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Amin al-Husseini

1882–1974

Early Life, Education, and Political Influences

Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, known as Hajj Amin al-Husseini, was born in Jerusalem in 1895 into one of the city’s most prominent Muslim families, whose members considered themselves to be descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (ashraf).

At the time of his birth, al-Husseini's father, Tahir, served as Mufti of Jerusalem, a position his father, Mustafa, held before him.1 In fact, the Husseinis dominated the prestigious post of mufti in Jerusalem from the late 18th century until the 20th, “with few interruptions,”2 and they occupied several other of the city’s important political, diplomatic, and religious positions.

Al-Husseini’s father, Tahir, served as Mufti of Jerusalem.

With their considerable influence in the city, the family was thus very much part of Jerusalem’s nobility, and they owned significant land in and around Jerusalem, as well as across Palestine. As historian Philip Mattar described the Husseinis: “The family had become landed aristocrats wielding considerable political power by the end of the nineteenth century. Together with the Khalidis, ‘Alamis, Jarallas, and Nashashibis, they constituted the ruling elite of the Ottoman administration in Jerusalem.”3

Al-Husseini grew up in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, along with his brother Fakhri. Their mother, Zaynab, a devout Muslim woman, was Tahir’s second wife. With his first wife, Mahbouba,4 Tahir had seven daughters and a son, Kamil, so al-Husseini and Fakhri grew up surrounded by family.

Bio Salim al-Husseini

Mayor of Jerusalem at the end of the 19th century who paved the streets and built the city’s public sewage system

The villa Hajj Amin al-Husseini built in the 1930s in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem

In the 1930s, Hajj Amin al-Husseini hired Baruch Katina, a Jewish engineer and member of the Haganah, to build a house in his beloved Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where he had grown up. While al-Husseini never actually lived there, it served as the residence of the renowned Lebanese historian and nationalist George Antonius, who was al-Husseini’s personal secretary, and Antonius’s wife, Katy. After the 1948 War, Jordanian authorities turned the house into the Shepherd Hotel, but on January 9, 2011, Israel demolished the structure to make way for a Jewish residential settlement project.

Source: 

Wikipedia

Short Take Amin al-Husseini’s Dream Home, Karm al-Mufti: An Elegant Residence during the Mandate Bulldozed by Israel

The mufti’s luxurious home in Sheikh Jarrah is a microcosm of the city’s rich and vibrant Palestinian past—and of its erasure by Israeli authorities.

As mufti of Jerusalem, Tahir frequently took his three sons to his office in the Haram al-Sharif to expose them to the different social, religious, and political issues affecting the city, including the increased immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe to Palestine—a rising concern for Tahir and Palestinian leaders.

Growing up affluent in one of Jerusalem’s notable Muslim families, and as the son of the city’s mufti, young al-Husseini received a prestigious Islamic education in Jerusalem and regionally. As a child, he attended a kuttab (Islamic elementary school), where he studied the Quran, Arabic, and religious studies.5 His father also hired several ulema and literary figures to give his children religious lessons at home. During high school, al-Husseini attended an Ottoman government school in Jerusalem where he learned Turkish, and then his father placed him in the city’s Frères private Catholic school for two years where he learned French.6

In 1912, at the age of 17, Husseini traveled to Cairo and enrolled in Al-Azhar University, one of the region’s oldest and most prestigious educational institutions, where he studied Islamic law, theology, philosophy, and Arabic. While in Cairo, he also studied at the school of the renowned Islamic reformist Rashid Rida, the Dar al-Da‘wa wa-l-Irshad;7 during this time there, Rida took young al-Husseini under his wing and became a good friend of the family. Rida sought Islamic reformism that, while borrowing from European science within limits, also looked to the purer teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and his immediate followers, the Rashidun. He therefore called for an Arab revival of sorts centered around an Islamic unity, one that celebrated Arab culture and rejected Turkification under the Ottomans.8 This meant that he also called for decentralization from Istanbul—a position that impacted young al-Husseini politically.

As a student in Cairo, al-Husseini formed a Palestinian society to oppose Zionism. The group, composed of around 20 Muslim and Christian Arabs, was short-lived, but in the long arc of Palestinian nationalist liberation, al-Husseini was thus one of the first—and youngest—Palestinians to recognize and organize against the Zionist threat to Palestine, bringing both Muslims and Christians together to do so. This was due to his father’s influence while growing up in Jerusalem, as well as Rida’s impact on him as an Arab and Islamic reformist during his years in Cairo.

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Al-Husseini was one of the first—and youngest—Palestinians to recognize and organize against the Zionist threat to Palestine.

In 1913, al-Husseini left Cairo and joined his mother on a pilgrimage to Mecca, an event that gave him the title by which he was known thereafter: Hajj Amin. Rather than return to Cairo, however, al-Husseini returned to Jerusalem with his mother, where he immediately began writing and teaching about the Zionist threat. It is said that al-Husseini, who was “diminutive” in stature, also “lacked confidence and authority in the classroom”—a combination that did not bode well for the young educator whose students evidently did not take him seriously.9 Al-Husseini taught for less than a year, and then he traveled to Istanbul to study at the Military Academy there.10

But with the Ottoman entry into World War I in 1914, al-Husseini stopped his studies and enlisted in the Ottoman army. At a time of increasing secessionist agitation across the empire, the Ottomans did not send the young Arab to fight in the Arab provinces; instead, they assigned him to serve as a military aide in Izmir and then as an artillery officer near the Black Sea. While he did not engage in battle during the war, al-Husseini endured harsh conditions, including the cold, as well as lack of sleep and food. Overall, his experience in the Ottoman army, which included training Arab draftees, strengthened the meek teacher, and he returned to Jerusalem “an assertive leader.”11

Though al-Husseini fought in the Ottoman army, his foundations in Islamic teachings, as well as his love for Palestine and opposition to Zionism, complicated his loyalties, so to speak. On the one hand, he fought for the Ottoman army in defense of Islam from foreign, Christian invaders. Yet, since the Tanzimat reforms of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was growing increasingly secular in its governance in an attempt to emulate what it perceived as superior European modernity. In fact, the 1908 Committee of Union and Progress Revolution, which reinstated the Ottoman constitution and parliament, effectively limiting the power of the sultan, was a secular revolution that many Ottoman subjects, especially devout Muslims, opposed.12 What’s more, al-Husseini was influenced by Rida’s teachings that stressed a reformed yet purer Islam while also advocating for decentralization—moving away from an increasingly exclusive Turkish (as opposed to a more inclusive Ottoman) Istanbul and embracing a sense of Arab unity.

While al-Husseini did not abandon Ottomanism as a result of Rida’s ideas or the changing tides in the empire, he did weigh his options carefully when it came to his ultimate goal of defending Palestine from Zionism. In 1916, the surest way of doing so was to join the Arab Revolt, alongside British forces, against the Ottomans. This is because, one year prior, Britain had promised Sharif Hussein of Mecca an independent Arab kingdom in exchange for Arab support in the war against the Ottomans.13 For al-Husseini, fighting for an independent Arab kingdom that would encompass Syria and his beloved Palestine was thus certainly a more significant venture for the young, impassioned Jerusalemite than fighting for the Ottoman army on the empire’s different fronts. Indeed, while serving in the Ottoman army, al-Husseini wrote a poem that included this line: “Whenever I mention Jerusalem my tears flow.”14 Thus, in February 1917, he returned to Jerusalem on sick leave and enlisted in the Arab army, fighting under the leadership of King Faisal and alongside British forces against the Ottoman Turks.

