A portrait taken in 1938 of the mufti of Jerusalem and president of the Supreme Muslim Council of Palestine (1921–1936), Al-Haji Amin al-Husayni (1893–1974). Husayni opposed British rule and the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
On the Palestinian side, the mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husayni, tried to establish contacts with the Italians and the Germans in the mid-1930s, viewing them as potential allies for his goal of removing British and Zionist influence from Palestine. Cooperation on several issues lasted until the downfall of Nazi Germany. The peak was on 28 November 1941, when the mufti met with Adolf Hitler; Hitler alluded to the Nazi Final Solution, while al- Husayni emphasized common German-Arab interests. There is no evidence to support claims that it was the mufti who inspired Hitler to initiate the Final Solution.
By PHILIP MATTAR
Born in Jerusalem, Amin al-Husayni (later often referred to as Hajj Amin) was the scion of a prominent Palestinian Muslim family, which included landed notables and religious officeholders such as the mufti (Islamic legal expert).
Over the next few years, several events radicalized al-Husayni. When the British proposed, in the 1937 Peel Commission Report, to partition Palestine, he rejected the proposal because the Jews, who owned 5.6 percent of the land, would receive many times that area and in the most fertile region, from which most Palestinians would be expelled; the British would remain in control of the third holiest city of Islam, Jerusalem; and the rest would be attached to Amir Abdullah’s Transjordan. Faced with the mufti’s refusal to cooperate, the British stripped him of his offices and sought to arrest him.
He escaped to Lebanon in 1937, continued to lead the revolt, and most likely acquiesced in the assassination of his Palestinian opponents. The revolt was finally suppressed in 1939, after more than three thousand Palestinians had been killed, their leaders exiled, and the Palestinian economy shattered. Al-Husayni became bitter and uncompromising, rejecting the 1939 White Paper even though its terms were favorable to the Palestinians: It proposed a limitation on Jewish immigration and land purchases and a Palestine state with a representative government based on ratio of two Arabs to one Jew. He again escaped, this time from Lebanon to Iraq, where he encouraged a pan-Arab revolt against British rule in 1941. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill approved his assassination, but a British and Zionist mission to assassinate him in Baghdad failed.
Al-Husayni fled to the Axis countries, where he conferred with Mussolini and Hitler. He cooperated with the Nazis in exchange for German promises that the Arab nations would be liberated and given their independence after the war, and he assisted in anti- British and anti-Semitic propaganda campaigns and in recruiting Muslims for the war effort. The mufti, fearing that Jewish immigration to Palestine would lead to the domination or dispossession of his people, tried unsuccessfully to persuade Nazi officials not to allow Jews to leave Axis countries for Palestine. By doing so, he endangered the lives of thousands of Jews, mostly children, who probably would have been sent to concentration camps. Israeli writers and their supporters were so eager to indict him as a war criminal who participated in the Holocaust that they exaggerated his activities, whereas Arab writers, especially Palestinians, were so intent on justifying his actions in Axis countries that they ignored his cooperation with a barbaric regime. What is certain is that his association with the Nazis tainted his career and his cause and limited his effectiveness during the critical period from 1946 to 1948.
In 1946, al-Husayni returned to the Arab world with the aim of continuing his struggle against the Zionists and establishing an Arab Palestine. But he misjudged the balance of forces. He rejected the UN General Assembly’s partition resolution (181) of November 1947 largely because it gave the Jews 55 percent of Palestine when they owned only 7 percent of the land. In the civil strife and war that followed, about 725,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled by Israel forces. After the Arab–Israel War of 1948, al-Husayni gradually lost political influence and became a religious leader, settling first in Cairo and then in Beirut.
Although astute, incorruptible, and dedicated to the welfare of his people, al-Husayni’s policies during both phases of his career were a failure. From 1917 to 1936, despite his rhetoric about the ominous threat of Zionism to Palestinian national existence, he cooperated with the British and rejected an overt struggle, preferring petitions, delegations, and personal appeals. In the meantime, the Zionists’ numbers increased from 50,000 in 1917 to 384,000 in 1936. It was only after 1936 that al-Husayni participated in active measures to stop Jewish immigration, which if unchecked, the Palestinians felt, would result in their expulsion or domination. But by then it was too late: The Zionists had become too powerful, and the British had lost their discretionary authority in the country. Conversely, the Palestinians, especially after the suppression of the Arab Revolt, were too weak.
Al-Husayni did not adjust his demands to the realities and made little effort to reach an accommodation with the British and the Zionists. His rejection of the 1947 UN resolution was a missed opportunity that contributed to Palestinian dispossession. However, even had he accepted the resolution, it is uncertain that a Palestinian state would have been established because of a 1946 and 1947 agreement, supported by the British, between Amir Abdullah ibn Hussein and the Jewish Agency to divide Palestine between them.
The overriding factors that frustrated Palestinian nationalists have as much to do with al-Husayni’s intransigence as with the balance of forces. The 1897 Basel Zionist program and the 1917 Balfour Declaration policy, backed by the British military and by Western support, gave Palestine’s Jewish community time to grow through immigration and land purchases and to establish modern quasigovernmental and military institutions. The Palestinians were a weak, divided, and traditional society and never a match for the British and the Zionists.
Bibliography Elpeleg, Zvi. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem: Haj Amin al-Husayni, Founder of the Palestinian National Movement. London: Frank Cass, 1993. Khadduri, Majid. “The Traditional (Idealist) School— the Extremist: Al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni.” In Arab Contemporaries: The Role of Personalities in Politics. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973. Mattar, Philip. The Mufti of Jerusalem: Al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni and the Palestinian National Movement, revised edition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992. Porath, Yehoshua. “Al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni, Mufti of Jerusalem: His Rise to Power and Consolidation of His Position.” Asian and African Studies 7 (1971): 212–256. Schechtman, Joseph B. The Mufti and the Fuehrer: The Rise and Fall of Haj Amin el-Husseini. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1965.
 Mufti: Type of Islamic cleric. A mufti is an expert in Islamic law empowered to given religious opinions on various matters. Such an opinion is called a fatwa.