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of Faisal Husseini


Jerusalem, August 1,1988
THE PALESTINIAN ELITE: The Legacy of Leadership

An Interview with Faisal Husseini, 

The phone call from his close friend came only a day after Faisal Husseini was released from jail. In his quiet voice Faisal answered the phone and listened with surprise to Sari Nusseibeh's suggestion that he meet with a member of the Likud party. Is he serious? Faisal wanted to know. Does he speak for the government? His friend answered in the affirmative. Good, then let's get together, said the prominent Palestinian, and the rendezvous was arranged. 

The secret meeting took place in August 1987 at the east Jerusalem home of Sari Nusseibeh, professor at Bir Zeit University and son of the former defense minister of Jordan . The cast of characters was implausible: Palestinians and Israelis representing the extreme from each point of view, the leading roles assigned to Moshe Amirav, a member of the Central Committee of the right-wing Herut party and a close friend of Herut leaders in Yitzhak Shamir's conservative Likud government; and Faisal Husseini, a childhood protégé of Yasser Arafat's and a leading supporter of the PLO in the occupied territories. No one was to know: the very idea of the rendezvous was heretical—that it was actually taking place could destroy them all. 

The distinguished-looking Faisal, with his pale skin, dark eyes, and salt-and-pepper hair, chatted amiably with the Israeli-born Amirav. The low-keyed Palestinian could speak Hebrew, learned years past in prison, but the language of choice on this occasion was English; after some pleasantries, the conversation turned to the subject at hand. Faisal, scion of one of the most elite Palestinian families, head of the Arab Studies Society, member of the Waqf, the Moslem religious endowment, son of the leading Arab commander against the Israelis in the war of 1948, grandson and great grandson of mayors of Jerusalem, grandnephew of the grand mufti of Jerusalem, and distant cousin of Yasser Arafat, sat back in his chair and listened as Amirav spoke. The Israeli had written a list of points, the kind of points that the Palestinian had been making for years, the kind of points that had put him in jail three times and kept him under town arrest for seven years. Never a man to reveal all his thoughts, Faisal showed no expression as he heard the words, but inside he was hardly calm: he had worked all his life for a breakthrough like this; maybe now it would all pay off. 

Faisal Husseini was born with the consciousness of Palestine and the commitment to bring his country into being. Soft-spoken but staunch in his beliefs, he carries the blood of generations who claim direct descendance from the prophet Mohammed, who have led the Moslem people in Jerusalem and ruled them in the city's affairs. Rich, powerful, and influential, the Husseinis were granted the role of leading family from the days of the Ottoman Empire to the end of the British mandate. Since the seventeenth century, when one of their clan was appointed the mufti of Jerusalem, the highest authority on Moslem law, the Husseinis have been an important family in the city. Since the nineteenth century they have been predominant: they have controlled the Waqf; they have controlled the Arab High Committee; they have controlled the mayoralty; and they have controlled the land, accumulating large parcels of property from the outskirts of Ramallah to the center of the holy city. To both the Palestinians in the occupied territories and to many Israeli leaders, Faisal is the legitimate indigenous leader, the man who has inherited the legacy of command. But the tall, stoop-shouldered Faisal also bears the weight of fallen aristocracy: to his family goes the blame of a Palestine lost; to his name goes the burden of defeat. At the end of the nineteenth century the Husseini family moved from the overcrowded Old City to the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi-Joz. There, graceful buildings reflected the colonial style, and land was available to buy and build on. The American Colony Hotel, once the fabulous home of a Turkish pasha and his three wives, sits on property owned by Faisal's grandfather. Next door, a small cemetery protects the graves of Husseini family members. 

Close by, the New Orient House, built by the Husseini family a few decades ago, is home to the Arab Studies Society. From his offices at the society, its chairman and founder, Faisal Husseini, directs the affairs of state. The society itself, funded by worldwide sources that range from rich Palestinian refugees, to Arab governments, to gifts from the Ford Foundation, acts as an umbrella organization for Palestinian issues: its specialized library has books and documents on the Arab-Israeli conflict and collects magazines and newspapers pertaining to Palestinian and Israeli current events; its statistical department collects data on different aspects of life under Israeli occupation; its research center conducts research and holds lectures on Israeli and Palestinian society; its publishing arm prints books that champion Palestinian martyrs; its map division prints charts of the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza and produces maps of Palestine in its pre-Israeli days; its childhood research center introduces to preschool teachers new techniques for conveying the Palestinian identity; its human-rights center reports Israeli violations to Amnesty International and supports the activities of the intifada; its payroll provides jobs for guerrilla fighters who are former prisoners. Less than a year after Faisal established the society, the Israelis tried to put a clamp on his activities, first refusing him permission to leave the country, then putting him under a seven-year order of town arrest. 