“Whenever I mention Jerusalem my tears flow.”

Hajj Amin al-Husseini

An Early Voice in the Palestinian Nationalist Movement

Following his service in Transjordan during the Arab Revolt, al-Husseini returned to Jerusalem and took the lead in several Palestinian nationalist initiatives. In 1918, not long after the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in November 1917 and the occupation of Jerusalem by the British the next month, he was elected president of the newly formed literary and political group al-Nadi al-‘Arabi (the Arab Club), which worked alongside the Muslim-Christian Association and al-Muntada al-Adabi (the Literary Forum) to inculcate Palestinian nationalism in Jerusalem and across Palestine.15 Though the three groups differed in their political stances, largely regarding British forces, the Palestinian political elite, and Pan-Arabism, al-Husseini ran the Arab Club under the pan-Arabist message of uniting Palestine with Syria and opposing Zionism, and he “campaigned among the urban class as well as among the fellahin, something few Arab aristocrats did.”16

In these early years, al-Husseini thus established himself as a pragmatic leader. Rather than oppose British rule, he was determined to influence British policy regarding the Zionists. In addition to briefly returning to teaching at Rawdat al-Ma‘arif al-Wataniyya and al-Rashdiyya, two Jerusalem schools that became centers of Arab nationalism, he joined the British military administration as a clerk, serving under Gabriel Haddad, the Christian Arab adviser to the first British military governor of Jerusalem Ronald Storrs. During his service, al-Husseini was appointed to the Department of Public Safety in Qalqilya, and then accompanied Haddad to Damascus when the latter was transferred there.17

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Rather than oppose British rule, he [al-Husseini] was determined to influence British policy regarding the Zionists.

In these early years, al-Husseini learned a great deal about pan-Arab unity in the face of European colonial threats, particularly Zionism. Indeed, he learned that the only way to protect Palestine from the Zionist threat was to oppose the division of Greater Syria according to French and British interests. Al-Husseini, representing the Arab Club, thus focused his efforts while in Damascus on learning about the pan-Arab agenda, and when he returned to Jerusalem, he joined a group of the city’s nationalists to oppose the 1919 King–Crane Commission from the United States; they demanded that Palestine not be severed from Syria and given to the Zionists. In February 1920, he also helped organize and took part in protests against the Balfour Declaration in Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Haifa.18

Al-Husseini’s activism in Jerusalem persisted throughout the first half of 1920. Following the dramatic events of the April Nabi Musa Riots, his reputation quickly soared among Palestinians and soured among Zionists. Regarding the former, al-Husseini was considered a “Palestinian patriot leading a revolt against British imperialism and Zionism,” while the Zionists increasingly viewed him as a “Muslim fanatic leading an anti-Jewish pogrom.”19 While al-Husseini took part in organizing Palestinian rallies in support of King Faisal during the April religious festivities, there is no evidence that he incited violence against the Jews. Instead, he is said to have joined other nationalists, including Musa Kazim al-Husseini and Aref al-Aref, in delivering anti-Zionist and pan-Arabist speeches in the Old City to the Arab crowds. Al-Husseini reportedly raised a portrait of King Faisal and shouted: “This is your King!”20

The violence that ensued for four days led to a severe British crackdown on Palestinians in Jerusalem. Ronald Storrs dismissed Musa Kazim al-Husseini as mayor of Jerusalem and arrested al-Aref, though he was soon released on bail and fled to Transjordan. Al-Husseini also escaped Jerusalem and managed to arrive in al-Karak in Transjordan before finding his way to Damascus.21

Al-Aref and al-Husseini were both sentenced to 10 years in absentia. But al-Husseini fled Damascus after the French triumph in the July 1920 Battle of Maysalun and the ousting of King Faisal from Syria. Seeking refuge once again in Transjordan, he refocused his efforts on returning to Jerusalem and leading the anti-Zionist nationalist campaign there.

Bio Aref al-Aref

A renowned journalist, historian, and politician whose account of the 1948 War remains one of the most authoritative texts on the subject

Rise to Political Prominence in Jerusalem

"The people’s choice”

In August 1920, while in hiding in Transjordan, al-Husseini and al-Aref were pardoned by the new high commissioner for Palestine, Herbert Samuel, and allowed to return to Palestine. Historians have proposed several theories for the pardon, especially since Samuel’s announcement of a general pardon on July 1, 1920, applied only to political prisoners—not escapees like al-Husseini and al-Aref.22 The most likely explanation for Samuel’s extension of the pardon to the pair a month later is that he recognized the influence they had in Jerusalem—and in Palestine, for that matter—among Palestinians. It was in his interest to appease the majority Arab population of Palestine following the dramatic events of April of that year that had wrought instability in the country. Additionally, al-Husseini had assisted British forces during the Arab Revolt and subsequently served as a military administrator in Jerusalem under Storrs; pardoning him would certainly earn Samuel favor among Palestinians.

But al-Husseini refused to return upon Samuel’s pardon, as “he did not feel that he was a criminal in need of forgiveness.”23 He thus remained in Transjordan and only returned to Jerusalem in the winter of 1920, when his older brother Kamil, who was mufti of Jerusalem at the time, fell ill. While the position was not inherited through lineage, Kamil had evidently chosen al-Husseini to succeed him; certainly, the Husseinis wanted to keep their family’s hold on the influential position, especially given the recent British takeover, mounting Zionist influence, and the rising tensions among Jerusalem’s notable Palestinian families. Moreover, while Kamil was mufti, the British awarded him greater power following the severance of relations between Palestine and Istanbul. Now, the mufti was responsible for the sharia courts in Jerusalem as well as waqf lands. British authorities thus changed the position title from Mufti to Grand Mufti (al-Mufti al-Akbar), effectively making whoever assumed the position “the virtual religious leader of the Moslem Community in Palestine.”24

When Kamil died on March 21, 1921, al-Husseini had already been vying for the position of Grand Mufti. And given his family’s power in the city, his military and political accomplishments, his devoutness, as well as his experience in exile, he was the “people’s choice.”25 In fact, this became widespread in Jerusalem following Kamil’s death; when the qadi of Jerusalem, Muhammad Abu Sa‘ud al-‘Awri, wrote to Storrs informing him of Kamil’s death, he declared rather matter-of-factly that “His brother Hajj Amin effendi is his successor.”26 Opposition to appointing al-Husseini as Grand Mufti came from Jerusalem’s other notable families, the Nashashibis, Jarallas, Khalidis, and Budayris, who also entered members of their families in the election campaign.

Ultimately, however, it was the high commissioner who would select the mufti based on candidates put forth by the Palestinian Muslim Committee. And in 1921, the committee put forth three candidates from the Jaralla, Khalidi, and Budayri families, with no Husseini representation. Rumors spread as to the skewed results, and it was believed that Raghib al-Nashashibi, newly appointed mayor of Jerusalem with close relations to British authorities, manipulated the elections with the help of British and Zionist influence. This incensed the Husseinis, who protested the outcome of the election, claiming the results were invalid. And they were not alone in their anger; evidently, Palestinians across the country submitted petitions to the British Government of Palestine “with hundreds of signatures” of protest against the election, including from Palestinian Christians.27

When Storrs sent Samuel the many Palestinian petitions indicating that al-Husseini was the popular choice, Samuel met with al-Husseini. According to Norman Bentwich, attorney general of the British Mandate, al-Husseini conveyed

Bio Raghib al-Nashashibi

A controversial long-running mayor of Jerusalem who opposed the Zionist agenda while maintaining close ties with British Mandate authorities

his earnest desire to cooperate with the Government, and his belief in the good intention of the Government towards the Arabs. He gave assurance that the influence of his family and himself would be devoted to maintaining tranquility in Jerusalem and he felt sure that no disturbances need be feared this year.28

Two weeks later, the Nabi Musa festivities took place in Jerusalem and went off without a hitch. However, violence erupted between Palestinians and Jews in Jaffa several days later, which alerted Samuel to the importance of addressing Arab grievances.

