[The Axis of Evil]
Mohammad Amin al-Husayni (often printed with the French transliteration al-Husseini, 1895/1897 – July 4, 1974), a member of the al-Husayni clan living in Jerusalem under the Ottoman Empire, was a Palestinian Arab nationalist and Muslim leader of the British Mandate of Palestine.
From 1921 to 1948, he was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and played a key role in opposition to Zionism and a returned state for the Jews also living in Palestine.
As early as 1920, he was active in both opposing the British in order to secure the independence of Palestine as an Arab state and led violent riots against Jews opposing the re-establishment of a National homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine. His oppositional role peaked during the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine.
In 1919, al-Husayni attended the Pan-Syrian Congress held in Damascus where he supported Emir Faisal for King of Syria. That year al-Husayni founded the pro-British Jerusalem branch of the Syrian-based ‘Arab Club’ (El-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. 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.
During the annual Nabi Musa procession in Jerusalem in April 1920, violent rioting broke out in protest at the Balfour Declaration’s implementation. Much damage to Jewish life and property was caused. The Palin Report laid the blame for the explosion of tensions on both sides. Al-Husayni, 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 by military court held in camera (private) to ten years imprisonment in absentia, since he had already violated his bail by fleeing to Transjordan to avoid arrest. It was asserted soon after, by both Chaim Weizmann and Lieutenant Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, that al-Husayni had been put up to inciting the riot by Field-marshal Allenby ‘s Chief of Staff, Colonel Bertie Harry Waters-Taylor, to show the world Arabs would not tolerate a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
After the April riots an event took place that turned the traditional rivalry between the Husayni and Nashashibi clans into a serious rift, with long-term consequences for al-Husayni 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.’
Until late 1921, al-Husayni 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 now occupied by Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel.
The struggle for Greater Syria collapsed after Britain ceded control over present day Syria and Lebanon to France in July 1920 in accordance with the prior Sykes-Picot Agreement. The French army entered Damascus at that time, overthrew King Faisal and put an end to the project of a Greater Syria.
Al-Husayni, then turned from Damascus-oriented Pan-Arabism to a specifically Palestinian ideology centered on Jerusalem, which sought to block Jewish immigration to Palestine. 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. From his election as Mufti until 1923, al-Husayni 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.
Following the death of Amin’s half-brother, the mufti Kamil al-Husayni in March 1921, the British High Commissioner Herbert Samuel pardoned al-Husayni. 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-Husayni received the least number of votes, the first three being Nashashibi candidates.
Nevertheless, Samuel was anxious to keep a balance between the al-Husaynis and their rival clan the Nashashibis. 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 Husayni clan a compensatory function of prestige by appointing one of them to the position of mufti, prevailing upon the Nashashibi front-runner, Sheikh Hussam ad-Din Jarallah, to withdraw. This automatically promoted Amin al-Husayni to third position, which, under Ottoman law, allowed him to qualify, and Samuel then chose him as Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the title being invented by Samuel. The position came with a life tenure.
In 1922, al-Husayni was elected President of the Supreme Muslim Council which had been created by Samuel in 1921.The Council controlled the Waqf funds, worth annually tens of thousands of pounds and the orphan funds, worth annually about £50,000, as compared to the £600,000 in the Jewish Agency’s annual budget. 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 Husaynis and their supporters (known as the majlisiya, or council supporters) and the Nashashibis and their allied clans (known as the mu’aridun, the opposition). 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.
During most of the period of the British mandate, bickering between these two families seriously undermined any Palestinian unity. In 1936, however, they achieved a measure of concerted policy when all the Palestinian groups joined to create a permanent executive organ known as the Arab Higher Committee under al-Husayni’s chairmanship.
The Haram ash-Sharif and the Western Wall: The Supreme Muslim Council and its head Al-Husayni, who regarded himself as guardian of one [of the newly invented] 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 Jewish Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and particularly its mosques, Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock of the Temple Mount. The whole area required extensive restoration, given the disrepair into which it had fallen from neglect in Ottoman times.
Based on worship in the earlier Jewish tradition, Jerusalem was the original direction towards which Muslims prayed, until the Qibla was reorientated towards Mecca. In one tradition it would reassume its prior role at the end of time. Al-Husayni commissioned the Turkish architect Mimar Kemalettin.
