Ibrahim Dakkak was a Palestinian Jerusalemite engineer, writer, political activist, and community leader. He cofounded various Palestinian institutions, was an influential member of prominent organizations, and greatly supported economic development and higher education.
Early Life and Education
Ibrahim Dakkak was born in Jerusalem on March 13, 1929, during the British Mandate era, to Jamil Dakkak and Nazha Yunus al-Husseini. He had two sisters and two brothers. As an adult, he identified the ambiance of the Jerusalem of his childhood, especially the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and Nabi Musa festivities celebrated at the al-Aqsa Mosque, as a source of constant inspiration.
Dakkak was educated in Jerusalem: first at a traditional Islamic elementary school (kuttab), and then at Rawdat al-Ma‘arif al-Wataniyya (now called the ‘Umariyya School). The latter was shut down by the British Mandate authorities when Dakkak was in the third grade. The school focused on shaping students’ sense of Palestinian patriotism; it had been described as “the foundation stone to build the future of Palestine, and the premier cultural weapon to fight foreign schools and Zionist colonialism,” which might explain why the authorities closed it.1 Dakkak later said, “Our school was one of a kind, run by Arabs . . . [and] we thought that we would be the future leaders of Palestine.”2 The school moved from the Old City to Bab al-Sahira (Herod’s Gate), which is where Dakkak studied and received his high school diploma in 1947.
After completing his secondary education, Dakkak worked at the Jerusalem Post Office (under the British Mandate authorities) for about nine months. In 1948, he moved to Egypt with his family. He pursued his education at the American University in Cairo (AUC), where he studied science and mathematics in 1952. At the university, Dakkak got involved with the Palestinian students’ union during the early beginnings of the Palestinian national movement.
After graduating from AUC, Dakkak moved to Kuwait, where he taught mathematics for nearly seven years. He and a few others were expelled from Kuwait for involvement in political activities and more specifically, for supporting Iraqi leader Abd al-Karim Qasim rather than Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. At that point, Dakkak decided to pursue his passion and further his education in engineering. He pursued and obtained a BSc degree in civil engineering from the American Robert College of Istanbul in 1961.
Jerusalem and the War of 1967
When Dakkak was in Kuwait, he married Ghida Fu’ad ‘Abd al-Hamid. The couple had three children: Azzam, Amal, and Mundhir. In 1961, he and the family moved to Jerusalem.
Between 1961 and 1965, Dakkak worked as engineer with the Ittihad Enterprises Company (headquartered in Amman). One of his first projects was the Tireh Girls College in Ramallah, which he successfully completed. He was then assigned (by the same company) to supervise the construction of a school in Shobak, Jordan.
He lived in Jordan for two years, and during that time, Shobak was hit by a snowstorm so severe that people were advised to stay home. “Yet I risked my life walking all the way from the project’s destination to the city,” he wrote. “When I talked to the person in charge, I was taken by surprise to see him crying. The snow reminded him of how his son had died in such a snowstorm years ago.”3
Once he finished this project, Dakkak became self-employed in Jerusalem. In 1964, he co-established a private engineering firm, where he ran several projects in Jericho, Ramallah, and Jerusalem. During that time, he also led the West Bank Engineers Association. Despite the political disruptions in the area, he continued to work diligently. However, he was unable to finish the project he was working on, based in al-‘Izariyya, due to the 1967 War.
“The 1967 War was contrary to our expectations,” Dakkak recalled years later.4 Palestinians had expected the Arab armies to win the war. When Israel won the war in only six days, they were shaken to the core.
During the war, the Dakkaks huddled under the kitchen table of their home in East Jerusalem while listening to the sound of combat. The explosions shattered most of the glass in their home and destroyed the windows, tiles, and furniture. Israeli troops overran the Jordanian positions, and the status of Jerusalem drastically changed.
Jerusalem had been divided by a wall, and when the wall went down, I found something completely different from what I expected. In 19 years, there had been a change on the Israeli side. They were not the same Jews we knew [before]. They were more aggressive. And I don’t know how to describe it: They completely hated us.