In mid-May 1921, Samuel managed to qualify al-Husseini as one of the three candidates after convincing Raghib al-Nashashibi, through Storrs, to persuade Husam al-Din Jaralla to drop out of the race. Samuel subsequently selected al-Husseini as Mufti of Jerusalem, though not as Grand Mufti and without an official letter or public announcement.29

The Supreme Muslim Council

To placate the concerns of Palestinians that Muslim affairs would still be governed by British Mandate authorities, Samuel allowed Muslim representatives of the last Ottoman parliament to form a higher body. They formed the Supreme Muslim Council, and on January 9, 1922, Samuel appointed al-Husseini as head of the community, granting him authority over sharia courts, including hiring and dismissing court officials, as well as over waqf establishments and funds.

Al-Husseini subsequently oversaw Islamic developments across the city, establishing an orphanage and rehabilitating several Muslim mosques and schools, including the Nahawiyya school and two mosques within the Haram al-Sharif. He also established a library and museum in the Haram al-Sharif, planted tens of thousands of trees on waqf lands, and expanded Palestinian medical facilities.

Al-Husseini subsequently oversaw Islamic developments across the city.

To carry out this work, al-Husseini went on a fundraising campaign, collecting donations from donors in Hijaz, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Egypt. Through these efforts, al-Husseini “sought to revive the importance of Jerusalem in the Muslim and Arab worlds and to reassert its centrality within Palestine.”30

During this time, however, al-Husseini avoided direct involvement in Palestinian national politics, leaving them instead to the Arab Executive Committee, which was headed by former mayor Musa Kazim al-Husseini. This meant that al-Husseini largely stayed out of the interfamilial rivalries deepening in Jerusalem, especially with Raghib al-Nashashibi, who headed the opposition party (al-Mu‘arada) to the Arab Executive and Supreme Muslim Council (members of which were known as the majlisiyyin31) between 1923 and 1928. In fact, al-Nashashibi was so adamant in his opposition, he is said to have declared that “he would oppose any position that the Mufti took.”32 Despite his attempts at discrediting the Arab Executive and Supreme Muslim Council, al-Nashashibi was ultimately not able to thwart al-Husseini’s efforts or persuade the Palestinian public and British authorities to abandon the popular leader.

As a result, al-Husseini grew in influence during the 1920s and early 1930s, though he continued to abide by the terms of his agreement with British authorities: in exchange for the British forming the Supreme Muslim Council and appointing him as its head, al-Husseini committed to preserving order in Jerusalem.

But this order was short-lived, as tensions between Muslims and Jews in the city were rising, especially when it came to shared holy sites.

The al-Buraq events

On September 23, 1928, an Ashkenazi shammas (beadle) brought a “larger ark than was ordinarily used” to the Western (al-Buraq) Wall, holy to both Muslims and Jews. It was the eve of Yom Kippur, and the shammas was preparing the area for the religious services that would take place the following day. In addition to the large ark, he set up mats and maps and laid a screen on the pavement. A Muslim mutawalli (guardian) of one of the city’s awqaf complained to Edward Keith-Roach, deputy district commissioner of Jerusalem, that the items blocked the narrow passageway used by residents of the adjoining Mughrabi Quarter to access their neighborhood. While Keith-Roach ordered the shammas to remove the screen, it was still there the following morning. After the mutawalli complained again, British police went to the site and ordered orthodox Jewish worshippers to remove the screen. This outraged the Yishuv and Jews across the world, including the Zionist Organization and Jewish presses, and for six days, they turned the matter into a much bigger incident.33 As one British officer put it, “Jewish public opinion in Palestine has quite definitely removed the matter from the purely religious orbit and has made it a political and racial question.”34

Given the strong Jewish reaction, al-Husseini was compelled to intervene as president of the Supreme Muslim Council. After all, he was responsible for waqf properties, including the al-Buraq Wall. His response was to assert, in memoranda and statements to British authorities and the public, the Muslim claim to the al-Buraq Wall. This further irked different Jewish stakeholders, including the Vaad Leumi, who issued an open letter to the Muslim community on October 10 that the Jews simply wanted to worship freely at the wall, and warned that any “interference or restriction” to this would be a “serious offense and a grave insult against the Jewish Nation.”35

Alarmed by the Jewish reaction in Jerusalem and globally, and by increasing Western support for the Zionist agenda in Palestine, al-Husseini took action. Starting on November 1, 1928, he convened a General Muslim Conference in Jerusalem with representatives from Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Transjordan. The results of the conference emphasized al-Husseini’s unchanging attitude toward al-Buraq, namely, that it was part of the Haram al-Sharif and fell under Muslim waqf. While the Jews could visit the site, they could not worship there; he maintained that they should consider any rights to worship there as nothing more than “a mere favor” granted by residents of the Mughrabi Quarter.36 He explained that he believed the recent events at al-Buraq were part of the Jewish goal “to take possession of the Mosque of al-Aqsa gradually on the pretense that it is the Temple, by starting with the Western Wall of this place.”37

On November 1, 1928, al-Husseini convened a General Muslim Conference in Jerusalem.

Husseini’s firm stance was arguably unwise and provocative, given the importance of the wall to Jews and their reactions to the September events. Moreover, his statements contributed to deepening tensions between the Muslims and Jews of the city throughout 1928 and 1929, culminating in the al-Buraq Uprising of August 23, 1929.

The following is an account of al-Husseini’s reaction to the unprecedented clashes which took place on that day:

At noon on Friday, August 23, Amin al-Husayni hurriedly left his house in front of the Western Wall for the nearby al-Masjid al-Aqsa. He had just been told by the chief of police of Jerusalem, Major Allen Saunders, that thousands of “nervous” Muslims had gathered in the Haram al-Sharif. Indeed, throngs of Palestinians had poured into the city that morning from the countryside, responding to what they believed to have been an appeal from the Mufti (and which later turned out to be a rumor supported by a forged note) to gather in Jerusalem on August 23 in defense of the Haram. The crowds that greeted Amin were not dressed for the Friday worship. They were in their work clothes and were armed with clubs, knives, swords, and a few guns. After all, they were at the Haram to defend it against Zionists who, the Palestinians had heard, intended to march to the Muslim shrine, as they had belligerently marched on the Western Wall nine days before to demand Jewish ownership, and try to take it because it had been the site of the Jewish temple. The Muslims had hoped that al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni would lead them against the Jews. When the Mufti appeared in the Haram courtyard, the crowd began to chant “Sayf al-Din, al-Hajj Amin!” (The sword of religion, al-Hajj Amin). He was their Mufti, and the most powerful Muslim leader in Palestine . . . Nevertheless, the Mufti instructed the Friday preacher, Sa‘id al-Khatib, to give a pacifying sermon and urged the crowds to go inside the mosque to attend the service. He also sent word to the British authorities to quickly increase the number of policemen at the Haram and in the old city.

