Mohammad Amin al-Husseini (also spelled al-Husayni) was a Palestinian Arab nationalist known for his Jew-hatred and his bitter opposition to the establishment of a Jewish state in the territory of the British Palestine Mandate. He served as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem from 1921 to 1948 and cooperated with Nazi Germany during World War II, helping to recruit Muslims for Adolph Hitler’s dreaded Waffen-SS. Widely known as “Palestine’s national leader” and the founding father of the Palestinian movement, al-Husseini made an alliance with Hitler and played an active role in promoting the Holocaust.
Al-Husseini was born in Jerusalem in 1895. His father was a prominent Muslim cleric, and numerous members of his clan were wealthy landowners in Judea; thirteen of them served as mayors of Jerusalem. Husseini briefly studied Islamic law at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and thereafter attended the School of Administration in Istanbul. In 1913 he made his pilgrimage to Mecca in observation of the Hajj.
At the outset of World War I in 1914, al-Husseini joined the Ottoman Turkish army as an artillery officer and was stationed in the city of Smyrna. He was thereafter employed by the British military administration in Jerusalem and was charged with recruiting soldiers for King Faisal’s army during the Arab Revolt.
Following the War, al-Husseini became a teacher at the Rashidiya School in Jerusalem. It was at this time that he began actively opposing the presence of Jews in Jerusalem. In 1920 during the religious festival of Nabi Musa, al-Husseini instigated a pogrom against indigenous Palestinian Jews. After conviction in absentia, he was pardoned by British Mandate Governor Herbert Samuel, who was himself a British Jew. Following the incident, al-Husseini fled the region but was eventually sentenced to ten years imprisonment, in absentia, for his role in the riot.
Thanks to the influence of Herbert Samuel, in 1921 al-Husseini was appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The following year he was elected President of the newly formed Supreme Muslim Council, a post which conferred upon him additional funding and power.
As Grand Mufti, al-Husseini accused local Jews of scheming to demolish the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to take control of numerous Muslim holy sites. He authorized the harassment of Jewish worshippers. These incidents eventually escalated into open violence. In what have come to be known as the 1929 Palestine riots, more than 130 Jews were murdered by Arabs in a dispute over access to Jerusalem’s Western Wall.
In late March 1933, al-Husseini contacted the German consul general in Jerusalem and requested German help in eliminating Jewish settlements in Palestine—offering, in exchange, a pan-Islamic jihad in alliance with Germany against Jews around the world. He informed the German consul that “the Muslims inside and outside Palestine welcome the new [Hitler] regime of Germany and hope for the extension of the fascist anti-democratic, governmental system to other countries.”
In an effort to bring Nazism to his own country, al-Husseini organized the “Nazi Scouts,” based on the “Hitler Youth.” The swastika became a welcome symbol among many Palestinians.
Inter-religious violence between Muslims and Jews again erupted in 1936, with al-Husseini using waqf and orphan funds to recruit bands of militants to attack Jewish settlers. In the beginning the targets were defenseless Jewish civilians in hospitals, movie theatres, homes, and stores. This was followed by strikes and shop closures, and then by the bombing of British offices.
The regimes of the German Nazis and the Italian fascists supported the violence, sending millions of dollars worth of aid to the Mufti. The German SS, under the leadership of Heinrich Himmler, provided both financial and logistical support for anti-Semitic pogroms in Palestine. Adolf Eichmann, architect of the Holocaust, visited al-Husseini in Palestine and subsequently maintained regular contact with him. Al-Husseini then was put on the Nazi payroll.
In 1937, al-Husseini went into hiding after learning that British police were en route to arrest him. He was removed from the presidency of the Muslim Supreme Council, and the Arab Higher Committee was declared illegal. Disguised as a woman, al-Husseini fled to Lebanon, where he would remain for two years. From his base there, he used Nazi funds to instigate the Arab Revolt of 1937-1939.
In 1939 al-Husseini moved his base of operations (and pro-Nazi propaganda) to Iraq, where he helped establish the strongly pro-German Rashid Ali al-Gaylani as prime minister, and then to Berlin in 1941.
In 1941 al-Husseini played a key role in instigating a pro-Nazi coup in Iraq. Following the collapse of the coup, al-Husseini helped spark the Farhud, or the murder campaign against the indigenous Jews of Iraq — a campaign that has been compared to the kristalnacht in Germany.
While in Nazi Germany, al-Husseini directly participated in the Holocaust against the Jews by preventing the exchange of Jews for German POWs and instead insuring that they went to the crematoria.
Al-Husseini led in the effort to train Bosnian Muslim brigades and other Muslim European brigades who were involved in many atrocities. He also funneled money from the sonderfund — money that had been looted from Jews when they were sent to the concentration camps — and he sent those funds to the Middle East to be used to promote Nazi and anti-Jewish propaganda.
On November 28, 1941, al-Husseini met with Adolph Hitler in Berlin, where he was treated as a visiting head of state. Hitler promised al-Husseini that the latter would be chief administrator of the Arab world after the Nazi “liberation.”