Before, there were some common values. We were supposedly equal under the British mandatory government. But now the Israelis were controlling us. There was no bridging. Until now, there is no bridging.5
Dakkak found that the 1967 War left Palestinians with two choices: “Either to immigrate, or to stay in the country. I chose to remain in the country, and this became one of the vital decisions of my life.”6 He paid a price for his decision, however; his career suffered a setback.
Dakkak identified with the general sense of fear instilled among Palestinians (both Muslim and Christian) after the war but remained hopeful about Jerusalem’s ability to withstand assault:
Ever since it came into existence, Jerusalem has been built of limestone, which is capable of resisting destruction, and this has helped to preserve most of its monuments.7
Dakkak and his colleagues managed to revitalize the Engineers Association, which was not an easy task considering Israel’s de facto annexation of Jerusalem. He chaired the Federation of Professional Unions in the 1970s, which at the time comprised about 70 engineers.
The Reconstruction of al-Aqsa Mosque
On August 21, 1969, Dakkak was working on a project in Hebron. He later related:
When I got back into Bethlehem, I ran into Samer Khoury, who told me that al-Aqsa Mosque was on fire. I immediately got in the car and headed to Jerusalem where all the gates to the Old City had been closed. Still, I was able to get around the closures and reached the Supreme Islamic Council where city notables had gathered. As soon as I arrived, they all exclaimed “Here he is!” as if they had been waiting for me . . . . We formed a reconstruction board . . . I was selected to be in charge of the reconstruction of al-Aqsa.8
It turned out that it was Denis Michael Rohan, an Australian Christian extremist and fundamentalist, who set fire to three separate areas of the mosque. During his trial, Rohan’s lawyers argued that Rohan, a mentally unstable kibbutz volunteer, set fire to the pulpit of the mosque because he believed that doing so would enable the rebuilding of the Temple for the Jews.9 (His lawyers successfully argued the case as one of insanity; Rohan was therefore sentenced to psychiatric confinement rather than imprisonment.)
The Palestinian community was appalled that Rohan would not be suitably punished for his crime, which caused significant damage to al-Aqsa Mosque. Around 1,550 square meters (out of 4,550 square meters) of the al-Aqsa Mosque were destroyed.10 Most significantly, an intricately designed, priceless, wood-and-ivory Syrian-made pulpit dating from the 12th century, known as the minbar of Salah al-Din, was among the invaluable treasures that were destroyed .
Dakkak regarded the attack as a call to action:
Until then, I’d viewed the Haram as being more part of my social life, but after the arson, in which the unique mihrab [pulpit] was destroyed, my relationship with the compound transformed into one of duty.11
As the chief architect in charge of the reconstruction, Dakkak struggled with both the political dimensions (from the Israeli side) and the lack of professional expertise (locally).
The reconstruction took seven years. By the end, he shared:
We were able to reconstruct the entire framework of the mosque, from the ground up. We established a fire system both for al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, we opened up the courtyards onto one another, in some places we laid down tiling and in others we removed it, and we introduced other changes inside Haram al-Sharif compound.12
Throughout, Dakkak’s appreciation for the significance of Jerusalem in Palestinian life deepened: “The incident left a deep scar in my heart,” he expressed. “I became more aware of the essential geographical location of Jerusalem for the establishment of the independent Palestinian state.”13
Several noteworthy organizations in Jerusalem were cofounded by Dakkak. He was the founding director (in 1968) and secretary of the Makassed Hospital (located in the Mount of Olives), which is one of six hospitals in the East Jerusalem Hospitals Network. He also served as chairperson of the General Assembly for the Council for Higher Education (1977–87) and then as its board member (2003–4).
Dakkak helped to establish the Arab Thought Forum, a think tank, which he chaired from 1978 to 1992. The forum was a pioneering Palestinian institution that addressed issues about national development, studied the situation in the region, and conducted studies and projects to identify practical solutions and viable options for the upcoming generations. In 1987, Dakkak edited the forum’s journal, Development Affairs.