In 1987, at the end of the town arrest, they put him in prison for three months, then released him and imprisoned him again for six months more. The Israelis accuse the society of being a front for the PLO. They accuse Husseini of opening the institute "for the glorifying and legitimizing of terrorism." One official says his books turn terrorists who have killed innocent Israeli children into "glorious martyrs," and adds, "He employs many ex-terrorists and uses them to intimidate Palestinians." The Israeli mentions Elias Freij, the mayor of Bethlehem, and others who are willing to act independently of the PLO. "All one of Husseini's employees has to do is ring Freij's doorbell and say, 'Good morning.' The rest goes without saying," explains the Israeli, who says Husseini's people will burn a car or bomb a shop to get their point across. Says another official about Husseini's role in the territories, "Faisal is the executive producer of the PLO." 

Seven-year-old Faisal Husseini sat with his two brothers in their house in Cairo cleaning their new toys. Carefully, Faisal took apart the old weapons, then brushed away the grime built up since World War II. He lovingly applied a slick of oil, then put the parts together, making sure the barrel was spotless. Just like their father and his friends, the boys rubbed and rubbed the tommy gun and the Sten gun and the British Bren until the machine guns were as shiny as their father's glossy boots. How proud young Faisal felt helping his father! How happy he was to have his father home again! Abdul Kader al-Husseini had been away for several months, off again in another country, fighting the war. 

All his young life Faisal had heard of his father's bravery, leading the commandos against the British in Palestine, struggling in the revolution in Iraq, and now again in Jerusalem, fighting the Jews. Abdul Kader al-Husseini was a true hero—the only member of the Husseini family and the only member of the Arab elite who chose to fight with weapons rather than with words. From 1936 to 1939, Abdul Kader had commanded guerrilla gangs against the British, fighting desperately for an independent Arab Palestine. The revolt, organized by his uncle Haj Amin, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, had begun with a general strike, had grown to violent riots, and had nearly turned into a revolution. After three years of bloody struggle, Abdul Kader was wanted by the British and had slipped out of the country. His family had been forced to flee to Iraq, leaving their large homes and vast properties under the watchful eye of other relatives, but taking with them the status of leadership. They set up home in Baghdad, where Faisal was born less than a year later. But the elder Husseinis were soon in trouble there too, this time fighting on the side of the Nazis against the British army. 

Young Faisal knew well the stories of his father trying to sneak across the border from Iraq to Iran, and how his father had been caught and arrested, and then how he took the family to live in Saudi Arabia. For the little boy those were wonderful days in Arabia—the only times he could remember when his father was at home, spending long hours with the children, even teaching them to read and write because there were no appropriate schools for them in Saudi Arabia. On January 1,1946, the family set off once again, this time to Egypt, to be welcomed by King Farouk. In Cairo they would meet up with their uncle, the grand mufti, who had traveled to Syria and to Germany, where he had aligned himself with the fascists and signed an agreement with Adolf Hitler to provide Arab soldiers to fight for the Nazi cause. Haj Amin was highly respected by the Arabs for his leadership in Moslem affairs, and even more so for his avowal to destroy any Zionist state. Together with Hitler and Mussolini, he was certain he could carry out his plans and eliminate the Jews living in Palestine. Even in exile, Haj Amin was the most important leader of Palestinian nationalism; and in Cairo, many prominent Arabs would come to see him and to visit Abdul Kader too. Every day there were friends and relatives being welcomed in Faisal's house. Almost from the time they arrived in Egypt, Faisal and his brothers saw little of their father. Abdul Kader was always coming and going, traveling to far-away places, recruiting young men as guerrilla fighters, acquiring weapons for their struggle against the partition of Palestine. Faisal knew that the machine guns he was cleaning were precious to his father, that his father needed them badly if he and his men were to win the war against the Jews. 

To Faisal the word "war" seemed exciting and rather vague, something like playing with the weapons he and his brothers had cleaned. But when one day the family learned that a cousin they all knew well had been killed, he noticed how his mother became sad. "We started to understand what is war, what is the price of war," he recalls. Still, life went on in their big house in Cairo, and the war in Palestine was very far away. In early April 1948, things changed.

