Faisal al-Husseini was a very special person. A great Palestinian patriot, an undaunted fighter against the occupation, and at the same time an untiring activist for peace and conciliation between the two peoples of this country.
Faisal was the personification of the best qualities of the Palestinian people, a nobleman in the best sense of the word. His family has been prominent for centuries in the annals of Jerusalem. At any given time one of the Husseini clan was either the mayor, the Mufti or the official in charge of the holy shrines. Several of them were hanged by the Turks for their pro-Arab activities. His father, Abd-el-Kader, was a national hero, the commander of the Palestinian forces in the Jerusalem region, a living legend (even on our side). He fell during the Nahschon operation battles (in which I took part, too.)
Like every true nobleman, he was very modest, with not a trace of arrogance. He talked eye to eye even with the simplest person, radiating genuine human sensitivity. Yet this gentle man was a tough fighter, when the need arose. I saw him more than once standing upright in the face of bullets and tear gas or marching at the head of a demonstration towards armed soldiers, their guns at the ready.
But, some years ago, this person joined a Gush Shalom demonstration near the old city wall of Jerusalem. We were there to demonstrate for “Jerusalem é Capital of Two States”. In his typical style, a mixture of logic and emotion, he declared: “I dream of a day, when a Palestinian speaking about ‘our Jerusalem’ will mean Palestinians and Israelis, and an Israeli speaking about ‘our Jerusalem’ will mean Israelis and Palestinians.”
Under the influence of his moving speech I drafted the “Our Jerusalem” manifesto, setting out this beautiful idea. After 850 outstanding Israeli intellectuals and peace activists had signed it within a few weeks, Faisal signed it at a public ceremony in front of the cameras. (Yasser Arafat, too, gave his assent to the text at a public meeting with us.)
When the al-Aksa intifada broke out and many Palestinians withdrew from open contacts with Israelis, Faisal did not retreat one step. We met several times at the Orient House and we held a big public meeting there. A week before his death he suddenly appeared, without prior notice, at an Israel-Palestinian press conference for the international press, in which we expressed our unshakable belief in peace between the two peoples.
This spirit was prevalent at yesterday’s funeral, too. The few Israelis who came to tender their condolences were received with open arms in the courtyard where thousands were crammed, hundred came to shake our hands. One of the Israelis was invited to speak.
In my heart I treated Faisal as a brother. For me, the frontline does not pass between Israelis and Palestinians, but between the Israeli and Palestinian peace lovers on one side and the war-mongers of both peoples on the other.
Less than six hours after the Palestinian people united around Faisal’s coffin, the war camp hit back.
The suicide bomber who blew himself up among the boys and girls at the Dophinarium discotheque on the sea-shore of Tel-Aviv did a great service to the settlers, who are trying to convince the Israeli public that it is not because of them that the rivers of blood are flowing and that there is no difference between the settlements and Tel-Aviv. The collaboration between the Islamic fanatics and the extreme right-wing in Israel is a fact of life, as is the cooperation between the likes of Faisal and the Israeli peace activists.
The Israeli government does not belong é to put it mildly – to the peace front. If not stopped by international forces, it will chose escalation. In the ping-pong game between Rehavam Ze’evi and Sheikh Yassin, Hizbullah and the settlers, the ball is a human skull.
The heart of Faisal Husseini stopped beating when we need him more than ever.