- The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty: The Husaynis, 1700-1948
Literature surveying the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially the less scholarly variety, has often portrayed the early Palestinian Arab national movement as the instrument of elite families in their rivalries for dominance over their society during the British mandate in Palestine. This literature frequently represents the Husayni and the Nashashibi families of Jerusalem as the preeminent forces behind the movement and as its principal factions, but it reveals little about either of these two families or the sources of their influence. This literature typically focuses excessively on one personality of the former family, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem, portraying him as the singularly powerful leader of his family and of Palestinian Arab nationalists.
Ilan Pappé's The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty is an important corrective to the literature that has ascribed such power to the Husayni family in Palestinian Arab politics yet has failed to identify the bases of the family's influence or to explore its historical context. The book charts the family's ascent to political and social influence in the middle of the eighteenth century, its shifting strategies to maintain its influence, and its rapid demise as a political force at the end of the Palestine mandate. Rather than characterizing the Husayni family as the single most important actor in Palestine's politics, the author employs the family's history as a medium through which he explores major trends in Palestinian society over more than two centuries. The book is, as Pappé describes it, "a political biography of a large family" (p. 8). It is also a synthesis of some of the most important literature on the social history of Palestine and the Arab Levant from the end of the Ottoman classical age to the apogee of Anglo-French power. The author has constructed his narrative and interpretation from extensive primary and secondary sources in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. His impressive list of primary sources includes Jerusalem Islamic court records, European travelers' accounts and consular reports, memoirs in Arabic and Hebrew, the Arabic press, Zionist and Israeli archives, the National Archives of the United Kingdom, Husayni family papers, and interviews with a family member.
Pappé locates the beginnings of the family's power in the period of 1740 to 1775. In those decades, members of the family, then known as the Ghudayya family, had gained three important positions from the Ottoman government. These were naqib al-ashraf (representative of the [End Page 435] families descended from the Prophet Muhammad) of the cities of Jerusalem, Nablus, Gaza, Ramallah, and Jenin; chief mufti of Jerusalem; and sheikh al-Haram al-Sharif (administrator of holy area around the Dome of the Rock). The Ghudayyas took the family name of the previous naqib al-ashraf, al-Husayni, and cultivated a relationship with the naqib al-ashraf of Istanbul that was essential for securing the three key appointments. The family also maintained its positions in Jerusalem by developing close relations with successive Ottoman governors in Damascus.
The revenues deriving from the three prestigious appointments, in addition to salaries for the administration of Islamic endowments, returns on lending money to Christians and Jews, and a small soap factory in Jerusalem brought the family considerable wealth. Pappé notes that there is no evidence that the family's income during the late eighteenth century came from interests outside Jerusalem, such as the collection of taxes from rural lands. Because a close relationship with the Ottoman central government was a principal source of power for the Husaynis in Jerusalem, the family's leaders strove to avoid entanglements with local grandees who challenged government authority in rural areas, such as Dahir al-'Umar, the autonomous ruler of Galilee, and Ahmad al-Jazzar Pasha, who built a petty state from his citadel in Acre.
Following the repulse of Napoleon's forces from coastal Palestine in 1799, the weakness of central authority in the country led the Husaynis...