THOUGH HE frequently exasperated and angered the Israeli authorities, Saad al-Alami, the Mufti of Jerusalem, won considerable respect from the government for his unswerving and deeply felt support for the Palestinian national cause.
He was appointed to his position in 1952 by the Jordanian Wakf, the Muslim ruling authority in Jordan and a government ministry, and he fulfilled the hopes placed in him. Though fortunately he was without the fanaticism of the pre-war Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, which did so much to destroy any fruitful relationships between the Jewish and Arab communities of Palestine, al-Alami was often at odds with the Israeli government.
Al-Alami clashed with the Israelis almost immediately after the Israeli occupation of the Old City in the Six Day War of 1967. Such clashes were probably inevitable as he became head of the Muslim High Council, which administers Muslim affairs in east Jerusalem and the West Bank and Gaza. Decisions by the government were bound to arouse his ire.
His relations with the Israeli government became tense and remained so until the end. The Israelis accused him of making unjustified attacks on the Jewish state, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and even on Jews as a people. Such attacks on Jews aroused particular anger. Israeli anger rose sharply during the Gulf war when al-Alami identified himself with Iraq and openly prayed that Saddam Hussein would succeed and extend his control over Jerusalem. Such remarks, coming at a time when Saddam was launching Scud missiles against Israeli cities, caused bitter resentment.
Nevertheless, Israeli Ministers and officials never lost a certain respect for him and for his integrity. Dr Nissim Dana, head of the department for non-Jewish communities in the Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry, remarked: 'Despite the fact he was among the State of Israel's sharpest critics, I differentiate between these political acts and the fact that he was among the most prominent Muslim leaders in Jerusalem.'
Another Israeli official said that al-Alami's relations with Israel were polite, although at times rather tense. 'He would go abroad often and make speeches that were blatantly anti-Jewish and then come back and tell us that he had been misunderstood and misquoted.'
However the Arab Muslims saw him in a different light. 'He was a man who gave much to his country and his people,' said Adnan Husseini, director of the Wakf.
Significantly the Mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, who has fought so hard to bring Arabs and Jews together and who understands the national passions and anxieties afflicting the Arabs, published messages in Arabic daily newspapers mourning al-Alami's death.
The new Mufti will be chosen by the Wakf in Jordan soon. Muslim fundamentalists, who have a strong representation in the Jordanian parliament and government, would have a strong voice in the choice to a successor to al- Alami. But they will find it extremely difficult to discover a man to equal al-Alami both as a religious head and as a political leader, however controversial.