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Faisal Al-Husseini

The Prince of Jerusalem

By Abdelqader Husseini

Translated by Hind Husseini

Palestinian society has produced notable personalities who have made such significant contributions to their country that their images should be featured on passports. This is due to the fact that, at various stages, each of them represented our national identity and served as our ticket to the international community. They assisted in our progression from being a passive observer to an active participant in the international system, on an equal footing with other nations.Faisal Al-Husseini, a Palestinian who grew up in Jerusalem, is one of the personalities who helped restore Palestine’s status on the map. Other Palestinians played a vital role in his life. As a tribute to his leadership skills, his devoted followers called him “the Prince of Jerusalem” at his funeral.Faisal Al-Husseini was born in 1940 to Palestinian parents who lived in exile in Baghdad, having battled British colonization from the beginning. Kazem Al-Husseini, his grandfather, who served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1918 to 1920, rejected the British policy intended to implement the Balfour Declaration. In response to proposals for dividing the country, he advocated instead for conducting elections. However, his opposition rejected this proposition, and Kazem eventually stepped down as mayor. Nevertheless, he led the negotiating delegation to London, and when those talks stalled, he led demonstrations opposing the division of the land in the winter of 1933. At the age of 80, British soldiers attacked him during a demonstration in Jaffa, causing fatal injuries.

Abdul Qader Al-Husseini, Faisal’s father, opted to take up arms to defend Palestine and its people. He was martyred in April 1948 while commanding his troops at the Battle of Al-Qastal, which marked the beginning of the Nakba of Palestine.

Faisal was just eight years old when his father was martyred, and because the family had relocated to Cairo, he was exposed to the political climate of Egypt at the time of Abdel Nasser’s ascent to power. Initially convinced that Arab unity was the key to solving the Palestinian issue, Faisal engaged in student activities, but experience and historical research led him to the conclusion that the Palestinians would not get assistance until they took their own initiative. Thus, he helped organize a Palestinian student movement inside the larger student movement and then worked within the PLO’s departments once it was formed as the Palestinians’ official representation. Through experience, he came to believe that the battle for Palestinian independence had to begin from within the country itself.

He was a student at the Syrian Military Academy during the 1967 war, took part in the conflict, and saw the military defeat firsthand. However, once he learned that Israel had initially kept the crumbling borders open in the hope that Palestinians would escape to Jordan, he deserted his army post and returned to Jerusalem covertly.

Soon after his return, he began training resistance fighters and amassing weapons, but he was quickly arrested. While incarcerated, he finally met his opponents face to face, learned their language, and looked them in the eye for the first time.

Faisal’s case in court became the center of attention, and the Israelis finally met the son of the Palestinian leader who had battled them heroically until his last breath. Detention, which lasted for nearly a year and a half, and the subsequent years were pivotal for Faisal, solidifying his beliefs and giving him the strength to begin afresh in pursuit of his mission and conviction: War is merely the bloody face of politics, and in the end, it doesn’t matter who wins as long as our political goal is accomplished.

The armed gang that Abdul Qader Al-Husseini battled in Qastal and the jet that attacked the Liberation Army camp where Faisal was in 1967 are only two examples of the enemy. Beyond these, there exists a society rife with contradictions that cannot be settled only via the use of force. He asserted early on that the most consequential internal conflict for the enemy is the one between the occupation and democracy, and as this conflict grows, the end of the occupation draws nearer. He was also convinced that a “nonviolent” battle is preferable to a “violent” one because the former neutralizes Israel’s military force, whereas the latter permits military superiority to determine the conflict. He once said, “Our goal in this battle is to influence public opinion in our favor. Our narrative is the weapon we bring to this battle, and we should present it assuredly and proudly.”

In 1979, Faisal founded the Arab Studies Society in Jerusalem as an association committed to preserving and making Palestinian history accessible via the accumulation of archival materials, personal photographs, and newspaper clippings. Moreover, the Palestinian struggle also saw the establishment of a library and the publication of a Palestinian map that included labels with the pre-1948 names of the cities and villages, attached to the pre-Nakba population census, and a glossary of village and city names.

The association, led by Faisal, welcomed researchers and interested Palestinians and Israelis, and was concerned with reformulating the Palestinians’ narrative of their tragedy on the basis of scientific documentation, as conveyed by Faisal Al-Husseini. It was successful in helping to educate a new generation of Palestinians and gave unbiased Israelis access to materials that challenge the official Zionist narrative that is predicated on erasing the history of Palestine and the Palestinian people.

The Arab Studies Society spawned the Committee Confronting the Iron Fist, which comprised Palestinians and Israelis who demonstrated together to end the occupation, and its dynamism sowed the first seedlings of the Intifada.

The Israeli government was strongly against Faisal’s policies. Two years after the association was established, he was banned by the occupation authorities from leaving the city during the day and his home after sunset. For five years, he had to show up at the police station at eight o’clock every morning to prove his presence. When this strategy failed to silence him or diminish his influence, he was subjected to a series of administrative detentions on secret charges, beginning in the spring of 1987 and continuing intermittently throughout the first two years of the Intifada, all while his office was closed by military order.

The more the Israeli government tried to stop him, the more determined he became to win over public opinion on all fronts – within Palestine, the Arab world, internationally, and even within the Green Line. Then Faisal made his huge contribution to protecting our nation and our national project: Before and during the second Gulf War, Faisal recognized the threat posed by Palestinians shifting their focus from being proactive to passively waiting for an outside liberator. Thus, he stressed the value of self-reliance and vocally rejected the occupation of Kuwait, but he also opposed the use of force to end the conflict.

Faisal’s moderation in this matter paved the way for postwar talks with US Secretary of State James Baker. Faisal, representing the Palestinians, spearheaded these negotiations, which shifted Palestine’s status in Western calculations from political isolation to that of a key player and partner in the postwar arrangements.

Faisal and the delegation he led in the negotiations introduced themselves as PLO members and urged that a settlement had to be reached with the Palestinians themselves as partners rather than with the citizens of any other country. As Faisal placed a higher value on substance than on symbolism, he decided not to protest the Israelis’ refusal to include him in negotiations just because he was from Jerusalem. In return, the Palestinians received from the United States an assurance that the future of East and West Jerusalem would be settled via negotiations, an accomplishment credited to Faisal.

After the Oslo Accords were announced, Faisal devoted all his energy to defending the people of Jerusalem and advocating for the city’s diversity. His office in Orient House served as a safe haven for oppressed Jerusalemites who feared being expelled by the Israelis. How close he was to the people could be seen by watching him stand in the path of a bulldozer that was about to demolish a house or sabotage a facility, protect a house that was threatened with eviction by settlers, or defend a family that was at risk of displacement. The plight of the people was always front and center in his talks with politicians and foreign delegations. Before his death in 2001, he was able to halt a number of anti-Jerusalem policies and came up with the idea of “buying time in Jerusalem,” by which he encouraged steadfastness and perseverance until a just settlement would be reached.

Few people know that Faisal, the enlightened spokesperson for the Palestinian cause, began his battle in Jerusalem without even an ID. Nonetheless, Palestinian Jerusalemites welcomed him with open arms. Starting out, he had worked as a radiology technician for a doctor, a hotel receptionist, a farmer, and a traveling merchant shuttling between Jerusalem, Gaza, and Nablus. He was loved by the people, who honored him with the title of “Prince of Jerusalem” during his farewell and continue to mourn the division of their homeland and the loss of their hero.

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