Soon after the Friday prayers, the crowds gathered outside the mosque. There they listened to a few militant shaykhs. Some members of the audience got up on a platform and exhorted the crowd not to take notice of the Mufti because he was unfaithful to the Muslim cause. The Mufti and some Arab and British policemen went from group to group in an attempt to disperse them, but failed. Soon the Muslims began pouring out of the Haram, one group heading toward Jaffa gate, the other toward Damascus gate. The Mufti rushed to Damascus gate, where he attempted again to disperse the crowd, which had picked up more Muslim and some Christian Arabs. But again he failed. The mob would not listen to him and marched on outside the old city to attack the nearby Jewish community of Me’ah She’arim. The other crowd attacked another Jewish community, Yemin Moshe, but there they were met by Jews armed with guns and bombs. The violence spread throughout Jerusalem. The Mufti and other leaders issued an appeal to the Palestinians to arm themselves “with mercy, wisdom and patience, for verily God is with those who bear themselves in patience.”38

As a result of the uprising, 133 Jews and 116 Arabs were killed, with scores wounded. But the events that unfolded in Jerusalem on that day were also significant for al-Husseini.39 On the one hand, British authorities confirmed that the leader would, in fact, support them in maintaining order in the city among its majority Muslim population. On the other, his firm stance against Zionism assured Palestinians that he would defend their city. But this too was short-lived, and al-Husseini would soon need to “choose between the two masters he was serving, the British and his own people.”40

Arab protest delegation against British policy in Palestine (subsequent to the al-Buraq Uprising), meeting in the hall of the Rawdat al-Ma‘arif school, Jerusalem, 1929

Arab protest delegation against British policy in Palestine (subsequent to the al-Buraq Uprising), meeting in the Rawdat al-Ma‘arif school hall, 1929. Amin al-Husseini is seated in the first row, second from the left. Raghib al-Husseini is seated fourth from left in the same row.

Credit: 

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-DIG-matpc 03048]

The Reluctant Moderate

The response of the British Mandate authorities to the August 1929 al-Buraq Uprising was overwhelmingly antagonistic toward the Palestinians. The high commissioner at the time, John Herbert Chancellor, responded with an iron fist, applying the “hated Collective Punishment Ordinance to entire Arab villages.”41 In fact, 90 percent of those arrested related to the uprising were Palestinians, and 16 out of 17 death sentences were against Palestinians.42 Though al-Husseini and Arab Executive members managed to negotiate the commutation of 13 of them, the hanging of three Palestinians resulted in a surge in anti-British sentiment among the Palestinians of Jerusalem and beyond. This was especially so because they were hanged for murder convictions, while none of the Jews involved in the murder of Arabs during the uprising were convicted. Certainly, the court was skewed in the latter’s favor, as all the judges were British and the attorney general, Norman Bentwich, was a Zionist.43

Al-Husseini was in a tough position. While his reputation soared among Palestinians as the leader who protected the Haram al-Sharif during the uprising, he was wary of turning on British authorities to appease the Palestinian masses, since they had appointed him as head of the Supreme Muslim Council. He therefore resumed his pragmatic approach of cooperating with the British in maintaining order but continued to try to influence British opinion regarding the Zionists. In fact, as a result of the August turmoil, al-Husseini worked with a British Arabist on a moderate proposal to form a parliament with proportionate Arab and Jewish representation under the leadership of the high commissioner.44 This marked al-Husseini’s first diplomatic initiative and brought him to London in January 1930, along with a Palestinian delegation of some of Jerusalem’s most notable nationalists, including Musa Kazim al-Husseini, Raghib al-Nashashibi, and ‘Awni ‘Abd al-Hadi.

When al-Husseini returned to Jerusalem in June 1930, he found an incensed Palestinian populace. The three hangings of the Palestinians were scheduled for June 17, and al-Husseini had already been strong-armed into agreeing to a settlement regarding the al-Buraq Wall: “while confirming Muslim ownership, [the settlement] granted Jews free access and greater use of appurtenances.”45 Moreover, his joint proposal for a proportionate parliament was rejected by Zionist representatives and by the Colonial Office alike. The British were not willing to relinquish authority in Palestine, and the Zionists were not willing to be the parliamentary minority.

The British were not willing to relinquish authority in Palestine, and the Zionists were not willing to be the parliamentary minority.

Al-Husseini and his counterparts had also called for restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine and land sales to Jews, demands which would later appear in the October 1930 Passfield White Paper as official British policy regarding Palestine.46 Yet Zionist influence was far greater than any Palestinian or Arab attempt at securing British support for the Palestinians, especially in London and Geneva.47 Despite gains in his first diplomatic mission to London, al-Husseini the moderate was thus faced with insurmountable hurdles and an increasingly raucous Palestinian public throughout 1930.

Hajj Amin al-Husseini (center) with Hashim al-Atassi and Shakib Arslan (second from right) during a visit to Saudi Arabia, early 1930s

Hajj Amin al-Husseini (center) with Hashim al-Atassi (who served intermittently as president of Syria from the 1930s to 1950s; second from the left) and Shakib Arslan (writer and emir of Lebanon; second from the right) during a visit to Saudi Arabia, early 1930s

As a result, al-Husseini turned to the Arab and Muslim worlds for support in his efforts to protect Jerusalem’s holy sites from Zionist schemes—an effort which brought together his Supreme Muslim Council with the Arab Executive.

Following months of outreach to various governments, al-Husseini convened the General Islamic Congress in Jerusalem in December 1931, the goals of which he published two months prior: Muslim cooperation; diffusion of Islamic culture; defense of the Muslim holy places; preservation of the tradition of Islam; establishment of a Muslim university in Jerusalem; and restoration of the Hijaz Railway to Muslim ownership.48

Following months of outreach to various governments, al-Husseini convened the General Islamic Congress in Jerusalem in December 1931.

Though al-Husseini faced resistance from some skeptical Arab and Muslim leaders regarding his intentions and the possible British response to their attendance, he spent considerable time assuaging them in a range of diplomatic maneuvers. In the end, they attended the conference, which convened December 6–17 in Jerusalem and passed a resolution condemning Jewish immigration to Palestine, land sales to Jews, and Zionist designs on Muslim holy places. The resolution also called for the boycott of Zionist goods, “the establishment of a fund to purchase and develop Palestinian lands, and the founding of a Muslim university in Jerusalem. And it affirmed solidarity with the Christian Arab Palestinians.”49

Despite the relative success of the convention, which at least caused leaders of Muslim and Arab countries to agree on a plan for Palestine and to support al-Husseini’s leadership, its material gains were limited in the face of the powerful Zionist movement and world Jewry. Indeed, between 1933 and 1936, more than 130,000 Jews arrived in Palestine, 62,000 of whom arrived in 1935 alone.50 As a result, Palestinians abandoned the moderate approach of cooperating diplomatically with the British and Zionists, turning, instead, to the more revolutionary methods of groups like the Qassamites and Istiqlalists. Once again, al-Husseini had to choose between his employers and his people.

The Great Palestinian Revolt, 1936–39

The rise of more radical groups opposed to British rule and Zionism threatened al-Husseini’s leadership, and despite his moderate policies, he “was authoritarian and could not tolerate competition.”51 In addition to having no ties with the British, like the Supreme Muslim Council and Arab Executive, leaders of the Istiqlal and Qassam parties opposed moderation and the Husseini-Nashashibi rivalry; as a result, they found increasing support among the Palestinian public.

