Saturday, September 29, 2012

Walking in the Mufti's Shoes 1

In a moving 1943 essay, Looking Back on the Spanish War, George Orwell compiled the following list of fascists and fellow travellers:

"When one thinks of all the people who support or have supported Fascism, one stands amazed at their diversity. What a crew! Think of a programme which at any rate for a while could bring Hitler, Petain, Montagu Norman, Pavelitch, William Randolph Hearst, Streicher, Buchman, Ezra Pound, Juan March, Cocteau, Thyssen, Father Coughlin, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Arnold Lunn, Antonescu, Spengler, Beverly Nichols, Lady Houston, and Marinetti all into the same boat! But the clue is really very simple. They are all people with something to lose, or people who long for a hierarchical society and dread the prospect of a world of free and equal human beings. Behind all the ballyhoo that is talked about 'godless' Russia and the 'materialism' of the working class lies the simple intention of those with money or privileges to cling to them." (Homage to Catalonia, 1938/1962, p 244)

What a crew! indeed. Now ordinarily I'd defer to Orwell's judgement in these matters, but I do have a problem with the inclusion of one particular name at least in the above list, namely that of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.

Yes, he was a wartime collaborator, although his appeals to his fellow countrymen to side with the Germans against the British met with little response. His collaboration, however, cannot be accounted for by a simple desire to cling to money or privilege. And yes, he made anti-Semitic broadcasts for the Germans, but the question here is whether his anti-Semitism was more a reaction to the threat posed by Zionist settler-colonialism to his homeland than anything else. He did, however, have something to lose - his country.

Hindsight is all very well, but if your homeland is literally being pulled out from under you by a fanatical, unyielding colonizing movement, your rebellion against its unheeding, imperial sponsor and protector has been brutally crushed, and you're on the run, then your options begin to narrow somewhat and you might well begin clutching at straws.

The fact is that Hitler was not so much the Mufti's soul mate as the enemy of his enemy. Absent the plot hatched in London in 1917 by Lord Balfour and Chaim Weizmann against the Arabs of Palestine, and all that flowed from it - the British refusal to allow the Palestinians meaningful representative government; the waves of deluded European Jewish immigrants, both 'legal' and illegal, convinced that Palestine was really theirs; the Zionist movement's strategic acquisition of Palestinian land and the expulsion of its peasant cultivators; the covert Zionist arms smuggling and stockpiling; the British  privileging of the concocted rights of the immigrant invaders over the natural right of the indigenous Palestinians to the land of their ancestors, their homeland - without all this, the Mufti would never have found himself in Berlin.

Astonishingly, such was the Eurocentrism of the time, that even someone as principled and perceptive as Orwell appears never to have really noticed the bitter struggle against imperial domination and settler-colonialism forced on the hapless indigenous inhabitants of Palestine by his own country. One of history's great mysteries, I'm afraid.

So how about, just for once, we walk for a bit in the Mufti's shoes? Here's a sympathetic portrait of the man and his travails just prior to the bloody but ultimately unsuccessful Palestinian uprising of 1936-1939, during which he ended up on the run from Palestine's British overlords:

"In the spring of this year (1935) he presided over a meeting of 400 ulama, during which he announced that anyone who sold land to the Jews would be excommunicated, a declaration which he endorsed by a fatwah. He has also bought land in large quantities which is saved for the Arab cultivator.

"The Mufti is very bitter against the British Government. 'I am not against the Jews,' he says. 'I am against the British Government, for without its permission not all the money in the world would have given the Zionists a footing here...

"One British adviser after another,' he will say, 'has pointed out that immigration must cease; but nothing is done. Until land transfer and immigration cease no good can come.'

"On one occasion, when certain improvements which were being carried out in land conditions were mentioned, he shook his head. 'What is the use? Imagine that I have a house. Some one richer than I offers to decorate it, to make it beautiful, to turn it into an earthly paradise; what is the use to me if I am not to live in it? The Arabs are being pushed out of the country so that others may enjoy the improvements.'

"At the root of the Mufti's pessimism is the prospect of a possible Jewish majority and of the effect that such a change would make in the status of the Arabs. Although it is a possibility that may never arise it is one that is constantly being held up as a goal by the Zionists, and is now much more openly talked of than it used to be.

"Besides being fearful of a Jewish majority the Mufti was extremely anxious about the Zionist designs on the Haram, beginning with the Wailing Wall, which was, of course, part of the outer wall of the Mosque of Aksa. This fear may seem far-fetched; but some of the letters he received from time to time confirmed him in his suspicions. The danger, indeed, appeared so great to him that some months back he had written a letter which he had sent to all the heads of the Moslem religion all over the world. As it contains some evidence which shows that his fears are not altogether chimerical I give it in full. 



In obedience to the words of God and His Prophet, and in consideration of the grave situation of the Moslems in this Moslem Arab country (Palestine), which contains the first of the two Kublas and the third Holy Shrine, which is the Mosque of Aksa, the surroundings of which have been blessed by God when He said in the Koran, 'Glory to God, Who took this servant, by night, from the Mosque Haram to the Mosque Aksa, the surroundings of which We have blessed,' it has become necessary to appeal to you, exposing the situation, the bare facts, and the great danger which has befallen this sacred and blessed Moslem country, and to make the cries for help of the Moslems of Palestine reach your ears and those of your brethren Moslems under your rule.

