Hussein al-Khalidi was a Palestinian physician who played a leading role in the Great Palestinian Revolt of 1936–39, particularly against British colonial rule. He served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1934 to 1937, when British Mandate authorities exiled him and a few members of the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) to the Seychelles Islands for 14 months as part of a larger effort to dismantle Palestinian political organizations and leadership during the revolt. During and after his exile, al-Khalidi wrote prolific diaries and memoirs in English and Arabic that remain important testaments to the turbulent political developments of that era.
Education and Medical Career
Born in Jerusalem in October 1894, al-Khalidi attended St. George’s School (al-Mutran), an Anglican boys’ high school in Jerusalem, after which he attended the English College there. Upon graduating in 1911, he went to Lebanon to study medicine at the Syrian Protestant College, later named the American University of Beirut (AUB) in 1920. His medical studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the Ottoman Army three years later at the outbreak of World War I. He then enrolled in the Ottoman Medical School in Istanbul in 1914, completing his medical degree in 1915.
After graduating, al-Khalidi served as First Lieutenant in the Turkish Army, during which time he was stationed in a hospital in the Sinai Peninsula. He was injured twice during his service in the Sinai and was sent to Damascus to convalesce. Further postings to various parts of Palestine followed, and then to Aleppo in northwest Syria.
In October 1918, Aleppo was captured from the Turks by the Hashemite Arab forces. Al-Khalidi thus deserted the Turkish Army and was subsequently appointed physician in the Hashemite Army of Emir Faisal. In 1920, he returned to Palestine, which came under British military occupation in December 1917. Between 1920 and 1931, al-Khalidi served in several important positions in Jerusalem and throughout Palestine. In Jerusalem, he worked as a physician and later as head of forensic medicine in the Public Health Department. In 1928, he also became Senior Medical Officer in both Jerusalem and Nablus. By 1931, al-Khalidi became Deputy Head of Government Physicians in Jerusalem, and then in Nablus and the Galilee.
Al-Khalidi established an impressive career in medicine, yet in 1934, he decided to run for political office. On September 26, 1934, he was elected to the Jerusalem Municipal Council to represent the First Jerusalem Constituency, defeating Ragheb Nashashibi. In February 1935, he was appointed mayor of Jerusalem by Sir Arthur Wauchope, British High Commissioner for Palestine. He held this position until his exile from the country in 1937.
Al-Khalidi founded and became leader of Hizb al-Islah, the Arab Reform Party, in June 1935, serving as its elected Secretary General. The party called for freedom for Palestine—including self-government, workers’ and farmers’ welfare, and educational reform—and opposition to the Zionist and British plan to establish a Jewish national home in Palestine. Members of the party included Mahmoud Abu Khadra, Thuraya Budeiri, and Musa Bandak, mayor of Bethlehem.
Two years later, al-Khalidi became a member of the AHC, which had formed 10 days after the launch of the Great Palestinian Revolt in the spring of 1936 at the request of Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini. The mufti called for Palestinian political parties to establish a united front in the face of British colonial oppression, and in opposition to the increased immigration of Jews to Palestine, which threatened to undermine the Palestinian nationalist project. The ACH called for a general national strike “in support of three basic demands: cessation of Jewish immigration; an end to all further land transfers to the Jews; and the establishment of an Arab Palestinian national government.”1
The revolt, which began as a national strike in April 1936, took root across the country, and lasted for 178 days, nearly six months.
The turmoil led British authorities to appoint a commission of inquiry—known as the Peel Commission—in May 1936. It was sent to Palestine to study the uprising and issue a report, which it did several months later on July 7, 1937. Among other things, the report recommended the partition of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. The AHC and Zionist Congress rejected the plan, and violence reignited.
On September 26, Lewis Andrews, an Australian soldier serving as the British District Commissioner for the region of Galilee, was assassinated in Nazareth by Palestinian rebels. The British government seized on this act as a pretext to dismantle the AHC, although they had nothing to do with it.
On September 30, 1937, and in addition to the detainment of more than 100 Palestinians, British authorities arrested al-Khalidi for his role and representation in the Arab Reform Party, which they outlawed. They removed al-Khalidi as mayor, installing his British-appointed deputy mayor, Daniel Auster—a Jewish Zionist—in his place. Auster was the first Jew to serve as mayor of Jerusalem. Al-Khalidi was exiled to the Seychelles Islands together with four other members of the AHC—Jamal Husseini, president of the Arab Party; Ahmad Hilmi Pasha, manager of the Arab Bank; Rashid Haj Ibrahim, a banker; Yacoub Ghossein, leader of the Arab Youth Organization; and Fuad Saba, an accountant. A few other AHC members, including the leader of the party, Haj Amin al-Husseini, were able to escape and flee the country (al-Husseini to Syria). The government outlawed the AHC and all its derivative organizations and also took over the Muslim waqf and religious endowments previously administered by the Grand Mufti, al-Husseini.
