CNN’s “Jerusalem” series mangles the holy city’s history

Der Großmufti von Jerusalem [Amin al Husseini] bei den bosnischen Freiwilligen der Waffen-SS. Der Großmufti ist auf dem Truppenübungsplatz ein[getroffen] und schreitet die Front der angetretenen Freiwilligen mit erhobenem Arm ab.

Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, inspects Nazi SS troops during World War II

by David Litman

( — Beginning on July 18, CNN has been airing each Sunday a new, six-part series entitled “Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury.” As of this writing, Parts 1 to 5 have been broadcast and have been seriously marred by factual inaccuracies and one-sided narratives omitting vital information. Many of the “experts” featured in the series have clear histories of anti-Israel activism and partisanship.

A preliminary sample of how disconnected the CNN series is from reality and objectivity follows.

Arab Leadership, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, and the Violence of the 1920s-30s

Anyone who only watched the “Jerusalem” series, and knew nothing about history, would come away with the notion that little of significance to Jerusalem occurred in the 1920s and 30s. The narrative created for the period is simply that the Palestinians were leaderless as the British repressed Palestinian Arab nationalism. Viewers would likewise conclude the only relevance of Jerusalem to Jews at the time was that some were fleeing from Nazi Germany, as opposed to the fact that Jews actually constituted a majority in the city.

They would have no idea who the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was, his role as a leader of Palestinian Arab nationalism, and his incitement of repeated rounds of deadly, anti-Jewish violence which defined the 1920s and 30s in Jerusalem and Mandate Palestine as a whole.

These problematic omissions are best shown in a few quotes from Part 5 of the series:

  • “But the British were more heavy-handed against [the] Palestinian population, and definitely against Palestinian leaders, who occasionally, they would arrest and exile. All in order to disrupt any possible creation of political leadership among the Palestinians [emphasis added].” (Suleiman Mourad)
  • “By the early 1940s, Britain has either arrested or driven the Palestinian Arab leadership into exile.” (Narrator)
  • “So the Palestinians had no formal leadership on the ground…” (Amaney Jamal)

These repeated assertions omit the leadership role the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, would play in fomenting bloodshed in the years ahead.

Al-Husseini, hailing from the most powerful Palestinian Arab urban clan of the period, first made waves in Jerusalem in April 1920 when he incited an anti-Jewish pogrom that led to the murder of five Jewish Jerusalemites and the wounding of over 200 others. Al-Husseini was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role, but managed to escape. The next year, he was pardoned and appointed as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. In 1922, he became president of the Supreme Muslim Council, which managed religious affairs for the Muslim community in the area. Al-Husseini would use this newfound influence as, in the words of historian Benny Morris, “leader of the Palestinian Arab national movement,” and as the spiritual leader of Muslims in Mandate Palestine, to continue fomenting anti-Jewish violence in the coming decades.

Hundreds of Jews would be murdered in waves of anti-Jewish violence in 1920, 1921, 1929, and the Arab Revolt of 1936-39. The worst incident occurred in August 1929. Al-Husseini himself incited a crowd of worshippers at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which went out to attack Jewish residents of Jerusalem and surrounding neighborhoods. The violence quickly spread to other cities, including Hebron where 59 Jews were slaughtered. By the time the British were able to restore order, at least 130 Jews had been massacred.

As the historian Benny Morris writes:

“[I]t was indicative that the emerging leader of the Palestinian Arab national movement, Muhammad Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was to dominate Palestinian politics until mid-1948, was a (Muslim) cleric (an unusual phenomenon in third world nationalist movements). Al-Husseini and others consciously deployed religious rhetoric and symbols to mobilize the masses for anti-Zionist and, later, anti-British violence.”

In 1936, as the Arab Revolt began, al-Husseini became the head of the newly formed Arab Higher Committee, which replaced the Palestine Arab Congress as the principal Arab representative body. The AHC, representing all political factions and social sectors of Palestinian Arab society, would deliver demands to the British government during the revolt and represent Palestinian Arabs at the subsequent Peel Commission investigation into the violence.