Dakkak was a member of the Board of Governors of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR), an independent institution established by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in coordination with the donor community to Palestine in support of the peace process. He chaired the Palestinian Center for Micro-Projects Development (under the auspices of the Orient House), the Faisal Husseini Foundation, and the Advisory Board of the Jerusalem Quarterly. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees of Birzeit University, and in 1973 he was elected board chair. He went on to become board chair again from 2003 to 2006.
By the 1970s, Dakkak had become an influential presence within Palestinian political circles. He was engaged in the very early secret meetings of the Palestine National Front, which acted as the secret arm of the PLO in the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPTs), and was one of its cofounders.
His active engagement and knowledge of these institutions gave Dakkak incredible political insight, which he shared through his writing as well as in institution building. In 1976, he chaired the Jerusalem Conference, which was attended by mayors and influential Palestinian figures. He then cofounded the second National Guidance Committee, which was launched in 1978 following the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. Unlike the secret meetings of the Palestine National Front, the National Guidance Committee (officially represented by Fatah) held public meetings and thus had a broader audience. Dakkak, who served as the committee’s secretary, had an instrumental role in connecting the local community with the Palestinian leadership as well as with the national movement in exile.
In August 1980, Dakkak was placed (intermittently) under house arrest for four years by the Israeli authorities. He was targeted presumably because of his leadership role in the Palestine National Front and the National Guidance Committee.
Dakkak remained politically principled throughout his career. He was steadfast in his defense of Jerusalem and its organizations. He consistently spoke up against the deportation of Palestinian engineers and professors. He was a great advocate of civil resistance and spoke out against land confiscations and illegal state practices.
Dakkak’s role as engineer gave him deep insight into the importance of construction in Israel’s occupation policies, and this understanding informed his political commentary. Among his observations in 1977 was how the Israelis dismissed the term “annexation” and instead preferred to use the term “unification.”14 He noted how the settlements were “exclusively built for the Jews, and until now, from 1947 to 1977, no Arab was allowed to buy any flat in any Jewish neighborhood.”15
From 1947 until now , not a single neighborhood in Jerusalem or Israel was built as a mixed neighborhood for both. Arabs and Jews. Not a kibbutz was established as a mixed kibbutz. In other words, what has happened so far in Jerusalem was the subjection of the will of the [Palestinian] people there to the will of the Israelis in as far as annexation is concerned.16
Dakkak shared his views, in 1993, on the dangers of international apathy to Israel’s policies:
There will be no easy or peaceful solution to the conflict over Jerusalem as long as the international community demonstrates indifference to Israel’s disrespect for the UN resolutions. Depoliticizing and demilitarizing Jerusalem and its environs under the terms of an international pact is an approach worth considering. The city would continue to be united with the sovereignty of the Palestinian state and that of the state of Israel, internationally recognized in their respective parts.17
Dakkak’s political engagement further expressed itself through the launch of the Palestinian National Initiative (al-Mubadara) in June 2002. This initiative had been cofounded by Dakkak, together with Mustafa Barghouti and Haidar Abd al-Shafi, in opposition to the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995. The initiative supported the two-state solution and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. It defined itself as a democratic movement of nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. In the years to come, Dakkak also served as an advisory board member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, after it was founded in 2004.
Contributions and Honorary Mentions
Dakkak was known and celebrated for his leadership and wise counsel. Besides his personal involvement within social and political circles, he published several works on Palestine. His research focused mainly on the status of Jerusalem and the effects of the Israeli occupation on the local population, including their identity.18 He also wrote about development and housing.
Dakkak’s insights remain relevant today. As early as 1988, he was warning against economic dependence:
The concept of self-reliance is taking hold in Palestinian universities, unions, associations and movements. Over-reliance on funds from politically motivated sources outside has proved self-defeating. The price tag attached to this aid in the form of political and social dependency is greater than the Palestinians can afford.19
In 2012, Dakkak was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in social development by Birzeit University in acknowledgment of his contributions to the university and his long commitment to development in Palestine.
