Hajj Amin al-Husseine
Setting the Stage
Perhaps a good way to begin understanding Hajj Amin al-Husseine and anti-Semitism in what we today call the Mideast is to look at some the conditions and changes going on during the turn the century in what we today call the Middle East.
Ever since the birth of Islam and the way that certain Jewish tribes in and around Medina rebuffed Mohammad’s arrival at that city in 622 which resulted in the expulsion or massacre of Jewish tribes in the area, Islam and Judaism has had an unpleasant coexistence in the Middle East.
In 892 the Caliph of Baghdad legislated that Jews had to wear a yellow belt and a conical hat on penalty of death.
In 1492, after Jews were expelled from Spain, the Ottoman Empire welcomed them to a more tolerant place to live. However, they limited the number of synagogues that could be built, none of which could be built near a mosque.
That was followed by a number of instances of Jews being expelled from such places as Cairo, Damascus, Morocco, and Alexandria. In some instances Jewish communities were burned, Jews were killed, and synagogues looted.
Around the turn of the century the Ottoman Empire, or what remained of it, controlled Western Asia. The main religion of the Ottoman Empire was Islam, though Christians and Jews were tolerated in accord with the teachings of the Quran. This meant that for the most part Christians and Jews, though tolerated, were second class citizens with limited freedoms. At the height of its power the Ottoman Empire controlled: much of Southeastern Europe, parts of Central Europe, Western Asia (today known as the Med-East), the Caucasus, and North Africa (from Egypt to Algeria). However, because of internal problems as well as external problems, the empire had been reduced mainly to Western Asia (what today consists of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Jordan) and parts of the Arabian Peninsula (parts of Saudi Arabia).
Also, around the turn of the century the Zionist (Jewish) movement earnestly began seeking a homeland in an area of the Ottoman Empire then known as Palestine. To this end Jewish people were already purchasing land and creating settlements around: Jerusalem, Hebron, Sephardi, among other locations. They were also joined in their efforts by Britain, France, and later Russia who, in 1916, agreed on creating spheres of influence, in Western Asia, once they defeated the Ottoman Empire. Britain’s sphere of influence would include Egypt and Palestine. Britain already had a presence in Egypt as a result of the Suez Canal being completed in 1867. At the time the British established a de facto control over Egypt to protect the canal. Then in 1917 Britain announced, in its Balfour Declaration, that they would work to establish a “national homeland” for the Jewish people.
If their support for Zionism was not enough to stir unrest in the Middle East, The British presence and control of Egypt certainly contributed to it greatly as it, and the modernistic thinking of foreigners, was seen, by Islamic reformers as very harmful to Islam and the Islamic way of life.
It was into this atmosphere and geo-political maneuvering that Hajj Amin al-Husseine was born into a wealthy and influential Palestinian Arab family in Jerusalem in 1893. At that time the British had already established authority over Palestinian Arabs. He went to get an education at Islamic, Ottoman and Catholic schools. When World War I started he served in the Ottoman Army.
After the war he became involved in Arab nationalism which is a belief that the Arab world extended, in North Africa, from the Atlantic Ocean, across the Arab peninsula, to the Indian Ocean.
In 1920, at the age of 27 he led some followers on a murderous rampage for which he was tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison by a British military tribunal. The British then turned around, in 1922, and pardoned him because they saw him as a religious and political leader of Arabs in Palestine. It was at this time that he acquired his title as Grand mufti of Jerusalem by the British who appointed him to that position despite the fact that they knew he was violently anti-Semitic and opponent of Jewish immigration to Palestine to establish a homeland. Two months after his appointment he led an anti-Jewish riot in Palestine.
In August of 1923 he led a massacre of Jews in Hebron where Jewish immigrants had established a community on the site of Islam’s 2nd most holy city. The massacre resulted in the deaths of 60 Jews. Hajj led another massacre a few weeks later in Safad where 45 Jews were killed.
By the 1930s and 1940s hatred of the Jews and Jewish nationalism, as well as opposition to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine had grown so intense that Arab leaders became eager to not only embrace Nazism but nursed a desire to form an alliance with Hitler in his war against the Jews. Of course, what many of them were after was a curtailment of Jews leaving Europe to move into Palestine. There were some, such as the fledgling Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt who sought Germany’s help in ridding Egypt of British forces there and their corrupting influence over Egyptian government and Islamic culture and life.