"It is the fashion to say that the Zionists have no intention of trying to regain the site of their Temple; that the idea is a fiction of the Arab brain. The Zionists have officially denied that they have any such intention, but others of the party, bolder and more outspoken, have said just the contrary. The Jews [the Mufti wrote] covet the whole of Palestine, and wish to make it a Jewish State. They wish to take the Mosque of Aksa from Moslem hands and to destroy the Dome of the Rock in order to establish on the ruins thereof a new Temple to replace the old one which was destroyed, and not a stone left of it, two thousand years ago.

"The Jewish project to Judaize Palestine during a period of 5 years is mentioned - a consummation which the Zionist torrent sweeping over the country would seem to render possible. And a letter written by Sir Louis Bols is quoted in which he said that Chief Rabbi Kook and the Rabbinical Councils of Jerusalem claimed that the Wailing Wall was Jewish property, including all the Temple area. 'This place is known,' he wrote, 'as Al-Haram Ash-Sharif, and contains the Mosque of Aksa and the Dome of the Rock, which is revered by the Moslems because it is the third Holy Mosque in the world.'

"That was as far back as 1920, and it is evident that the idea persists. In the Encyclopaedia Brittanica (1926), under the heading of 'Zionism', these words occur: 'The Jews are looking forward to the redemption of Israel... to the restoration of the Jewish State, to the rebuilding of Solomon's Temple and the restoration of David's Throne.' The Jewish Encyclopaedia is even more explicit; it states that the Jews are looking forward to 'worship in the Temple that is the Mosque of Aksa and to make their Kingdom in Palestine.'

"The cream of the collection of evidence which the Mufti had accumulated in order to make his position plain to his fellow-Moslems is certainly to be found in the following missive which was sent to him by the Chief Rabbi of Rumania:


I, the undersigned, Ibrahim Rosenbakh, Chief Rabbi, residing at No. 20 Treimi Shartoni, Yukhnia, Rumania, beg to inform your Excellency the following: King David bought, by contract, Moria Hill, in Jerusalem, from Arnon-el-Yabousi, and donated this hill for the Eternal God. I supplied the proof of the foregoing to the Chief Secretary of the Palestine Government, under cover No. 26/487 Jerusalem. In the Name of God the Eternal I demand: 1. To make the Arabs permit the priests, the sons of Aaron, to perform their religious services, and to make the Arabs understand that such permission results in the required aid of all nations, so that the entire world can hear by radio the religious blessings which the priests will ask from God on this sacred spot. 2. After the Arabs, with good intention, permit that, they may remain as guardians, and in this matter the rights of possession of King David, as mentioned in Psalm 24, will not be violated by the lapse of time. Written at 13.30 hours on 20th November, 1930, 26th of the Jewish month, 5691.

Yours faithfully,


"What reply, if any, the Mufti made to this strange suggestion is not recorded. Two quotations are made, proving the intentions of the Zionists, one of which was penned by the late Lord Melchett: 'The day in which the Temple will be rebuilt is nigh, and I shall work for the rest of my life to rebuild Solomon's Temple in the place of the Mosque of Aksa.'

"The photographs which the Zionists sent round the world furnish other proofs, if more are needed, to prove this point. They represent the Wailing Wall and the mosques of Aksa and Hebron surmounted by Jewish emblems. A contemptuous reference to the Arabs is one of the last of the quotations used by the Mufti in this letter; it is culled from the writings of Mr Zuikwell. 'The Arabs,' he writes, 'must pull down their tents and return to the desert whence they came.' Surely a case of those who live in glass houses abstaining from throwing stones! And, for the matter of that, we all crawled out of a tent or a wigwam in the remote past!

"The letter attracted a great deal of attention, and sympathetic replies were received from Egypt, and especially from India." (Palestine of the Arabs, Mrs Steuart Erskine, 1935, pp 163-168)

To be continued...


Anonymous said...

Alas, Orwell was a Trotskyist. He was instinctively on the side of the Jews.

MERC said...

This may be of interest:

"In his last years, unlike several of his comrades around 'Tribune', Orwell had little sympathy with Zionism and opposed the creation of the state of Israel, as attested by his friend and 'Tribune' colleague Tosco Fyvel in his book 'George Orwell: A Personal Memoir'. In 1945, Orwell wrote that "few English people realise that the Palestine issue is partly a colour issue and that an Indian nationalist, for example, would probably side with the Arabs.' He and Fyvel argued repeatedly on the issue, and he complained to other friends repeatedly about Tribune's line. He told Julian Symons - wrongly - that Fyvel, the paper's literary editor, was responsible for Tribune's 'over-emphasis on Zionism', complaining that Richard Crossman had been 'the evil genius of the paper', influencing it through Michael Foot and Fyvel. In fact, the paper's enthusiastic Zionism was very much the responsibility of its editor, Jon Kimchie." (