In restoring the site, al-Husayni was also assisted by the Mandatory power’s Catholic Director of Antiquities, Ernest Tatham Richmond. 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.
Al-Husayni’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-Husayni 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.
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.
Al-Husayni’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. Zionist narratives pinpointed al-Husayni’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. 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. 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 Arab Riots:
On August 10, 1928, a constituent assembly convened by the French in Syria was rapidly adjourned when calls were made for a reunification with Palestine. Al-Husayni and Awni Abd al-Hadi met with the Syrian nationalists and they made a joint proclamation for a unified monarchical state under a son of Ibn Sa’ud. On the 26th. 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 Jordan.
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.’ Soon after, on September 23, 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 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.
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’.
In reply, the Muslims organized a Defence Committee for the Protection of the Noble Buraq, 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.
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 December 11, 1928 in favour of the status quo.
After the nomination of the new High Commissioner 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 wihin its powers to intervene to ensure Jewish rights of access and prayer.
Al-Husayni pressed him for a specific clarification of the legal status quo regarding the Wall. Chancellor mulled weakening the SMC and undermining al-Husayni’s authority by making the office of mufti elective. The Nabi Musa festival of April that year passed without incident, despite al-Husayni’s warnings of possible incidents. Chancellor thought his power was waning, and after conferring with London, admitted to the mufti on the 6 May that he was impotent to act decisively in the matter.
Al-Husayni 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-Husayni 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. 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.
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.
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 August 11., had brought unity among Zionists and the world Jewish community, a measure that would greatly increase Jewish investment in British Palestine, 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, 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’.
The following day coincided with mawlid (or mawsin al-nabi), the anniversity 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-Husayni 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. Strongly tied to the anti-Hashemite party, and attacked by supporters of Abdullah in Transjordan for misusing funds marked out for campaigning against France, Al-Husayni 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. 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. 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-Husayni or the result of spontaneous mobilisation.
The sermon at Al-Aqsa was to be delivered by another preacher, but Luke prevailed on al-Husayni 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-Husayni 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.
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 latter were wounded, as well as an estimated 240 Arabs
Many observers saw al-Husayni as the mastermind behind the riots, dispatching secret emissaries to inflame regional passions. 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 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-Husayni, alone asserts, without details, that al-Husayni was responsible. Al-Husayni in his memoirs never claimed to have played such a role.
The High Commissioner received al-Husayni twice officially on October 1, 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-Husayni argued that the weakness of the Arab position was that they lacked political representation in Europe, whereas for millennia the Jews dominated with their genius for intrigue. He assured Chancellor of his cooperation in maintaining public order.
Two official investigations were conducted by the British and the League of Nations’s Mandatory Commission. The report concluded that the Arabs were the aggressors, but rejected the view that the riots had been premeditated. Al-Husayni 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’.
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. In a minority opinion, Mr. Harry Snell, who had apparently been swayed by Sir Herbert Samuel’s son, Edwin Samuel insisted on al-Husayni’s responsibility, in that he was fully aware of the dangers of incitement in religious propaganda and failed to exercise his authority as a religious leader in restraining outbreaks of violence.
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.”
Political Activities From 1930-1935:
In 1931 Al-Husayni founded the World Islamic Congress, on which he was to serve as president.
In December 1934, the official magazine the Arab Federation of the Arab national organ in Palestine, suggested that the Mufti should be given the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in making peace between two kingdoms in Arabia.
Shai Lachman suggests the Mufti may have helped finance attacks by Izz ad-Din al-Qassam who had been appointed, with Al-Husayni’s approval, imam of the al-Istiqlal mosque in Haifa. Whatever their relations, the latter’s independent activism appears to have led to a rupture between the two. By 1935 al-Husayni did take control of one clandestine organization, of whose nature he had not been informed until the preceding year, which had been set up in 1931 by Musa Kazim al-Husayni’s son, Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni and recruited from the Palestinian Boy Scout movement, called the ‘Holy Struggle’ (al-jihad al-muqaddas). 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.
Arab revolt of 1936-1939 in Palestine: On April 19, 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-Husayni seized the initiative by negotiating an alliance with the al-Qassam faction.
