Hassan Sidqi al-Dajani was a leading lawyer, journalist, political leader, and activist. His life was tragically cut short.
Hassan Sidqi al-Dajani
Birth, Family Prominence, and Education in Law
Hassan Sidqi al-Dajani was born in 1890 into one of Jerusalem’s most prominent families. Bayt al-Dajani, or the House of Dajani, has a long and prosperous history in Palestine, and especially Jerusalem, where members of the family assumed influential positions in politics, law, medicine, education, business, and beyond. The Dajanis were also one of Jerusalem’s wealthiest and largest families before the 1948 Nakba.1
The Dajani Family at the Turn of the Century
Little is known about Hassan’s youth, but given the privileged social position into which he was born and his many accomplishments as an adult, it is clear that his family prioritized his education. Upon completing secondary school in Jerusalem, Hassan attended the University of Cambridge in the UK, from which he received a degree in law at the young age of 20. He subsequently returned to Jerusalem, where he became “a leading lawyer, politician, journalist, and thinker.”2
Literary and Journalistic Career
The Jerusalem to which Hassan returned from the UK was radically changing on the eve of World War I. Following the war and Britain’s occupation of Palestine in December 1917, Hassan became politically active as a literary figure and journalist. In 1919, he founded al-Muntada al-Adabi (The Literary Forum),3 which promoted a revival of Arabic literature. And with his knowledge of Arabic, English, and Turkish, he was a successful translator and author in Palestine. In addition to translating into Arabic the Turkish novel Hizar by famed author Nameq Kamel, among others, Hassan also authored Tafsil dhalamat Filastin (Detailing the Darkness of Palestine), published in 1936.4
Beyond his writing and translating, Hassan started two newspapers. On April 13, 1920, he printed the first issue of al-Quds al-Sharif, described on its front page as “A politically independent and biweekly Arabic newspaper.”5 From the outset, Hassan made clear the newspaper’s opposition to the growing immigration of Jews to Palestine as part of the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
He made this even clearer in his second newspaper, the Jerusalem Gazette, printed in English on June 21, 1920. Its subtitle read: “Lest we forget. ‘Nothing shall be done Which may Prejudice the Civil and Religious Rights of Non-Jewish Communities in Palestine.’ Extract from the Balfour Declaration.”6 In printing an English newspaper in Jerusalem—the hub of British Mandate dominance in Palestine—and including this language in its letterhead, Hassan was shrewdly sending a political message to the journal’s English readership, which undeniably included British Mandate authorities: the immigration of Jews to Palestine was coming at the expense of its non-Jewish population.
On Thursday, July 8, 1920, the front cover of the Jerusalem Gazette read: “The Perils of Palestine.” The first article in the issue was titled “DANGER,” and included a reprint of a warning issued in the Sunday Chronicle, a newspaper printed in England. It began:
“Whitehall” the political correspondent of the Sunday Chronicle utters a significant warning in the article we reprint.
We have already pointed out the Injustice of Zionism, we have criticised the unfairness and weakness of the policy and now the time has come to tackle the graver issues.
It is time that Britain realized that by embracing Zionism she has alienated the affection of Mohammedans and Christians.
The Arabs who had learnt to respect Britain, who fought for her, are slowly, but very surely, being drawn into intrigue against her . . .
Now the British Empire is faced with the Peril of Palestine. Unless something is done and done immediately, the Arabs will forever become the enemies of Britain.
Britain has been warned in time, she has only to give her assurance for Arab independence and he will regain the loyalty and devotion of the whole Moslem world.7
The Jerusalem Gazette
In the second column, the Jerusalem Gazette went into further detail about “Whitehall’s Warning.” Under a subheading titled “Where Peril Lurks,” the warning was spelled out: “Unless the Zionists are careful we shall have an Arab rising on our hands.” Rather than print his own objections to the Zionist agenda in Palestine, Hassan astutely reissued a warning printed in Britain’s Sunday Chronicle—an arguably stronger message to deliver to his English readership in Palestine.