Death and Tributes
Dakkak passed away on June 2, 2016, in Jerusalem. He was buried in the Bab al-Sahira cemetery after a large funeral procession that started from al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas granted him a posthumous Medal of Merit and Distinction in honor of his prominent national role, particularly for preserving the historic and cultural character of Jerusalem.
In the introduction to an interview with Dakkak conducted in 2014 and published in 2017 to commemorate his life and work, Palestinian sociologist and Jerusalem expert Salim Tamari wrote:
Whether at the helm of grassroots organizations within the Palestinian national movement or launching major civil society organizations such as the Council for Higher Education and the Arab Thought Forum, or heading the influential Engineers Association, Dakkak was an institution builder, literally and figuratively. He will be remembered as a prominent Jerusalem activist, a talented and dedicated engineer, and a political leader that passed away after a rich life of struggle for Palestinian rights.20
The Jerusalem Quarterly (a publication of the Institute for Palestine Studies) established in 2017 “The Ibrahim Dakkak Award for Outstanding Essay on Jerusalem,” an annual award, granted to “an outstanding essay that addresses either contemporary or historical issues relating to Jerusalem.” The winning essay, which often has a prize of up to $1,000, is published in the Jerusalem Quarterly.
Dakkak may well be regarded as one of the last great socialist leaders who lived through the Nakba of 1948 and the Oslo Accords. His insights and exceptional contributions to Palestinian national life remain valuable for the present as well as for future generations.
ABC Radio National. “Rohan and the Road to the Apocalypse.” August 23, 2009.
Barghouti, Anees. “47 Years On, Palestinians Recall Aqsa Mosque Fire.” Anadolu Agency, August 21, 2016.
Birzeit University. “Birzeit University Mourns Former Board Chair Dakkak.” June 4, 2016.
Birzeit University. “Ibrahim Jamil Dakkak.” Accessed July 28, 2021.
Dakkak, Ibrahim. “Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa.” Journal of Palestine Studies 11, no. 1 (Autumn 1981): 136–49.
Dakkak, Ibrahim. “Back to Square One: A Study of the Re-emergence of the Palestinian Identity in the West Bank, 1967–1980.” In Palestinians over the Green Line, edited by Alexander Schölch (London: Ithaca Press, 1983), 64–101.
Dakkak, Ibrahim. “Development from Within: A Strategy for Survival.” In The Palestinian Economy: Studies in Development under Prolonged Occupation, edited by George T. Abed (London and New York: Routledge, 1988), 287–310.
Dakkak, Ibrahim. “Jerusalem Voices.” Middle East Report 182 (May/June 1993).
Dakkak, Ibrahim. “On the Struggle in Jerusalem and within Israel after the Defeat of 1967.” [In Arabic.] Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya 108 (Autumn 2016): 168–76.
Ellingwood, Ken, and Richard Boudreaux. “A Holy City Still Divided.” Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2007.
Ellingwood, Ken, and Richard Boudreaux. “‘They Completely Hated Us.’” Chicago Tribune, June 3, 2007.
European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). “Mapping Palestinian Politics: Palestinian National Initiative (Al-Mubadara).” Accessed July 29, 2021.
Fischbach, Michael R. “Dakkak, Ibrahim.” In Encyclopedia of the Palestinians, edited by Philip Mattar (New York: Facts on File, 2000), 114.
Fragiacomo, Laura. “Ibrahim Dakkak Remembered (1929–2016).” Jerusalem Quarterly 66 (Summer 2016): 6–11.
Getty Images. “In 1967, Ibrahim Dakkak, 78, Huddled with His Family in the Basement of Their East Jerusalem Home.” April 24, 2007.
Institute for Palestine Studies. “2021 Round: Ibrahim Dakkak Award for Outstanding Essay on Jerusalem.” April 21, 2020.