Apart from some foreign subsidies, including a substantial amount from Fascist Italy, he controlled waqf and orphan funds that generated annual income of about 115,000 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. The guerillas recruited by al-Husayni’s men were responsible for most attacks on Jews during the first months of the revolt; later, they were joined by volunteers from the neighboring Arab lands led by Fawzi al-Qawuqji.
Upon al-Husayni’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 May 15 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-Husayni and the Committee. The talks, however, soon proved fruitless. The Mufti 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.
As the time passed, it turned out that those were the Arabs deprived of their usual sources of income who bore the brunt of the cost of the strike. Under these circumstances, the Mandatory government was looking for an intermediary who might help persuade the Arab Higher Committee to end the rebellion. Al-Husayni 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 October 11. When the promised Royal Commission of Inquiry arrived in Palestine in November, al-Husayni testified before it as chief witness for the Arabs.
In July 1937, British police were sent to arrest al-Husayni for his part in the Arab rebellion, but tipped off, he managed to escape to the Haram where the British deemed it inadvisable to touch him. 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 September 26, al-Husayni was deposed from the presidency of the Muslim Supreme Council, the Arab Higher Committee was declared illegal, and six warrants for the arrest of its leaders were issued, as being ‘morally responsible’.
Of them only Jamal al-Husayni managed to escape to Syria: the remaining five were exiled to the Seychelles. Al-Husayni was not among the indicted but, fearing imprisonment, on October 13–14, 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, where he reconstituted the committee under his leadership. Al-Husayni retained the support of many Palestinian Arabs and used his power to punish the Nashashibis. He remained in Lebanon for two years, under French surveillance in the Christian village of Zouk, but, in October 1939, his deteriorating relationship with the French and Syrian authorities led him to withdraw to the Kingdom of Iraq.
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. Al-Husayni nonetheless felt that the concessions did not go far enough, and he rejected the new policy.
Meeting with Adolf Hitler
In 1937, wanted by the British, he fled Palestine and took refuge successively in the French Mandate of Lebanon, the Kingdom of Iraq, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
In Germany he met dictator Adolf Hitler in 1941. He asked Hitler to back Arab independence and requested that Nazi Germany oppose, as part of the Pan-Arab struggle, the re-establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine (the future creation of Israel).
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War he represented the Arab Higher Committee and opposed both the 1947 UN Partition Plan and King Abdullah’s ambitions for expanding Jordan by capturing parts of Palestine.
After the 1948 War with Israel and the subsequent Arab Palestinian exodus, his claims to leadership were discredited and he was eventually sidelined by the Palestine Liberation Organization and lost most of his remaining political influence. Al-Husayni died in Beirut, Lebanon in 1974.
The post-war Palin Report noted that the English recruiting officer, Captain C.D.Brunton, found al-Husayni, with whom he cooperated, very pro-English, and that, via the diffusion of War Office pamphlets dropped from the air promising them peace and prosperity under English rule, ‘the recruits (were) being given to understand that they were fighting in a national cause and to liberate their country from the Turks’.
According to Zvi Epeleg: “Haj Amin’s popularity among the Palestinian Arabs and within the Arab states actually increased more than ever during his period with the Nazis. When he returned to the Middle East from Europe, Arab leaders hurried to greet him, and the masses welcomed him enthusiastically. It was only after the defeat of 1948 that the need arose for someone to blame. To a certain extent, Haj Amin was chosen as the scapegoat.”
It is not surprising that al-Husayni was elected to the presidency of the National Palestinian Council in 1948 even though he was a wanted war criminal at the time. Indeed, Professor Edward Said corroborates al-Husayni’s popularity by stating: Hajj Amin al-Husayni represented the Palestinian Arab national consensus, had the backing of the Palestinian political parties that functioned in Palestine, and was recognized in some form by Arab governments as the voice of the Palestinian people.