While laying blame solely on the British for a lack of Arab leadership — all while ignoring the leadership role of the Grand Mufti — CNN also ignored al-Husseini’s campaign of assassinations against the rest of the Palestinian Arab leadership during that period. As historian Simon Sebag Montefiore relates, during the Arab Revolt, al-Husseini was “seemingly more interested in murdering his Palestinian rivals than the British or Jews… [H]e ordered assassinations that in two years of fratricide wiped out many of his most decent and moderate compatriots.” One of the most prominent examples was the assassination of Fakhri Nashashibi, the pre-eminent Nashashibi clan member who was known for creating the “peace squads” to reduce violence and calm tensions.

It wasn’t until 1937 that al-Husseini, and much of the AHC leadership, would be exiled after the assassination of a British district commissioner. Even this did not stop al-Husseini, though, as he “continued to direct the Palestine insurgency” from his exile in Beirut. The violence of the Arab Revolt succeeded in prompting the British to issue a “White Paper” in 1939 that rejected the idea of partition and severely limited Jewish immigration and land purchases. The measure came at the direst of times for Jews facing extermination by the Nazi regime, dooming to death untold numbers who could not safety reach Palestine. In seeking to improve relations with the Arab population, the British even offered al-Husseini amnesty in exchange for his acquiescence to the White Paper.

Nazi Collaboration

During his exile, al-Husseini also met and collaborated with the Nazi regime. Referring to Jews as “dangerous enemies, whose secret arms are money, corruption, and intrigue,” he sought to enlist Nazi support for the Palestinian Arab cause, telling Hitler the “Arabs are disposed to throw their weight into the scales and to offer their blood in the sacred struggle for their rights and their national aspirations.” During World War II, al-Husseini raised SS regiments in the Balkans, promoted the Reich’s propaganda in the Arab world, toured death camps and plotted the genocide of Middle Eastern Jewry.

By the mid-1940s, the AHC, largely dominated by the Grand Mufti’s Husseini clan, would be reestablished as “the supreme executive body of the Palestine Arab community.” While it underwent a few years of turmoil, it acted as a relatively unified representative of the Palestinian Arabs by the time the UN began considering partition. The UN would repeatedly invite the AHC to the UN to make its case as the future of the British Mandate was debated.

The true representativeness and effectiveness of such leadership can be legitimately debated. To suggest, however, that there was no leadership, or to simply dismiss its relevance because it was exiled at a certain point, is inaccurate and disingenuous. It also only addresses half the story. Zionist leadership also faced periods of exile and repression. In 1914, for example, some 18,000 Jews — including notable Zionists such as Arthur Ruppin and David Ben-Gurion — were forced out of Mandate Palestine as the Ottomans clamped down on both Arab and Jewish nationalist movements in the region.

In a series supposedly about Jerusalem, CNN chose to largely conceal vital information about the majority population in the city at the time. Instead, the series producers created a false narrative about both Arabs and Jews that depicts Palestinian Arabs as victims.

Arab & Jewish Representation at the UN

When the series finally gets to the United Nations partition vote in 1947, it repeatedly claims that:

  • “There [was] no Palestinian representative at the UN. There was no formal leadership. You had Arab leaders speaking on behalf of Palestinians, but not necessarily speaking from within the Palestinian communities themselves.” (Amaney Jamal)
  • “From the Palestinian perspective, they were not responsible for the Holocaust. They were not in Europe. They have to, sort of, pay the price for what the world stood by and watched in terms of this horrendous massacre of an entire race. And nobody is really speaking on their behalf.” (Amaney Jamal)
  • “Operating without Palestinian Arab input, the other Arab leaders reject the United Nations [partition] resolution.” (narrator).

Once again, Palestinian Jewry is virtually nonexistent in CNN’s narrative, which even manages to make the Holocaust about the Palestinians and their alleged voicelessness.

The claims of a lack of representation are, at best, a half-truth. Palestinian Arabs had as much of a voice at the UN as Palestinian Jewry did, but with the important advantage of numerous allied Arab states that wielded voting power. In advancing the claim, CNN recasts Palestinian Arab intransigence, in the form of absolutist rejection of compromise, as one of victimhood and exclusion. In reality, the Palestinian Arabs often intentionally excluded themselves from the conversation.

