The Long Shadow Over Palestine: The Terrorist Legacy of Haj Amin al-Husseini

Jeff Cunningham
8 min readFeb 13, 2024

Part I: Early Days: From Landlord to Avenger

No two men have done more to set back the Palestinian cause for independence than Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand Mufti of Jerusalem (1897–1974), and his distant cousin Yasser Arafat. Despite evidence of extreme corruption and betrayal, both men remain highly respected within Palestinian society and hailed as “heroes” by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It is imperative that we understand the cultural stubbornness as well as the reasons why it has failed so miserably in building a Palestinian society.

Al-Husseini was a player, an elite member of a closed society born into a prominent family in 1897, whose male members represented more than a third of Jerusalem’s mayors between 1877 and 1914. Amin’s father, Mufti Mohammed Tahir al-Husseini, was an early antisemite and vocal opponent of Zionism. His efforts in 1897 put a stop to land sales to Jews, and that same year, he proposed that new Jewish immigrants should be “terrorized before the expulsion of all foreign Jews established in Palestine since 1891.” Terror springs not far from the tree.

While his early life, like many terrorists, was marked by education in diverse fields, including Quranic, Turkish, French, and Islamic law studies, before engaging in Ottoman and Arab nationalist activities, his family was also known for their wealth. The al-Husseini clan consisted of large landowners in southern Palestine who sold land to Jews during the pre-war period around Jerusalem.

Part II: Not In My Backyard

But according to his biography, Icon of Evil, Husseini’s views were the casus belli for virtually all modern Middle Eastern terrorism. The claim that a line springs from him to every evil known to the CIA is quite clear: “an unbroken chain of terror from Adolf Hitler, Haj Amin al-Husseini, Sayyid Qutb, and Yasser Arafat to Hamas’ founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, Sheikh Omar Abd al-Rahman, and Ramzi Yousef, who planned the World Trade Center bombings of 1993, to Osama bin Laden and Mohamed Atta, to Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the Pakistani Muslim terrorist who planned the kidnapping and murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl, and to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” If the characterization is accurate, his terror activities began early in life.

As World War I erupted, al-Husseini followed the hallowed tradition of the elite, serving in the Ottoman Army (most pictures of him show a traditional Turkish headgear, the fez). Originally a supporter of the British Mandate in the Holy Land during the first nine years of his tenure of office, the al-Husseini’s moment of truth and parting of the ways with the United Kingdom came in 1936 when the British allowed Jewish immigration into Arab Palestine of more than 400,000 people. Simultaneously, the Jews were also buying up vast tracts of Arab land in Palestine, ironically, from al-Husseini’s family, who were among the largest sellers.

But after the British took control, al-Husseini began organizing rallies against the Balfour Declaration. One of his speeches, on April 4, 1920, fanned the flames of anti-Jewish sentiment, resulting in violent riots. When the dust settled after four days, five Jews and four Arabs were dead. Another 211 Jews and 33 Arabs were left wounded.

Part III: The Terror Trap

Fearing arrest for his share in instigating the riots, al-Husseini fled to Syria. Indeed, a British military court sentenced him to ten years in prison. However, the British pardoned him, making way for his return to Jerusalem. Following his brother’s death, British High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel crowned Amin al-Husseini as Mufti of Jerusalem just months later. When the Supreme Muslim Council was established a year later, he became president, earning the title of grand Mufti.

The British believed appointing the young al-Husseini as grand Mufti, the highest religious office, would maintain peace in Jerusalem. In a memorandum dated April 11, 1921, Sir Herbert Samuel reported on a conversation with the proposed grand Mufti:

“He gave assurance that the influence of his family and himself would be devoted to maintaining tranquility in Jerusalem and he felt sure that no disturbances need be feared this year. He said that the riots of last year were spontaneous and unpremeditated.”

He failed to deliver on his promises. During his 15-year tenure, al-Husseini regularly incited violent campaigns against Jewish civilians and British officials, most notably the 1929 riots (which included the Hebron massacre) and the 1936–39 Arab rebellion. The result was to push the British further away from the Arab population led by al-Husseini and closer to the Jews who were cooperating.

The subsequent Second Arab revolt of 1936–1939 (the first being that of Prince Faisal and Lawrence of Arabia in 1916–1918) was crushed by the British Army in the spring of 1939, leading the Mufti to flee for his life, having been both an ally and then a foe of the Mandatory British.

As Haj Amin escaped first to Lebanon, from which to direct an ongoing guerrilla war in his homeland, the British Mandate High Commissioner junked all plans for an effective partition of Palestine between Jews and Arabs. This partition would be accomplished after the war in 1948.

In the fall of 1939, Haj Amin left Lebanon for Iraq where, for the next year, he plotted with native right-wing Iraqi Prime Minister Rashid Ali to forestall the British there, then align that state and, indeed, all of the Arab worlds, with the Axis Pact in Europe against what was perceived as their common enemy: the British-French-Jewish alliance that would later include both Russia and the United States.

Part IV: An Axis To Grind

In 1939, after escaping to Iraq from Lebanon, Haj Amin al-Husseini threw his support behind the Axis powers as World War II began. In Baghdad, he played a pivotal role in the April 1941 pro-German coup and was instrumental in the Farhud pogrom against the local Jewish community while also disseminating Nazi propaganda. Once in Germany, the Nazis provided the grand Mufti with several residences and a monthly salary of 90,000 Reichsmark (at a time when most Germans reported a yearly income of less than 1,500 Reichsmark). “The enormous size of Husseini’s monthly salary indicates the importance the Nazi regime attached to him and his entourage,” scholars claim.

On November 28, 1941, just weeks after he arrived in the German capital, Adolf Hitler invited Haj Amin al-Husseini to his office. He explained to the Fuhrer that the Arabs were Germany’s “natural friends” because they had the same enemies as Germany: “the English, the Jews, and the Communists.” Hitler assured al-Husseini of his plans to eradicate the “Judeo-Communist empire in Europe,” promising liberation for the Arab world once the German army advanced through Caucasia. The official record of the meeting states that Hitler assured the Mufti that he would carry on “the battle to the total destruction of the Judeo-Communist empire in Europe.”

Barely two months after Hitler seized power, Amin al-Husseini met with the German consul in the Holy City. In the meeting, he spoke approvingly of the Nazi’s anti-Jewish policies and conveyed his concerns about the increase of Jewish immigration from Germany to Palestine. The German consul summarized the meeting as follows:

“The Mufti made detailed statements to me today to the effect that Muslims inside and outside of Palestine salute the new regime in Germany, and hope for the spread of Fascist anti-democratic leadership to other countries.”

Part V: Freunds With Benefits

During his stay in Nazi-occupied Europe, al-Husseini was involved in recruiting for the Waffen-SS, calling for attacks on Jewish targets, and spreading antisemitic propaganda, highlighting his significant role in the Nazi war effort and his commitment to anti-Semitic ideologies.

Despite the significant evidence of his collaboration with the Nazis, including meetings with Hitler where mutual enemies were discussed and strategies aligned, al-Husseini managed to avoid prosecution for war crimes, thanks to an intervention by Charles de Gaulle. Returning to the Middle East, he continued his opposition to the establishment of Israel and remained a staunch advocate of Arab nationalism until his death.

Al-Husseini’s time in Nazi Germany not only underscored his commitment to the Axis cause but also his significant financial and political support, as evidenced by the generous salary he received, which far exceeded the average German income at the time. This financial arrangement underscores the value placed on his alliance with the Nazi regime, reflecting his deep involvement in and support for their genocidal campaign against Jews.

Meanwhile, the revolt was stamped out in Iraq in May 1941, the Red Army marched into Iran, the Mandate still occupied Palestine, and a civil war continued to rage there. In Libya and Egypt, the German Afrika Korps piled up victories against the hated British as thrilled Arab mothers named their newborn sons Adolf and Erwin, the latter for German Field Marshal Rommel, the Desert Fox. The Grand Mufti, meanwhile, approved both the civil war and murder in Palestine from abroad.

His actions during this period contributed mightily to his alienating Jews and the entire world. Post-war deliberations over the fate of the former British Mandate Palestine would consider this dreadful alliance. Even though the Allies emerged victorious, in exile, he continued to promote anti-Jewish and anti-British sentiment.

Part VI: The Great Escape

With the loss of the war in May 1945, Haj Amin slipped illegally into neutral Switzerland. Returning to prostrate Germany, he was arrested by the French and imprisoned at Varenne, rightly fearing indictment by the Allies as a war criminal at Nuremberg. However, he was saved miraculously from this fate when General Charles de Gaulle personally intervened on his behalf, possibly to spite his British ally, Winston Churchill.

Thus, the Grand Mufti escaped yet again and was received at anti-British Cairo by Egyptian King Farouk and later welcomed back to Palestine as the unchallenged leader of the newly formed Arab League. Meanwhile, the failure of the 1946 London talks over what to do about the Jews and Palestinians in the Holy Land brought the thorny question before the new United Nations in New York City for a vote.

When the British formed the Jewish Brigade, Haj Amin countered with a similar Arab unit. In 1944, Palestinian paratroopers trained by the Germans in Holland were air-dropped into the Holy Land to spread revolt and chaos; a postwar second anti-Jewish Holocaust was planned for the Middle East in the interim.

Part VII: Legacy of Loss

In his postwar memoirs and other writings, the Grand Mufti insisted that he had not been involved in the first Holocaust. Still, he had opposed Jewish immigration from Nazi-occupied Europe to Palestine in his meetings with Hitler, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, and von Ribbentrop, thus indirectly helping to provide more victims for the destructive maw of the gas chambers. Holocausts against Jews were his thing, at any time and all seasons.

A primary aim of the Greater German Reich was the negation of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, and Haj Amin was quoted as asserting that he was both delighted and pleased by the Nazi Final Solution of the Jewish Question during the four years that he spent within Nazi Germany during 1941–1945.

The shameful part of the long shadow he cast was to align himself with the worst players, not only inferior morally but militarily: first, the Ottomans, then the Nazis, and finally, the terror brigades he encouraged in Palestine. For all his intelligence and charm, as well as his privileged upbringing, he couldn’t make a decent management decision.