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Desperation in Palestine and the Death of Musa Kazim al-Husayni

By the mid 1930s the ground had shifted ominously in Palestine. Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Germany were struggling to flee central Europe.

Between 1933 and 1935 the Jewish population of Palestine doubled. Tel Aviv-Jaffa nearly tripled in population over four years from 1931 to 1935. Palestine was rarely a first choice for refugees, but became, for many, a last resort. Increased immigration relieved the fiscal pressure on the British government and increased numbers brought new selfconfidence to the Zionist leadership. The urgency of compromise with the Arabs receded.

British authorities established a legal preference for Jewish emigrants of significant financial means and special skills.57 The mandate migration regime had three categories: “capitalists, skilled workers without means, and skilled workers with capital.” The first category was unrestricted, but the British government requirements to be considered a “capitalist” were approximately $100,000 cash in 2016 values, and a certificate from the German government allowing the legal expatriation of the funds this while the German government was daily devising new ways to seize the assets and curtail the rights of Germans Jews. Nevertheless, by late 1933 10,000 immigration permits had been granted under this category. The second category allowed 2,000 immigration permits in 1933, and the third was somewhat more open, but the capital requirements were at least $25,000 per person. The mandate administration found that the influx of immigrants, and the taxes and fees they paid, made the mandate completely solvent, and even with increasing demands for expensive military repression of the indigenous population, self supporting.58

In 1932 and 1933 the three most prominent Palestinian political leaders, Musa Kazim, Amin, and Jamal al-Husayni, all attempted to participate in the governing structure of the mandate.59 After the White Paper in late 1930, the British government was increasingly convinced that support for Zionism could imperil other imperial priorities. In the Foreign Office, Colonial Office, and the Labour government, enthusiasm for Zionism as a part of a colonial strategy waned. In parliament, especially among the conservative opposition, and people like Conservative MP Winston Churchill, support for Zionism was intensifying, and provided a stick with which to beat political rivals. At the League of Nations and especially in the Mandate Commission, reaction to the persecution of German Jews increased support for Zionism among liberal internationalists like William Rappard.

Musa Kazim’s son cAbd al-Qadir al-Husayni had graduated from the American University of Cairo in 1932. cAbd al-Qadir had been a constant companion to his father from the age of 12, and knew well the tortuous terrain of mandate politics. His youthful radicalism and impatience had an influence on his father and helped bring a mood of confrontation. In October and November 1933 the Arab Executive planned demonstrations in opposition to Jewish immigration and land sales.60 The High Commissioner learned of planned protests and warned Musa Kazim al-Husayni and the Mufti Amin al-Husayni against illegal demonstrations, but the demonstrations took place anyway. The mandate authority did not sympathize with the argument that Palestinian politicians wished to retain credibility as representatives and defenders of their community. Police met the first demonstration in Jaffa with live fire, and eleven people, including one policeman, were killed and twenty injured. British observers described the deadly measures as “controlled rounds” in response to a mob charge on the police baton line.61 Demonstrations took place in Haifa, Nablus, and Jerusalem in the following days, and a dozen or more people were killed. Musa Kazim al- Husayni himself was beaten to the ground by baton-wielding mandate police. Police arrested and detained Jamal al-Husayni.

The Arab Executive declared a three-day General Strike as protests took place in Damascus, and other cities.62 The High Commissioner announced the restoration of mandate martial law decrees.63 The New York Times correspondent in Jerusalem noted the new regime gave the High Commissioner “military and dictatorial powers.”64 The law was called the Palestine Defense Order in Council, and had been originally written in 1931. It legalized wide censorship, arrests without warrant, and detention without charge or representation, deportation without appeal, and secret military courts. Nearly a century later, the mandate martial law decrees remain a central part of Israeli law today, governing the Arab population of the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.

Musa Kazim Pasa al-Husayni died five months later in March 1934 at the age of 81. Many believed injuries received from British police hastened his death, and he was widely mourned. He was the undisputed leader of the Palestinian Arabs, the patriarch of Jerusalem’s most prominent notable family, and the highest-ranking ex-Ottoman statesman in Palestine. His funeral was the largest seen in Jerusalem since the nineteenth century and thousands attended.

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