The UN General Assembly tasked its “First Committee” to create what would become the UN Special Committee on Palestine (“UNSCOP”), which would later recommend the partition plan. Included in its instructions for the First Committee was that it grant a hearing to both the Jewish Agency for Palestine as well as the AHC. This gave both the Arabs and the Jews of Mandate Palestine a voice in the formation of UNSCOP. When the British first requested in April 1947 that the United Nations form a special committee to consider the future of the Palestinian Mandate, the Arab Higher Committee was invited to the table to present its case.

UNSCOP itself was also empowered to consult with both the AHC and the Jewish Agency. Its authorizing resolution instructed UNSCOP to:

“conduct investigations in Palestine and wherever it may deem useful, receive and examine written or oral testimony, whichever it may consider appropriate in each case, from the mandatory Power, from representatives of the population of Palestine, from Governments and from such organizations and individuals as it may deem necessary;”

Rejected Invitations

The AHC was repeatedly invited to make its case to UNSCOP. The AHC refused to participate. As relayed by the chairman of UNSCOP:

“The Arab Higher Committee was approached by UNSCOP on more than one occasion and was invited to assist in the work of UNSCOP, but it refused. In the Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question, the representative of the Arab Higher Committee stated that he was prepared to take part in the discussions only with respect to that item of the agenda dealing with the establishment of an independent unitary state…”

The AHC also actively worked to prevent other Palestinian Arabs from participating. According to the representative of Guatemala, which had been a member of the UNSCOP, their “efforts were frustrated by the intransigent attitude of the Arab Higher Committee…which ordered all its affiliated organizations to refuse to collaborate with the Committee and to threaten and intimidate all Arabs who seemed to favour conciliation.”

By September 1947, an ad hoc committee was created at the UN to consider the report of the UNSCOP. As was by now standard practice, both the AHC and the Jewish Agency were invited “in order to supply such information and render such assistance as the Committee might require.” Jamal al-Husseini, cousin of the Grand Mufti and vice-president of the AHC, attended the ad hoc committee himself. Jamal al-Husseini delivered the AHC’s position, which included a thinly-veiled threat, that “[t]he Arabs of Palestine were solidly determined to oppose with all the means at their command any scheme which provided for the… partition of their country…”

To thus claim there was no Palestinian Arab input is patently false.

While it is acknowledged in the “Jerusalem” series that there were, at the time, numerous Arab member states with voting power in the UN, CNN downplays this by suggesting they “did not take [Palestinian Arab] interests at heart.” It’s never explained why that would matter, since both the AHC and the voting Arab member states espoused the exact same position.

The AHC had all along made clear that it was only willing to accept an “independent unitary [Arab] state.” AHC vice-president Jamal al-Husseini explicitly stated to the UN the opposition of AHC to anything but a single Arab state. This exact position was what the Arab member states advanced. Every single one voted against the UNSCOP partition plan.

The bizarre downplaying of the support the Palestinian Arabs received from Arab member states at the UN looks even worse when juxtaposed with the complete absence of any discussion so far in the CNN series on the challenges Palestinian Jewry had in making their case to the UN. While the Jewish Agency was afforded the same opportunities as the AHC at the UN, they were at a distinct disadvantage. The Jewish Agency did not have a bloc of voting Jewish states — as none existed — to rely on for support like the AHC did with the Arab League.

The question is why did CNN falsely choose to present the AHC’s Arab League allies as a negative, instead of an obvious and significant advantage compared to the isolated situation of Palestinian Jews?

The CNN series is marred by historical error — all seemingly driving in the direction of distorting or omitting entirely the heavily one-sided aggression of the Arabs against the Jews — whether in the form of murderous Arab violence in the 1920’s and 30’s, in the collaboration of the Palestinian Arab leader Amin al-Hussein with the Nazis or in the curious misrepresenting of Palestinian Arab allies in vital UN maneuvering.