The battle in Palestine was heating up, but so far the Arabs were still winning; they controlled most of Palestine, while the Jewish enclaves were under siege. Especially vulnerable was Jerusalem, and there the Jews were fighting desperately. The Arabs had many more arms and supplies; they had plenty of water, control of the electricity, and in effect, they controlled the city.

Yet the Jews were going on the offensive; rumors were flying that at the very beginning of April they had received two large shipments of arms, several hundred light machine guns and thousands of rifles, sent secretly from Czechoslovakia. Now the Jews were attempting to take over the corridor from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. On the eastern side, their Haganah fighters had blown up the Ramle headquarters of Hassan Salameh, the mufti's commander in the area, killing some of his most important men. Next, on the western side of the corridor, the Jews had captured the Arab village of Kastel, an old Roman fortress high up in the hills five miles west of Jerusalem, vital because it controlled the approach to the city.

Abdul Kader was in Damascus when he received an urgent call to return to Jerusalem: he was badly needed to command the operations around Kastel.

Rushing back to the city, he immediately took control, leading his men in six days and nights of nonstop combat, winning ground around the corridor until the battle was confined to the tiny village. After several more hours of fighting, the Arabs were sure of victory and watched with joy as the Jews retreated from Kastel, ducking the bullets as they fled. In the dim light of early dawn, three Arab fighters walked confidently toward the command post in the center of the enclave. Above them they heard a voice call out, half in English, half in Arabic, "Come on, yah gamaa." "Hello, boys," the Arabs called back in English. But unbeknownst to them, the Jews were still in control of the command post: the sentry had thought they were Israeli reinforcements. Realizing his mistake, he began to fire; the sputter of machine guns blasted from the post, killing the three men. For days the Israelis were unaware of whom they had killed. But the Arabs knew they had lost their hero: one of the three men was their commander, Abdul Kader. The solemn funeral of the Palestinian hero was the largest in the history of Jerusalem. Thousands of Arabs, including the troops who had fought so hard for him at Kastel, came to pay their respects to Abdul Kader al-Husseini. But in a terrible turn of events, the Jews recaptured the village in their absence, and the battle for Jerusalem was lost. "I was at home and my elder brother, Moussa, came to me with the Egyptian newspaper," recalls Faisal Husseini. "Read the headline," the ten-year-old Moussa told him. When he did, his brother asked, "Do you understand what it says?" Faisal nodded and answered yes. "Then go tell your younger brother," Moussa said, and the eight-year-old Faisal went off to tell his little brother, Ghazi, that their father was dead. For three days Faisal felt nothing about his father's death, but when he was shown a newspaper story that the Egyptian government would take care of his family and provide them with free schooling, the little boy started to cry. "In that very moment, I felt the first real thing not that my father was killed in the war, that it was a national thing and he is a hero, but that I lost my father." The tradition of leadership was inbred. Moussa immediately moved to his father's place at the table and took over the family responsibilities, even making the arrangements to pay the rent. Faisal was given the role of family spokesman, and on the occasions of memorials for his father, held in various places around Egypt, the young boy was asked to lead the singing F of a well-known song written by his father. Composed as a conversation between a child and his mother, the lyrics said, "Talk to me about the land; is it right that the Zionists got our land? Give me my sword, Mother, and I will go and fight for our land." "When I was reading this, the people would feel as if Abdul Kader Husseini is seeing the future," says Faisal. The young boy would stand before the gatherings of Egyptian notables and hundreds of Palestinian refugees, leading them in his father's words. "When I was nine years old I was more courageous than when I was thirty or forty years old," Faisal says with a laugh. 

