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Storefront of the Issa Kassissieh tile factory in Jerusalem's Old City



Blog Post

Perspective: Our Roots in Jerusalem

Most people do not have to parade their history or dig up documents and photos just to prove a connection to the place they call home. But we Palestinians sometimes find ourselves contending with individuals and groups that feel comfortable delegitimizing our national identity and history as a way of promoting their own narrative and justifying the occupation and control of Palestine.

Sometimes it is done to curry favor with those making such claims. I recall a 2011 visit to Jerusalem by Newt Gingrich, at the time a Republican presidential candidate, who claimed that Palestinians did not exist but were simply nomads who made a stop in Palestine en route to some other place.

I was offended enough to write an essay, published in the New York Times,1 in which I talked about my family’s Palestinian heritage. Others have done that as well, putting on display family pictures, birth certificates, graduation documents, and other memorabilia, all with the simple goal of debunking these ridiculous claims and putting them to rest. I used my son’s research into 600 years of church records about our family lineage to illustrate our own roots in Jerusalem and Palestine.

Short Take Musrara: The New City Neighborhood That Became No Man’s Land

Musrara, a formerly New City neighborhood founded by Palestinians, had a unique fate in 1948.

I used my son’s research into 600 years of church records about our family lineage to illustrate our own roots in Jerusalem and Palestine.

I described how my father had to flee his home in Musrara in 1948 when armed Zionist gangs made it unsafe to stay and how his sister, my aunt Hoda, was made a widow when her husband was killed by a Jewish sniper, leaving her to raise seven young children alone. (One of them, Mubarak Awad, went on to become a well-respected advocate of nonviolent resistance and was deported by Israel, which deemed him a threat, in 1988. Another son, Bishara, established the Bethlehem Bible College and recently published a heart-wrenching account of what happened to his family because of the Nakba, titled Yet in the Dark Streets Shining.)

Space considerations prevented me from recounting more of my family’s Jerusalem history in that New York Times article. My dad, uncle, and grandmother fled before that tragedy and stayed in Zarqa, Jordan. My uncle Qustandi had boasted at the time that he double-locked the house. My grandmother, Tata Nazira Fatalleh, always boasted about the carpentry skills of her husband, my grandfather Musa Kuttab. She told us that he had built a wooden closet on the site of their house which she said no one would be able to remove from their small house in Musrara.

After Israel occupied East Jerusalem in June 1967, we walked over to Musrara with my dad to see what happened to their old home. Lo and behold, the Jewish settlers/tenants who were gifted my grandparents’ house by the state apparently needed the space more than they appreciated the beautifully crafted closet, and we saw remnants of the carved wood that used to be the closet strewn in the yard.

Case Study Mubarak Awad: Lifelong Experience of Dispossession

A Palestinian American psychologist who was born and raised in Jerusalem had his residency revoked when he advocated nonviolence in Palestine in 1987–88.

I had forgotten about this story and my grandfather’s carpentry profession until this week when a relative sent me a 1910 archival item published in a new historic archival site, Open Jerusalem, which deals with the repair of a mosque in Silwan and the building of a showcase in a museum (not clear what the connection is). The detailed item documented that Hamid Niba had won the tender to repair the mosque, and it lists Issa Ibrahim Kassisieh as the guarantor for this repair in the amount of 9,900 piasters. (Kassisieh established a well-known tile factory in Jerusalem in the early 1900s, which went on to supply the entire country with beautiful hand-painted tiles. It was forced to stop work in 1967 under Israeli orders that all industrial activity cease within the Old City walls at that time. Later in the late 1990s, the building was renovated, and today it houses the Al Ma’mal Art Foundation, whose name, meaning “small factory” or “workshop,” acknowledges the building’s history.) Then it lists Tusa Cirbis al-Sir as the person who won the building of a showcase in the museum, with Musa Kuttab as the guarantor of the showcase at the rate of 725 piasters.

The document was signed on March 30, 1910.

Al-Ma‘mal Foundation for Contemporary Art

An art organization in the heart of Old City of Jerusalem that promotes the creation and appreciation of contemporary art

Record for a 1910 letter from the Open Jerusalem archive


Jerusalem Story (screenshot from Open Jerusalem website)

Detail of a record for a 1910 letter from the Open Jerusalem archive

Detail of the record for the 1910 letter that mentions the author’s grandfather


Jerusalem Story (screenshot from Open Jerusalem website)

I thought it was telling that this document represented two Christian Jerusalemites guaranteeing the repair of a Muslim mosque and the building of a showcase in the mosque by Muslims. It was interesting to see that tenders were prevalent even then and that winners of tenders needed a trusted person to guarantee that they will perform the work.

While I was happy to read about my late grandfather’s role as a guarantor of competent carpentry, I was also upset that something as mundane as a tender and a guarantor would prove what should not have to be proven. Palestinians are not nomads or merely residents of Jerusalem (our current legal status according to the State of Israel), but the children of this land; living and prospering in Jerusalem and in Palestine are our birthrights. For us, Palestine is the name of the geographic area which encompasses all who live on this land without degrading or reducing the history and roots of all nations, ethnicities, and religions that have walked and lived here. Our narrative is an inclusive one.

History shows that those who have conquered Jerusalem and demanded for themselves exclusive control of it have not fared well.



Daoud Kuttab, “We Are Palestinians,” New York Times, December 14, 2011.

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