The first time I met Faisal al-Husseini, may God rest his soul, I must have a boy of around 15 years of age. My memory fails me, but I think that it was sometime around 1989. Beyond the basic knowledge that I was a Palestinian by birth, and the vague notion that my father had somehow been involved in the Palestinian National Movement in one way or another, I knew very little of Palestine, its rich cultural traditions, and proud history. Much of that changed the day that I first met Faisal al-Husseini. I recall my father telling me that he and my mother would be taking me to a lecture at the George Washington University in Washington DC, to see a dear friend of his, who was a great Palestinian patriot, speak about Palestine and about the imprisonment that he had endured over the past many years. That afternoon, we walked into a small seminar room at the George Washington University, where Faisal al-Husseini was in the process of speaking to a group of 10 or 12 Arab students. He warmly gave us a wave as we took our seats at the back of the room.
From that moment forward, I had the good fortune of meeting Faisal al-Husseini on several occasions. My father, who had worked closely with both Faisal and his father, the great Palestinian national hero, Abdel-Qader al-Husseini, made it a point of re-introducing me to Faisal on each occasion we met, telling me always, that this man was honest, dignified, and a rightful leader for the Palestinian people, in Jerusalem, in Palestine, and in Diaspora. I came to truly admire his resilience, leading protests, attempting to stop home demolitions, and promoting the rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem. I cannot count the times that I saw footage of him being beaten at a cave, on a hilltop, or in front of a bulldozer. Only this year, he publicly proclaimed that in the end, the negotiations over Jerusalem are over the whole city, not only the Eastern part, of which over seventy percent is Arab owned land, a bold statement by a Palestinian Authority minister.
There have been many debates, especially amongst Palestinians, about Faisal al-Husseini, ranging from his political credentials, to his role in the peace negotiations, to his stance as a Palestinian Authority representative, to his popularity in the West or lack thereof in the territories. I always chose to ignore these questions. What I saw before me, unquestionably, was a national leader. A man of honesty, of nobility, by heritage and character, someone who dignified the Palestinians as a people, and persevered, for the duration of his whole life in the cause of the Palestinian people.
To me, in my youthful and romantic mind, Faisal al-Husseini was my leader, the anointed, rightful leader of the Palestinian people. I would have voted for him, if I ever had the opportunity to vote for leadership, something that I am denied as a Palestinian in exile. He was a leading advocate for Jerusalem. Whilst being a peace activist, he boldly declared no just peace could ever be achieved in negotiation or out of it, without the legally sanctified right of return of Palestinian refugees. Ironically, he now shares in the legacy of his notable grandfather, the mayor of Jerusalem, who was beaten during a protest in Jerusalem in 1934 weeks before his death.
It was Faisal al-Husseini who issued the calls for the protection of the Noble Sanctuary in September when Ariel Sharon belligerently marched his way in, with over one thousand armed soldiers. It was Faisal al-Husseini, like his grandfather who was also beaten in Jerusalem, standing for Jerusalem, before his death.
The last time I met Faisal al-Husseini was in 1998, when my family and a good family friend went to dinner with him in Washington DC. The entire conversation revolved around the Madrid Peace Conference years before, and what had happened in the ensuing Washington peace negotiations in which he headed the Palestinian delegation. He spoke nostalgically of the terrific preparation of the Palestinian team, its professionalism, its capability to produce computerized reports of the meetings instantly, and the advanced stage that they had been able to reach. He spoke bitterly about how they had been undercut at Oslo, how those secret negotiations had produced an agreement well short of what they had already negotiated for the Palestinians. But he also spoke of the need to work for justice in the future despite such obstacles. He was an inspiring man.
The passing of Faisal al-Husseini has not saddened me more than the loss of our martyrs on a daily basis. But I am full of sorrow, for I know that we as a people are today poorer, having lost one who was a compass leading us towards justice.
Faisal al-Husseini, I salute you, for you were and always will be one of my champions.
Mr. Rabee’ Sahyoun is a economic development policy researcher at the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies and is affiliated with the global grassroots Palestine Right To Return Coalition.