ARAB RESIDENTS of the town of Ramle, southeast of Tel Aviv, raise their hands in surrender to Israeli soldiers in July of 1948. Did the Mufti represent them?.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Mordechai Paldiel could not have been more wrong in writing (“The Mufti and Hitler,” October 29): “It is a historical fact that the ... Mufti of Jerusalem [was] the leading spokesman for the Palestinian national movement during its formative years, beginning in 1920....”
On the contrary, Haj Amin al-Husseini was Palestinian nationalism’s fiercest opponent. In his day, the word “Palestinian” referred exclusively to Zionist Jews.
His jihad was to destroy their movement and with that goal in mind murdered hundreds in the Arab Revolt (1936-39).
Under the Turks for four centuries prior to WWI (1914-18), there had been no administrative district called “Palestine” and no Arab/Muslim called himself a “Palestinian.”
The post-war Paris Peace Conference that opened in January 1919 led to the creation of the League of Nations that in turn drafted its Mandate for Palestine in language making clear that “Palestine” at that time did not exist. It had to be created and was explicitly defined as “a Jewish homeland.”
This, of course, did not sit well with Husseini, not yet the Grand Mufti but still a Muslim priest. In October 1919, he established a newspaper in Jerusalem called Al-Suria Al-Janubia (Southern Syria) whose title was its raison d’etre: to combat the creation of Palestine because, while the name meant something to Jews and Christians as a synonym from their shared Bible’s Promised Land, it never meant anything to Muslims. It is never mentioned in the Koran and Muslims never governed such a territory with that name.
The Arabs had always called the region Bilad al-Sham (Damascus territory), and on March 8, 1920, Husseini even attended in Damascus the coronation of prince Faisal of the Hedjaz (Alec Guinness in the Hollywood epic Lawrence of Arabia) as king of Syria. That same day in Jerusalem, an agent of Husseini’s delivered a note to British military governor Ronald Storrs demanding that the new British-French dividing line separating Palestine from traditional Syria be erased. Simultaneously, Haj Amin’s cousin Musa Kazim, mayor of Jerusalem, started a riot in the Holy City in support of that desire.
And this was Husseini’s crusade for the next 40 years, into the 1960s. His resistance to Zionism was always exclusively religious in content and tone. What is called today “Palestinian nationalism” had nothing to do with it.
In this his politics were no different from those of the Muslim Brotherhood established in Egypt in 1928 in reaction to the radical de-Islamization of Turkey under Ataturk. Serious Muslims experience nationalism as a threat to Islam.
What devout Muslims want is a one-world caliphate, not another secular, Western- style nation-state, as Ataturk did.
Contrary to Paldiel, today’s “Palestinian national movement” dates to an Arab League meeting in Cairo on March 29, 1959, when Gamal Abdel Nasser suggested that the generic term “Arab refugees” be replaced. It had been in use since 1949 because so many of them had been migrant workers from all over the Arab world working in Eretz Yisrael at the time of Israel’s War of Independence and there was nothing “Palestinian” about them.
Nasser thus wanted to replace “Arab refugees” with kiyan falastini (a Palestinian entity) in imitation of Algeria’s FLN, at the moment conducting terrorist bombings against European civilians in Algeria in order to expel the French colonial regime (as France had five years earlier been driven from Vietnam).
Nasser’s idea was to rebrand the Muslim resistance to Israel in language different from Husseini’s religious idiom. The new lexicon would be the propaganda of yet another Third World “war of national liberation.”
No more terrorist atrocities committed by fedayeen and mujahideen, religious terms; they would be transformed into “anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist freedom fighters.”
In sum, Husseini was not the “father of the Palestinian national movement.” He resisted Zionism for exclusively Muslim reasons. Today’s Palestinian nationalism began as verbal camouflage in order to cover up classical Islam’s hostility to Jewish freedom that is as old as that religion.