.

Amin al-Husseini and antisemitism

al-Husseini is pictured by many scholars as a staunch antisemite.[205] Other area specialists deny he was an antisemite.[206] Robert Kiely sees Husseini as moving "incrementally toward anti-Semitism as he opposed Jewish ambitions in the region."[207]

Historian Zvi Elpeleg, who formerly governed both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while rehabilitating him from other charges,[208] concludes his chapter concerning al-Husseini's involvement in the extermination of the Jews as follows:
'[i]n any case, there is no doubt that Haj Amin's hatred was not limited to Zionism, but extended to Jews as such. His frequent, close contacts with leaders of the Nazi regime cannot have left Haj Amin any doubt as to the fate which awaited Jews whose emigration was prevented by his efforts. His many comments show that he was not only delighted that Jews were prevented from emigrating to Palestine, but was very pleased by the Nazis' Final Solution'.[209]
Walter Laqueur[210] Klaus Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers,[211] and Benny Morris share this view, arguing that al-Husseini saw the Holocaust as German revenge for a putative Jewish sabotaging of their war effort in WW 1. He wasn't merely anti-Zionist, as his extreme hatred, in assertions that the 'Jews are evil', show.[212]

In a study dedicated to the role and use of the Holocaust in Israeli nationalist discourse, Idith Zertal reexamining al-Husseini's alleged antisemitism, states that 'in more correct proportions, [he should be pictured] as a fanatic nationalist-religious Palestinian leader'.[213]

Robert Fisk, discussing the difficulties of describing al-Husseini's life and its motivations, summarized the problem in the following way:-

'(M)erely to discuss his life is to be caught up in the Arab-Israeli propaganda war. To make an impartial assessment of the man's career-or, for that matter, an unbiased history of the Arab-Israeli dispute- is like trying to ride two bicycles at the same time.'[214]

In the immediate postwar period, al-Husseini was almost invariably characterised as antisemitic. His first biographer, Moshe Pearlman, described him as virulently antisemitic,[215] as did, a decade and a half later, Joseph Schechtman.[216] More recent biographers like Mattar and Elpeleg, writing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, began to emphasize his nationalism.[217] While the Palestinian historian Mattar blames him as the main culprit of sowing the seeds of the Arab-Israeli conflict,[218] Israeli historian Elpeleg compares him to Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, and even to Theodor Herzl.[219]

Peter Novick has argued that the post-war historiographical depiction of al-Husseini reflected complex geopolitical interests that distorted the record.

'The claims of Palestinian complicity in the murder of the European Jews were to some extent a defensive strategy, a preemptive response to the Palestinian complaint that if Israel was recompensed for the Holocaust, it was unjust that Palestinian Muslims should pick up the bill for the crimes of European Christians. The assertion that Palestinians were complicit in the Holocaust was mostly based on the case of the Mufti of Jerusalem, a pre-World War II Palestinian nationalist leader who, to escape imprisonment by the British, sought refuge during the war in Germany. The Mufti was in many ways a disreputable character, but post-war claims that he played any significant part in the Holocaust have never been sustained. This did not prevent the editors of the four-volume Encyclopedia of the Holocaust from giving him a starring role. The article on the Mufti is more than twice as long as the articles on Goebbels and Göring, longer than the articles on Himmler and Heydrich combined, longer than the article on Eichmann--of all the biographical articles, it is exceeded in length, but only slightly, by the entry for Hitler.'[220][221]

Gilbert Achcar is one of the comparatively few anti-Zionist scholars who have documented the historical role of al-Husseini during World War II,[222] and sums up al-Husseini's significance:

"One must note in passing that Amin al-Husseini's memoirs are an antidote against Holocaust denial: He knew that the genocide took place and boasted of having been perfectly aware of it from 1943 on. I believe he is an architect of the Nakba (the 1948 defeat and the departure of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians driven off their lands) in the sense that he bears a share of responsibility for what has happened to the Palestinian people." [223]

See also

Palestine portal
Biography portal
Islam portal


Notes

References

  • details needed
  • details needed

External links

  • photos)
  • December 10, 1941. Deutsche Wochenschau No. 588. The Fuhrer receives the Grand Mufti (Haj Amin al-Husseini) of Jerusalem (video)
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