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Overview of Palestine's Mufti (1895–1974) Mohammed Amin al-Husseini

Reader comment on item: The Grand Mufti

Submitted by Charles (United States), Nov 18, 2022 at 05:53

Grimm, Eve E.., Bartrop, Paul R.. Perpetrating the Holocaust: Leaders, Enablers, and Collaborators. United States: ABC-CLIO, 2019. pp.4-6.


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Mohammed Amin al-Husseini was a Palestinian Arab nationalist and mufti of Jerusalem in Mandatory Palestine before and during World War II. A passionate antisemite, he became a key ally of Adolf Hitler in endorsing the annihilation of Europe's Jews, at the same time vetoing attempts to rescue Jews (particularly Jewish children) and trying to convince the Nazis to bomb Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

AL-HUSSEINI, HAJ AMIN (1895–1974) Mohammed Amin al-Husseini was a Palestinian Arab nationalist and Muslim leader in what was to become Mandated Palestine.

He was born in Jerusalem in 1895, the son of Mufti Tahhir al-Husseini and scion of a family of wealthy landowners claiming direct descent from the grandson of the (Muslims' believe of) Prophet.

He received his education in an Islamic school; an Ottoman school, where he learned Turkish; and a Catholic school, where he learned French. Sent to Cairo for his higher education, he studied Islamic jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University and then at the Cairo Institute for Propagation and Guidance. He went on to the College of Literature at Cairo University and then the Ottoman School for Administrators in Istanbul, which trained future leaders of the Ottoman Empire. In 1913 he made pilgrimage to Mecca, earning his honorific "Haj."

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he joined the Ottoman army as an artillery officer assigned to Izmir. After the war, he moved to Damascus as a supporter of the Arab Kingdom of Syria, but with the collapse of Hashemite rule in Damascus, he moved back to Jerusalem. On the death of the mufti of Jerusalem on March 21, 1921, elections were held to choose a successor. Although al-Husseini only came fourth in the votes, the British governor, Sir Herbert Samuel, appointed al-Husseini as the new grand mufti in order to maintain the balance of power between the rival elite Husseini and Nashashibi clans.

Al-Husseini's preaching of anti-Jewish hatred led to him making a speech on August 23, 1929, which generated riots that killed 133 Jews and wounded 339 more. As a demonstration of his authority, he later played a role in pacifying rioters and reestablishing order.

On March 31, 1933, al-Husseini met with the German consul general in Jerusalem, who advised Berlin that the mufti was an excellent ally in Palestine. He identified that the mufti aimed to terminate Jewish settlement in Palestine and saw that a holy war of Islam, in alliance with Nazi Germany, would remove the Jewish problem everywhere.

In 1936, the Peel Commission arrived in Palestine to investigate the establishment of a two-state solution for the mandate. Arab anger against the proposal resulted in riots against Jews breaking out in Jaffa on April 19, 1936. Before and after these riots, which continued through to 1939, al-Husseini was establishing Nazi connections, and later he indicated that without funding from Germany, the riots could never have been engineered.

By 1937, al-Husseini oversaw a youth group, the Holy Jihad, inspired by the Hitler Youth. British police tried to arrest al-Husseini in July 1937 for his part in the Arab rebellion, but he managed to escape to the sanctuary in the Muslim area on top of the Temple Mount. Al-Husseini's lobbying in response to the 1936–1939 Arab Revolt resulted in the British white paper of May 17, 1939, approved by the House of Commons on May 23, 1939.

It called for the establishment of a Jewish national home in an independent Palestinian state within 10 years, rejecting the creation of a Jewish state and the partitioning of Palestine. It also limited Jewish immigration to 75,000 for 5 years. Additional immigration was to be determined by the Arab majority. This created huge problems for Jews because of their increasing suffering in Nazi Germany since 1933 and the Evian Conference's failure to find a resolution to the settlement of Jewish refugees. In a letter of June 21, 1939, to Adolf Hitler, al-Husseini wrote of Arab readiness to rise against the common enemy, Anglo-Jewry, and once war broke out, he went to Iraq and set up his base of operations there on October 13, 1939.

On April 3, 1941, he attempted a takeover of the Iraqi government with Nazi support. In the resultant pogrom, 600 Bagdadi Jews were killed, 911 Jewish houses were destroyed, and 586 Jewish businesses ransacked. When Britain suppressed the takeover, al-Husseini blamed the failure of the Nazi takeover on the Jews.

On July 22, 1941, al-Husseini fled to Teheran. After the Allied occupation of Iran on October 8, 1941, and the new Persian government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi severed diplomatic relations with the Axis powers, al-Husseini was taken under Italian protection and smuggled through Turkey to Italy in an operation organized by Italian military intelligence. He arrived in Rome on October 10, 1941.

He then began serious discussions with the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. He secured an agreement with the Italians that in return for Axis recognition of a fascist Arab state encompassing Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Transjordan, he would agree to support the war against Britain. The Italian foreign ministry also urged Mussolini to grant al-Husseini 1 million lire. Over the next few days, al-Husseini drafted a proposed statement of an Arab-Axis cooperative effort by which the Axis powers would recognize the right of the Arabs to deal with Jewish elements in Palestine and approve the elimination of the Jewish National Homeland in Palestine.
Mussolini approved the declaration and sent it to the German Embassy in Rome.

