I never had the honor of meeting Palestinian leader, Faisal Husseini. Many of the wonderful tributes being written are by those who knew him, so this tribute may not mean much. I’m just a Palestinian-American activist and freelance writer, who has her own Palestinian heroes. But I believe I speak for many when I say that Faisal Husseini was a hero to many of us.
It is difficult to describe the feeling when I first read the news about Faisal Husseini’s death yesterday morning. It was as if he were a member of my own family.
I checked my e-mails, in the morning, as I always do. Merely expecting to skim the subject-titles and deleting most e-mails. This morning was different, however. Several of the headlines mentioned talk of Husseini’s death in Kuwait. A heart attack. Could this really be true? I clicked on a couple of the e-mails for more news. The confirmation left me in disbelief. I immediately called my mother. When I asked her if she and my father had watched Al Jazeera (the CNN of the Arab World) this morning, my mother responded “no.” I told her the news and my mother let out a gasp of horror.
When Husseini’s death was brought up with a Palestinian colleague at work, the shock and sadness never left his face during the entire conversation. “What a shame,” he kept saying. Indeed, what a shame.
For many Palestinians, he represented the last of the truly honorable and patriotic Palestinians. In a society that has wreaked of corruption and unbelievable tales that read out of a soap opera since the Palestinian Authority took over in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Husseini represented a figure of hope for the young. He was someone to admire and respect. Despite a shy and pleasant disposition, Husseini was always ready to stand his ground and fight when he needed to. He didn’t back down to Abu Ammar [nom de guerre for Yasser Arafat] and he certainly never backed down with Israelis. Video footage of him scuffling with Israeli soldiers always brought a smile to my face. He was more of a fighter than people thought.
He reportedly always had a small suitcase packed with some personal items, should the Israeli authorities drag him to jail yet again. It was through his numerous imprisonments that he learned to speak Hebrew, and he used his language skills to reach out to Israelis. While he had some harsh experiences with many Israelis throughout his life, he never stopped reaching out to the enemies. Peaceful co-existence was the goal.
His approach to peace was pragmatic but principled. Flexible but firm on values that Palestinians held dear in their hearts. The Palestinian people always came first for Husseini. The unprecedented violence by Israelis on Palestinians during the last eight months of the Palestinian uprising for freedom resulted in going to a conference on Kuwait about anti-normalization with Israel.
And though he never aspired to be Yasser Arafat’s successor, it was always my secret hope that Faisal Husseini would be the best logical person to step in and lead our people. His respect for human rights was uncanny for a Middle Eastern leader and it was common for him to dip into his own personal funds to help Palestinians in need. The Husseini family represented a pillar of resistance to foreign invaders. His father Abdul Qader Husseini was often spoken of as a hero when I was growing up. The elder Husseini had battled Zionists gallantly in his bid to save Jerusalem. He died in battle but his legacy lived on. As will his son’s.
Mr. Faisal Abdul Qader Husseini, you were an inspiration to many people who didn’t know you. But may your gentility, integrity, cleanliness in politics, wisdom, and good heart encourage a new generation of Palestinian leaders to follow your lead.
Leaders who will lead the Palestinian people in the honorable way you led us.
Sherri Muzher is a Freelance writer for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and Former Executive Director of the Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation.