The Mufti of Jerusalem

Article excerpt

The Mufti of Jerusalem Haj-Amin el-Husseini and National-Socialism, by Jennie Lebel, translated by Paul Munch from Serbian, Belgrade: Cigoja stampa, 2007, 374 pp.

Reviewed by Wolfgang G. Schwanitz

The Serbian-Israeli historian Jennie Lebel illuminates in this book the relationship between the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husaini, and Adolf Hitler 's Nazis. Lebel is an independent academic who lives in Tel Aviv. She has published books on the topic before in Hebrew, including Hajj Amin ve 'Berlin (Hajj Amin and Berlin, Tel Aviv: Technosdar, 1,996) and in Serbian under the same title Hajj Amin i Berlin (Belgrade: Cigoja stampa, 2003). In both books, she closely follows the mufti's life between 1895 and 1974. In the present version she added chapters with broad views on Arabs and Jews in Palestine.

Jennie Lebel devotes special attention to Amin al-Husaini 's activities in Germany and in the area of the former Yugoslavia during the Second World War. She has thus added many new insights and facts based on her solid archival work. She gleaned Yugoslav, German, and Israeli files especially well. To a much lesser degree she used secondary sources. Consequently, there is a certain imbalance in her book that represents the state of art as of the late nineties. She does not include relevant new literature in Arabic, English, French, or German.1 To give her the benefit of the doubt, we can only assume that this resulted from the delay between translation and publication.

Her most valuable contribution regards Serbian- and Macedonianrelated history.2 Among the reprinted papers included in the book she displays, for example, the first page of the official Yugoslav file on "Crimes of the German Occupants and their Helpers" of 10 July 1945. Amin al-Husaini, who had been in French hands since May 1945, was therewith added to a list of war criminals because he engaged in recruiting for Muslim SS divisions in the occupied area. Legally, he was neither a French nor a British subject, so there would have been an opportunity to deliver him directly to the Nuremberg court which started four months later. The grand mufti wrote in his memoirs that he was aware of a potential extradition, though the French, as well as Arabs and other Muslims, wanted to protect him.

According to the author, the Yugoslav leader, Tito, decided to remove the mufti's name from the list of war criminals. She adds a secret communication from the Yugoslav Embassy in Paris to the French Foreign Ministry sent in April 1946. The text explains some disputes about the mufti: France refused a possible extradition because it did not wish to alienate Muslims in her colonies. Besides this, an Anglo-French extradition agreement applied only to common criminals, not war criminals. London likewise did not present the case to the UN Commission for War Crimes. Thus, in May 1946 the mufti "escaped" from Paris to Cairo, resuming his Islamic and Palestinian roles. Jennie Lebel thus provides the reader with fresh insights.

The grand mufti's life spurs controversies. A shortcoming of this book is that the author does not show evidence of research into the Middle Eastern dimension of the history. She maintains, for example, that Arab nationalism in Palestine was not a progressive movement with definite social goals, but only an opposition to Jewish settlements; Muslims worship the black stone ka 'aba; and Arab crowds streamed to Jerusalem in 1929, when a bloody anti- Jewish pogrom started, failing to tell the story of what happened before this. The competing narratives should be included. Only with this information can the reader reach an independent judgment.

The author sums up the grand mufti as a man with a self-proclaimed title who was one of the greatest international criminals of the first half of the twentieth century. Some of Jennie Lebel 's arguments open the way for productive discussion. I shall repeat one of her arguments in the first sentence of each of the six following paragraphs, followed by a short discussion. …