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Hind Taher al-Husseini

Kathryn S Gardiner | Published on 1/13/2024

Forgotten Foremothers

Profiles of lesser-known heroines in the fight for women’s rights


The children huddled together outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was April 1948 and the church was over 900 years old; the children—55 in total—were all under the age of 10. They were disheveled, some barefoot, some injured. They’d been dropped off at the church doors and left all alone. 


One woman stopped by them amid the bustle of an active city at a unique time in history. They needed to go home to their parents, she told them. It wasn’t safe to be out with all the shooting going on. They had no homes, the children replied, and their families… They were gone, too.  



Hind Taher al-Husseini’s roots in Jerusalem ran deep. She was born there on April 25, 1916, to Tahir and Fatima al-Husseini. She grew up alongside five brothers in the mansion home her maternal grandfather had built nearly three decades before.


The Husseini family were wealthy and prominent in the city of Jerusalem. Hind received her education at the Islamic Girls’ School, a historic structure already hundreds of years old when Hind attended. At age 16 in 1932, she traveled west to Alexandria, Egypt, to attend the El Nasr Girls’ College, known at the time as the English Girls’ College. There, she and select other students were taught by British instructors in the manner of British school systems. She graduated in 1937 at age 21, though she would continue independent studies in Arabic and English literature for another year. 

Like Samira Azzam, the Jewish-Arab conflict punctuated all aspects of Hind’s life, though privilege and social class insulated her from the most extreme violence.


After her preliminary schooling, Hind taught briefly at the Islamic Girls’ School, then studied social work and education at the University of Hamburg in Germany until the outbreak of World War II. The atrocities of the Nazi regime only compounded the already tense situation in Palestine.


In a post titled “The British Army in Palestine,” the United Kingdom’s National Army Museum stated, “During the Second World War, the British restricted the entry into Palestine of European Jews escaping Nazi persecution. They had imposed a limit on Jewish immigration in the summer of 1939, anxious to end the disturbances in Palestine and to secure the support of the Egyptians and oil-rich Saudis ahead of the looming conflict in Europe. This policy provoked armed Jewish resistance, and eventually united those who looked to Britain for help in establishing their national homeland ([such as ]the Haganah) and those who wished to use terrorism to drive the British out.” David Ben-Gurion, who would later establish the state of Israel, was the leader of the Haganah.


Amid this chaos, Hind became active in social organizations, student unions, and joined the Women’s Solidarity Society. After World War II, she briefly returned to teaching, though, in 1948, with the British Mandate of Palestine nearing its end, her attention shifted once again to her social work and volunteering. The clashes between the Arab and Jewish militias in Palestine continued with each claiming a right to land whose future seemed tragically grim.


Hind Taher al-Husseini.
Photo courtesy Jerusalem Story

The United Nation’s Partition Plan went into effect in 1948 and placed Jerusalem, itself a “corpus separatum,” a formally neutral location, right in the center of an Arab state. Jerusalem is a site of cultural and religious significance and its control of profound interest to both factions. Exacerbating the issue, the British evacuated at the termination of the mandate, leaving a power vacuum in the city and no formal means by which its true neutrality was to be maintained. This turned Jerusalem into a hotbed of blockades, skirmishes, and bloodshed. “It was the worst of times,” Hind would say later. “It was the end of the mandate”


Hind helped form the Social Cooperation Society for Women in Jerusalem. “The society, which eventually had twenty-two branches in Palestine,” according to the Interactive Encyclopedia of the Palestine Question, “carried out studies of the conditions of women and children in Palestinian towns and villages, established kindergartens, organized campaigns to combat illiteracy, and set up centers to teach dressmaking.”


In April of 1948, 32-year-old Hind was on her way to a meeting. Her path took her by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. “I was walking along the streets of the Old City when I came upon a group of the most wretched children,” she recalled. “They had been carried from their homes, snatched from the protecting arms of their parents, and thrown into the streets of the Old City.” They were, she learned, survivors from the village of Deir Yassin. 


