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Aref al-Aref

Aref al-Aref (Arabic language: عارف العارف‎,‎ 1892–1973) was a Palestinian journalist, historian and politician. Aref al-Aref served as mayor of East Jerusalem in the 1950s, during the Jordanian annexation of the West Bank.


Aref al-Aref was born as Aref Shehadeh in Jerusalem in 1892.[1] His father was a vegetable vendor. Excelling at his studies in primary school, he was sent to high school in Turkey. He attended the Marjan Preparatory School and Mulkiyya College in Istanbul. During his college studies, he wrote for a Turkish newspaper. Later, he worked as a translator for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[1][2] He served as an officer in the Ottoman Army in World War I. He was captured on the Caucasus front and spent three years in a prisoner of war camp in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.[1] In Krasnoyarsk, he edited a newspaper in handwritten Arabic called Nakatullah [Camel of God] and translated Ernst Haeckel’s Die Weltraethsel ("The Riddles of the Universe") into Turkish.[1] After the Russian Revolution he escaped and returned to Palestine.[1]

Aref al-Aref died on July 30, 1973, in al-Bireh.

Political activism

Aref al-Aref (seated, center), as District Administrative Officer of Beersheba

Home of Aref al-Aref, Beersheba

By 1919, al-Aref was involved in political activism in Palestine, agitating for unity of Palestine with Syria.[3] In October 1919, he became editor of the recently established newspaper Suriya al-Janubiya (Southern Syria), which was the first Arab nationalist newspaper published in Jerusalem and was an organ of the al-Nadi al-'Arabi (The Arab Club).[2][3] Initially Suriya al-Janubiya supported the British military authorities, but soon became an opponent of the British Mandate.[3]

Al-Aref attended the Nebi Musa religious festival in Jerusalem in 1920 riding on his horse, and gave a speech at the Jaffa Gate.[2] The nature of his speech is disputed. According to Benny Morris, he said "If we don't use force against the Zionists and against the Jews, we will never be rid of them",[4] while Bernard Wasserstein wrote "he seems to have co-operated with the police, and there is no evidence that he actively instigated violence".[2] In fact, "Zionist intelligence reports of this period are unanimous in stressing that he spoke repeatedly against violence".[2] Soon the festival became a riot involving attacks on the local Jews. Al-Aref was arrested for incitement, but when he was let out on bail he escaped to Syria together with co-accused Haj Amin al-Husseini.[2] In another version, he was warned and escaped before being arrested.[5] He advised Arabs against violence, urging them instead to adopt the "discipline, silence, and courage" of their opponents.[2] In his absence, a military court sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment.[2]

In Damascus, al-Aref became a deputy to the General Syrian Congress and with Hajj Amin and others formed al-Jam'iyya al-'Arabiyya al-Filastiniyya (Palestinian Arab Society).[2][5] He became its Secretary-General and campaigned against the decisions of the San Remo conference.[5] After the French invasion of Syria in July 1920 he fled to Transjordan.[2] He returned to Jerusalem late in 1920 after being pardoned by the new High Commissioner of Palestine, Herbert Samuel, but the government refused to allow his newspaper to reopen.[2]

Political career

In 1921, he was appointed as a District Officer of the British administration by the Civil Secretary Colonel Wyndham Deedes.[2] He served in that capacity in Jenin, Nablus, Beisan, and Jaffa.[2] In 1926 he was seconded to the Government of Transjordan as Chief Secretary, where he served for three years.[2] However he continued his political activities on the side to the displeasure of his British superior.[2] He returned to Palestine in 1929, where he served as District Officer in Beersheba and later in Gaza.[2] In 1933 he received a special commendation from the High Commissioner for keeping his district quiet during a time of disturbances elsewhere.[2] In 1942 he was promoted and transferred to al-Bireh.[2] He continued as a Mandate official until 1948.[2]

Upon Jordanian control of the West Bank, al-Aref was appointed military governor of Ramallah governorate then from 1949 to 1955 served as mayor of East Jerusalem.[6] In 1967, he was appointed director of the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.[6]

Published works

  • Bedouin Love, Law and Legend: History of Beersheba and Its Tribes
  • History of Gaza
  • History of Jerusalem
  • al-Nakba: Nakbat Bayt al-Maqdis wal-firdaws al-mafqud (The catastrophe: The catastrophe of Jerusalem and the lost paradise)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Salīm Tamārī and Ihsan Salih Turjman (2011). A Soldier's Diary and the Erasure of Palestine's Ottoman Past. California University Press. pp. 66–68, 71–76. ISBN 9780520259553. 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 Bernard Wasserstein (1977). "'Clipping the Claws of the Colonisers': Arab Officials in the Government of Palestine, 1917-48". pp. 171–194. Digital object identifier:10.1080/00263207708700343. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Salīm Tamārī and Ihsan Salih Turjman (2011). A Soldier's Diary and the Erasure of Palestine's Ottoman Past. California University Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN 9780520259553. 
  4. Benny Morris. Righteous Victims. p. 95. , quoting the official history of the Haganah
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Eliezer Ṭauber (1994). The Formation of Modern Syria and Iraq. Routledge. pp. 95,105. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Michael Fishbach. "Aref al-Aref". In Philip Mattar. Encyclopedia of the Palestinians. p. 81. 

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