Henry Cattan was a Jerusalem-born renowned international jurist. Exiled from his country in 1948, he dedicated much of his professional energy to legal research and writing establishing the Palestinian claim to Palestine and the legal status of Jerusalem.
Henry Cattan, the son of Nakhleh Cattan and Helen Sayegh, was born in Upper Baq‘a in the New City on February 26, 1906. He had one brother, George, and one sister, Marguerite. He married a French woman, Eva Blanche Guillemet, and they had two children, Therese and Louis. He suffered the fate of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were forced into exile as a result of the 1948 War and denied permission by the new state to return to their homes when the war ended (see The West Side Story). For him, the road to exile led first to Damascus, and then to Beirut, and finally to Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Cattan attended the Collège des Frères in Jerusalem. From the University of London, he received (in 1926) a journalism degree; he earned a Barrister in Law degree from Paris University in 1929 and a master’s degree from the University of London in 1932. Upon graduating, he joined the British Bar Association in London and the Palestinian Bar Association in Jerusalem in 1932. He returned to Jerusalem and lived in Upper Baq‘a and started teaching at the Jerusalem Law Classes (an institution that provided legal education for Palestinians so that they could work in the courts) until 1942. He was a member of the Palestinian Rights Council (1940–48).
An Engaged Professional
In the 1940s, Cattan participated in high-level discussions of the question of Palestine. He testified before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on the Palestine Question in 1946, and the following year, he was part of a delegation that represented the Arab Higher Committee before a special session of the UN General Assembly at Lake Success in 1947 and 1948. He was appointed by the Arab League to negotiate with Count Folke Bernadotte, the Swedish mediator appointed by the UN to devise a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Palestine.
Cattan wrote many books and articles on the question of Palestine from the perspective of international law. In 1967, he published two books with Oceana Publications, The Evolution of Oil Concessions in the Middle East and North Africa and The Law of Oil Concessions in the Middle East and North Africa, and two monographs with the Institute for Palestine Studies, To Whom Does Palestine Belong? and The Dimensions of the Palestine Problem, 1967.
Several more books followed between 1969 and 1977: Palestine, the Arabs and Israel: The Search for Justice; The Palestine Problem in a Nutshell; Palestine, the Road to Peace; and Palestine and International Law. In the 1980s, he published The Question of Jerusalem; Jerusalem; The Solution of the Palestine Refugee Problem; and The Palestine Question. His books provide historical context and discussion of international law and UN resolutions until 1980. He believed strongly that justice requires that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return home and that Palestinians must be allotted the territory designated for an Arab state by the UN Partition Plan.
The Status of Jerusalem
Because he was known as an international expert on the question of Palestine and the legal status of Jerusalem, his position on these subjects as expressed in the 1981 article “The Status of Jerusalem under International Law and United Nations Resolutions” is summarized here.
In the article, he reviews the status of the five states that came into existence at the end of World War I: Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, Palestine, and Iraq. Placing these territories under a mandate, a temporary status, did not strip the people of sovereignty over the mandated territory, nor did it give mandatory powers sovereignty over these lands. As a Mandate A territory, Palestine had an “international personality”1 distinct from that of the British government.
Cattan discusses the implications of UN Resolution 181 of 1947 on the status of Jerusalem and concludes: “The effect of resolution 181 was to endow Jerusalem with an international legal status compatible with its historical character and religious significance to the world.”2 This status neither gives sovereignty over Jerusalem to the UN nor strips the inhabitants of sovereignty. The international status of Jerusalem was reaffirmed by UN resolutions after Israel and Jordan occupied Jerusalem. Violation of the resolution does not abrogate the resolutions. In fact, the legal status of Jerusalem is the basis on which one UN resolution after the other condemns Israel for its occupation and annexation of the city. Cattan observes that “though internationalization has not been effectively implemented on the ground, its legal consequences are recognized and full effect is given to them in order to invalidate all measures taken by Israel in the City which are contrary to its status.”3 Cattan notes that the law considers Jerusalem as a unit: “it is not conceivable that one part should be treated differently from the other. . . . Jerusalem's international legal status encompasses its two sections, old and new.”4
In summary, Israel’s occupation and annexation of Jerusalem violate international law, UN resolutions, and the sovereignty of the Palestinians.
The Garden of Joys
Considering the substantial body of publications authored by Henry Cattan on legal issues surrounding the usurpation of his homeland, it is a pleasant surprise to find among his publications this light-hearted title: The Garden of Joys: An Anthology of Oriental Anecdotes, Fables and Proverbs. The foreword to the book, written by Cattan’s son Louis, explains how his father approached the task of curating material for this volume, which he translated himself:
[He] selected some examples whose interest and charm will not be lost in translation. Most of them are of Arab origin, some from Indo-Persian sources, and others inspired by Aesop’s celebrated fables.
The chief consideration governing the choice of stories for this book was that they should offer a human interest or reflect Oriental wit and humor. . . . Few of the anecdotes collected in this work have previously been published.5
Part I (the first 120 or so pages of the book, about 70 percent of the total) gives anecdotes and fables. Some are as short as a paragraph, as in the one about a fox taunting a lioness for giving birth to only one cub a year—“very true,” she replied, “but he is a lion6—and none is longer than a couple of pages. Part II (about 25 pages) gives stories of Juha, a naive yet often cunning simpleton, whose anecdotes are known to children throughout the Arab world. Turkey and Iran have a comparable character in their folklore. A typical Juha story has him giving thanks for the loss of his donkey, and when questioned, replied that had he been with the donkey when it got lost, then he too would be lost. Part III (the last 15 pages of the book) gives a sample of Arab proverbs and sayings. Many have equivalents in other cultures and languages, such as “Too many opinions obscure the truth” and “Haste comes from the devil.”
Cattan’s son states that his father collected this material for his own pleasure and for the benefit of a Western audience. One can imagine that this project must have been a labor of love for a scholar who devoted his career to matters of national and regional significance.
Cattan died in Paris in 1992.
Boullata, Issa. “My First School & Childhood Home.” Jerusalem Quarterly, no. 37 (2009).
Cattan, Henry. “The Status of Jerusalem under International Law and United Nations Resolutions.” Journal of Palestine Studies 10, no. 3 (1981): 3–15.
“Cattan, Henry (1906-1992).” Passia.
Cattan, Louis. “Foreword.” In The Garden of Joys: An Anthology of Oriental Anecdotes, Fables and Proverbs, by Henry Cattan (London: Saqi Books, 2000), 00–00.
“Henry Cattan.” Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedia, 2010.
“Henry Cattan.” British Mandate Jerusalemites Photo Library, November 26, 2020.
“Henry Cattan.” In Encylopedia of the Palestinians, edited by Philip Mattar, 2nd ed. (New York: Facts on File, 2005), 109.
[Profile photo: British Mandate Jerusalemites Photo Library]
Henry Cattan, “The Status of Jerusalem under International Law and United Nations Resolutions,” Journal of Palestine Studies 10, no. 3 (1981): 6.
Cattan, “The Status of Jerusalem under International Law,” 8.
Cattan, “The Status of Jerusalem under International Law,” 10.
Cattan, “The Status of Jerusalem under International Law,” 10.
Henry Cattan, The Garden of Joys: An Anthology of Oriental Anecdotes, Fables and Proverbs (London: Saqi Books, 2000), 7.
Cattan, The Garden of Joys, 81.