The threads that led to the violence in Deir Yassin that April are complex to comprehend, especially for those separated by both time and distance. What is certain is that Deir Yassin was a strategically valuable location: The small village of 750-some Palestinians in their roughly 150 homes sat atop a 2,600-foot-high hill overlooking Jerusalem.


By most accounts, the villagers had signed a non-aggression agreement with the Haganah, the David Ben-Gurion-led group from which Israel would be born just a few weeks later. Zionist sources maintain that no such agreement existed and that the villagers were, in truth, well-armed and ready to fight, forcing door-to-door sweeps and causing the number of casualties to rise. These sources also assert that the attack on Deir Yassin was perpetrated by right-wing militias, not Israeli forces. Indeed, it’s largely undisputed that it was the Zionist troops of Irgun Zvai Leumi and Lehi, an anti-British Zionist terrorist group, who assaulted the village. 


In a letter on April 20, 1948, to Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, Principal Secretary to the United Nations Commission on Palestine, conservative politician J. Fletcher-Cooke, who served as the UK advisor to the UN, wrote of “the Incident Report for the 9th April.” In this he explained, “The deaths of some 250 Arabs, men, women and children, which occurred during this attack, took place in circumstances of great savagery. Women and children were stripped, lined up, photographed, and then slaughtered by automatic firing and survivors have told of even more incredible bestialities. Those who were taken prisoner were treated with degrading brutality.”


Also, he wrote, “a representative of the International Red Cross who visited Deir Yassin on the 11th April is said to have stated that in one cave he saw heaped bodies of some 150 Arab men, women and children, whilst in a stronghold a further 50 bodies were found.” He reported that the attack was believed to be “undertaken with the knowledge of the Haganah,” but also that, “the action as a whole has been condemned by the Jewish press.” Additional accounts from survivors described the murder of entire families, homes dynamited with people still inside, sexual assaults, and dismemberment. Zionist sources dispute many of these testimonies. (In September 1948, Irgun disbanded. Many Irgun and Lehi members were then integrated into the newly established Israeli Defense Forces.)


Al Jazeera reported in an April 9, 2023 article titled “The Deir Yassin massacre: Why it still matters 75 years later,” “As news of the atrocities spread, thousands fled their villages in fear. Eventually, some 700,000 Palestinians would flee or be forcibly displaced at the outset of Israel’s creation, making the massacre a decisive moment in Palestinian history.”


As Palestinians fled their homeland and the fate of nations shifted and churned, Hind looked to the most fundamental of needs: the hunger of a child. 


After her meeting, she returned to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. First, she took the children to apartment rooms rented by her Social Society. She visited daily with food and supplies, but soon relocated the brood to the Notre Dame de Sion convent in western Jerusalem. The head of the convent had been concerned about Hind traveling so frequently through a city in turmoil, and rightly so—a bomb struck the apartments not long after the children were moved.


At last, Hind brought all 55 of those children into her home.


Soon after, she made the orphanage official. The beautiful mansion Hind’s grandfather had built became Dar al-Tifl al-Arabi—The Home of the Arab Child. This new location expanded upon her original mission to support the most vulnerable of Palestinians, and over the following decades, The Home distinguished itself as an educational institution. It also provided nurseries, a secretarial school, and training in domestic skills. 


“The Home of the Arab Child had its own bus, which Husseini used to ride to villages to collect orphans and bring them to her institution,” the Interactive Encyclopedia said, mentioning also, that The Home was open to families who had lost only their patriarch. “At times, she would give shelter to both the mother and her orphaned children.” 


Hind’s social work was largely facilitated by the imminence of the Husseini family. In a 2002 article, This Week in Palestine noted, “The idea of an orphanage in a society in which family lines are all-important would have been an object of pity if begun by anyone of a lesser social standing. But Hind Husseini was adamant about the right of children to grow up without complexes. ‘Raise your heads, never look down. Be proud. The prophet Mohammad was an orphan; Jesus was raised by his mother only. Weren't they respectable?’ she used to tell the children generation after generation.”