Al-Husseini thus went on the offensive. Still in control of the sharia courts and the awqaf, and still seen as the leader of the Muslims, he wielded considerable influence and ran a campaign against the Istiqlalists, who had little more than public support. By late 1933, al-Husseini managed to crush them, but not the Qassamists who were led by the very devout and revolutionary Sheikh ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam.52 Al-Qassam had been active since the 1920s, preaching revolution against the British and Zionist forces alike. By 1933, al-Qassam had formed a loyal following, the Qassamists, who remained clandestine in their operations, and he sent a request to al-Husseini to colead a revolution across Palestine, but the latter refused.

With repeated failed efforts to organize a collective Palestinian uprising against British rule, and with increasing Jewish immigration to Palestine, al-Qassam took matters into his own hands. However, before he could announce a revolt, he and his men were ambushed by British forces, a fight which led to his death on November 19, 1935. This sent a shock wave throughout Palestine, and as a result, revolutionary youth groups formed across the country to carry out al-Qassam’s mission of fighting Zionism and British rule.

Starting in November 1935, a series of armed Arab clashes with British forces and Zionist paramilitary groups like the Haganah led the British government to declare a state of emergency in April 1936.

Until April, al-Husseini had maintained his diplomatic approach of finding a political solution. But the increased violence and the Palestinian announcement of a general strike on April 19 in Nablus, Jaffa, and Haifa by Istiqlalists, Qassamists, and other groups put al-Husseini in yet another tough position, especially given that the Palestinian public expected him to lead the anti-British uprising. On April 25, after several days of consultations and negotiations with different revolutionary groups, al-Husseini accepted on the condition that the movement be a united one. The Istiqlalists agreed and convinced Raghib al-Nashashibi to join the newly formed Arab Higher Committee, headed by al-Husseini.

While the Arab Higher Committee was the most representative of the different constituents of the Palestinian nationalist movement—the Husseinis, Nashashibis, Muslim and Christian committees, moderates, and revolutionaries—it was born as a result of the general strike, which meant that it was in many ways subservient to a revolutionary and unpredictable tide largely led by the public. The committee thus had to reflect the demands of the people and, as such, called for the general strike to continue “until the British government makes a fundamental change in its present policy in Palestine in a manner which will be manifested by the stoppage of Jewish immigration.”53 On April 26, 1936, al-Husseini sent the manifesto of the committee to High Commissioner Arthur Grenfell Wauchope along with a letter outlining key Arab grievances. Toward the end of the letter, al-Husseini asserted: “The Arabs are of the strong belief that the continuation of the present policy will lead them to immediate annihilation. They find themselves compelled, moved by their struggle for existence, to defend their country and national rights.” He then conveyed his trust that the high commissioner would “endeavour to effect a fundamental change” in British policy.54

Members of the Arab Higher Committee, 1936. Left to right: former mayor of Jerusalem Raghib al-Nashashibi, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, and Jerusalem mayor and founder of the Reform Party Hussein al-Khalidi

Members of the Arab Higher Committee, 1936. Left to right: former mayor of Jerusalem Raghib al-Nashashibi, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, and Jerusalem mayor and founder of the Reform Party Hussein al-Khalidi

Credit: 

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-DIG-matpc 18174]

For a variety of reasons, and under undeniable pressure from political groups and the Palestinian public, al-Husseini thus threw his weight behind the popular strike against British rule. This marked a turning point in the leader’s position regarding the Palestinian people, the larger nationalist movement, and British Mandate authorities, one from which he would never be able to return.

The issue of his loyalty to the people or the British became untenable when the Arab Higher Committee indicated that it would support the strikers’ call for the nonpayment of taxes. On May 4, 1936, al-Husseini informed the high commissioner of this plan, who called members of the committee to his office the following morning for a meeting in which he “cautioned them against associating themselves with the move.” Nonetheless, Raghib al-Nashashibi supported the proposal to not pay taxes, and it passed. A British police report indicated that “certain leaders particularly the Mufti and Jamal al-Husseini were against the proposal” but supported it since they had no choice, as “opposition was useless.”55  

In the weeks that followed, moderate al-Husseini was frequently caught in the crossfire between British authorities and his counterparts in the committee. Meanwhile, he maintained his position of nonviolence and ensured that Friday sermons would remain calm. But on May 23, British authorities arrested 61 Palestinian leaders, including prominent figures from the Nashashibi family. As a result, Raghib al-Nashashibi and others spread rumors that al-Husseini knew of the arrests before they happened and that he promised the high commissioner to end the strike. This created backlash against al-Husseini from both the public and members of the Arab Higher Committee, the majority of whom voted for a proposal of no confidence against al-Husseini and the mayor.

Not only was al-Husseini losing credibility among the Palestinian public and members of the Arab Higher Committee, his leadership of the committee and support for the nonpayment of taxes in the midst of the ongoing revolt led British authorities to devise a plan to deport al-Husseini and the committee “should it become necessary.”56 And it was the horrific events of the summer of 1936 that impelled the British to make this decision.57 Following a widespread British crackdown on Palestinian resistance which left a trail of destruction across the country—in addition to the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, especially among the fellahin—al-Husseini was shocked by the “cruelty of the English.”58 He thus threw his moral and financial weight behind Palestinian armed resistance, which erupted in April and lasted until October 1936, leaving 1,000 Palestinians dead (and by the end of the rebellion in August 1939, over 5,000 Palestinians had been killed).59

The British authorities sent the Peel Commission to Palestine to conduct an inquiry into the causes of the revolt, a move the Arab Higher Committee accepted. However, the colonial secretary declared that Britain would not suspend Jewish immigration during the commission’s inquiry in Palestine, and the committee subsequently withdrew its cooperation. On January 6, 1937, the committee declared the invalidity of the Balfour Declaration and demanded that the mandate be removed. As head of the committee, al-Husseini formally declared his opposition to British rule.

As head of the [Arab Higher] committee, al-Husseini formally declared his opposition to British rule.

Over the course of the next few months, al-Husseini maintained a conciliatory approach to the British, advocating for moderation while not backing down from his support for the Arab Executive Committee’s position. But during the first half of 1937, the economic and political situation in Palestine grew dire, with unemployment skyrocketing and with news that the Peel Commission would recommend partitioning Palestine. Al-Husseini, a champion of Pan-Arabism, opposed partition and thus grew more supportive of reigniting the rebellion. Meanwhile, al-Nashashibi resigned from the Arab Executive Committee days before the commission published its report; he joined Abdullah of Transjordan in supporting the partition plan, which was officially recommended in the Peel Commission upon its publication on July 7, 1937.60

The Grand Mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, leaving the offices of the Palestine Royal Commission after giving evidence, Jerusalem, 1937

The Grand Mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, leaving the offices of the Palestine Royal Commission with his attendants after giving his evidence, Jerusalem, 1937

Credit: 

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-DIG-matpc 18254]

The partition plan was rejected and denounced by Palestinians across the country. In Jerusalem, British authorities were ramping up their efforts to deport anyone who would stop in their way. The high commissioner could find “no proof of undesirable activities” by al-Husseini, but he was eager to be rid of him. Wauchope thus used a letter sent to Arab leaders by the Arab Higher Committee in which al-Husseini urged them “to work for rescuing the country from Imperialism and Jewish colonization and partition” as justification for deporting him.61

The partition plan was rejected and denounced by Palestinians across the country.

