The Grand Mufti Asked Pope Pius to Oppose Jewish State, Vatican Documents Show

In 1947 Hajj Amin al-Husseini sent letter to Pius XII, known for silence about Nazis, seeking his help to avert ‘danger’ to Arabs

Ofer Aderet
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The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in a meeting with Hitler in 1941.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in a meeting with Hitler in 1941.
Ofer Aderet

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, sought the help of Pope Pius XII (sometimes called “Hitler’s Pope”) to fight the establishment of the State of Israel, a recently uncovered document in the Vatican archives reveals.

In the letter, which Husseini sent to the Holy See in the summer of 1947, four months before the that paved the way for Israel’s founding, the Mufti wrote that he hopes to have the Vatican’s support in stopping the “danger” threatening the Arabs of Palestine.

The letter was delivered to the Pope by messenger six years after the to request his support for the establishment of a united Arab country that would encompass Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. In both cases, in his appeals to Hitler in 1941 and to the Pope in 1947, Husseini did not get his wish.

In the recently discovered document, dated July 23, 1947, Husseini writes that he wishes “to reinforce the friendly bonds” between the Holy See and the “Arab and Islamic worlds” in order to “avoid together the dangers of the so serious destroying principles that threaten all the religions, all the beliefs, and all the morals.” Husseini did not use the word “,” but from the context it is clear that this is what he was referring to. The Grand Mufti tells the Pope that “the support of the Venerable Pontifical See to the Arab cause of Palestine” would evoke “vivid gratitude” from the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Pope Pius XII.
Pope Pius XII.Credit: STRINGER / ANSA / AFP

The letter was relayed to the Pope by Archbishop George Hakim (Maximos V), who was known for his hostility to Zionism and later referred to in the Israeli press as “the Mufti’s emissary in the priestly robe.” Hakim also informed the Pope that the Mufti could be a potential ally of the Holy See in the .

The Pope’s reply was evasive. In the letter he sent to Husseini, he spoke of “the interest that the Holy See has never stopped to have for this holy land of Palestine” and wished “a just and real peace through comprehension, mutual agreement, respect of the rights of everyone.” The letter closed with the Pope pledging his commitment, “as he always strived to do, to promote from His high authority and within His spiritual mission the establishment of the harmonic order on which everybody’s happiness depends.”  

This correspondence was discovered by Italian historian Maria Chiara Rioli during her research in the , which were partially opened to historians at the beginning of the year. The Grand Mufti’s letter is published in her new book “A Liminal Church,” which examines the church’s involvement in the Middle East conflict.

Scholars worldwide are engaged in historical research that aims to answer why Pope Pius XII, the Pope to whom the Mufti appealed in 1947, chose to remain silent as the Nazis were carrying out their mass atrocities. Pius came to be harshly criticized for his silence, and was even referred to as “.” The Vatican claimed, however, that Pius worked behind the scenes to save Jews.

Last summer, an American historian discovered other documents in the Vatican archives which indicate that Pius XII was involved in a kidnapping of Jewish siblings whose parents were murdered in Auschwitz, and in keeping the children in a monastery after the Holocaust, contrary to their family’s wishes.

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