Although no Arab Palestinians supported Zionism, not all Palestinians supported al-Husayni. A local leader, Abu Shair, meeting an emissary from the rebel headquarters in Damascus, who bore a list of people to be assassinated during the uprising, told Da’ud al-Husayni: ’I don’t work for Husayniya (‘’Husayni-ism”) but for wataniya (nationalism)’
In his review of Hillel Cohen’s Army of Shadows,Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948, Neve Gordon writes that al-Husayni defined all competing nationalist views and actions as treasonous. […] Patronizing a Jewish doctor, employing a Jewish worker or being employed by a Jew—all became illegitimate. Thus, Husseini’s uncompromising maximalist positions, alongside his camp’s unwillingness to tolerate the views of its opponents, paradoxically ended up expanding the definition of traitor and collaborator.
This resulted in opposition to al-Husayni from the 1930s and continuing up to 1948. According to a member of the Darwash family, considered traitors by al-Husayni, “The mufti and his men said that my father was a traitor. But my father tried to prevent the war. He said to the mufti (al-Husayni): The war you are declaring will lead to the loss of Palestine. We need to negotiate. The mufti said idha takalam al-seif, uskut ya kalam ‘when the sword talks, there is no place for talking’. They say that my father sold land and that makes him a traitor. He didn’t sell. But tell me this, if a man who sold 400 dunams to the Jews is a traitor, what would one say of a man whose policies led to the loss of Palestine? Isn’t he the biggest of traitors?
Many Palestinian Arabs refused to fight in 1948 because of their hatred for al-Husayni. One recounted that when Abd al-Qader appeared in the village of Surif, in the Hebron district, to speak before the village elders, there were some who said to him: ‘You murdered eighty mukhtars and you should be fought before we kill the Jews’. Abd al-Qadar replied that he killed traitors. He was told: ‘You are a criminal and you uncle (Hajj Amin) is a criminal and you are all an assembly of traitors’.
Pre-war and the Axis Powers during World War II
In 1933, within weeks of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, the German Consul-General in Palestine, the pro-nazi Heinrich Wolff, sent a telegram to Berlin reporting al-Husayni’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-Husayni 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.
Wolff subsequently wrote in his annual report for that year that the Arabs’ political naïvity 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. The various proposals by Palestinian notables like al-Husayni 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 English interests. Hitler’s Englandpolitik essentially precluded significant assistance to Arab leaders.
Italy also made the nature of its assistance to the Palestinian contingent on the outcome of its own negotiations with England, and cut off aid when it appeared that the English were ready to admit the failure of their pro-Zionist policy in Palestine. Al-Husayni’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 England over Czechoslovakia. Promised arms shipments never eventuated.
This was not the only diplomatic front on which Al-Husayni 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 August 31, he expressed his fears that Jewish influence in the United States might persuade the country to side with Zionists. In the same period he courted the French government by expressing a willingness to assist them in the region.
In May 1940, the British Foreign Office declined a proposal from the chairman of the Vaad Leumi (Jewish National Council in Palestine) that they assassinate al-Husayni, but in November of that year Winston Churchill approved such a plan.
In May 1941, several members of the Irgun, including its former leader David Raziel were released from prison and flown to Iraq on a secret mission which, according to British sources, included a plan to ‘capture or kill’ the Mufti. The Irgun version is that they were approached by the British for a sabotage mission and added a plan to capture the Mufti as a condition of their cooperation. The mission was abandoned when Raziel was killed by a German plane.
In the Middle East: 1941 Iraqi coup d’état, Anglo-Iraqi War, and Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia. Mohammad Amin al-Husayni was still in the Kingdom of Iraq when, on 1 April 1941, pro-German Rashid Ali and his pro-German “Golden Square” supporters staged a coup d’etat. The 1941 Iraqi coup d’état caused the pro-British Regent Abdul Ilah to flee and the pro-British Prime Minister Taha al-Hashimi to resign.
From his base in Iraq, al-Husayni issued a fatwa for a holy war against Britain in May. Less than days later, the Rashid Ali government collapsed, Regent Abdul Ilah returned, and British troops occupied the country. As a result, al-Husayni fled to pro-German Persia where he was granted legation asylum first by the Empire of Japan and then by Fascist Italy.
On October 8, 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-Husayni fled to German-occupied Europe through Turkey and Albania. Specifically, he fled to Fascist Italy with the Italian diplomats who provided him with an Italian service passport. To avoid recognition, al-Husayni changed his appearance by shaving his beard and dying his hair red. Throughout the remainder of World War II, al-Husayni repeatedly made requests in Berlin for “the German government to bomb Tel Aviv.”
