Overlooked Legacy of Arab Rejectionism
By Sean Durns
is deceptively easy to reduce the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict to a
series of dates. The 50th anniversary of the June 1967 Six-Day War and the
recent centennial of the Balfour Declaration occasioned considerable — if
often flawed — media coverage and discussion by policymakers. Yet another —
often-underreported — anniversary is perhaps more telling and highlights a
long-running theme that was on full display after President Donald Trump’s
Dec. 6 speech recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital: Arab rejection of any
Jewish state in the Jewish people’s ancestral homeland.
29 marked the 70th anniversary of Arab states rejecting U.N. Resolution 181. The
non-binding recommendation advised the partition of Mandate Palestine into two
states, one Arab and one Jewish. The Zionist leadership in Mandate Palestine
accepted the resolution. Arab nations, including Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Saudi
Arabia, denounced it and promised bloodshed if it were passed.
to shed Jewish blood a mere two years after the end of World War II and the
Holocaust was hardly a winning strategy, and Resolution 181 passed, with support
from the United States, the Soviet Union and others.
by promising to defy the implementation of the partition plan by force, the Arab
leaders voided its very terms, which noted that any “attempt to alter by force
the settlement envisaged by this resolution” was a “threat to the peace.”
This hardly dissuaded the Arab states from unsuccessfully seeking to destroy the
fledgling Jewish state in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. In this conflict
— and those that preceded it — a man named Amin al-Husseini assisted them.
Western press outlets seldom mention him today, al-Husseini should be considered
one of the seminal figures of the 20th century. Revered as a founding
“pioneer” by current-Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, al-Husseini
loomed over Middle Eastern politics for decades, reshaping much of it in his
in 1895, al-Husseini came from a wealthy, ruling Jerusalem family. He attended a
Turkish government school and then studied at the school of Sheikh Rashid Rida
in Cairo. As the historians David Dalin and John Rothmann noted in their 2008
biography of al-Husseini, “Icon of Evil,” it was there that “young al-Husseini
was indoctrinated with a virulent anti-Semitism.”
a stint in the Ottoman Army, al-Husseini worked as an Arabic translator for
Reuters Press Service. According to Richard Rubenstein’s 2011 work Jihad and
Genocide, I.A. Abbady, a Jewish scholar who worked as al-Husseini’s Hebrew
translating counterpart, later recalled the young man’s promises to massacre
Zionists “to the last man. We want no progress, no prosperity [from Jewish
immigration]. Nothing but the sword will decide the future of this country.”
was true to his word. On April 4 and 5, 1920, the first intifada (uprising)
against British rule occurred in Mandate Palestine. Responding to wall posters
in the city’s Muslim quarter exhorting readers to “Kill the Jews: There is
no punishment for killing Jews,” the city’s Arab residents attacked Jewish
men, women and children.
the British held al-Husseini responsible for inciting the violence, he was later
pardoned and appointed to the position of mufti of Jerusalem, the highest Muslim
cleric in the land. Although there were other competitors for the post —
including many who were less virulently anti-Semitic — the British were
persuaded to help al-Husseini get appointed. As Dalin and Rothmann note, “With
his election, radical Islam would prevail over more moderate Islamic voices
within the Palestinian Arab community.”
the mufti repaid the favor by playing a double game against the ruling British
power and continuing to foment anti-Jewish violence, such as the 1929 Hebron
massacre in which 133 Jews were murdered and 339 were wounded. The British
response was to often appease al-Husseini, who continued to reject political or
social equality with Jews — including a 1937 Peel Commission recommendation
that would have given 85 percent of the land west of the Jordan River to Arabs.
mufti saw kindred spirits with the rise of Hitler and European fascism. With aid
from Nazi ally and fascist Italy, al-Husseini supported terror attacks against
Jews living in Mandate Palestine.
World War II, the mufti helped recruit SS regiments in the Balkans, broadcast
propaganda to the Arab world, and sought to overthrow pro-Western regimes in
Iraq and elsewhere. In his memoirs, al-Husseini noted a Nov. 28, 1941 meeting
with Hitler: “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.
answer I got was: ‘The Jews are yours.’”
end of Nazi Germany failed to stop the mufti, who sent forces in what historian
Benny Morris termed a “jihad” to destroy Israel after U.N. Resolution
too failed and the mufti, now in exile, continued to reject peace — even
sending henchmen in 1951 to murder Jordan’s King Abdullah, who had, at various
points, reached out to the Israeli government.
the time of his 1974 death in Beirut, the mufti’s mantle as leader of the
Palestinian movement had passed to a distant cousin, a Cairo-born man named
Yasser Arafat. But Arafat — and his successor Mahmoud Abbas — continued the
Mufti’s traditions, supporting anti-Jewish violence and rejecting
opportunities for statehood if it meant living next to a Jewish state.
rejectionism — the mufti’s legacy — is too seldom noted by a press fixated
more on dates and embassy locations, and less on Palestinian leaders and the
decisions that they make. As Philip Gordon, a White House Middle East
coordinator under the Obama administration, recently observed: “There’s
nothing new under the sun” when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.