On the day of his arrest, al-Khalidi was “given fifteen minutes to pack his bag and say goodbye to his wife [Wahideh] and [his four] children. From his home in [the Baq‘a neighborhood of] Jerusalem, he was taken to the port of Haifa. There, on October 1, he was placed aboard the battleship HMS Sussex, which would take him on the first stage of the long journey to exile and imprisonment in the Seychelles Islands, 1,500 kilometers off the East African coast, far away in the Indian Ocean.”2
In his diary entry on October 2, al-Khalidi recorded that when their boat (from Jerusalem to Haifa) stopped at Jaffa to pick up Ghossein, he shared this story with the group:
On Friday morning, rumours circulated of Government’s action in arresting leaders. He [Ghossein] thought of buzzing off, which he did. Police came and surrounded his house at Wadi Hnein but did not find him. On Friday afternoon the government issued a proclamation, he [Ghossein] said, to the effect that:
“Whereas of the state of unrest prevailing in the country for some time and the acts of terrorism which were aroused lately by the murder of the late Mr. Andrews, Government considers the AHC responsible morally for this state of affairs and it has therefore decided to arrest and deport the following gentlemen . . . ”
The declaration further said that Government has further decided to deprive the Mufti Haj Amin Husseini of all his official posts. Govt. also dissolved the AHC and all other political bodies and organizations. A lot of other people were being arrested including Fahmi Husseini, mayor of Gaza, and confined at Acre concentration camp.
The news worried us a lot, especially Government making the AHC morally responsible for the terrorism taking place in the country. They know mighty well that I have nothing to do with terrorism. It is only to please the Jews and their daily paper, the Palestine Post, which has been hammering at Govt. for the last 6 months to arrest and deport members of the AHC.3
Al-Khalidi and his fellow exiles arrived in the Seychelles on October 11, 1937. Five of them were confined to two small bungalows and were not allowed to receive any visitors. They were only allowed to receive some telegrams of concern. The radio provided their only source of information about the world outside. During this time in exile and imprisonment, al-Khalidi wrote a diary in English, which provides harrowing details of his exile and of British oppression.
Al-Khalidi’s health suffered during his exile. To receive medical attention (and as a potential escape strategy), he went on a hunger strike. He and the four other exiles were released a few weeks after medical examination.
By late 1938, al-Khalidi’s exile ended, but the British authorities did not permit him to return to Palestine unless he agreed to not engage in politics. He rejected the condition and set up residence in Lebanon, where his wife and children soon joined him. He attended the London Conference of 1939, which convened at St. James’s Palace, to plan the future governance of Palestine. The British government published the results of this conference in the 1939 White Paper, which is considered Britain’s official statement of policy on Palestine.
By the end of 1942, almost four years after his release, al-Khalidi finally returned to his family home in al-Baq‘a, where he set up a private medical practice. About three years later, he reconstituted the AHC and was elected Committee Secretary in 1946.
Al-Khalidi was the only member of the AHC who managed to stay in Palestine during the Nakba (Catastrophe). He was not, however, able to stay in his home in West Jerusalem, and it, like all other Palestinian properties in those areas, was confiscated by Israel (see The West Side Story).
After the 1948 War, he received several offers to take on governmental roles, but he decided to dedicate his time to writing his memoirs instead.
In 1951, al-Khalidi served as Custodian of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, specifically of Haram al-Sharif. He was also appointed as Foreign Minister of Jordan in 1953 and 1956. In 1957, he became the 13th prime minister of Jordan, but he resigned in response to popular pressure less than two weeks later. He was then appointed to the Jordanian Senate and served as a senator until his death in 1962.
The Diaries of Hussein Fakhri al-Khalidi
Al-Khalidi’s writings in English chronicled his time in exile, while his prolific diaries in Arabic contribute to the understanding of modern Palestinian history.
His English diaries, which he wrote during his exile in the Seychelles, cover a crucial period in the 1930s. They were edited by his grandson Rafiq Husseini and published under the title Exiled from Jerusalem: The Diaries of Hussein Fakhri al-Khalidi in 2020. In the foreword, Rashid Khalidi, Hussein’s nephew, wrote:
Dr Hussein (this is what everyone except his immediate family called him) composed these diaries in English after the British mandatory authorities exiled him to the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean from October 1937 to December 1938. Entries in the diary cover his arrest and deportation, the fifteen months of exile in the Seychelles, his participation as part of the Palestinian delegation to the St James Conference on Palestine in London in February and March 1939, and the first four months of his subsequent four-year exile in Lebanon following the refusal of the British authorities to allow him to return to Palestine.