On July 17, Wauchope sent the police to arrest al-Husseini, but likely warned by a friend, he had already escaped through a back door to the Haram al-Sharif, a sanctuary the British would not enter so as not to upset the Muslims.62 Al-Husseini thus remained in the sanctuary and resumed his calls for pan-Arab resistance to partition, including by organizing and funding the National Arab Congress, held in Syria in September 1937. And when the uprising resumed in July and August, al-Husseini issued statements from within the Haram calling for “peace and self-restraint and condemning acts of terror, even in retaliation against Jewish terror.”63

But this untenable situation would not last for long. On September 26, Palestinians assassinated the British district commissioner of the Galilee. Even though al-Husseini and the Arab Higher Committee condemned the assassination, British authorities dealt a crushing blow to Palestinian leadership, including al-Husseini: They dissolved the Arab Higher Committee and other political groups, arrested 200 Palestinian political leaders—including deporting some of them to the Seychelles—and stripped al-Husseini of his chairmanship of the waqf committee. But before they could come for him, al-Husseini escaped from the Haram al-Sharif during the night of October 14, made it to Jaffa, and fled to Lebanon by boat, where he continued his efforts to lead the rebellion in absentia.64

A Thorn in Britain’s Side

In exile in Beirut, al-Husseini could do little to lead the Palestinians in their ongoing revolt in Palestine, and by August 1939, British forces had completely defeated the rebellion, brutally repressing the Palestinians. But in September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany, and al-Husseini was forced to announce his support for the Allies while under house arrest in Beirut.

Frustrated with his situation, al-Husseini bribed a French official to allow him to escape, and on October 13, 1939, dressed as a veiled woman, al-Husseini fled to Baghdad. Once the British got word of his flight, they asked Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Sa‘id to “obtain a promise from the Mufti not to get involved in politics,” and while al-Husseini agreed to stay out of Iraqi politics, he continued his pan-Arab nationalist leadership to defend Palestine.65

Between 1939 and 1941, al-Husseini’s pan-Arab activism in Iraq garnered him unwavering support from Arabs across the region, but it also put him at odds with al-Sa‘id, who was subservient to Britain. Indeed, al-Husseini had become so prolific in his anti-British politics that he became “the force” in the Iraqi liberation struggle; he even issued a fatwa in the spring of 1941 urging Arabs and Muslims to aid in Iraq’s fight for independence from British imperialism, which had committed “unheard of barbarism” in Palestine.66

In addition to al-Husseini’s increasing anti-British mobilization, the rise of Nazi power in Germany threatened British imperial interests in the Middle East. For one, Germany and the Axis saw the value in al-Husseini’s influence in the region and his firm anti-British stance, so they began funding him while in Baghdad. It also helped that al-Husseini had fair hair and blue eyes, which made Hitler believe that the Arab leader had “more than one Aryan among his ancestors,” thus upgrading him from Hitler’s designation of Arabs as “half apes” and allowing him to enter into negotiations with the German foreign office.67 In exchange for the Axis acknowledging Arab independence and unity, al-Husseini promised to commit to diplomatic and economic relations with Germany and to continuing the Iraqi and Palestinian revolution against Britain with Germany military assistance.68

As the Iraqis intensified their anti-colonial revolution, British forces, who could not risk their oil supplies in the region while waging other military fronts in Europe and North Africa, upped their repression. Al-Husseini and a group of his associates thus managed to escape Baghdad on May 29 for Tehran, where Reza Shah granted them asylum. But al-Husseini soon learned of British plans to invade Iran, so he tried to escape again: first to Turkey, which refused to grant him an entry and transit visa, then to Saudi Arabia; British influence there was powerful, and so he headed to Afghanistan. But while al-Husseini was awaiting a visa, Britain and the Soviet Union invaded Iran, forcing Reza Shah to abdicate and put his son, Muhammad Reza, in his place. The new shah agreed to cooperate with the British, which included ousting al-Husseini and his associates. Aware of the reward for his capture, dead or alive, al-Husseini remained in hiding in Tehran for several weeks until he managed to cross the border into Turkey with the help of his Armenian driver and a Japanese diplomat.69

Meanwhile, British authorities captured al-Husseini’s wife, five daughters, and son, and put them under house arrest in Baghdad. Shortly thereafter, they moved them to a jail facility in Ahwaz, in modern-day Iran, where they were held for 55 days. But their plight did not end there:

the family was herded into a lorry, driven for seven hours over rough roads to Basra, and put on a train for the long journey to Baghdad. They were to be immediately put on another train to Jerusalem, but by then some of the children were ill. When a doctor warned the authorities of the danger of such a journey, the British allowed the group to stay for a few days before continuing to Jerusalem.70

In addition to his wife and children being held hostage, al-Husseini’s associates had been captured in Tehran and sent to a concentration camp in Rhodesia, where several died. Hiding in Istanbul, al-Husseini knew he needed to flee again, as Turkey had allied with the British. He managed to get to Rome, where he met with Benito Mussolini in October 1941. Al-Husseini’s demands of Mussolini were the same: full independence for Arabs and the defense of Palestine from British and Zionism colonization, emphasizing “that the struggle against the Jews was not of a religious nature, but for Palestinian existence and for an independent Palestine.” Mussolini agreed to his demands, even stating that the Zionists “should establish Tel Aviv in America.”71

Al-Husseini next went to Berlin to secure Hitler’s support; he ended up staying in Germany for four years.72 The two met for 95 minutes on November 28, 1941, during which al-Husseini asked Hitler for affirmation of German support for Arab independence in exchange for Arab support in fighting the British. Wary of European duplicity following Britain’s betrayal of the Arabs during World War I, al-Husseini wanted Germany’s written commitment that it would not pursue imperial interests in the region. Hitler refused, because French imperial interests in North Africa would likely require German intervention, but he agreed “in secret” to al-Husseini’s request.73

The German and Italian promises came in two letters to al-Husseini and the former prime minister of Iraq, Ali al-Kilani, a few months later on April 28, 1942. In the letter, Germany and Italy stated that they were ready

to grant to the Arab countries in the Near East, now suffering under British oppression, every possible aid in their fight for liberation; to recognize their sovereignty and independence; to agree to their federation if this is desired by the interested parties; as well as to the abolition of the Jewish National Homeland in Palestine.74

The letter was deliberately vague regarding which Arab countries, nor did its authors promise not to stay in the region should they succeed at ousting the British. Al-Husseini thus remained wary about the alleged promise, though he did follow through with his end of the deal. While in Berlin, he used German radio stations to stir Arabs to rise up against the British:75 “I, Mufti of Palestine,” he announced in a radio broadcast on May 10, 1942, “declare this war as a holy war against the British yoke of injustice, indecency and tyranny. We fear not death, if in death there is life and liberty.”76

Al-Husseini also contributed militarily to the Axis’s fronts. In late 1942, he began to organize an Arab Legion in Germany,77 and then helped recruit troops in the Balkans against the communists. However, these efforts were fruitless, particularly due to German failures to mobilize against the Allies in the Middle East. As a result, and with the war ending, Zionists went on a concerted campaign to convince British authorities to charge al-Husseini with treason and war crimes for his alleged collaboration with Hitler in the Holocaust. Presenting a litany of documents from the war years indicting al-Husseini for allegedly collaborating in the extermination of the Jews, the campaign met with little success. British authorities in the Foreign Official declared that the evidence presented against al-Husseini, including that he was a friend of Adolf Eichmann, was “very vague and would certainly not be considered as decisive evidence against the Mufti for having participated in any atrocities against the Jews.”78