Khalidi, Rashid. Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
Mattar, Philip, ed. Encyclopedia of the Palestinians. New York: Facts on File, 2000.
Palestine People Profiles. “Ibrahim Dakkak.” Last modified May 2006.
Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA). “Dakkak, Ibrahim (1929–2016).” Accessed July 31, 2021.
Palestinian Journeys. “Ibrahim Dakkak.” Accessed August 1, 2021.
Ricks, Thomas M. “Remembering Arab Jerusalem, 1909–1989: An Oral History of a Palestinian City, Its Schools, and Childhood Memories.”.
al-Shanti, Muhammad. “Discussion on Judicial and Educational Institutions in Jerusalem between the Governor of Jerusalem and Its Director of Jerusalem and the Director of al-Iqdam.” [In Arabic.] No. 15. May 4, 1914, pp. 1–2.
Tamari, Salim. “Interview with Ibrahim Dakkak (1929–2016): A Life of Struggle for Palestinian Rights.” Journal of Palestine Studies 46, no. 2 (2016–17): 83–90.
US Senate. Hearings before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Naturalization of the Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate. “The Colonization of the West Bank Territories by Israel.” Ninety-Fifth Congress. October 18, 1977. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1978.
Wikipedia, s.v. “Denis Michael Rohan.” Last modified July 21, 2021, 01:52.
Wikipedia. s.v. “Makassed Hospital.” Last modified October 5, 2020, 17:23.
Wikipedia. s.v. “Rawdat al-Ma‘arif al-Wataniyya (Jerusalem) College.” [In Arabic.] Last modified February 8, 2021, 01:53.
[Profile photo: The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive, Item 34910]
Muhammad al-Shanti, “Discussion on Judicial and Educational Institutions in Jerusalem between the Governor of Jerusalem and Its Director of Jerusalem and the Director of al-Iqdam” [in Arabic], no. 15 (May 4, 1914), 1–2.
Salim Tamari, “Interview with Ibrahim Dakkak (1929–2016): A Life of Struggle for Palestinian Rights,” Journal of Palestine Studies 46, no. 2 (2016–17): 83–90.
Ibrahim Dakkak, “On the Struggle in Jerusalem and within Israel after the Defeat of 1967” [in Arabic], Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya 108 (Autumn 2016): 170.
Dakkak, “On the Struggle in Jerusalem.”
Ken Ellingwood and Richard Boudreaux, “‘They Completely Hated Us,’” Chicago Tribune, June 3, 2007.
Dakkak, “On the Struggle in Jerusalem.”
Ibrahim Dakkak, “Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa,” Journal of Palestine Studies 11, no. 1 (Autumn 1981): 136.
ABC Radio National, “Rohan and the Road to the Apocalypse,” August 23, 2009.
Anees Barghouti, “47 Years On, Palestinians Recall Aqsa Mosque Fire,” Anadolu Agency, August 21, 2016.
Laura Fragiacomo, “Ibrahim Dakkak Remembered (1929–2016),” Jerusalem Quarterly 66 (Summer 2016): 9.
Ibrahim Dakkak, “Jerusalem Voices,” Middle East Report 182 (May/June 1993).
US Senate, Hearings before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Naturalization of the Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate, “The Colonization of the West Bank Territories by Israel,” Ninety-Fifth Congress, October 18, 1977 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1978), 84.
US Senate, “The Colonization of the West Bank Territories by Israel,” 83.
US Senate, “The Colonization of the West Bank Territories by Israel,” 83.
Dakkak, “Jerusalem Voices.”
Ibrahim Dakkak, “Back to Square One: A Study of the Re-emergence of the Palestinian Identity in the West Bank, 1967–1980,” in Palestinians over the Green Line, ed. Alexander Schölch (London: Ithaca Press, 1983), 64–101.
Ibrahim Dakkak, “Development from Within: A Strategy for Survival,” in The Palestinian Economy: Studies in Development Under Prolonged Occupation, ed. George T. Abed (London and New York: Routledge, 1988), 307.