The hotel part of the Shepherd’s Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah is what was demolished on Sunday by Israeli heavy equipment hired by a settler organization. The only work done since the initial frenzied hours has been rubble removal.
The “palace” part is still standing.
That is, the part that is most historic, and most architecturally beautiful, with references to principles of great Islamic form and design, and that was built in the 1930s as a private home by Hajj Amin al-Husseini — though he never lived in it a day — is intact.
Only the (large) extension, added in the 1960s to turn the property into a hotel, has so far been crushed.
Are Israelis searching for a compromise? Is international pressure playing any part? Are any Muslim countries playing an important off-stage role? Is the settler organization that was given title to the hotel (and its backers in the current Jerusalem municipality and Israeli government) being prudent, as Husseini heirs wage multi-front last-ditch legal battles in the Israeli court system to stop construction of the first major Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, a settlement so strategic that it could change, perhaps forever, the prospects for a peaceful sharing of the “Holy City”?
Hajj Amin Husseini, the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestinian nationalist leader exiled by British Mandate forces in 1937, is detested in Israeli and Jewish circles because of his efforts, as part of his struggle against British rule, to form an alliance with Hitler.
Hajj Amin cultivated Islamic ties and relations with leaders of Muslim countries that he met during pilgimages to Mecca and in travels throughout the Islamic world, as part of his mobilizing effort to throw off British rule and gain the independence that Palestinians hoped to achieve.
At the time, this meant opposing large-scale Jewish immigration into Palestine, which the League of Nations had not only endorsed, using the exact language of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, when the League’s Council formally awarded the Palestine Mandate to Britain in 1923 (though Britain had de facto administered it for the five previous years), but also (by British design and complicity) actually required the British Mandatory authorities to enforce. Britain had to report back annually to the Council of the League of Nations on how it implemented its obligation to assist Jewish immigration.
Triumphalist statements made by Israeli settler supporters at the beginning of the week about grinding down and crushing any remnant of Hajj Amin’s presence have not been borne out in fact.
Are wiser heads attempting to prevail?
Saying that would probably be going too far … Haaretz reported today that “Right-wing activists also said they plan to turn the main part of the historic building – originally constructed by the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini – into a synagogue commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. Activists see this move as all the more poignant as Husseini was known for his collaboration with the Nazis. However, contrary to some activists’ claims, the mufti never lived in the building himself, instead giving it to his personal secretary, George Antonius … ‘As we were forced to preserve the building, we will turn it into the neighborhood synagogue and dedicate it to the memory of the Holocaust victims’, said Jerusalem councilman Elisha Peleg (Likud ). ‘The synagogue will be doubly symbolic: It will replace the house of the mufti and it will mark the point where 78 physicians, nurses and patients were murdered on their way to Mount Scopus in 1948’. While the first phase of the project is getting underway, the settlers have also submitted a larger plan to the municipality, requesting to add another 50 housing units. All in all, the project intends to include 70 units meant for Jews. The sensitivity of the site, however, means the plan will likely be delayed for an extended period of time”… This Haaretz report is published here.
This, however, is not too far from an idea reportedly harbored by at least one member of the Husseini family, who is said to have entertained the idea of proposing to the financial backer of the settlement project, Irving Moskowitz, that the “palace” that Hajj Amin built be turned into some kind of joint Israeli-Palestinian museum for peace…