The Mufti's Mayhem
By Mitchell Bard
In 1921, Haj Amin el-Husseini first began to organize small groups of suicide squads fedayeen to terrorize Jews. Haj Amin hoped to duplicate the success of Kemal Atatürk in Turkey by driving the Jews out of Palestine just as Kemal had driven the invading Greeks from his country.1 Arab radicals were able to gain influence because the British Administration was unwilling to take effective action against them until they finally revolted against British rule.
Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, former head of British military intelligence in Cairo, and later Chief Political Officer for Palestine and Syria, wrote in his diary that British officials incline towards the exclusion of Zionism in Palestine.
The British encouraged the Palestinians to attack the Jews. According to Meinertzhagen, Col. Waters Taylor (financial adviser to the Military Administration in Palestine 1919-23) met with Haj Amin a few days before Easter, in 1920, and told him he had a great opportunity at Easter to show the world...that Zionism was unpopular not only with the Palestine Administration but in Whitehall and if disturbances of sufficient violence occurred in Jerusalem at Easter, both General Bols [Chief Administrator in Palestine, 1919-20] and General Allenby [Commander of Egyptian Force, 1917-19, then High Commissioner of Egypt] would advocate the abandonment of the Jewish Home. Waters-Taylor explained that freedom could only be attained through violence.2
Haj Amin took the Colonels advice and instigated a riot. The British withdrew their troops and the Jewish police from Jerusalem, allowing the Arab mob to attack Jews and loot their shops. Because of his overt role in instigating the pogrom, the British decided to arrest him. Haj Amin escaped, however, and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in absentia. A year later, some British Arabists convinced High Commissioner Herbert Samuel to pardon Haj Amin and to appoint him Mufti. By contrast, Vladimir Jabotinsky and several of his followers, who had formed a Jewish defense organization during the unrest, were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.3
Samuel met with Haj Amin on April 11, 1921, and was assured that the influences of his family and himself would be devoted to tranquility. Three weeks later, riots in Jaffa and elsewhere left 43 Jews dead.4
Haj Amin consolidated his power and took control of all Muslim religious funds in Palestine. He used his authority to gain control over the mosques, the schools and the courts. No Arab could reach an influential position without being loyal to the Mufti. His power was so absolute no Muslim in Palestine could be born or die without being beholden to Haj Amin.5 The Muftis henchmen also insured he would have no opposition by systematically killing Palestinians from rival clans who were discussing cooperation with the Jews.
As the spokesman for Palestinian Arabs, Haj Amin did not ask that Britain grant them independence. On the contrary, in a letter to Churchill in 1921, he demanded that Palestine be reunited with Syria and Transjordan.6
The Arabs found rioting to be an effective political tool because of the lax British attitude and response toward violence against Jews. In handling each riot, the British did everything in their power to prevent Jews from protecting themselves, but made little or no effort to prevent the Arabs from attacking them. After each outbreak, a commission of inquiry would try to establish the cause of the violence. The conclusion was always the same: the Arabs were afraid of being displaced by Jews. To stop the rioting, the commissions would recommend that restrictions be placed on Jewish immigration. Thus, the Arabs came to recognize that they could always stop the influx of Jews by staging a riot.
This cycle began after a series of riots in May 1921. After failing to protect the Jewish community from Arab mobs, the British appointed the Haycraft Commission to investigate the cause of the violence. Although the panel concluded the Arabs had been the aggressors, it rationalized the cause of the attack: The fundamental cause of the riots was a feeling among the Arabs of discontent with, and hostility to, the Jews, due to political and economic causes, and connected with Jewish immigration, and with their conception of Zionist policy....7 One consequence of the violence was the institution of a temporary ban on Jewish immigration.
The Arab fear of being displaced or dominated was used as an excuse for their merciless attacks on peaceful Jewish settlers. Note, too, that these riots were not inspired by nationalistic fervor nationalists would have rebelled against their British overlords they were motivated by racial strife and misunderstanding.
In 1929, Arab provocateurs succeeded in convincing the masses that the Jews had designs on the Temple Mount (a tactic that would be repeated on numerous occasions, the most recent of which was in 1990). A Jewish religious observance at the Western Wall, which forms a part of the Temple Mount, served as a catalyst for rioting by Arabs against Jews that spilled out of Jerusalem into other villages and towns, including Safed and Hebron.
Again, the British Administration made no effort to prevent the violence and, after it began, the British did nothing to protect the Jewish population. After six days of mayhem, the British finally brought troops in to quell the disturbance. By this time, virtually the entire Jewish population of Hebron had fled or been killed. In all, 133 Jews were killed and 399 wounded in the pogroms.8
After the riots were over, the British ordered an investigation, which resulted in the Passfield White Paper. It said the immigration, land purchase and settlement policies of the Zionist Organization were already, or were likely to become, prejudicial to Arab interests It understood the Mandatorys obligation to the non-Jewish community to mean that Palestines resources must be primarily reserved for the growing Arab economy....9 This, of course, meant it was necessary to place restrictions not only on Jewish immigration but on land purchases.
Notes1Jon Kimche, There Could Have Been Peace: The Untold Story of Why We Failed With Palestine and Again With Israel, (England: Dial Press, 1973), p. 189.
2 Richard Meinertzhagen, Middle East Diary 1917-1956, (London: The Cresset Press, 1959), pp. 49, 82, 97.
3Samuel Katz, Battleground-Fact and Fantasy in Palestine, (NY: Bantam Books, 1977), pp. 63-65; Howard Sachar, A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 97.
4Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties, (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), p. 438.
5Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, O Jerusalem!, (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1972), p. 52.
6Kimche, p. 211.
7Ben Halpern, The Idea of a Jewish State, (MA: Harvard University Press, 1969), p. 323.
8Sachar, p. 174.
9Halpern, p. 201.