In Nazi-occupied Europe Al-Husayni arrived in Rome on October 11, 1941, and immediately contacted Italian Military Intelligence (Servizio Informazioni Militari, or SIM). The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem claimed to be head of a secret Arab nationalist organization with offices in all Arab countries. 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 the mufti’s proposal, recommending to give him a grant of one million lire, and referred him to Benito Mussolini, who met al-Husayni on October 27. According to the mufti’s account, the meeting went amicably with the Italian leader expressing his hostility to the Jews and Zionism.
Back in the summer of 1940 and again in February 1941, al-Hussayni submitted to the 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.
Now, encouraged by his meeting with the Italian leader, al-Husayni prepared a draft declaration, affirming the Axis support for the Arabs on November 3. 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 November 6, al-Husayni 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-Husayni’s original proposal, the Axis powers declared their readiness to approve the elimination (Beseitigung) of the Jewish National Homeland in Palestine.
On November 20, al-Husayni met the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and was officially received by Adolf Hitler on November 28. He asked 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”.
Hitler refused to make such a public announcement, saying that it would strengthen the Gaullists against the Vichy France, but asked al-Husayni to ‘to lock …deep in his heart’ the following points, which 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.’
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”. The Mufti’s own account of this point, as recorded in his diary, is very similar to Grobba’s. The Mufti’s own diary, seized after the war, recalls the encounter in slightly different terms.
When the Mufti arrived together with Rashid Ali in Berlin from Rome in May 1942, a spokesperson for the German governmental administration proclaimed that the Axis activity with “carriers of national politics in the Arab world” instead of slowing down had made further progress.
In an interview with the German newspaper National-Zeitung in June 1942 the Mufti (as the highest Muslim religious leader) declared that the “entire Arab world” now wished an Axis victory in the war, as he said they had common enemies in the Jews, Englishmen and bolsheviks.
In December 1942, the Mufti further held a speech at the celebration of the opening of an “Islamic Central Institute” in Berlin, of which he served as honorary chair. In the speech, he harshly criticised what he thought of as aggressors against Muslims, which included Jews, the United Kingdom, USA and the Soviet Union.
The Mufti was in Berlin during the war, but later denied knowing of the Holocaust. One of Adolf Eichmann’s deputies, Dieter Wisliceny, stated after the war that the Mufti 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.
This testimony was denied by Eichmann at his 1961 trial in Jerusalem. Eichmann stated that he had only been introduced to the Mufti 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.”.
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.” 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.” 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.”
Husayni intervened on May 13, 1943, with the German Foreign Office to block possible transfers of Jews from Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, after reports reached him that 4000 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.
A year later, on the 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.”
Among the acts of sabotage al-Husayni attempted to implement, Michael Bar Zohar reports a chemical warfare assault on the second largest and predominantly Jewish city in Palestine, Tel Aviv. 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 Jewish 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 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.
He is also said to have requested that Jerusalem be bombed by the German air force, a request, according to Walter Laqueur, puts doubts on his religiosity, since, in Walter Laqueur’s words, “It is unlikely that a truly pious Muslim would have acted this way.”
Wolfgang G. Schwanitz notes that in his memoirs Husayni 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, Husayni wrote he was astonished to hear this. Schwanitz doubts the sincerity of his surprise since, he argues, Husayni had publicly declared that Muslims should follow the example Germans set for a “definitive solution to the Jewish problem”.
In September 1943, intense negotiations to rescue 500 Jewish children from the town of Arbe in Croatia collapsed due to the objection of the Mufti who blocked the children’s departure to Turkey because they would end up in Palestine.
Recent Nazi documents uncovered in the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Military Archive Service in Freiburg by two researchers, Klaus Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers indicated that in the event of the British being defeated in Egypt by Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps the Nazis had planned to deploy a special unit called Einsatzkommando Ägypten to exterminate Palestinian Jews and that they wanted Arab support to prevent the emergence of a Jewish state. In their book the researchers concluded that, “the most important collaborator with the Nazis and an absolute Arab anti-Semite was Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem.