The reader of these diaries will find a great deal that is fascinating in the story of exile of a Palestinian leader by harsh colonial authorities . . . The almost daily entries cover personal details of daily life, but they naturally give much attention to politics. Dr Hussein’s standing as elected Mayor of Jerusalem and as a leading member of the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), and his influence as an independent with relatively good relations with most other Palestinian leaders mean that these diaries will be particularly valuable to historians of this period. Because they do not appear to have been written for immediate publication, the entries are lively and often very revealing, more so than some other kinds of sources.4
The diaries also offer a first-hand perspective of British colonial rule, which al-Khalidi bitterly resented and opposed. Again, according to Rashid:
these diaries give us a unique view of the arbitrary, capricious and cruel nature of colonial rule of any sort, and particularly its specific vicious variant in Palestine, where the aim was to serve not just the British Empire, but also the Zionist colonizing project.5
Besides offering important insight and criticism of the British Mandate and the situation of Palestinians at the time, al-Khalidi also shared personal reflections that gave a human edge during the time he was in exile. For example, on October 30, 1937, he shared that “it is reported from London that the authorities have closed five of the seven gates of the Old City of Jerusalem and declared curfew within the wall limits till further notice, and that this is the first time that such an act was resorted to or done since the old Turkish time.”6 He predicted that closing down the gates would be to “ensure more control, less smuggling of arms from and into the Old City.”7
He also wrote about how much he missed his family, and how the days were getting too long in exile. In his entry of October 22, 1937, he wrote:
I wonder whether [my wife] Wahideh is now thinking of me as she awoke. I am sure she will not forget me. She may now at this moment be talking to me. I wonder what she does all day long alone when the children all go to school. That was what passed through my brain as I sat in bed gazing at the wooden ceiling and massaging my abdominal pad of fat. I do this every morning and I think I am reducing.8
Meanwhile, his memoirs in Arabic, completed in Beirut in 1949, were compiled by his daughter Leila Khalidi and her family into a comprehensive book that was published in 2014 by Dar El-Shorouq (Amman). The book was titled Wa mada ‘ahd al-mujamalat (The Era of Compliments Has Passed). It has three volumes with a total of 1,297 pages and 188 titles, and it comprehensively covers the events of the 1930s and 1940s. Al-Khalidi wrote his memoirs in a descriptive and detail-oriented style and in doing so, he offered valuable historic insight—especially into Palestine prior to and during the 1948 War. He was also not shy to express his cynicism of the international conferences’ lip service when it came to the Palestinian struggle:
We must know that our dear Palestine will not be saved by political correctness, UN conferences, mediation, documentation, investigation committees, righteous calls, “award” readings, or charity guidelines. Only force can make this possible. After all, the last word in these decisive battles must be, first and foremost and before all else, for the Palestinians—and for them alone.9
The book is deemed critical to grasping the events leading up to the catastrophe of 1948. Al-Khalidi disclosed his pride in the Palestinian rebels, his feelings toward various Palestinian political figures, his understanding of how the British wielded their power, and his belief in the futility of diplomatic means to confront the mandate.10
Al-Khalidi passed away at a hospital in Salt, Jordan, in February 1962. He was buried in Jerusalem, leaving behind a treasure of books and articles for future generations to explore.
Alassa, Aziz. “Dr. Hussein Fakhri al-Khalidi in his journals.” [In Arabic.] January 9, 2015.
Harhash, Nadia. “Between Yesterday and Today . . . The Stones Cry Over a Repetitive History Where People Change but Ignorance Remains the Commander.” [In Arabic.] September 5, 2015.
Husseini, Rafiq, ed. Exiled from Jerusalem: The Diaries of Hussein Fakhri al-Khalidi. London: I.B. Tauris, 2020.
Jordan News Agency. “Hussein Khalidi’s Journal Distribution.” [In Arabic.] September 14, 2014.
al-Khalidi, Hussein. Wa mada ‘ahd al-mujamalat [The era of compliments has passed]. Edited by Rafiq Husseini. Amman: Dar El-Shorouq for Publishing and Distribution. 2014.
Khalidi, Rashid. The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2020.
Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs. “Al-Khalidi, Hussein Fakhri (1894–1962).” Accessed May 8, 2022.
Parsons, Laila. “Island Exile: Hussein Fakhri al-Khalidi in the Seychelles.” Jerusalem Quarterly 87 (2020).
“Smashing the Palestinian Political Infrastructure.” Interactive Encyclopedia of the Palestine Question.
United States Department of State. Office of the Historian, Foreign Service Institute. “Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1939, the Far East; the Near East and Africa, Volume IV.” June 29, 1939.
Wikipedia, s.v. “Hussein Khalidi.” Last modified April 18, 2022, 11:45.
Wikipedia, s.v. “White Paper of 1939.” Last modified December 24, 2021, 19:39.
[Profile photo: wikipedia]
Rafiq Husseini, ed., Exiled from Jerusalem: The Diaries of Hussein Fakhri al-Khalidi (London: I.B. Tauris, 2020), 4.
Laila Parsons, “Island Exile: Hussein Fakhri al-Khalidi in the Seychelles,” Jerusalem Quarterly 87 (2020): 127.
Husseini, ed., Exiled from Jerusalem, 31.
Rashid Khalidi, “Foreword: A Historian’s Perspective,” in Exiled from Jerusalem, x.
Husseini, ed., Exiled from Jerusalem, 12.
Husseini, ed., Exiled from Jerusalem, 51.
Husseini, ed., Exiled from Jerusalem, 51.
Husseini, ed., Exiled from Jerusalem, 9.
Nadia Harhash, “Between Yesterday and Today . . . The Stones Cry Over a Repetitive History Where People Change but Ignorance Remains the Commander” [in Arabic], September 5, 2015.
Parsons, “Island Exile,” 130–31.