Hajj and World War II
In March of 1933, shortly after Hitler’s rise to power, Hajj approached the Nazi consul general in Jerusalem and “offered his services.” At the time he explained to German officials that his goals were far-reaching. His immediate aim, of course, was to stop and terminate the Jewish resettlement in Palestine. Beyond that he planned on an alliance with Germany in a holy war against the Jews throughout the world thus carry out the “Final Solution” to the Jewish question, everywhere.
In 1934, after the enactment of the Nuremberg laws, the Islamic world, especially Morocco and Palestine where German propaganda was most active, sent telegrams to Hitler congratulating him on his success. The Nuremberg laws consisted of two laws:
- Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor. This law forbade not only the marriage of a German and a Jew, it also forbade extramarital sex between a German and a Jew. It also went on to ban the employment of a German female, under the age of 45, from working in a Jewish house.
- Reich Citizen Law. This law declared that only those of German and related blood were eligible to be citizens of the Reich. Everyone else was a subject of the state.
Hajj then took a very active in the Arab Revolt in Palestine in 1936 in which he not only led his Arab High Committee in strikes and political protests in Palestine, but stirred a violent peasant resistance that was targeted British forces.
The British put down the strikes, and protests through political concessions and the use of diplomacy in using rulers from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Transjordan and Yemen as well as the threat of martial law.
As for the resistance, the British used force as well as measures designed to intimidate the Arab population as well as undermine popular support of the revolt. In all between 2,000 and 3,833 Arabs were killed by the British. The British hung 108. Another 961 to 1200 died as a result of either “terrorism”, or “gang of terrorists.” Another 14, 760 Arabs were wounded. As for Jews, anywhere from 92 to several hundred were killed.
Hajj managed to escape British authorities, and trial by first moving to Lebanon in 1938, then Iraq in 1939, before moving to Italy and then finally Germany in 1941. It was at this time that he met with foreign minister Ernst von Weizacher to discuss his proposal of an alliance. A provision of his proposal included Axis powers declaring themselves ready to give approval to the elimination of the Jewish national homeland in Palestine. Three weeks later he met with Hitler for the first time in an effort to convince Hitler to exterminate the Jews in Europe. In exchange, he would raise an Arab legion to carry out the task in the Middle East. This was to be the first of many meetings he would have with Hitler.
Despite all his plans, the Nazi had a plan of their own for him in that they wanted him to be their chief propagandist (mouthpiece) in the Middle East.
In 1943, Hajj moved to Bosnia chiefly to raise a Muslim Waffen SS company. He later led this military organization of his to slaughter 90% of Bosnian Jews, burn countless Serbian Catholic churches and villages. He also sent other units of his military into Croatia and Hungary. Then, while all of this is going on, SS chief Himmler establishes a special military school in Dresden for Bosnia Muslim fighters.
Also, in November of 1943 just three weeks after Nazis begin rounding up Jews in Rome, Hajj gets on German radio to broadcast an anti-Semitic message-Jews, their unworthy belief that they are ‘God’s chosen nation and their assertion that all was created for them and that other people are animals”, “[makes then] incapable of being trusted. They cannot mix with any other nation but live as parasites among the nations, suck out their blood, embezzle their property, corrupt their moral…the divine anger and cure that the Holy Koran mentions the reference to the Jews is because of their antique character of the Jews.”
Once again Hajj managed to escape capture and indictment in 1946 after the defeat of Nazi Germany. This time the indictment was for war crimes. He managed to flee to Egypt where he met Yassar Arafat and made him his protégé. He then went on to secretly import former Nazi commando officers to teach his fighters the fine art of guerilla warfare. This importation of Nazis and neo-Nazis continued in 1970 when Yassar Arafat succeeded Hajj as mufti and leader of the Palestinian National Movement and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
Hajj Amein al-Husseine’s legacy lives on through the training that those Nazi he and his followers imported into Palestine so that Arab and fundamentalist Islamic fighters could learn to fight as the Nazi military had in World War II, especially in the area of guerilla warfare.
This training would prove especially helpful to reformers like the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt who were learning that bringing about reform and change to the conditions that Arabs and Muslims had to live under in countries like Egypt, could not be accomplished by working within the system alone. They needed a paramilitary force to carry out jhad against those who opposed them.