Sami Hadawi (b. 1904 in Jerusalem) was a prominent Palestinian scholar, author, and land specialist. Hadawi collected statistics about Palestinian villages throughout different historical periods and served as Land Specialist to the UN Palestine Conciliation Commission in New York. He has been regarded as the most authoritative land expert on the pre-Nakba period. He published extensively on Palestinian history.
Childhood and Family
Hadawi was born on March 6, 1904, in Jerusalem to an Anglican Christian family. He lived his formative years in a house outside of the Damascus Gate/Bab al-Amud in Jerusalem.
As a child, he spoke Arabic and German. His father was a German missionary who had allegedly converted to Christianity from Judaism. Meanwhile, his mother’s family may have had Muslim roots before converting to Christianity.1 Both of his parents were religious Christians who connected in faith. They had decided to send Sami, their eldest son, to a local English boarding primary school so that he would excel in English and later travel to England for advanced education. He never resumed formal education.2
The Winds of War
Hadawi was 10 years old when World War I began in 1914. The war would have immediate repercussions on the Hadawi family. Turkey made it compulsory for all men of military age to enter the army. Hadawi’s father went to the front as part of the Ottoman Empire army. Meanwhile, his mother (who was pregnant at the time) had to bear the responsibility for a family of six.
As the eldest son, it was Hadawi who received the news, through word of mouth and later through an Arab soldier, that his father had been killed in combat. Hadawi was concerned that the news would be too much for his mother to bear, so he maintained the assumption that his father was missing. Until her own death in 1961, his mother retained hope that he might one day return home.
Conditions in Jerusalem were very hard in those days; food was scarce, and the army allowance the Hadawi family received did not go very far. Sami’s mother took her six children to Jordan. Three years later, in 1920, they returned to Palestine and lived in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem during the nearly three decades of the British Mandate.
Marriage, Family, and Exile
Years after, Hadawi married Nora, and they had two children. They built a home together in Qatamon, close to the German Colony in the New City in 1948, but that same year, the advancing Zionist forces expelled them from their home and country. After the 1948 War, much like over 100,000 other Palestinians from Jerusalem and the surrounding villages (see The West Side Story), Hadawi was made stateless by the fledgling state and was never allowed to return. His home and all his property were seized by the state.
While Hadawi’s family lived in Amman, he worked (on an unofficial basis) as an interpreter for the British Army in Jordan. In 1919, he moved back to Palestine, where he worked as a clerk for the Land Registration Office. After that, he worked at the Land Settlement Department for seven years.
Hadawi’s work in this capacity made him interested in and curious about Arab villages and their structures. He soon developed the expertise he needed to work as an inspector and land value assessor (1938 to 1948).
Hadawi became the official land valuer and director of land taxation in Palestine, documenting and compiling village land statistics until 1948. His book Village Statistics 1945: A Classification of Land and Area Ownership in Palestine (1970) is considered an indispensable reference on land issues in the last days of the British Mandate.
Hadawi continued to work as a land inspector in Jerusalem after the British Mandate ended and in the early years of Jordanian rule (until 1952). During that time, he served the Jordanian government as Chief of Inland Revenue. Not long after, he became the land specialist for the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine in New York City. His job was to identify, evaluate, and determine the extent of Palestinian property left behind after the 1948 War.
In 1956, Hadawi disseminated critical information that pertained to the plight of the Palestinian people. He became the advisor on Palestine Affairs for the United Nations, namely, for the UN Iraq Mission and Yemen Mission. Hadawi also cofounded the Palestinian Information Office and served two Arab League offices in the US with the Information Center of the League of Arab States.
Hadawi served as the director of the Institute for Palestine Studies (in Beirut) between 1965 and 1968. In 1970, he retired.
After 1948, Hadawi continued to demand that the rights of Palestinian refugees be recognized.
Writing and Publications
In 1970, after his retirement and five years after the death of his wife, Nora, Hadawi moved to Toronto, Canada. There, he dedicated his time to writing, and the many books he wrote became significant sources on the history of Palestine and the conflict.
Hadawi is considered a highly important Arab authority on the issue of land ownership in Palestine.Hadawi’s publications have been translated into several languages including Italian, German, and Arabic. Among his influential works are Palestine: Loss of a Heritage (1963), The Palestine Diary (1970: volume 1, Britain’s Involvement 1914–1945, and volume 2, United States, United Nations Intervention 1945–1948, both coauthored with Robert John, with a foreword by Arnold Toynbee), and Palestinian Rights and Losses in 1948 (1988).