Other Forms of Political Activism
Hassan’s activism was not only literary and journalistic. Coming from a prominent and politically active family, Hassan participated in many Palestinian nationalist initiatives and political conferences throughout the 1920s. In 1930, he assisted in the formation of Hizb al-Ahrar (The Liberal Party), and he joined Hizb al-Difa‘ al-Watani (the National Defense Party) upon its establishment by Ragheb Nashashibi in December 1934.8
The National Defense Party, for which Hassan served as secretary, called for Palestinian independence, protested British dominance and Zionist infiltration, and opposed the dominance of the prominent Husseini family in Palestinian politics. Hassan was thus embroiled in the infamous interfamily rivalries between the Dajanis and Nashashibis, on one side, and the Husseinis, on the other.9
As a lawyer, Hassan also represented the infamous Palestinian revolutionary bandits, known by their noms de guerre Abu Jilda and al-‘Armit, who had evaded British police authorities for over a year until their capture on April 13, 1934.10 The notorious duo were arrested and imprisoned on charges of highway robbery and murder, and it was Hassan who represented them pro bono at their trial. Evidently, Hassan’s defense rested on “a legalistic examination of the law under which they were charged and its applicability to the specific crimes in question; and questioning the reliability of the eyewitness testimony.”11 While Hassan was ultimately unable to secure their release and the bandits were sentenced to death, his decision to represent Abu Jilda and al-‘Armit in such a high-profile case, and the legal approach he took in his defense, attest to his prominence and clout in the city, and to his advanced knowledge of the law.
Indeed, Hassan also served as legal advisor for the Palestinian Car Owners’ and Drivers’ Union. In this capacity, he organized (as president of its general committee) a general strike of Palestinian drivers to protest British rule at the outset of the Great Palestinian Revolt of 1936–39, in late April 1936 shortly after the revolt broke out on April 19.12 The strike “deprived Jerusalem of transport for 11 days.”13 For his role in spreading the general strike across Palestine that led to the three-year revolt, British forces arrested Hassan in May 1936. Filastin newspaper printed the following article on May 6, one day after his arrest:
The Arrest of Hassan al-Dajani and Saleh Abduh
A violent shock among the residents of Jerusalem
Jerusalem, on 5 May . . . agitation arose among the masses this afternoon after the following incident occurred:
At around 3 p.m., police officers arrested Mr. Hassan Sidqi Bek al-Dajani, head of the Automobile Committee, and Mr. Saleh Abduh, his representative, and held them at the Jaffa Gate barracks. A large force of British and Palestinian police officers arrived under the leadership of [British] officer Seacrest and [Palestinian] Elias Haddad. They asked Mr. al-Dajani’s relatives to open his office, and when they responded that they did not have the keys, the police broke down the door of the office and entered. Soon after, Mr. al-Dajani was brought to the office in a car filled with police officers. He entered his office accompanied by officer Seacrest who searched the office. He then transferred Mr. al-Dajani and Mr. Saleh Abduh to the central prison, where a large number of their supporters gathered on Ma’amin Allah Street cheering and clapping for the detainees.
Mr. Mughnim Mughnim and several lawyers met with the head of police regarding their release, and evidently, he did not approve the request. As a result, a violent shock spread through people’s souls, leading to a range of rumors across the city.14
Filistin on Hassan’s Arrest
Hassan was banished from Jerusalem for one year.
A study of the Turkish press coverage of the Arab Revolt cited an interview on May 5, the same day of his arrest, where Hassan made the following statement, which was circulated widely in the Turkish press:
The Jews forget that Palestine is not their ancient homeland, awaiting their settlement with wide-open doors. This is an Arab country where eight hundred thousand Arabs versus forty thousand Jews were living before World War I. They are now four hundred thousand people, and by letting sixty thousand of their brothers immigrate every year, they hope they will achieve the majority in a few years. But this will not take place.15
It is unclear how and when Hassan and his associate were ultimately released, but the announcement of their arrest in the pages of Filistin, one of Palestine’s most widely read newspapers, and the shock it caused among residents of Jerusalem attest to Hassan’s prominence in the city, as well as the impact of his political activism. This is also apparent when considering the shocking details of his assassination in 1938.