For six years he would sing the song of his father, but at the age of fifteen he showed the makings of a leader, writing his own poem and delivering it to important Egyptian officials, like Mohammed Nagib, and to the Palestinians. A day or two before these ceremonial events, a distant cousin and close friend of the family would come to coach him. His name was Abdul Rahman al Husseini, or as he was known by his friends, Yasser Arafat. The teenaged Arafat had worked diligently for Faisal's father, organizing students at Cairo University and, after he left the school, fighting under his command in Jerusalem. After the war against Israel, Arafat returned to Cairo and became head of the Palestinian Student League. The young Palestinian revolutionary maintained close ties to the Husseini family. "In those days he would visit us at home from time to time, and I started to know him more and more," says Faisal, acknowledging that Arafat had a special fondness for him. Despite Faisal's father's death, the Husseinis still lived a privileged life in Egypt, spending the school years in Cairo and the summers in their real home, Jerusalem. Faisal finished high school in 1958, the same year that President Nasser announced the United Arab Republic, linking Egypt and Syria in a pan-Arab movement; it was an idea that brought enthusiastic cheers and hearty applause from Faisal, his granduncle Haj Amin, and millions of others in the Arab world. It was the same year that a new underground guerrilla organization came into being. Called Fatah, an acronym for the Palestine Liberation Movement in reverse, the organization coined the term "Palestinian revolution," reinforcing the concept of a Palestinian identity. Spurred on by the pan-Arab crusade that, it was hoped, would lead to a united Palestine, and by Fatah's slogan of Palestinian nationalism, Faisal felt the spirit of his father's soldierly legend and went off to study in Baghdad at his father's alma mater, the military school. But in Iraq he encountered a revolution to overthrow the monarchy, which prevented his stay in that country. Nine months later he returned to Egypt and took up the fight for Palestine in another way, this time as an activist in the Palestinian Student League. Although Arafat had since moved on to become a leader in Fatah's new secret fighting cells, Husseini continued his work with the youth group. He organized university students who arrived from the Arab world, Palestinians carrying passports from Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, and refugees from Gaza. 

Husseini reinforced their consciousness of their Palestinian heritage, holding lectures "about our homeland, our hopes, and our history," he recalls, "trying to make them feel that we are one people." Under the umbrella of Nasser's pan-Arabism, the organization grew broader and more influential. Soon the league was holding conferences with Palestinian students in other Arab countries and as far away as Europe. In 1960 they announced the General United Palestinian Students, an organization of youths from all over the world that would feed the ranks of Fatah. After three years of a tenuous relationship, the feelings between Egypt and Syria had soured, and in 1961 the United Arab Republic fell apart. The split between the countries came as a blow to Faisal: "All of a sudden I discovered that all our work toward Arab unity, which would lead us toward Palestine, just collapsed. I was working for the Egyptians within an Egyptian structure, and for the Syrians within a Syrian structure; but we, the Palestinians, where were we?" Faisal, like many other young Palestinians, began to ally himself with the ideas of Arafat and Fatah. As the Palestinian spirit of nationalism grew in strength, and as Fatah and other combat groups began their violent activities against the Israelis, the Arab countries were forced to take notice of the Palestinian cause. 

In 1964 the Arab League, a loose confederation of fourteen Arab countries including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, established a political body to deal directly with the problem and called it the Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO's founding congress took place in May 1964 in Jordanian annexed east Jerusalem; the organization's charter called for the destruction of the Zionist state and for the establishment of a Palestinian entity. The Arab League chose the word entity as a concession to the Egyptians and the Jordanians, who felt that a sovereign Palestinian state would threaten their own existence. Faisal Husseini immediately went to work for the PLO in its east Jerusalem headquarters, first at the Ambassador Hotel and then at the UNRWA building nearby. The bugle call of the Palestine Liberation Army, formed as the fighting arm of the PLO but kept under each member nation's army, was too strong for Faisal to resist. Once again he followed his father's legend, putting aside the world of words for the more potent world of weapons. In 1966 he left for Syria, where he joined the military officers' school. Like his father, he soon became a leader, in command of thirty soldiers. It was, he says, "my father's will, my father's way. I felt this and I thought, This is the way of the Palestinian people." With the outbreak of war against Israel in June 1967, Faisal was sent to Lebanon to recruit Palestinians for the army. There, in the mountains near Beirut, he organized a military camp and trained twelve hundred men to fight; but the Israelis' swift victory quickly doused the Arabs' hopes. Once again Faisal was forced to choose between the military and the political. "If I stayed outside, maybe I could reach some high position in the Syrian army, but I felt that I missed Jerusalem, so I decided to come back." 

Jerusalem was the city of his parents' property—houses, land, and farms—and of his father's dream. Here he could work directly toward a Palestinian state. Going back to Jerusalem was more than a small challenge. With his Jordanian passport Faisal had no problem traveling to the Hashemite Kingdom, but with all of Jerusalem now in the hands of the Israelis, the only way to enter was to infiltrate illegally. Like thousands of other Palestinians also trying to rejoin friends and families, he drove to the east bank of the Jordan River, found a shallow part of the narrow waterway, and, dressed in regular street clothes, began to wade across. "Halt!" a voice called out to him in Hebrew, and an Israeli soldier ordered him to go back. Undaunted, Faisal tried to talk his way across, but the soldier was not amused and started shooting between his legs. "The next one will be through your eyes," the soldier 

Not one to give up, Faisal tried again two hours later, only to meet a similar impasse. The next day he tried again, and the next and the next—until the fifth day, when he succeeded in reaching Jerusalem. 

