Khalil Sakakini 1878-1953
Khalil Sakakini was born in Jerusalem on January 23, 1878. He received his schooling there, at the Greek Orthodox School, at the CMS College, and at the English Zion College where he studied literature. In 1907, Sakakini travelled to the United States to pursue his higher studies in education. However, he was unable to do so due to financial constraints and returned to Palestine in 1908. During his American sojourn, he was active teaching Arabic, translating, and contributing to the Arab literary journals of the East Coast. He also worked as a labourer in a paper mill to earn the fare for his return ticket.
In 1908, Sakakini led a grassroots movement to arabize the Greek Orthodox Church in Palestine, and wrote a pamphlet in 1913 entitled "The Orthodox Renaissance in Palestine," which led to his excommunication. In 1909, he founded the Dusturiyyah (constitutional) School, which became known for its Arab nationalism. Following up on his religious reform campaign, this school was the first in Palestine in bringing together faculty and students from different religious and social backgrounds. Sakakini also founded in 1910 the Dustur newspaper, which he ran for three years.
Against the background of World War I, the Ottoman authorities arrested and jailed him in Damascus in 1917. After his release, he joined the ranks of the anti-Turkish Arab Revolt, whose anthem he wrote. Khalil Sakakini was appointed head of the Jerusalem Teachers' College. He went on to be appointed inspector for education in Palestine, a post he held for twelve years, interrupted by his resignation in protest at the appointment of Herbert Samuel as British High Commissioner in Palestine. In 1925, Khalil Sakakini founded the Wataniyya (national) School, and in 1938 the Nahda (renaissance) College in Jerusalem, which he directed until it was forced to close in 1948 due to the shelling of Jerusalem.
Khalil Sakakini's wife, Sultana, died in 1939. He lived in grief ever since, and wrote poetry eulogizing her. In 1948, the Sakakinis fled Jerusalem; they were one of the last Palestinian families remaining in the Qatamon quarter that was terrorized by Israeli shelling. They left with their personal effects only, and sought refuge in Cairo where Sakakini had been nominated by the Egyptian writer Taha Hussein to join the Arabic Language Academy. He was also elected speaker of the first Palestinian National Congress. The sudden death of his son Sari in 1953, added to the previous tragedies, shattered Sakakini and left him in poor health. He died three months later on August 13th, and was buried in Cairo.
Khalil Sakakini is survived by two daughters, Dumya and Hala, now living in Ramallah. Hala published excerpts from her father's journals in 1955, as well as three of her own memoirs in English, among them "Jerusalem and I" which painted a vivid image of pre-1948 social and intellectual life in Jerusalem.
Khalil Sakakini left 12 publications to his name, including educational works, poetry collections, and numerous essays on literature, ethics and politics. For four decades, generations of Palestinian children received their Arabic language primary education from the series of schoolbooks he authored: Al-Jadid. Sakakini's rich library was lost to the occupation, and its contents of hundreds of books are now dispersed within the Hebrew University library holdings. His house and the schools he ran are now under Israeli control in West Jerusalem, and have been converted for other purposes.
The Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre Foundation was founded in 1998 as a non-profit, non-governmental organization. It is located in a traditional Palestinian mansion, which was purchased, renovated and turned into an arts centre by the Palestinian Ministry of Culture in 1996. The Foundation aims at developing the arts and culture in Palestine through regular and varied activities offered to the public such as concerts, plays, film screenings, literary events, lectures, etc., in addition to special programming exploring Palestinian cultural identity, chief among them the Nakba Commemoration Programme. The Sakakini Foundation also offers targeted programming for creators and amateur artists in varied art development fields.
On January 23rd, the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre will be holding a special lecture to discuss the ongoing editing and publishing of Sakakini's diaries, spanning five decades of his life and of the history of Palestine.