The Times of Israel recently reported that Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the current Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who has endorsed suicide bombings against Israelis in the past, claimed the Temple Mount site was a mosque “3,000 years ago, and 30,000 years ago” and has been “since the creation of the world,” despite massive archaeological and textual evidence to the contrary, even from Muslim sources.
The remarks elicited virtually no reaction from the media worldwide, while Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments the previous week that seemed to imply that a conversation between Adolf Hitler and the then-Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini might have been the impetus for Hitler’s decision to exterminate the Jews rather than expel them from Europe, generated a flood of mockery.
Shortly after his original statement, Netanyahu clarified his remarks, attempting to illustrate that there are those committed to destroying Jews regardless of territorial disputes:
“My intention was not to absolve Hitler of his responsibility but rather to show that the forefathers of the Palestinian nation, without a country and without the so-called occupation, without land and without settlements, even then aspired to systematic incitement to exterminate the Jews.
Hitler was responsible for the Final Solution to exterminate six million Jews; he made the decision. It is equally absurd to ignore the role played by the mufti, Haj Amin al -Husseini, a war criminal, for encouraging and urging Hitler.”
Despite the attempt at damage control, criticism continued.
Nearly a century after tensions escalated, attitudes toward Israel remain diverse and often emotionally charged. It is important to understand the history of the conflict from what has been objectively documented.
There are distinctions between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism; not every Jew was enthusiastic about the effort to create a Jewish homeland nor does every Jew support Israel unwaveringly today. While not all those who object to Israel’s legitimacy are disdainful of Jews, it goes without saying that all anti-Jewish bigots are anti-Israel.
Most reasonable people understand that both sides are contributing to the conflict today and to some degree, that was also the case in the beginning. However, a thorough and objective examination of credible evidence sans propaganda reveals a different tone in the advocacy for a Jewish state as compared to the opposition.
Most reasonable people understand that both sides are contributing to the conflict today and to some degree, that was also the case in the beginning.
As celebrated left-wing journalist I. F. Stone, the first American reporter to travel with Europeans attempting to enter British Mandatory Palestine, later wrote after WWII, “they have been kicked around as Jews and now they want to live as Jews. Over and over again, I heard it said: ‘We want to build a Jewish country. … We are tired of putting our sweat and blood into places where we are not welcome.’ ”
The idea had a mixed reception even among Jews at the time, for both religious and political reasons. Skeptics believed the Jews were best served in the diaspora, rather than creating both controversy and a target by concentrating in one area. This concern was obviously well-founded in view of the mentality of enemies such as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who said in 2002, “if they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”
Thousands of Jews had already been moving to the region as early as the 15th century, increasing to tens of thousands in the Second Aliyah by 1914. Prior to 1867, the Ottoman Empire hadn’t allowed any foreigners to purchase land in Palestine and also opposed Jewish self-rule.
In 1881, the Ottomans decreed Jews could immigrate except in Palestine and until their defeat in 1918, restricted Jewish immigration and land purchases in Palestine, even for Ottoman citizens. Regardless, many successful land purchases were made through various organizations before and after the turn of the century.
David Ben-Gurion’s various proclamations stated that native Palestinian Arabs were important culturally and economically and their rights and property were to be respected. Jews largely bought uncultivated land at above-market prices. In addition, nearly three-quarters of the purchases were not from indigenous natives, but from non-Palestinian Arabs.
The British placed restrictions on Jewish land and even as late as 1949, the British had allotted over half of the cultivable land to Arabs and less than 5% to Jews.
To put the situation in context, while there are many objective and legitimate concerns over the immigration problem in the United States, there are also people who are resistant to cultural change and in some instances, racist. By the same token, Palestinian nationalism became distinctly anti-Jewish in the early 20th century.
But during the Third Aliyah, which began in 1919, militant opposition to the Jewish presence escalated. Al-Husseini addressed a gathering of nearly 70,000 Arabs with Inflammatory anti-Zionist rhetoric and rioting broke out in protest of the Balfour Declaration.
Charged with inciting the Arab crowds and sentenced to 10-years imprisonment, British High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel then pardoned him, attempting to reduce the widespread violence against the Jews by pacifying Husseini. Instead, from that influential position he became the father of regional anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and hardline Palestinian nationalism.