In the end, Zionist attempts to frame al-Husseini for his purported role in the Holocaust were to no avail. All that could be proven was al-Husseini’s collaboration with Germany and Italian leaders in his “attempts to stop the Jewish emigration to Palestine.”79

Final Years on the Run

With the Nazi defeat in 1945, al-Husseini had to flee once again. He had been staying in Austria at the war’s end, but on May 7, he fled to Switzerland, though he was denied asylum there. He then went to France and was placed under house arrest in a villa in Fontainebleau. But his stay in France was brief; neither French, British, nor Zionist forces wanted him in Europe, and the latter preferred him dead. In fact, a Zionist group in Paris stepped in and planned to kidnap al-Husseini and assassinate him. The plan, meant to be carried out in May 1946, was thwarted by yet another of al-Husseini’s masterful escapes. He shaved his beard and wore an elegant suit, and, using the name and passport of a Syrian, took a US plane to Cairo where he received refuge under King Faruq.80

While in Cairo, he was able to resume his work leading the defense of Palestine. The Arab Higher Committee regrouped with al-Husseini at its head, and in this role, he continued to oppose British proposals for partition and to pressure Britain to cease Jewish immigration and land sales.

But in 1947, the UN proposed to partition Palestine,81 a plan Britain pushed for until it left Palestine in May 1948. In December 1947, al-Husseini called for a Palestinian general strike and armed resistance, albeit to no avail; he had underestimated Zionist forces, likely because he had not been back to Palestine in 10 years.

Immediately following the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, al-Husseini opposed a unified Arab army coming to the defense of Palestine. Rather, he formed his own armed forces, the army of the Holy Jihad, which he would support while in Cairo, as well as the All-Palestine Government in Gaza in July.

These efforts were to no avail, as were those of the Arab forces that did go to war with the new State of Israel.82 This was due to two factors: on the one hand, Britain instructed King Faruq to put al-Husseini under house arrest in Cairo following the war. Moreover, much had changed regionally for al-Husseini and his associates to reclaim Palestine from the Zionists. King Abdullah of Jordan had already made plans with the new Israeli government to annex the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. And long-time opponents of al-Husseini and his parties, including Raghib al-Nashashibi, were working in tandem with King Abdullah, who appointed al-Nashashibi as military governor of the West Bank and Husam al-Din Jaralla as Mufti of Jerusalem. With the help of Britain, Abdullah thus managed to annex the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) in April 1950.83

Back in Cairo, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the charismatic Egyptian general who had fought in the 1948 War with Israel, seized control of the country and ousted King Faruk in 1952, a move that did not bode well for al-Husseini. The secular and socialist revolutionary leader who spoke of Pan-Arabism promised to liberate Palestine, and aligned with Russia, was at odds with al-Husseini, whose Islamic foundations remained unshaken, including in his support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which Nasser suppressed.84 Tensions between the Egyptian leader and al-Husseini remained so high throughout the 1950s that al-Husseini found himself escaping from Cairo and returning to Beirut in 1959. Nasser subsequently seized al-Husseini’s property and possessions in Cairo and evidently tried to have him assassinated in Beirut.85

The Observer Delegation from Palestine at the Bandung Conference, January 1, 1955

The Observer Delegation from Palestine at the Bandung Conference, during which Hajj Amin al-Husseini had a discussion with the prime minister of the People’s Republic of China, Zhou Enlai, January 1, 1955

Source: 

Wikimedia 

It became clearer to al-Husseini that, since Nasser’s rise to power, the Palestinian movement he had founded and led for decades was dissipating. Indeed, Nasser became the new leader of the front to liberate Palestine, along with the nascent Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which formed in 1964. The PLO’s staunch secular, armed, and socialist mission, and its widespread support among the Palestinians, left no choice for al-Husseini but to throw his weight behind the rising revolutionary movement, including its chairman Yasser Arafat and its guerrilla fighters, the fida’iyyin. While the erstwhile leader of the Palestinian nationalist movement was respected by many for his unwavering commitment to Palestinian liberation before and after the war, the new generation of Palestinians “rejected his traditionalism and use of religion in politics” at a time when revolutionary socialism was spreading throughout the region.86

It became clearer to al-Husseini that, since Nasser’s rise to power, the Palestinian movement he had founded and led for decades was dissipating.

Exile, Death, and Burial

By the 1960s, the aging leader was also in his 80s and in exile in Lebanon. In fact, he had become so benign among regional forces that in early 1967, King Hussein of Jordan, grandson of the late king Abdullah, allowed al-Husseini to visit East Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian rule, though only briefly. Al-Husseini then returned to Lebanon, where he continued to work as an Islamic religious leader and as head of the largely ineffectual Arab Higher Committee until his death on July 4, 1974.

Al-Husseini’s dying wish was to be buried in a cemetery in Jerusalem overlooking his beloved Haram al-Sharif, and when he died in 1974, his relatives attempted to fulfill his wish. But Israel, which had already occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, refused to permit his repatriation for burial. In fact, Israeli occupation forces even obstructed a memorial service organized by al-Husseini’s relatives in Jerusalem shortly before it was to commence by revoking the license of the theater where it was set to take place.87 In the end, he was buried in Beirut’s Islamic Martyrs’ Cemetery.88

Legacy

Despite the many frustrations he witnessed in his career, and the ultimate defeat of his quest to deliver Palestine from British and Zionist power, Hajj Amin al-Husseini remains one of the icons of 20th-century Palestinian nationalist resistance. His attachment to the tenets of a reformed Islam under the pan-Arabist banner—while maintaining strategic diplomatic and political ties with British and other European forces—secured him favor among the largely Muslim Palestinian public that increasingly abandoned secular and corrupt elite leadership throughout the tumultuous decades of the British Mandate. And even though political Islam did not secure a free Palestine, gradually weakening his support base, al-Husseini’s unshakable commitment to represent his people and to liberate Palestine, especially his beloved Jerusalem, from wherever he was, was undeniable and continued to garner his respect. It is no surprise, then, that to this day, al-Husseini is remembered as the father of Palestinian nationalism.

Sources

Bentwich, Norman, and Helen Bentwich. Mandate Memories, 1918–1948: From the Balfour Declaration to the Establishment of Israel. New York: Schocken Books, 1965.

al-Hajj Amin al-Husseini.” [In Arabic.] Al Jazeera, October 3, 2004.

Hamud, Najah. “Who Is al-Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, the Icon of the Palestinian Cause?” [In Arabic.] Al Mayadeen, May 7, 2021.

Hourani, Albert. Arab Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798–1939. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Hughes, Matthew. Britain’s Pacification of Palestine: The British Army, the Colonial State, and the Arab Revolt, 1936–1939. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Kaiser, David. “What Hitler and the Grand Mufti Really Said.” Time, October 22, 2015.

Kayali, Hasan. Arabs and Young Turks: Ottomanism, Arabism, and Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, 1908–1918. Oakland: University of California Press, 1997.

Kochavi, Arieh J. “The Struggle against Jewish Immigration to Palestine.” Middle Eastern Studies 34, no. 3 (1998): 146–67.

Mattar, Philip. The Mufti of Jerusalem: Al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni and the Palestinian National Movement. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

Muhammad Amin al-Husseini.” [In Arabic.] Interactive Encyclopedia of the Palestine Question. Accessed November 21, 2023.

