Academic journal article Jerusalem Quarterly

Khalil Al-Sakakini and Zionism before WWI

Academic journal article Jerusalem Quarterly

Khalil Al-Sakakini and Zionism before WWI

Article excerpt

Khalil al-Sakakini (1878-1953), a Rum Orthodox Christian, was born in Old Jerusalem in 1878.2 His father served as the mukhtar of the local Rum Orthodox community. Khalil al-Sakakini was one of the most influential and prominent Palestinian intellectuals of the first half of the twentieth century. A very versatile person, he was at various stages of his career active as an editor, poet, essayist, writer, teacher, reformer of the educational system, civil servant, inspector of education, as well as in other roles. He was also a fervent political activist who before World War I became one of the leaders of the Orthodox Renaissance [al-nahda al-urthudhuksiyya]. His life is very well documented, particularly because he left behind diaries that contain almost three and a half thousand pages.3 Khalil al-Sakakini received his education at several institutions. First, he attended a Rum Orthodox school and then the Anglican Bishop Blyth School in Jerusalem. Finally, he concluded his studies at the Zion English College.4 He started writing his diaries in autumn 1907 at the time when he left Palestine for the United States. During his stay there he spent most of the time in Arab neighbourhoods in New York, where he earned some money giving private lessons in Arabic. Furthermore, he worked as an editor and proofreader for Farah Antun's al-Jami'a and as a translator for the Columbia University professor Richard Gottheil.5 Towards the end of his stay he moved to Rumford Falls in the New England state of Maine where he worked in a paper mill for around four weeks extending between June and July 1908.6 He was not very keen on American culture and was even upset by some of its aspects. During his stay he noticed many differences between the Middle Eastern and American ways of life. One of the examples he mentions is the attitude to work. Whereas people in the Middle East enjoy doing their work, the situation in America is very dissimilar and the only joy the workmen derive is from earning money. Moreover, he disliked the fast tempo of American daily life. During a trip to the seaside his conservative feelings were offended at seeing men and women swimming together, holding hands and flirting openly on the beaches.7 Originally, Khalil al-Sakakini planned to move permanently to the United States, however the economic recession, lack of success in finding a rewarding job and also his longing for the homeland and his beloved Sultana made him change his mind.8

After his return from the United States he made a living mostly by teaching Arabic, but he also worked intermittently as an editor of the magazine al-Asma'i,9 owned by Hanna 'Abdallah al-'Isa10 and for the newspaper al-Quds published by Jurji Habib11 (1857- 1920).12 In September 1908 he agreed with the latter that he will "write the editorial and correct the rest of the articles of the newspaper for a salary of five liras a month."13 The entries that Khalil al-Sakakini recorded in the diary relate to his discussions with Jurji Habib, his regular visits to the printing office and writing and proofreading of articles. However, after a few days he decided not to take the job.14 In the following months he mentions now and then his work for al-Asma'i. Furthermore he supervised the editorial process during the absence of Hanna al-'Isa in mid-November.15

In October 1908 he took an oath and became a member of the Committee for Union and Progress. He describes the admission ceremonial with the following words: "[al-shaykh Tawfiq Tanbagha16] put my right hand on the Bible and the left hand on a revolver and said: 'this is to take an oath on and this is to defend with' ... I swore that I will protect the constitution and endeavor to elevate the homeland ...".17 Shortly after this event Khalil al-Sakakini became a member of another organization, Jam'iyyat al-ikha' al-'Arabi [The Society of Arab Brotherhood].18 Furthermore, he was a founding member of Jam'iyyat al-ikha' al-urthudhuksi [The Society of Orthodox Brotherhood]. …

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