Faisal Husseini walked past the palm trees that lined the main square of Ramallah and thought about his plans for the future. He had come back to look after his family's property, some of which was near this Arab resort town where lovely parks and cool stone villas offered respite from the desert heat. But, with the West Bank and Jerusalem now under Israeli control, he was eager to do more in the struggle for his homeland. As he walked along the square, a car pulled up beside him, and he heard someone call out his name. The car door opened and Faisal was surprised and pleased to see his old friend Yasser Arafat. He climbed in. The guerrilla leader, now making his headquarters in a deserted building in the Casbah of Nablus, often traveled up and down the West Bank, holding meetings in cafes to gather recruits and organize the leadership of Fatah. Arafat welcomed Faisal and asked why he had returned. "We started talking about the occupation and about the duty to fight against the occupation," recalls Faisal. "I said that for the first time we are facing the Jewish people. We must start political activities. 'It's a good idea,' Arafat told me, 'but I don't think they will let us start.' " The two men agreed that they must use political methods as well as violent means. "If we found there were problems using political activities, then we decided we could start with military activities," Faisal says. But Arafat wasn't convinced that Faisal was sincere and dedicated to the cause. "He was thinking, was I talking this way because I believed in political activities or because I was afraid of military activities?" After much questioning and examination, Faisal was able to convince Arafat that he wasn't afraid. "You have just finished military school. You can start training our people," Arafat told Faisal and took him to his home. When they reached the house, Arafat handed him some weapons. "He gave me two machine guns, a Russian Kalashnikov and a Czechoslovakian Samosar," Faisal recalls. "I kept the weapons in my home." In the three months that followed, Fatah's guerrillas became extremely active, carrying out sixty different operations against civilian Israeli targets— bombing factories, homes, movie theaters, and bus terminals. Surprised at the pace of militant activity, Faisal tried to contact Arafat, wanting to find out if he had given up the political option. When he arrived at Arafat's house near the municipality in Ramallah, he discovered that the Israeli army had been there two days before; but the Fatah leader had already fled the country for Jordan, soon to take up command of the PLO. Says Faisal, "I started feeling that I am under someone's eyes, that someone is watching me." Two days later, as Faisal walked a few blocks from his home in Jerusalem, the police arrived and put him under arrest; when they searched his house they found the machine guns, which he had taken apart and hidden. The jeep ride to Moscobiya Jail was brutal. With his hands tied behind his back, Faisal was beaten again and again, first in the stomach, then in the chest, then once more in the stomach. "I tried to run away," he remembers. "I was handcuffed to two soldiers, and I jumped from the jeep, taking the two soldiers with me. I even tried to put my leg on the wheels so that they would run over me. It was more like suicide than running away." Faisal's existence in Jerusalem came as a shock to many Israelis. "It was as if the son of Ho Chi Minh had come to live in New York City," says one Israeli, comparing Abdul Kader to the North Vietnamese revolutionary leader. 

Faisal's arrest and imprisonment became big news in all the papers. "Jail for son of Abdul Kader al-Husseini," shouted the headlines in Hebrew and English. Faisal read the headlines from his prison cell and was astonished at the way the Israelis had embellished his career. "They said that I was a colonel, that I was the right hand of Ahmed Shukeiry, the PLO leader, that I was the new commander of the Fatah in the area." Yes, he says, "I was an officer, but I had only one star; I was not the right hand of Ahmed Shukeiry. Nor was I the leader of Fatah in the area. There was no cell; I was alone. And the only thing they found was two old weapons that were in pieces." His Israeli lawyer, Shmuel Tamir, later a minister of justice, used the headlines as testimony in court, showing that Faisal was arrested not for what he had done, but as revenge against his father. Faisal told the court that he had kept the weapons as a means of maintaining contact with other members of Fatah. His wish, he said, was to convince the others that the only way to achieve peace was through peaceful means. Despite the fact that he had concealed weapons, the court's response was mild: a year in prison and two years' suspended sentence. Like almost every Palestinian who has been in jail, Faisal still remembers the date he was released, October 24, 1968. After his twelve months in prison, Faisal floundered from one job to another, never really able to find gratifying work. He had not finished university, he had no preparation for the business world, and worse, he had no identity card. "I could not leave the country; I couldn't even move freely in the streets because the police would stop me and ask about my identity card," he recalls. "It was a bad feeling. Whenever I would see a soldier or a policeman or a checkpoint, I would start counting, thinking, will they stop me or won't they? Will they know my story or won't they? Will they arrest me or won't they?" 