Al-Husseini was invited to Berlin as a guest of the Nazi regime, which gave him a luxurious home on a fashionable street, a full staff of servants, a chauffeured Mercedes, and a monthly stipend of $10,000. He remained headquartered in Berlin until May 1945.
Then on November 28, 1941, he met with Adolf Hitler, concluding afterward that Nazis and Arabs were engaged in the same struggle to exterminate the Jews.

From the mid-1930s, al-Husseini had been friends with the SS officer Adolf Eichmann. When he visited Eichmann's office at the end of 1941 or the beginning of 1942, he was briefed on the Nazis' Final Solution. His involvement with the Holocaust saw him allegedly visit Auschwitz and Majdanek; he was on close terms with Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess and the commandants of Mauthausen, Theriesenstadt, and Bergen-Belsen.

He also organized antisemitic Arab radio propaganda, espionage in the Middle East, and the establishment of the Arab Legion and the Arab Brigade, Muslim military units that fought for the Nazis. He had at his disposal six radio stations (Berlin, Zeissen, Bari, Rome, Tokyo, and Athens), from which he urged Muslims to kill Jews everywhere.

As early as January 1941, the mufti traveled to Bosnia to convince Islamic leaders that a Muslim Waffen-SS division would bring honor and glory to Muslims, claiming that they shared four principles: family, order, the leader, and faith. As many as 100,000 Muslim fighters were thereby recruited and fought for the Nazis. In January 1942, al-Husseini discussed with German leaders the formation of a German-Arab military unit, and on May 3, 1942, he sought from the Italian and German governments another declaration supporting, among other things, the liquidation of the Jewish national home in Palestine.

In consultation with the mufti, Eichmann had created an Einsatzgruppe Ägypten (Einsatzgruppe Egypt), ready to disembark for Palestine. In July 1942, al-Husseini and the Iraqi Rashid Ali broadcast that it was the duty of Egyptian Muslims to kill the Jews before the Jews killed them, as the Jews were preparing [he propagated] to violate their women, kill their children, and destroy them completely.

On December 11, 1942, the mufti urged Arab Muslims to "martyrdom" as allies with the Nazis, as "the spilled blood of martyrs is the water of life."

In late 1942, SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler gave his permission for 10,000 Jewish children to be transferred from Poland to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt, with the eventual aim of allowing them to go to Palestine in exchange for German civilian prisoners. The plan was abandoned, however, because of al-Husseini's protests. In all likelihood, these children were murdered subsequently in Auschwitz.

In a speech delivered to the SS on January 11, 1944, SS leader Heinrich Himmler argued that the bond between Nazism and Islam was built on enduring common values. Inspired by his words, the Waffen-SS Handschar Division went into action in February 1944. The division played a major role in rendering the Balkans Judenrein (Jew-free) in the winter of 1943 to 1944, cutting a path of destruction across the Balkans that encompassed a large number of Catholic parishes, churches, and shrines and that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Catholics as well as all Jews they could find. By the end of the war, al-Husseini's fanatical soldiers had killed over 90 percent of the Jews in Bosnia.

In the spring of 1943, al-Husseini learned of negotiations between Germany's Axis partners with Britain, Switzerland, and the International Red Cross to transport 4,000 Jewish children to safety in Palestine.
Al-Husseini sought to prevent the rescue operations with protests directed at the Germans and Italians, as well as at the governments of Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Demanding that the operations be scuttled, he suggested that the children be sent to Poland, where they would be subject to "stricter control" (exterminated). They were duly sent to a concentration camp, meeting al-Husseini's demand that they be killed in Poland rather than transported to Palestine.

In September 1943, intense negotiations to rescue another 500 Jewish children from the Arbe concentration camp in Italy collapsed due to an objection from al-Husseini, who blocked their departure to Turkey because they would end up in Palestine. In 1943, al-Husseini organized a chemical attack on Tel Aviv, but the five parachutists sent on the mission were captured near Jericho before they could complete their task. Their equipment, found by the British, consisted of submachine guns, dynamite, radio equipment, £5,000 cash, a duplicating machine, a German-Arabic dictionary, and enough toxin to kill 250,000 people by poisoning water. The mufti also tried to convince the Nazis to bomb Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Concerned over the turning tide of war, he wrote to Himmler on June 5, 1944, and July 27, 1944, asking him to do all he could to complete the extermination of the Jews. After the war, Britain, France, and the United States refused to prosecute the mufti as a war criminal, even though Yugoslavia had placed him on a list of war criminals. He attempted to obtain asylum in Switzerland, but his request was refused.

Taken into custody by French occupying troops at Konstanz on May 5, 1945, he was transferred to the Paris region on May 19 and put under house arrest. French authorities hoped that his presence could lead to an improvement in France's status in the Arab world and accorded him special detention conditions and other benefits as a result. Satisfied with his situation in France, al-Husseini stayed for a full year.

He arrived in Egypt on June 20, 1946, where King Farouk provided him with sanctuary. Even with the fall of Farouk and the rise of Gamal Abdel-Nasser as head of Egypt in 1952, al-Husseini remained safe.

His last public appearance came in 1962, when he delivered a speech to the World Islamic Congress. He used this final opportunity to address the world to call for the ethnic cleansing of the Jews.

The grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, died in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1974.


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