Al-Husseini asked Hitler for a declaration of support for the Arabs, and for assistance in the quest to eliminate any possibility that a national Jewish homeland might be established. To this request, Hitler pledged: (a) that he would carry on the fight “until the last traces of the Jewish-Communist European hegemony had been obliterated”; (b) that the German army would gain the southern exit of the Caucasus; and (c) that he (Hitler) would, at the appropriate time, offer the Arab world his personal assurance that “the hour of liberation had struck,” and that “Germany’s only remaining objective in the region would be limited to the annihilation of the Jews living under British protection in Arab lands.”
Following his meeting with Hitler, al-Husseini recruited Muslims for the German armed forces. He helped to organize a Muslim component of the Waffen-SS, a combat division of hardliner Nazi soldiers who were notorious for torturing and murdering European Jews. On March 1, 1944, speaking on Radio Berlin, al-Husseini declared:
“Arabs, rise as one man and fight for your sacred rights. Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion. This saves your honor. God is with you.”
While in Germany, al-Husseini was taken on a tour of Auschwitz by Himmler and expressed support for the mass murder of European Jews. At Auschwitz, al-Husseini reportedly admonished the guards operating the gas chambers to work more diligently.
Al-Husseini also sought to “solve the problems of the Jewish element in Palestine and other Arab countries” by employing “the same method” being used “in the Axis countries.” He would not be satisfied with the Jewish residents of Palestine — many of whom were descendants of Sephardic Jews who had lived there for hundreds, even thousands, of years — remaining as a minority in a Muslim state. Like Hitler, he wanted to be rid of “every last Jew.” As al-Husseini wrote in his memoirs:
“Our fundamental condition for cooperating with Germany was a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world. I asked Hitler for an explicit undertaking to allow us to solve the Jewish problem in a manner befitting our national and racial aspirations and according to the scientific methods innovated by Germany in the handling of its Jews. The answer I got was: ‘The Jews are yours.’”
The Mufti was apparently planning to return to Palestine in the event of a German victory. He planned to construct a death camp, modeled after Auschwitz, near Nablus. He incited his pro-Nazi followers with the words “Arise, o sons of Arabia. Fight for your sacred rights. Slaughter Jews wherever you find them. Their spilled blood pleases Allah, our history and religion. That will save our honor.” Hitler promised al-Husseini that as soon as German troops were able to drive the British out of Palestine and exterminate the more than 350,000 Jews who were living there, he (the Mufti) would be installed as the leader of the region.
In 1944, a German-Arab commando unit under al-Husseini’s command parachuted into Palestine and poisoned Tel Aviv’s wells.
Al-Husseini also helped to organize thousands of Muslims in the Balkans into military units known as Handselar divisions which carried out atrocities against Yugoslav Jews, Serbs and Gypsies.
During the WWII years, al-Husseini was paid the extraordinarily large sum of 50,000 marks per month (when the average German field marshal was earning 25,000 marks per year).
After the end of World War II, al-Husseini tried to obtain asylum in Switzerland but was denied. On May 5, 1945, French troops in Konstanz took him into custody. Two weeks later, he was transferred to the Paris region and was placed under house arrest.
During the Nuremberg trials, Adolf Eichmann’s deputy Dieter Wisliceny testified that al-Husseini “was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and adviser of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of this plan. He was one of Eichmann’s best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures.” After all the evidence had been presented, al-Husseini was declared a Nazi war criminal.
In 1946, before he could be sentenced for his crimes, al-Husseini again escaped and was given refuge in Egypt, where he helped to organize many former Nazis and Nazi sympathizers against Israel. While in Egypt, he also met the young Yasser Arafat, his distant cousin, who became a devoted protégé—to the point that Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization would later recruit former Nazis as terrorist instructors. Up until the time of his death, Arafat would continue to pay homage to the Grand Mufti as his hero and mentor.
In 1948 al-Husseini helped persuade the Egyptian military to participate in the war that saw five Arab armies try to annihilate Israel on the very day of its creation.
Al-Husseini’s pro-Nazi sympathies and support were widespread among his Palestinian followers, who regarded him as a hero even after the war and the disclosure of his role in Nazi atrocities. According to his biographer: “Amin’s popularity among the Palestinian Arabs and within the Arab states actually increased more than ever during his period with the Nazis … [because] large parts of the Arab world shared this sympathy with Nazi Germany during the Second World War.”
In 1948 the National Palestinian Council elected al-Husseini as its President, even though he was still a wanted war criminal living in exile in Egypt.
It was not merely opposition to Zionism that animated al-Husseini’s support for Nazi ideology. The Grand Mufti’s hatred of Jews was immense. His speeches on Berlin Radio were anti-Semitic to the core.
Over the course of the 1950s, al-Husseini lost most of his political influence. On July 4, 1974, he died in Beirut, Lebanon.
Many Palestinians continue to revere him as a national hero.