Eli R. Hertz wrote:
“The Grand Mufti Al-Husseini’s aspirations slowly shifted from pan-Arabism – the dream of uniting all Arabs…to winning a separate Palestinian entity, with himself at the helm. Al-Husseini was the moving force behind the 1929 riots against the Jews and the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt against two non-Muslim entities in Palestine – the British and the Jews. He gathered a large following by playing on fears that the Jews had come to dispossess, or at least dominate the Arabs.
The Third and Fourth Aliyahs brought more Jews to the region as anti-Semitism was increasing across Europe. Legalized discrimination increased immediately after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933 and Jews were pressured to leave the country. After the invasion of Poland in 1939, the extermination began and accelerated after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.
But while Hitler had made his desire to “remove” the Jews known as early as 1919, the original idea had indeed been forced emigration. Known as the Madagascar Plan, the proposal involved shipping the Jews to Madagascar and was devised in 1938 and officially endorsed as Nazi policy in 1940.
A year later, however, the Nazis were looking at other alternatives. In 1941, Hermann Göring, gave authorization to Reinhard Heydrich to submit a plan for a “total solution of the Jewish question” in territories under German control.
While Hitler made his desire to 'remove' the Jews known as early as 1919, the original idea had indeed been forced emigration.
The “Final Solution” became the code name for eliminating European Jews. At some still undetermined time in 1941, Hitler authorized the scheme and the implementation became official policy. The Madagascar Plan was officially shelved in 1942.
Husseini was long since an ardent supporter of the Nazis and secured the audience with Hitler that Netanyahu alluded to in 1941. According to the British record, in this infamous meeting, Husseini stated that “the Arabs were Germany’s natural friends because they had the same enemies… namely the English, the Jews, and the Communists,” and thanked Hitler for supporting “the elimination of the Jewish national home.”
There is nowhere in the record definitive proof that Husseini was the originator of Hitler’s extermination plan and the timeline suggests while the meeting occurred two months before the Final Solution was formalized, the mass murder of over a million Jews had already begun. The uncertainty of his influence stems from the depth of communication and cooperation prior to the meeting.
There is a long list on the rise of Nazi activity in the Middle East as early as 1933 and the first congratulatory letters about Hitler’s election as Reich Chancellor came from Arabs. In addition, Dutch investigative journalist Emerson Vermaat alleges Husseini met with Francois Genoud, later known as “Hitler’s Banker,” in 1936 and that there exists a rare document about a possible visit by Al-Husseini to Yemen referring to him as “an envoy of Hitler.” He had been broadcasting Mein Kampf in Arabic.
In 1947, Drew Pearson, a well known American columnist, referred to Wisliceny’s testimony and also concluded that Husseini “had repeatedly suggested to the various authorities with whom he had been in contact, above all before Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler, the extermination of European Jewry.”
As it turns out, prior to the meeting in 1941, Husseini had previously made numerous declarations which he only personally presented to Hitler in 1941, asking the Axis powers to endorse “the right to solve the problem of the Jewish elements in Palestine. . .by the same method that the question is now being settled in the Axis countries.”
Dieter Wisliceny, one of Adolf Eichmann’s deputies, stated in a signed official deposition to the Nuremberg tribunal:
“The Mufti [Amin al-Husseini] was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and advisor of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of this plan. . . “
Later, Husseini encouraged the Nazis to expedite the killing, along with stonewalling aid by agencies such as the Red Cross. He was infamously quoted later openly calling for the murder of Jews as a matter of honor and pleasing Allah, giving further license to modern-day Jihad.
Ironically, the predecessors of some of Israel’s modern-day critics were echoing Netanyahu’s sentiment years ago. The Nation, one of the U.S.’s most liberal publications, specifically cited Husseini as being not only complicit in the Holocaust, but also having a secret pact with Hitler that stipulated in the event of only one surviving, the other would follow through on their joint purpose of exterminating the Jews.
The takeaway is not to dwell on whether or not the Mufti was the primary impetus behind the change in Nazi policy, but rather to understand what fermented this flavor of opposition to a Jewish state and how that legacy continues. The Mufti’s anti-Jewish agenda became the central rallying point of Palestinian ultra-nationalism, superseding any previous benevolent desire simply for Arab solidarity.
After Husseini’s death, his work lived on through his nephew, Yasser Arafat, and regardless of wrongdoing by Israelis then or now, the seeds of hate sewn nearly a century ago are still a substantial part of the conflict today.