Hassan’s assassination in October 1938 is shrouded in mystery and debate. Some historians describe his political views as “moderate” relative to those of Hajj Amin al-Husseini and leaders of other factions who sought direct confrontation with British and Zionist forces—an assumption they claim led to his assassination by more extremist Palestinians. What seems to have driven these historians to define his views as moderate in this literature is that he was evidently open to dialogue with British and Zionist authorities.17
Articles on Assassination in the British Press
Certainly, the term “moderate” must be understood relatively in this instance, as Hassan’s political activism in his journalistic career and as part of the union, among his other accomplishments, was anything but moderate. Indeed, the drivers’ strike he organized in 1936 was part of the general strike that swept through Palestine and ignited the first mass Palestinian uprising of the 20th century.
Be that as it may, on the morning of October 12, 1938, Hassan’s body was found on the road near Ramallah, just five miles from Jerusalem. He was evidently on his way back to Jerusalem—either (reports vary) from a secret meeting held in Beituniya with different political factions, or from seeing his family off on a trip to Egypt from Jaffa—when armed and unidentified assassins shot him, maimed and chained his hands, and disposed of his body on the side of the road.18 Importantly, his assassination was not an isolated incident. This tumultuous period in Palestinian history, in the midst of the Great Palestinian Revolt, saw increasing tensions between conflicting Palestinian political groups that led to intercommunal violence and targeted killings.
But Hassan’s assassination sent yet another shockwave through Jerusalem, raising further doubts, speculations, and protests about the increasing violence among Palestinian revolutionary groups.19 And while a perusal of the secondary literature indicates inconsistencies and conflicting interpretations of the causes of Hassan’s assassination, his political views, and even the date of his assassination,20 they agree that his funeral was a significant event in Jerusalem: “among the many attendees were representatives all of Jerusalem’s leading families.”21
Barakat, Zeina. “Bayt al-Dajani Daoudi: A Prominent Jerusalem Family Deeply Rooted in Palestinian History.” This Week in Palestine, February 2021.
Cohen, Hillel. Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917–1948. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.
“Al-Dajani, Hassan Sidqi (1900-1938).” PASSIA. Accessed September 6, 2023.
Khalidi, Rashid. The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006.
“On the Anniversary of the Founding of al-Quds al-Sharif Newspaper: Who Is Its Founder, Hassan Sidqi al-Dajani?” [In Arabic.] al-Hadath, April 13, 2023.
Polat, Ü. Gülsüm. “‘A Hidden Hand’ or ‘Arab Gangs’: The Turkish Press’s View of the Beginning of the 1936–1939 Revolt in Palestine.” Bulletin of Palestine Studies 7 (2020): 1–24.“Friend of Emir Shot: Fate of Moslem Politician.” Derby Evening Telegraph, October 13, 1938.
Winder, Alex. “Abu Jilda, Anti-Imperial Antihero.” In The Routledge Handbook of the History of the Middle East Mandates, edited by Cyrus Schayegh and Andrew Arsan. London: Routledge, 2015.
[Profile photo: Wikimedia]
Zeina Barakat, “Bayt al-Dajani Daoudi: A Prominent Jerusalem Family Deeply Rooted in Palestinian History,” This Week in Palestine, February 2021.
Barakat, “Bayt al-Dajani.”
Barakat, “Bayt al-Dajani.” Barakat mistranslates al-Adabi as “the Cultural.”
"On the Anniversary of the Founding of al-Quds al-Sharif Newspaper: Who Is Its Founder, Hassan Sidqi al-Dajani?” [in Arabic], al-Hadath, April 13, 2023.
Barakat, “Bayt al-Dajani.”
For more about the struggles of the Palestinian nationalist movement in the interwar period, including the rivalries between Jerusalem’s leading families, see Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006).
Winder, “Abu Jilda.”
“Friend of Emir Shot: Fate of Moslem Politician,” Derby Evening Telegraph, October 13, 1938, 1.
“Anniversary.” Primary source document translated by Jerusalem Story editor Nadim Bawalsa.
Ü. Gülsüm Polat, “‘A Hidden Hand’ or ‘Arab Gangs’: The Turkish Press’s View of the Beginning of the 1936–1939 Revolt in Palestine,” Bulletin of Palestine Studies 7 (2020): 16.
Polat, “‘A Hidden Hand,’” 16.
See Barakat, “Bayt al-Dajani,” and Hillel Cohen, Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917–1948 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), as examples.
Barakat, “Bayt al-Dajani.”