Throughout World War II, al-Husayni worked for the Axis Powers as a broadcaster in propaganda targeting Arab public opinion. He recruited Muslim volunteers for the German armed forces operating in the Balkans. Beginning in 1941, Al-Husayni 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.”
Al-Husayni was involved in the organization and recruitment of Bosnian Muslims into several divisions of the Waffen SS and other units. The largest was the 13th “Handschar” division of 21,065 men, which conducted operations against Communist partisans in the Balkans from February 1944, committing numerous atrocities against their traditional ethnic rivals the local Christian Serbs.
In 1942, 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.
On March 1, 1944, while speaking on Radio Berlin, al-Husayni 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.
After the end of the Second World War, al-Husayni fled to Switzerland, was detained and expelled back to Germany. He was arrested at Constanz by the French occupying troops on 5 May 1945 and on 19 May was deported in the area of Paris and put under house arrest.
Henri Ponsot, former ambassador of France in Syria, lead the discussions with him and had a decisive influence on the events. The French authorities expected an improvement of France status in the Arab world through his intermediaries and offered him “special detention conditions, advantages and priviledges…taking care of his wealthness and the one of…his two secretaries Izek Darwich and Razam Khalidi.” In October, he was even given permission to buy a car in the name of one of his secretaries and could circulate with some freedom. He could also meet whoever he wanted.
The Grand Mufti proposed to the French two possibilities of cooperation: “whether an action in Egypt, Iraq and even Transjordan to quiet the anti-French effervescence after the events in Syria and due to her domination in North Africa; or to take the initiative of provocations in [Palestine], in Egypt and in Iraq against British”, so that Arabs countries take more care of British policy instead of French one. The Mufti was very satisfied by his situation in France and stayed there for a full year.
As soon as May 24, Great Britain had asked the extradition of the Mufti, arguing he was a British citizen who had collaborated with the Nazis. Despite the fact he was on the list of war criminals, France decided to consider him as a political prisoner and refused to comply to the British request.
France also refused to extradite him to Yugoslavia where the government wanted to sue him for the massacres of Serbs. Poussot believed the Mufti’s claims that the massacre of Serbs had been performed by General Mikhailovitch and not by him. The Mufti 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 he was a asked for help by Bosnian Muslims and that Germans and Italians had refused to provide any support to them.
In the meantime, the Zionist authorities fearing that the Mufti would escape, backed Yugoslavia’s request for extradition. They stated that the Mufti was also responsible of massacres in Greece and pointed out his action against the Allies in Iraq in 1941; additionally they asked for the support of the United States in the matter.
In June, Yishuv leaders decided to eliminate the Mufti. Although the Mufti 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, probably because they feared to transform the Grand Mufti in a martyr.
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.
On 29 May the Mufti left France in a TWA flight for Cairo using a fake Syrian passport. It took more than 12 days to the French Foreign Minister to realize he had fled and the British were not able to arrest him in Egypt.
On 12 August 1947, Mufti wrote to French Foreign Minister Georges Bidault, thanking him for French behavior towards him and suggesting France went on in this policy to increase her prestige in the eyes of all Muslims. In September, delegates of the Arab Higher Committee proposed a neutral attitude in the question of North Africa in exchange of her support in the question of Palestine.
1948 Arab-Israeli War: From his Egyptian exile, al-Husayni 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 (his nephew), were allocated to the Lydda district and Jerusalem respectively. This decision paved the way for undermining the Mufti’s position among the Arab States.
On February 9, 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 for Palestine’s fate were rejected. His demands included, the appointment of a Palestinian 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 Palestinians entitled to war damages.
The Arab League blocked recruitment to al-Husayni’s forces which collapsed following the death of one of his most charismatic commanders, Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, on April 8.
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-Husayni.
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’.
Abdullah regarded the attempt to revive al-Husayni’s Holy War Army as a challenge to his authority and on October 3, 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.
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.’
Exile from Jerusalem
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, by a militant, Mustafa Ashu of the jihad al-muqaddas, while entering the Haram ash-Sharif to pray. There is no evidence al-Husayni was involved, though Musa al-Husayni was among the six indicted and executed after a disputed verdict.
