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The Al-Aqsa Mosque, on Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

*Editor’s Note: This is the twelfth installment in the most recent series of articles from Jewish Press Online contributor, Alex Grobman, PhD 

The first mission of the national Arab leadership was to inform the public about the concept of nationhood and alert them to the danger Zionism presented to achieving their national objective. Even prior to World War I, the Arab press took an active role in denouncing Zionism through articles and by condemning land sales to Jews, since Jews and Arabs understood that acquiring territory was indispensable for fulfilling their national aspirations. [1]


An article published in July 1911 by a mathematics teacher named Mustafa Effendi Tamr in Jerusalem describes the enmity felt toward those who sold land to Jews: “You are selling the property of your fathers and grandfathers for a pittance to people who will have no pity on you, to those who will act to expel you and expunge your memory from your habitations and disperse you among the nations. This is a crime that will be recorded in your names in history, a black stain and disgrace that your descendants will bear, which will not be expunged even after years and eras have gone by.” [2]

Hillel Cohen, an expert on Jewish-Arab relations in Palestine/Israel, noted that “opposition to land sales was one of the principal focal points around which the Arab national idea in Palestine coalesced. It was the place where the national idea adopted by the urban elite intersected with the villagers’ fears that the Jews would buy up more land and dispossess them.” [3]

In September 1921 an article in Filastin, a Jaffa based Arab newspaper, and one of the most influential dailies in Ottoman and Mandatory Palestine, written by someone calling himself “Raqib” pleaded with his readers: “Keep your blessed land…. The soil is the homeland, and a people who has no soil, has no homeland.” The land, he said, was entrusted to them and their heirs, and “there is no absolution,” for betraying this trust. This an early illustration of how this behavior was viewed as treasonous in Palestinian Arab national writings. [4]

In 1925, Hajj Muhammad Sa’id al-Husseini, the Mufti of Gaza, issued the first fatwa (Muslim legal ruling) prohibiting selling land to Jews. His most significant legal pronouncement was that Jews were no longer to be a protected minority (ahlal-dhimma) whose rights were to be respected by Muslims. They had forfeited that protection by attempting to control Palestine. Christians who assisted Jews were to be expelled from Palestine, Muslims who assisted Jews were viewed as heretics and murtaddun (Muslims who had abandoned Islam); their wives were to be removed from them, they were not to be buried in Muslim cemeteries, and other Muslims were prohibited to pray for them. [5]

The fatwa did not gain much traction in part because “it arrived from the periphery” and possibly because in the late 1920s there was a pause in land sales due to an economic slump. The direct assaults on the sellers resumed in 1929, after the Zionists obtained funds to buy “massive” amounts of land. [6]

The question of land sales became a key issue among Palestinian Arab discourse in the 1930s. Most importantly, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and president of the Supreme Muslim Council (SMC), issued a fatwa forbidding the sale of land to Jews. This decree which was circulated by religious leaders and representatives of the SMC, and read aloud in city and village mosques throughout Palestine, began “a national religious awakening campaign.” Upon hearing the proclamation at public assemblies, those present swore not to sell or assist in selling land to Jews.

The press and religious institutions worked together to enforce the fatwa. When it became known that Bedouin in the Negev sold tens of thousands of dunam to Jews, the press published a notice to the heads of the Bedouin tribes to cease the sales, “humiliate” the brokers and employ “all other means against them.” At a later point, the Mufti and his staff visited the sheiks of the Negev tribes and had them swear on the Qur’an not to sell land or help in the sale. They also had to sign a petition stating the “the members of a tribe are to shun and scorn any person who is proved to have betrayed the homeland by selling lands or speculating in them or expressing loyalty to the Zionists. They will not shake his hand or eat with them.

At the first assembly of Muslim religious scholars in Palestine convened in January 1935, land sales were a primary concern. At the end of the session, a unanimous fatwa was issued accusing the sellers of betraying (khiyana) “Allah and his messenger and his believers.” Anyone involved in this heinous act, against the national cause, was to be completely ostracized from the community. All ties had to be severed with the traitors, even if they are parents, children, brothers or spouses. No one could pray for them when they died, and they could not be buried in Muslim cemeteries.

Since this fatwa represented a consensus of Muslim legal authorities, instead of just one person’s position, and was widely publicized, its importance was quite substantial. Haj Amin was the first to sign, followed by a member of the Jerusalem Shar’i court of appeals. Other signatories included the muftis of Jenin, Beersheva, the Shafi’i mufti of Jerusalem, the muftis of Nablus, Safed, Tiberias, and the qadis (judges of the Muslim courts) of other cities. The fatwa underlined the holy status of Jerusalem to Islam and how its “sanctity encompassed all of Palestine.” [7]

Not long afterwards, a congress of Christian Arab clergy published its own declaration barring the sale of land to Jews. The prohibition about selling the land was not limited only to Christian holy sites, but to any part of Palestine, since anyone selling “the place of Jesus’ birth or his tomb…will be considered a heretic against the principles of Christianity and all believers are required to ban and interdict him.” [8] Ibid.


[1] Neville J. Mandel, The Arabs and Zionism Before World War I (Berkely, California: Berkely California, 1976) 32-34); Neville J. Mandel, “Attempts at an Arab Entente: 1913-1914” Middle Eastern Studies (April 1965): 238-267.

[2] Hillel Cohen, Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917–1948 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 44-45); Yehoshua Porath, “The Political Organization of the Palestinian Arabs Under the British Mandate,” in Palestinian Arab Politics, Moshe Ma’oz, Ed. (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Academic Press, 1975), 4-5.

[3] Cohen, op. cit. 45.

[4] Ibid. 45-46.

[5] Ibid. 46-47.

[6] Ibid.47.

[7] Ibid.49.

[8] Ibid. 49-50.


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Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew university of Jerusalem. He lives in Jerusalem.