The First Global Grand Mufti

Article excerpt

THE FIRST GLOBAL GRAND MUFTI Through the Eyes of the Mufti: The Essays ofHajAmin, by Zvi Elpeleg, translated and annotated by Rachel Kessel, Vallentine Mitchell, 2009, 240 pp.

Reviewed by Wolfgang G. Schwanitz

At times - notes Zvi Elpeleg, editor of al-Hajj Amin al-Husaini's texts as published in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Misri in 1954, and in three book editions until 1957 - "I even doubted the rationale of translating this collection and dealing with its contents." Some of the arguments it advanced, he acknowledged, were so groundless as hardly to be worth discussing.

Perhaps, Elpeleg explains further in the preface, the book would have been unnecessary if not for three matters : ( 1 ) the essays were written by a man who had founded and led the Palestinian national movement for decades; (2) they constitute the primary source material he left behind; and (3) his political doctrine influenced millions in the region based on the premise of a British-Jewish plot to empty Palestine of Arabs, destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque, rebuild Solomon's Temple, and expand the Zionist endeavor to other Arab lands.

Al-Hajj Amin al-Husaini was the Grand Mufti (1921-1948) and Palestinian leader until his death in 1974. Elpeleg is known for his book on al-Husaini s life,1 and his present book has two parts. The first includes al-Husaini s essays and Elpeleg s responses in endnotes. The second contains Elpeleg s articles on: the alAqsa Mosque and Solomon's Temple; the issue of land; the alleged British-Jewish plot; and the Arab invasion and why Palestine was not created in 1948.

Before returning to Elpeleg's three issues above, a brief word about the author. He was military governor of Israel's Triangle region in the mid-1950s; of Gaza in 1956-1957; of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967; of Fayid, Egypt, on the Great Bitter Lake in 1973; and of southern Lebanon in 1982. From 1995 to 1997, Elpeleg was Israeli ambassador to Turkey. Since 1972 he has also been a researcher at the Dayan Center of Tel Aviv University.

Now for the first point, namely, that al-Husaini built the Palestinian national movement. In European terms, however, he did not yet have a nation, nor any idea of individualism and citizenship in the old Roman sense. Thus, this book presents political fatwas offered by al-Husaini in the traditional question-answer style ( 1 954-1957). Elpeleg adds valuable comments. But how did this book come about? As a spy reported from Cairo, al-Husaini prepared this third edition together with the Nazi agitator Johann von Leers, giving it the title Haqa'iq An Qadiyyat Filastin1 (The Truth on the Palestine Question). It was to be published in Germany as well by Karl-Heinz Priester of Wiesbaden,3 a former SS officer. In Cairo in 1957, Priester discussed with Leers how to sway nonaligned states. Leers, for his part, favored establishing an aid society for "nationalist groups imprisoned by court orders or prosecuted for their beliefs,"4 a sort of Nazi Amnesty International. Thus, the third edition emerged at the height of Nazi activities in Cairo as typified by al-Husaini and Leers.

There was an American claim that in 1959 Leers became "chief propaganda adviser" to President Abd an-Nasir (Nasser).5 Although this is doubtful, Leers's impact was palpable. In October 1958, the Egyptian read The Protocols of the Elders ofZion, which Leers had earlier disseminated. As Abd an-Nasir soon told an Indian journalist, the book convinced him that Europe was in the hands of three hundred Zionists.6 He also said the Holocaust was a fiction. His brother Shauqi, who edited the Protocols in Arabic, was still tirelessly propagating them in 1981.7

An American diagram of Leers s network included Ali Sabri, state minister of presidential affairs; Anwar as-Sadat, president of the Afro-Asian Council; Muhammad Khaliq Hasuna, secretary-general of the Arab League; al-Hajj Amin alHusaini; Gen. Abd al-Azim Ibrahim Fahmi, director of general investigations of the Interior Ministry in Egypt and Syria; and Sayyid Hafiz Abd al-Karim, secretary-general of the Economy Ministry. …