Husayni, Hajj Amin Al- (1895–1974)

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HUSAYNI, HAJJ AMIN AL- (1895–1974)

Mufti (Islamic jurist) of Jerusalem and Palestinian nationalist leader. Hajj Amin al-Husayni was born in Jerusalem into one of Palestine's most prominent landholding families. He attended al-Azhar University for a year and, briefly, the Dar al-Daʿwa wa al-Irshad (House of Prayer and Guidance), run by Rashid Rida, a pan-Islamic reformer, which were both in Cairo; he also attended the Military Academy in Istanbul. During World War I, al-Husayni served in the Turkish army, from which he deserted in 1916 to join the Arab Revolt under Husayn ibn Ali al-Hashem, sharif of Mecca.

In 1919, as president of the nationalist Arab Club (al-Nadi al-Arabi), he supported the creation of a Greater Syria, to be ruled by Amir (later King) Faysal ibn Husayn al-Hashem, a son of Sharif Husayn. From February to April 1920 he helped to organize several protests, the last of which turned into an anti-Zionist riot that ended in the deaths of five Jews and four Arabs. Sentenced in absentia to ten years of hard labor, he fled first to Damascus, Syria, where he worked for the Arab nationalist government of Amir (later King) Faysal, and then, when Faysal was expelled by the French, to Transjordan. He was pardoned in April 1921 by the British high commissioner, who appointed him mufti of Jerusalem, succeeding his brother Kamal, who had died. (Their father had also held the position.)

In 1922 Hajj Amin al-Husayni (Hajj is an honorific designating someone who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca) was named president of the newly established Supreme Muslim Council of Palestine, a position that gave him control of Muslim religious institutions and made him a prominent and influential public figure. He opposed British proposals for a Palestinian legislative council and warned of Zionist plans for Palestine but in the 1920s was not active in political opposition. In 1929, when violence broke out over the Western Wall, he attempted to pacify the angry Palestinians and helped the Mandate government try to restore peace. He also, however, publicly opposed British policy on Zionist immigration and land purchases and tried to persuade the British to change it. Late in 1929 he participated in negotiations with the British over a compromise political settlement, but it was rejected by Zionist leaders. In this period he became the most visible Palestinian political leader and was in frequent discussions with the British. In 1931, as president of the World Islamic
Congress, he organized an Islamic conference in Jerusalem to generate anti-Zionist feeling among Arabs and Muslims outside Palestine, but it was had little effect on the British.

In April 1936, at the beginning of a Palestinian general strike called after the discovery that Zionists were smuggling arms into the country, he organized the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), an ad hoc coalition of political leaders that took over direction of the strike. The AHC sought to defend Palestinian interests against the increasing power of Zionist institutions by boycotting Jewish businesses and demanding an end to Zionist land purchases and Jewish immigration, and ultimately by replacing British rule with an independent elected Palestinian government. Taking this position meant that al-Husayni could no longer conciliate the British; the Palestinian community would no longer allow it, and the strike was escalating into a popular armed revolt against the British rule and British policies, which favored the Zionist project. The AHC rejected the recommendation of the Peel Commission in June 1937 that Palestine be partitioned between the Arab and Zionist communities. In October the British outlawed the AHC. Four committee members were arrested and the rest escaped the country. Al-Husayni fled to Beirut, where he continued to organize the rebellion, which lasted until the spring of 1939. Although the White Paper of May 1939 recommended limiting Jewish immigration and proposed an unpartitioned, independent Palestine with an Arab majority, al-Husayni, no longer trusting the British, rejected it, as did the Zionists.

After the start of World War II, he escaped to Iraq, where he became involved in the nationalist resistance to de facto British rule there. He also began receiving financial assistance from the Germans, to whom he represented himself as the head of the pan-Arab movement, and engaged in diplomatic discussions with them, which produced nothing concrete. After a nationalist coup in Iraq in April 1941, the British government of Winston Churchill sent in a team recruited from the outlawed Zionist group Irgun to assassinate al-Husayni; the attempt failed, but when British troops overthrew the new regime in May he fled to Iran, where he was given asylum by Reza Shah. In June, after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, both the Russians and the British invaded Iran; Reza Shah was forced to abdicate and al-Husayni went into hiding. Eventually he escaped through Turkey and Italy, where he met with Benito Mussolini, to Germany, where he was received by Adolf Hitler. Hitler, whose beliefs about Arabs were comparable to his beliefs about Jews, gave him assurances of his support for Arab and Palestinian independence in return for Arab help against the British, although he would not make his support public. Al-Husayni conducted propaganda broadcasts and attempted to recruit for a German-Arab Legion, which the Germans wanted to send to the Eastern Front rather than the Middle East.

After the war, he went to Switzerland but was refused asylum and handed himself over to the French, who could not decide what to do with him. The French were not anxious to be seen punishing him, since he was still popular in the Middle East. The British proposed deporting him to the Seychelles, but the French would not agree. In May 1946 he escaped from the house near Paris, where he was interned, and went to Cairo, where he was given asylum by King Faruq. From Cairo he attempted to revive his political influence in Palestine with the help of his cousin Jamal al-Husayni, who was attempting from his own exile to revive the Arab Higher Committee, and of his nephew Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, who led a Palestinian militia. He could do little without the help of the League of Arab States, which had in effect become the strongest force in Palestinian politics, the only Arab political grouping that could potentially match the strength of the Zionist government, the Jewish Agency for Israel. But the league was a creature of the Arab governments and was not united over Palestine. Al-Husayni and Palestinian nationalism had supporters in the league, but all moves for Palestinian independence were opposed by Amir Abdullah of Transjordan (Abdullah I), who wanted to annex Palestinian territory to his country and was secretly working with the Jewish Agency toward this end. Abdullah refused to deal with al-Husayni, as did the Jewish Agency.

In 1946 the Arab League created a new Arab Higher Committee to represent Palestinians, with al-Husayni as chairman, but it proved ineffective. The paramilitary forces under its nominal control were uncoordinated and no match for the Haganah, and the league would not agree to allow the committee to form a shadow government. Al-Husayni rejected United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 181 partitioning Palestine and on 1 December 1947 launched an appeal for a general strike among the Palestinians. In April 1948 his nephew Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni was killed in the Battle of al-Qastal against a Jewish militia. In September 1948, after most of Palestine was already lost to the State of Israel, the Arab League allowed the AHC to set up an All-Palestine Government based in Gaza with al-Husayni as president. It lasted for only a few weeks, in the few square miles controlled by the Egyptian army. Stripped by Abdullah of his title of mufti of Jerusalem, al-Husayni became active in Syria and Egypt, trying to recapture a position as leader of the Palestinian people. In 1951 he became spiritual head of the Muslim Congress of Karachi, Pakistan. The same year, he was suspected of having ordered the assassination of Abdullah by a Palestinian in Jerusalem on 20 July. Between 1952 and 1959, he undertook multiple initiatives in Arab capitals in the name of the moribund Arab Higher Committee. In April 1955 he participated in the Bandung Conference, where he denounced Israel's expansionist policies. His public agitation made some Arab leaders uncomfortable and he was obliged to take refuge in Lebanon in 1959, where he found himself for all practical purposes under house arrest. In June 1962 he was named president of the World Islamic Congress, and in November he led a delegation of the Arab Higher Committee to Algiers. In 1964, with the creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization, he found himself definitively excluded from Palestinian political affairs. He died in Beirut.

SEE ALSO Abdullah I ibn Hussein; Arab Higher Committee; British Mandate; Haganah; Husayni, Jamal al-; Irgun; Jordan; League of Arab States; Western Wall.