- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2008

ICON OF EVIL

By David G. Dalin and John F. Rothman

Random House, $26, 240 pages

REVIEWED BY MARTIN SIEFF

Haj Amin el-Husseini has been the Invisible Man of modern Middle East history: Academic courses across Britain, the United States, the European Union and even in Israel over the past 60 years have failed to do more than mention him. A new “History of Palestine” by Gudrun Kramer of the Free University of Berlin translated into English and published in the United States this year by the Princeton University Press mentioned him less than half a dozen times in all, including footnotes.

Yet Husseini was a figure of vast historical significance and unalloyed, dark malevolence. In the only genuinely free election - held among Palestinian notables - that he ever submitted to in 1921, he came dead last out of four candidates. It was a conspiracy of two ferociously anti-Semitic officials in the British Mandate government, Ernest Richmond and his lover, the British governor of Jerusalem Sir Ronald Storrs, that convinced a gullible liberal Jewish ruler of Palestine for the British Empire, Sir Herbert Samuel, to set aside the results of the election and allow Haj Amin, a young man still in his 20s at the time with no background of Muslim piety or scholarship whatsoever, to be named mufti, or religious leader of Jerusalem.

The mufti had been jailed by the British for 15 years only a few months before for inciting a bloody pogrom against Jewish inhabitants of the Old City of Jerusalem only the year before in 1920.

But over the next 30 years, the mufti proved an implacable, obsessive hater of all Jewish settlement and development in Mandatory Palestine, and a relentless murderer of every Palestinian Arab who sought any kind of accommodation with the Jewish community. He was an enthusiastic advocate of the Final Solution and David Dalin and John Rothman argue persuasively, by citing the mufti’s own radio broadcasts that he was an inner-circle planner of the genocide. He certainly tried to exterminate the entire population of Tel Aviv by poisoning the city’s drinking water with toxin.

The authors tell this story soberly and well in “Icon of Evil: Hitler’s Mufti and the Rise of Radical Islam.” Much of it makes hair-raising reading.

In his time, the mufti was notorious for welcoming the massacre of Jewish civilians including women and children. His gangs, however, killed far more Palestinian Arabs than they did Jews.

When the Arab Revolt he encouraged and fanned against British rule in Palestine was crushed in 1939, the mufti fled. He played a major role in helping incite the Iraqi Army to rebellion against Britain and trying to join the Nazi German-Fascist Italian Axis. The British commander in chief in the Middle East at the time, old Gen. Sir Archibald Wavell, was too slow and stupid to see the mortal danger this posed to the British position in the entire region. Fortunately War Premier Winston Churchill recognized the threat and ordered a British-Arab-Palestinian Jewish strike force from Mandatory Palestine to strike across the desert and routed the conspirators.

Haj Amin promptly decamped to Berlin, where, as Mr. Dalin and Mr. Rothman document, he regularly incited the Muslim peoples of the Middle East to rise up in genocidal fury against the British and the Jews in Palestine. The authors clearly document from the recorded transcripts of those broadcasts that the mufti was familiar with the most secret and up-to-date details of the implementation of the Holocaust at a time when noone outside Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Eichmann and their closest aides had that information. In 1944, he even knew that close to 6 million Jews had already been murdered to that point.

Haj Amin did not even stop there: He became a close friend, adviser and confidant to Himmler and Eichmann in conducting the Final Solution, the genocide of the Jewish people in Europe. He also raised Muslim Waffen SS forces for the Nazis from Bosnia and saw that they were used to protect the railway lines across the Balkans that transported hundreds of thousands of Southeast European Jews to extermination in Auschwitz. The Muslim units Haj Amin raised also carried out the most barbarous war crimes against civilians in the Soviet Union and against Christians in Yugoslavia. The estimate of their Christian Serb victims has run as high as 200,000 killed.

Many wanted to prosecute the mufti for war crimes in 1945-46, but the British government, spineless to the last, blocked the attempt because it didn’t want further embarrassment with its scores of millions of Muslim subjects in India and the Middle East, even though it was about to be kicked out of both regions. Marshal Josef Broz Tito, the communist ruler of Yugoslavia, no stranger to mass murder himself, also blocked prosecution because he saw the Bosnian Muslims as key allies against the nationalist Christian Serbs and Montenegrins he was brutally suppressing at the time.

Haj Amin’s shadows and influence stretched far. Mr. Dalin and Mr. Rothman document his close association with his cousin and kinsman Yasser Arafat who succeeded him as undisputed leader of the Palestinian Arab national movement in the 1960s. He was also a personal mentor to Ali Hassan Salameh, the PLO and Black September terrorist who organized the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He lived long enough to die in his own bed in Beirut at the ripe old age of 79 in 1974. (Curiously, he died on the Fourth of July).

One has some caveats about this book: It is far too short, a problem that appears to lie at the foot of the publisher rather than the authors. However, they seem to have spent no time investigating the German archives for further material on the mufti’s activities on behalf of the Nazis during World War II and they also appear to have ignored many British archival sources, which are very rich on the Mandatory period.

Nevertheless, this is the first serious biography of the mufti to appear in 14 years and only the fourth ever to appear in English. The authors should be encouraged to greatly expand their research for a much larger second edition. The first edition is already valuable for the dark tale it tells.

Martin Sieff is defense security editor of United Press International and a former veteran foreign correspondent for The Washington Times, where he received three Pulitzer Prize nominations for international reporting. His most recent book, the “Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East,” was published in January.


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