Pappé, Ilan. A History of Modern Palestine. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Pedersen, Susan. The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Sanagan, Mark. Lightning through the Clouds: ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2020.

Sheean, Vincent. “Holy Land 1929.” In From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem until 1948, edited by Walid Khalidi (Washington, DC: The Institute for Palestine Studies, 1987), 273–300.

Swedenburg, Ted. Memories of Revolt: The 1936–1939 Rebellion and the Palestinian National Past. Fayetteville, AK: University of Arkansas Press, 2003.

Taggar, Yehuda. “The Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine Arab Politics, 1930–1937.” PhD diss., University of London, 1973.

Notes

1

Philip Mattar, The Mufti of Jerusalem: Al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni and the Palestinian National Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 7.

2

Mattar, The Mufti, 7.

3

Muhammad Amin al-Husseini” [in Arabic], Interactive Encyclopedia of the Palestine Question, accessed November 21, 2023.

4

Mattar, The Mufti, 8.

5

al-Hajj Amin al-Husseini” [in Arabic], Al Jazeera, October 3, 2004.

6

“The House of Prayer and Guidance.” See Mattar, The Mufti, 9.

7

For more about Rashid Rida and the larger Islamic reformist movement in the Arab world, see Albert Hourani, Arab Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

8

Mattar, The Mufti, 10.

9

“al-Hajj Amin al-Husseini.”

10

Mattar, The Mufti, 11.

11

For more about the late Ottoman period and the Arab provinces, see Hasan Kayali, Arabs and Young Turks: Ottomanism, Arabism, and Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, 1908–1918 (Oakland: University of California Press, 1997).

12

Ilan Pappé, A History of Modern Palestine, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 64–65.

13

These words are from al-Husseini’s unpublished diaries, retrieved from the Central Zionist Archives by Philip Mattar. See Mattar, The Mufti, 12.

14

“al-Hajj Amin al-Husseini.”

15

Mattar, The Mufti, 13.

16

Yehuda Taggar, “The Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine Arab Politics, 1930–1937” (PhD diss., University of London, 1973), 14.

17

“al-Hajj Amin al-Husseini.”

18

Mattar, The Mufti, 16.

19

Mattar, The Mufti, 17.

20

“Muhammad Amin al-Husseini.”

21

Mattar, The Mufti, 19–21.

22

Mattar, The Mufti, 20.

23

Taggar, “The Mufti of Jerusalem,” 24.

24

The petitions of support for al-Husseini from the Palestinian public are housed at the Israel State Archives in Jerusalem. See Mattar, The Mufti, 131.

25

Mattar, The Mufti, 24.

26

For more on the petitions, see Mattar, The Mufti, 25, 131.

27

Norman Bentwich and Helen Bentwich, Mandate Memories, 1918–1948: From the Balfour Declaration to the Establishment of Israel (New York: Schocken Books, 1965), 191–92.

28

Mattar, The Mufti, 27.

29

Mattar, The Mufti, 29.

30

“Muhammad Amin al-Husseini.”

31

Mattar, The Mufti, 31.

32

For details about the year-long lead-up to the August 1929 al-Buraq Uprising, see Mattar, The Mufti, 35–38.

33

As relayed between two British colonial officers on October 13, 1928. The memo can be found in the British National Archive, Colonial Office folder 733/160/57540/I. See Mattar, The Mufti, 132.

34

Published in a letter authored by representatives of Vaad Leumi on October 10, 1928. The source can be found in the British National Archive, Colonial Office folder 733/160/57540/II. See Mattar, The Mufti, 133.

35

Mattar, The Mufti, 39.

36

Mattar, The Mufti, 40.

37

Mattar, The Mufti, 46–47.

38

For a detailed contemporaneous account, see Vincent Sheean, “Holy Land 1929,” in From Haven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem until 1948, ed. Walid Khalidi (Washington, DC: The Institute for Palestine Studies, 1987), 273–300.

39

Mattar, The Mufti, 49.

40

Mattar, The Mufti, 50.

41

Mattar, The Mufti, 54.

42

See Bentwich and Bentwich, Mandate Memories.

43

Mattar, The Mufti, 52.

44

Mattar, The Mufti, 55.

45

Taggar, “The Mufti of Jerusalem,” 108–22.

46

For more about Zionist influence over the League of Nations in Geneva during the interwar period, see Susan Pedersen, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

47

Mattar, The Mufti, 59.

48

Mattar, The Mufti, 62.

49

Arieh J. Kochavi, “The Struggle against Jewish Immigration to Palestine,” Middle Eastern Studies 34, no. 3 (1998): 146–67.

50

Mattar, The Mufti, 66.

51

For more on ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam, see Mark Sanagan, Lightning through the Clouds: ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2020).

52

Mattar, The Mufti, 71.

53

Al-Husseini’s manifesto to Wauchope from April 27, 1936, can be found in the British National Archive, Colonial Office folder 733/297/75156/II/32. See Mattar, The Mufti, 137.

54

Mattar, The Mufti, 75.

55

Mattar, The Mufti, 77.

56

For more on the events of the 1936–39 rebellion, see Ted Swedenburg, Memories of Revolt: The 1936–1939 Rebellion and the Palestinian National Past (Fayetteville, AK: University of Arkansas Press, 2003).

57

Mattar, The Mufti, 78.

58

See Matthew Hughes, Britain’s Pacification of Palestine: The British Army, the Colonial State, and the Arab Revolt, 1936–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).

59

Mattar, The Mufti, 81.

60

Mattar, The Mufti, 82.

61

“al-Hajj Amin al-Husseini.”

62

Mattar, The Mufti, 82.

63

“al-Hajj Amin al-Husseini.”

64

Mattar, The Mufti, 89.

65

Mattar, The Mufti, 95.

66

Mattar, The Mufti, 100.

67

Mattar, The Mufti, 101.

68

Mattar, The Mufti, 96–97.

69

Mattar, The Mufti, 97.

70

Mattar, The Mufti, 102.

71

“al-Hajj Amin al-Husseini.”

72

The details of the meeting between al-Husseini and Hitler have received widespread coverage in a range of historical and political analysis, largely by Zionists portraying the former as anti-Semitic and involved in the latter’s campaign to exterminate the Jews. Mattar’s account, however, offers a historically contingent and evidenced account of the infamous meeting. See Mattar, The Mufti, 99–107.

73

Mattar, The Mufti, 103.

74

“Muhammad Amin al-Husseini.”

75

Mattar, The Mufti, 104.

76

David Kaiser, “What Hitler and the Grand Mufti Really Said,” Time, October 22, 2015.

77

Mattar, The Mufti, 106.

78

Mattar, The Mufti, 107.

79

“Muhammad Amin al-Husseini.”

80

“Muhammad Amin al-Husseini.”

81

As a result, on July 20, 1951, King Abdullah was assassinated at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem by a group of Palestinians seeking revenge for his betrayal. The group of assassins included relatives of al-Husseini, though to this day, it is unclear to what extent al-Husseini himself was involved in plotting the assassination.

82

Najah Hamud, “Who Is al-Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, the Icon of the Palestinian Cause?” [in Arabic], Al Mayadeen, May 7, 2021.

83

Mattar, The Mufti, 113.

84

Mattar, The Mufti, 114.

85

Mattar, The Mufti, 114.

86

“Muhammad Amin al-Husseini.”

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