Hadawi’s book Bitter Harvest: A Modern History of Palestine, which was published originally in 1967 and republished in 1979 and then again in 1989, is among the critical records on the ancient and modern history of Palestine. In the preface, the author himself describes the book as “a chronicle of events that make up the Palestine tragedy.”3 The book covers the main events of the 20th century in Palestine and before and after the establishment of the State of Israel and continues with a discussion of the Camp David Accords (1979), the war on Lebanon (1982), the First Intifada (1987), and the proposed plans for Israeli-Palestinian peace (1993).
Hadawi dedicated this book “to the loving memory of those Palestinians who fell victims of aggression in defense of their homeland and to the future generations of Palestinians lest they forget what they lost and how they lost it!”4
Hadawi died in Toronto on April 22, 2004. He was 100 years old. He had wanted to be buried in Jerusalem, but the Israeli state would not allow it, so he was buried in Toronto instead.
Awards and Honors
Hadawi was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire award for “Outstanding Service” in 1940 and the Jerusalem Prize from Yasser Arafat in 2002.
Land Ownership in Palestine. New York: Palestine Arab Refugee Office, 1957.
Israel and the Arab Minority. Information Paper 7. New York: Arab Information Center, 1959.
Palestine Partitioned, 1947–1958. New York: Arab Information Center, 1959.
Israel according to Holy Scriptures. Dallas, 1960.
German Reparation versus Israeli Confiscations. New York: Arab Information Center, 1961.
Palestine: Questions and Answers. New York: Arab Information Center, 1961.
Who Benefits from Anti-Semitism? New York: Arab Information Center, 1961.
Palestine: Loss of a Heritage. San Antonio: The Naylor Company, Book Publishers of the Southwest, 1963.
Palestine in the United Nations. Information Paper 24. New York: Arab Information Center, 1964.
Bitter Harvest: Palestine 1914–1967. New York: New World Press, 1967. [Republished as Bitter Harvest, Palestine between 1914–1979 (New York: Caravan Books, 1979), and Bitter Harvest: A Modern History of Palestine (New York: Olive Branch Press, 1989).]
The Case of Palestine before the 23rd Session of the United Nations, October–December 1968. New York: Arab Information Center, 1968.
Palestine in Focus. Beirut: Palestine Liberation Organization Research Center, 1969.
The Palestine Diary, Vol. 1: Britain’s Involvement 1914–1945. New York: New World Press: 1970.
The Palestine Diary, Vol. 2: United States, United Nations Intervention 1945–1948. New York: New World Press: 1970.
Village Statistics, 1945: A Classification of Land and Area Ownership in Palestine. Facts and Figures 34. Beirut: Palestine Liberation Organization Research Center, 1970.
Crime and No Punishment: Zionist Israeli Terrorism, 1939–1972. Palestine essays. Beirut: Palestine Liberation Organization Center, 1972.
The Middle East Reality: Between War and Peace. Dallas: The American-Arab Society, 1974.
The Jews, Zionism, and the Bible: A Study of “Biblical” and “Historical” Claims. Toronto: The Arab Palestine Association, 1981.
Christianity at the Crossroads. Ottawa: Jerusalem International Publishing House, 1982.
The Realities of Terrorism and Retaliation. 2nd ed. Toronto: Arab Palestine Association, 1987.
Palestinian Rights and Losses in 1948: A Comprehensive Study. London: Saqi Books, 1988.
Origins of Middle East Terrorism. Winnipeg: National Publishing, 1991.
Bridgewater College, Alexander Mack Library. “Miscellaneous Papers & Publications, 1960–1997.” Accessed February 23, 2022.
Fischback, Michael. “Sami Hadawi.” In Encyclopedia of the Palestinians, edited by Philip Mattar (New York: Facts on File, 2005), 191–92.
Hadawi, Sami. “Sodomy, Locusts, and Cholera: A Jerusalem Witness.” The Story of My Life. Reports and Testimonies. Jerusalem Quarterly 53 (2013): 7–27.
Safieddine, Hicham. “Sami Hadawi, Canadian Palestinian Scholar Dies at 100.” Palestine Remembered. August 11, 2007.
Wikipedia, s.v. “Sami Hadawi.” Last modified August 15, 2021, 18:00.
[Profile photo: Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias]
These details appear in the editor’s introductory comments to Sami Hadawi, “Sodomy, Locusts, and Cholera: A Jerusalem Witness,” Jerusalem Quarterly 53 (2013): 7.
Michael Fischback, “Sami Hadawi,” in Encyclopedia of the Palestinians, ed. Philip Mattar (New York: Facts on File, 2005), 191.
Sami Hadawi, Bitter Harvest: A Modern History of Palestine (New York: Olive Branch Press, 1989), preface (0).
Hadawi, Bitter Harvest, preface (0).