Abdullah was succeeded by King Talal – who refused to allow al-Husayni entry into Jerusalem. Abdullah’s grandson, Hussein, who had been present at the murder, eventually lifted the ban in 1967, receiving al-Husayni as an honoured guest in his Jerusalem royal residence after uprooting the PLO from Jordan.
Al-Husayni remained in exile at Heliopolis in Egypt throughout much of the 1950s. In the first part of the decade, Israel asserted al-Husayni 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. n 1959 he moved to Lebanon.
Al-Husayni died in Beirut, on 4 July 1974. He wished to be buried in Jerusalem, but the Israeli government refused this request, and as in the meantime, during the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel had captured East Jerusalem from Jordan, it exercised administrative jurisdiction over the area. His granddaughter married Ali Hassan Salameh the founder of PLO’s Black September.
Aftermath: Amin al-Husayni and antisemitism
Sometimes called the “fuhrer of the Arab world”, he was known for his anti-Jewish hatred, having an extensive anti-Semitic and pan-Arab history. His speeches were anti-Semitic to the core, like: “Kill the Jews wherever you find them—this pleases Allah.” He met with Hitler and other Nazi leaders on various occasions and attempted to coordinate Nazi and Arab policies to solve the “Jewish problem” in Palestine. He is blamed by many as the main culprit of sowing the seeds of the Arab-Israeli conflict. “Authoritarian and racist (as he’s called), al-Husseini opposed any compromise with the Jews.”
From the Wall Street Journal: “Muslim Judeophobia is not as is commonly claimed a reaction to the Mideast conflict but one of its main “root causes.” It has been fueling Arab rejection of a Jewish state long before Israel’s creation.” “Authoritarian and racist, al-Husseini opposed any compromise with the Jews.” When he visited Auschwitz he “reproached the Germans for not being more determined in exterminating the Jews.”
His recent biographers emphasize his nationalism. Zvi Elpeleg, while rehabilitating him from other charges, concludes his chapter concerning the involvement of the Mufti in the extermination of the Jews as follows: in 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 Nazi’s Final Solution’.
Benny Morris also argues that “[the Mufti] was deeply anti-Semitic’, sinced he ‘explained the Holocaust as owing to the Jews’ sabotage of the German war effort in World War I and [their] character: (…) their selfishness, rooted in their belief that they are the chosen people of God.”
Peter Novick argued that the post-war historiographical depiction of al-Husayni 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 Goering, 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.’
In a study dedicated to the role and use of the Holocaust in Israeli nationalist discourse, Idith Zertal takes a new look at the Mufti’s alleged antisemitism. She states that ‘in more correct proportions, [he should be pictured] as a fanatic nationalist-religious Palestinian leader’. Also, “(…) the demonization of the Mufti serves to magnify the Arafatian threat” and that the “[portrayal of the Mufti as] one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry (…) has no (…) historical substantiation.”
Amin al-Husayni was born either in 1895 or, more probably in 1897 in Ottoman Jerusalem, the son of the then mufti of that city and prominent early opponent of Zionism, Tahir al-Husayni. The al-Husayni 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, Kamil al-Husayni, also served as Mufti of Jerusalem. In Jerusalem Amin al-Husayni attended an Islamic school, learnt Turkish at a government school, and studied French successively with French Catholic missionaries and at the Alliance israélite universelle with its Non-Zionist Jewish director Albert Antébi.
He then went to Al-Azhar University in Cairo, where he studied Islamic law for several months under Rashid Rida, a salafi intellectual, who was to remain Amin’s mentor till his death in 1935. In 1913 at the age of 18, al-Husayni accompanied his mother to Mecca, Islam’s only Holy site at the time 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. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, al-Husayni first joined the Ottoman Turkish army, receiving a commission as an artillery officer and being assigned to the Forty-Seventh Brigade stationed in and around the city of Smyrna. In November 1916 he left the Ottoman army on a three month disability leave and returned to Jerusalem, which was captured by the British while he was recovering from an illness there.
The British and Sherifian armies conquered Ottoman-controlled Palestine and Syria in 1918 with Arab Palestinian recruits also taking part in the offensive against the Turks, alongside Jewish troops. As a Sherifian officer, al-Husayni 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.