In time, The Home didn’t serve only orphans or the fatherless, as This Week in Palestine reported, but also “as many as 40 children sent by wealthy parents in the Gulf as boarding students. The tuition fees from these students alone paid the expenses of the 120 other children. ... Dar Al-Tifl is not called an orphanage; only one-third of the 1,000 students are children who have lost one or both parents. A greater number are social welfare cases: children who can no longer stay at home, or who cannot commute to school from distant villages.”


As The Home’s profile grew, sometimes children would be left at the gates. Hind sheltered them all. “Two girls were brought to Dar Al-Tifl from a Jewish woman, who said they had not been accepted in any schools,” said a 2008 UN press release celebrating Hind’s legacy. “Hind took them in and they attended the school.”


Hind, herself adaptable to difficult and changing times, created an institution that expanded to be what its people needed. In 1960, she established a museum to care for Palestinian antiques, instruments, and items of popular fashion. Then, in June 1967, during the tumult of Six-Day War as Israel and its neighboring Arab nations fought, she transformed The Home into a clinic for the wounded. 


She was one of the founders of the Arab Women’s Union, and a member of the Palestinian National Council. Throughout the 1970s, she traveled to speak on her areas of expertise: social work and the advancement of rural women. She also adopted one of the orphans abandoned at her doorstep, a daughter named Hidaya. 


In 1982, when a noted Palestinian scholar’s mansion was purchased, Hind coordinated with others to found a library of Arab and Islamic heritage that would become the Isaaf al-Nashashibi Center for Culture, Arts and Literature. Around that same time, Hind worked with the Islamic Conference Organization to found the Hind al-Husseini College of Arts for Girls.


On Sept. 13, 1994, Hind died as she was born, in Jerusalem, having dedicated herself 78 years to the education and preservation of Palestinian life.


The following year, her College of Arts for Girls merged with Al-Quds University, Jerusalem’s only Arab Palestinian university. In 2021, Al-Quds shared a post titled, “Hind Al-Husseini Art College continues its role as a vibrant scientific and cultural beacon in the heart of Jerusalem.” In it, they wrote, “Currently, the faculty enrolls approximately 240 female students from Jerusalem and the surrounding area.”


The Home for the Arab Child that Hind created still exists, though its precise status as of this writing is difficult to confirm. Over the years, as a proud center of Palestinian culture, it was a target of Zionist vandalism and harassment. In addition, the continued expansion of Israel has changed the landscape for The Home’s vulnerable students. “By 1995, Dar Al-Tifl had some 300 orphans. However, that number would halve following closure in the Gaza Strip, to where the orphans from there had to return, and increasingly within the West Bank,” the 2008 UN press release stated. “Hence, the number of orphans attending the school has dwindled every year. Today [2008], the school has 35 orphaned girls, out of some 2,000 students who attend preschool to 12th grades there, including boarding students.” The Home’s site listed their 2021-2022 enrollment at 822 students. 


Susan Abulhawa, a contributor to the Palestine Chronicle, attended a sneak peek for Miral, a 2010 film about a girl raised at The Home of the Arab Child. Susan watched with special interest because she, too, had lived there in the 1980s. While she had significant grievances with the film, the depiction of Hind herself was not one of them. In her review, she described one particularly striking moment.


“Miss Hind is standing alone by the gates of the orphanage and then the film cuts to her funeral,” Susan wrote. “The abrupt transition knotted my throat with the realization that I never got a chance to say good bye to that incredible woman who took me in when there was no other safe place in the world for me. I never got a chance to thank her, or tell her how profoundly she touched my life. So I cried in the theatre for the loss of el Sit Hind, as we called her.”



Jerusalem Story: Hind Taher al-Husseini Deir Yassin

Al Jazeera: The Deir Yassin massacre: Why it still matters 75 years later

Interactive Encyclopedia of Palestine Question: Hind al-HusseiniDeir Yassin Massacre, 9 April 1948

Hind Husseini Foundation: Dar Tifel al-Arabi

National Army Museum: The British Army in Palestine

United Nation: Attack on Deir YassinLegacy of Hind al-Husseini

Al-Quds University: Hind Al-Husseini Arts college continues its role as a vibrant scientific and cultural beacon in the heart of Jerusalem

EurasiaReview: Miral: A Palestinian Disappointment – OpEd