In December 1921 the British, who had accepted a mandate for Palestine after World War I (1914–18), named Ḥusaynī grand mufti of Jerusalem and president of the newly created Supreme Muslim Council—the most authoritative religious body in the Palestinian Muslim community.
Ḥusaynī came to dominate the Palestinian Arab movement after a bitter clash with other nationalist elements, notably the Nashāshībī family, over personal rather than ideological differences. During most of the period of the British mandate, disagreement between these groups seriously weakened the effectiveness of Arab efforts. In 1936 they achieved a measure of unity when all the Palestinian groups joined to create a permanent executive organ known as the Arab Higher Committee, under Ḥusaynī’s chairmanship. The committee demanded a cessation of Jewish immigration and a prohibition of land transfers from Arabs to Jews. A general strike developed into a rebellion against British authority. The British removed Ḥusaynī from the council presidency and declared the committee illegal in Palestine. In October 1937 he fled to Lebanon after the murder of Lewis Andrews, where he reconstituted the committee under his domination. Ḥusaynī retained the allegiance of most Palestinian Arabs, using his power to punish the Nashāshībīs.
The rebellion forced Britain to make substantial concessions to Arab demands in 1939. The British abandoned the idea of establishing Palestine as a Jewish state, and, while Jewish immigration was to continue for another five years, it was thereafter to depend on Arab consent. Ḥusaynī, however, felt that the concessions did not go far enough, and he repudiated the new policy.
Ḥusaynī spent most of World War II (1939–45) in Germany, where he issued broadcasts urging revolt in the Arab world and endeavoured to halt Jewish emigration to Palestine from countries occupied by the Nazis. At the war’s end he fled to Egypt, where he directed an increasingly weak and fragmented Arab Higher Committee from exile.
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