A number of times, he was taken to Moscobiya Jail and held for several hours; on a few occasions he was held overnight. Nevertheless, he was treated far better than most other prisoners; he was still the son of Abdul Kader al-Husseini. The struggle to obtain his identity card dragged on for seven years. As a resident of Jerusalem and heir to the family legacy, he knew this was the city where he belonged. In fact, he was even listed as a resident by the census takers, but had been in prison when he was supposed to receive his card. As both he and the Israelis were well aware, a Jerusalem identity card carries special privileges. As a citizen of Jerusalem, now a unified city, he would be entitled to almost the same judicial process as any Israeli citizen. He could not be deported, nor could his house be demolished, nor could he be subjected to the degree of harsh martial law often applied to Palestinians living in the West Bank. He could publish statements with almost no censorship. He could organize conferences, political activities, meetings, and demonstrations according to the Israeli law without submitting to the military government. Even on a daily basis, his life would be easier. His yellow Israeli license plates would allow him to travel with less harassment at checkpoints. He could vote in the municipality, he could Collect Social Security, and if he chose to, he could even become an Israeli citizen. Faisal was determined to obtain the card, and by 1977 he had won the fight; now he could begin a new life. 

Faisal Husseini is in the living room of his house in Wadi Joz, a sunlit, stylish salon with a fine Oriental rug, capacious white jacquard sohs, and a view overlooking Jerusalem. Once again, he has returned from prison, and now, in late July 1988, he has resumed his activities as head of the Arab Studies Society. 

Only a few minutes earlier, his sixteen-year-old son had come into the room to say hello. Several weeks before, the boy had spent a few hours in jail; the Israelis had accused him of throwing rocks at soldiers. When he returned, his face was black and blue, his wrists red, and his arm swollen from beating. Faisal, angered by the Israelis' treatment, speaks of his young son with pride. Before his arrest, he says, "I considered him a kid. Now I consider him a man." Three nights ago, Faisal participated in a public debate with several Israeli politicians, and he is moved to reflect on the meetings he had a year earlier. The telephone call from Sari Nusseibeh came only a day after Faisal had been released from jail in July 1987. Told about Nusseibeh's preliminary discussions with Moshe Amirav, Faisal was eager to meet with the Israeli politician. When he arrived at Nusseibeh's house at the appointed time a few days later, the men were sitting on the large, shaded veranda. Faisal walked in and shook hands with the others. Despite the fact that the men represented bitter historical opponents, the atmosphere was relaxed. "There was no tension," Faisal recalls. Amirav presented his points: —There could be no peace without the Likud and the PLO. —The Israelis and the Palestinians had been fighting each other for dozens of years, and two items were not negotiable on either side: that Israel was entitled to live within secure and defensible borders in the state it formed in 1948; that the Palestinians could not be asked to abandon their claims to some part of the territory they occupied in 1948. —Any solution that did not recognize the right of Israel to exist, or the Palestinian people to have their own state, or tried to ignore the PLO would be worthless. The first meeting ended on an optimistic note. 

"Really, I was happy. I thought that at last we found someone to talk with," says Faisal. Another meeting followed, and Amirav presented a paper that he assured them had been seen by Yitzhak Shamir. The prime minister was eager to follow in the footsteps of Menachem Begin. Just as Begin had made peace with Egypt, he said, Shamir wanted to make peace with the Palestinians. Amirav conceded that there could be a Palestinian state, but that it would require an evolutionary process to inspire confidence. While a state was not foreclosed, neither was it guaranteed. His position included a set of stages timed over three years and made two stipulations: First, that within that time frame there must be mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO; and second, that the PLO must condemn all use of violence against Israel inside and outside the territories. Meanwhile, the Israelis would cease to expand the settlements. Accepting these points meant a major concession on Faisal's part. Nevertheless, he accepted the right of Israel to exist in its pre-1967 borders and agreed to the idea of two stages within a three-year interim period. "I didn't agree one hundred percent with what was there, but I understood that I am not talking with another Palestinian, and he understood that he is not talking with an Israeli. So because of this, we began to understand each other more." Several meetings followed, some of them in Amirav's office, others at the Arab Studies Society. The Israeli brought out a second paper discussing self-determination and listing the specific stages to reach a Palestinian state. There would be direct negotiations between Israel and the PLO (without Jordan) to create a state, but, he insisted, there would be no guarantee of a state. When Faisal heard this, he was upset. "I told him that the first paper that he showed me said, 'I am inviting you to spend two months in Switzerland; here is the ticket and a bag of clothes.'" But the ticket, says Faisal, showed that there was no direct flight from Jerusalem to Switzerland; instead, he would have to go first to Uganda, and from there take a flight to Switzerland. And in the second paper, Faisal explains, he discovered that the suitcase contained only clothes for Uganda and nothing at all for Switzerland. "If you want me to believe you," he told Amirav, "you must give me the bag and I'll put in the things I need for Switzerland." 

Faisal had his list ready: "We reached the issue of the Palestinian identity, and I made it clear we would have our own money, our own coins, our own passport, our own television broadcasting, and our own flag. And the capital of this identity would be in east Jerusalem." He was still willing to accept the idea of a first stage "from one to three years, and then we would reach the second step, which is a Palestinian state." But Amirav would not agree to these conditions as a first step. "He told me that with coins and flags, with a foreign office and economic offices outside, all the people will understand that this already is a state." The Israeli rejected the idea. "We must have foreign offices," Faisal told him, "but I don't want an army." What the Palestinian did want was international guarantees through an international conference. "At this stage," recalls Faisal, "we decided to complete the agreement with Arafat." Rather than arrange for a special meeting with the chairman of the PLO, Faisal suggested that the Israelis travel to Geneva, where Arafat was attending a conference. Amirav suggested that Faisal get permission for a delegation to meet first with Shamir. Said Faisal, "I do not have to get permission from the PLO." But the meeting never took place. On August 24, 1987, under orders of the Israeli government, Faisal Husseini was arrested and put in jail. Israeli officials claimed that he was arrested because his activities with the Arab Studies Society were a threat to national security. 

But many Palestinians, and Israeli citizens as well, believe his moderate position was a threat to Israeli hard-liners who had consistently claimed there was no Palestinian with whom they could negotiate. "Not to speak to them is the height of craziness," says Abba Eban who adds, "To harass these people instead of welcoming them, failing to use them as an intermediary to those to whom we cannot talk, seems to me to be the height of folly." 

Shortly after, while Faisal was in prison, Prime Minister Shamir made a trip to Bucharest, where he saw President Ceausescu of Romania; Ceausescu raised the issue of an international conference. Shamir, who has always argued against such a conference because he believes it would impose hostile decisions on Israel, told Ceausescu that the conference was unnecessary. To prove his point, he pulled out the paper showing that his own party member had been holding direct discussions with the PLO. Ceausescu knew about the talks, says Faisal. "He told him that Mr. Arafat was here some days ago and showed him the same paper." Faisal was released from prison in June 1988 after serving ten months. Although he had every reason to turn bitterly anti-Israeli, Faisal remains moderate in his views. "I can't see any solution but two states," he says. "I love the idea of one state, but it is a dream, my beautiful dream." He pauses for a moment to describe it: "From the river to the sea, to have a Palestinian secular democratic state that Moslems, Christians, and Jews can live in together." But Faisal acknowledges that for now the Israelis would never accept his idea. "Maybe our sons, our grandsons, ours and theirs, will reach a point when they say, why not live together in one state?' If they decide this in a democratic way, then the dream will be there. If not, it will go on being a dream." 

Of his debate with the Israelis the previous night in July 1988, Faisal admits he carefully weighed his decision to appear in front of a Jewish audience and had concluded it was better to participate and prove his moderate stance, even if he did not know what the consequences would be. "There has to be mutual recognition by both sides," he told the audience. "The Palestinian side has to recognize the existence of Israel. The Israeli side has to recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination and the right to establish a state on its national soil." Two days later, Faisal Husseini was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison. 
Less than two months after his release from administrative detention, Palestinian activist Faisal Husseini was back in jail last night, and his Arab Studies Society in east Jerusalem was closed down for one year.


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