The Arab College in Jerusalem, 1918-1948: Recollections
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During the British Mandate in Palestine (1918-1948) the Arab College in Jerusalem stood at the top of the Palestinian Arab educational pyramid. It was a unique institution, not only in Palestine but also in the Arab world. It had a group of outstanding students who were selected for their intellectual and academic abilities. The teachers of the college were distinguished by their talent and knowledge. After the catastrophe of 1948, many of the college graduates were dispersed with the rest of their countrymen and women, but they continued to work for their people in the diaspora and to devotedly serve the countries that received them, motivated by honesty, industry, and an impeccable sense of duty. This same spirit has guided those graduates who remained in the homeland.

 History of the College

The Arab College was established in 1918 as a teachers‘ college with the aim of preparing elementary school teachers. The British Mandate in Palestine gave its administration to Egyptian teachers. In 1919 it was administered by Khalil al-Sakakini, who soon resigned to protest the British appointment of the Jewish Herbert Samuel as high commissioner of Palestine. In place of Sakakini came Dr. Khalil Totuh, who was the college‘s headmaster until 1925. He too resigned following protests by administrators, teachers, and students against the visit of Arthur James Balfour, Britain‘s prime minister and author of the notorious declaration named after him, who came for the inauguration of the Hebrew University. Then the general director of education in Palestine, Humphrey Bowman, called on Mr. Ahmad Sameh al-Khalidi to run the affairs of the college. He continued to do so until the end of the mandate in 1948.

The appointment of Khalidi was a turning point in the college‘s history and development. In 1925 it was decided that the school should assume the responsibility not just of training teachers, but of preparing students to pass the Palestine matriculation examination. Beginning with the summer of 1926, this general examination was administered to students, both Arabs and non-Arabs, who had completed secondary school and wished to continue their university education outside Palestine (at the time Arabs had no universities or colleges in Palestine). The matriculation exam was conducted under the supervision of the Council of Higher Education, which was composed of British, Arab, and Jewish experts, and was headed by the general director of British education.

In light of this development, the college began to focus on those academic subjects covered in the matriculation exam, such as Arabic, English, general history, mathematics, geography, physics, and chemistry.

Since 1926 the teachers‘ college had introduced a fifth secondary grade to train teachers chosen from those who passed the matriculation exam. In this class the student learned both the usual curriculum subjects and important academic subjects such as Arabic, English, and history, with emphasis on practical and theoretical educational material such as history of education, psychology, and teaching methodology. Mr. Ahmad Sameh al-Khalidi greatly contributed by writing and translating a number of education books.

Things continued this way until 1939, when an important change took place in the development of the Arab College (this is the name given to the teachers‘ college starting in 1927). Beginning with the third secondary grade, the lowest grade in the college, students were streamed into two divisions, science and art. Then a sixth secondary grade was added in which the student sat for the Palestine Intermediate examination, which qualified him to teach in the primary and early secondary levels (until the end of eleventh grade), after which students could take the matriculation and intermediate examinations.

Because of the high academic level of the students of the college, they always faired well in general examinations. For instance, in 1942, the year I took the matriculation examination, all twenty students in my class passed and received their matriculation certificate.

The main reason for such results was the meticulous selection process the college used in choosing its students. They were picked from the top students who had completed primary school, that is, seventh grade, in the schools of cities and towns such as Bisan, Majdal, ‘Asqualan and Jenine, where schooling ended with this grade. The students of these schools attended the tenth and eleventh grades in the Rashedeyeh school in Jerusalem, but they used to eat and sleep in the Arab College, which they would join after successfully finishing the eleventh grade. They were transported back and forth between the college and the Rashedeyeh by, as I recall, bus number ten, that belonged to the ‘Ayn Karim bus company. The majority of the students of the college were chosen from those at the top of their eleventh grade classes in schools that ended with this grade in larger cities such as Haifa, Jaffa, Safad, Nazareth, Gaza, Nablus, and Tulkarem. They would join the lowest grade in the college, the twelfth grade. A committee composed of the headmaster of their school and one or two officials from the Administration of Education would conduct personal interviews with the selected students in order to determine their qualification for the teaching profession. They also had to pass a medical examination. After 1940 conditions were introduced regarding age: no student joining the college should be older than fourteen coming from the seventh grade, or older than sixteen coming from the eleventh grade. Students were closely supervised during their tenure in the college: a student would be terminated if he failed one subject at the end of the year. During 1940-41, my twelfth grade class had twenty-two students; two were kicked out at the end of the year: the first because of his poor academic performance and the second because of his anti-British political activity.

Officially, the college used to charge eight Palestinian pounds per semester, or twenty-four pounds per year. But in practice waiver of tuition was the rule because the majority of the students distinguished themselves academically or were poor. Students wore college uniforms consisting of a green jacket, with the motto of the college on its left side pocket (the black hawk against a circular white background), and gray wool pants, a white shirt, and a green tie. This was a good practice in order to eliminate differences in appearance amongst the students, who mostly came from families of middle-class means or lower. But I noticed that during the period I spent in the college (1940-1944), the uniform was not strictly enforced.

 The College‘s Location and Structure

From its inception until 1934 the college was in rented buildings in the neighborhood of Bab al-Sahira in Jerusalem. Then it moved to its new location on Jabal al-Mukaber. Next to it stood the palace of the British high commissioner and an agricultural school for Jewish girls. The college was separated from the Jewish neighborhood of Talpiyot by an open field with a golf course. The college‘s new location was beautiful, overlooking the Holy City and the Dead Sea and Jordan valley. But it had barely enjoyed its new location when the revolt of 1936 occurred. British forces occupied it in their efforts to put down the rebellion, not withdrawing until 1937.

The new building was made up of two stories: the first had the classes, the administrative offices, the teachers‘ room, the library (which contained 7,122 books in 1946), the laboratory, the large eating hall for teachers and students, and the washroom. The second story housed students‘ sleeping quarters. It consisted of five halls that had room for seventy-two beds. For the remaining twenty students, a nearby house was rented for them where they could sleep and study, under the supervision of a special proctor (the post was filled by Mahmoud al-Ghoul for two years), but their eating, learning, and other activities continued to be in the college‘s main building. This is in addition to the rooms of the unmarried teachers and administrators who lived in the college, among whom during 1940-1944 were the teachers Nicola Zeyadeh, Muhammad al-Haj Meer, and Jamil Ali and the administrators Henry Knezuvitch, Emile Hamati, and disipline officer Fakhri al-Khatib.

The college had large fields for soccer and tennis. Encircling the college was a pine orchard surrounded by barbed wire. This is where we went during free time to study. We would sit on the rocks and read in a quiet atmosphere, though some of us would break the rules by smoking, the punishment for which was a warning. We grew and the trees grew with us, and now we don‘t know what has happened to them. Many must have grown old and tired and died just like those Arab college students who loved them and sat underneath them.

The College Administration

At the top of the administration pyramid sat the late educator Mr. Ahmad Sameh al-Khalidi, who enjoyed wide powers and was only answerable to the general director of British education. Two bodies were running the college as described below.

The Administrative Body

It was composed of the college director‘s assistant, who at the time was Mr. Habib al-Khouri (Kufr Yaseef/‘Acca), until he left the college at the end of the thirties. The director remained without an assistant until Mr. Abdul Rahman Bushnaq (Caesaria/Haifa) was appointed to the post in 1946, in addition to his job as teacher of English literature in the college. Among the most prominent administrators were Mr. Henry Knezuvitch (an Austrian born in Gaza), who was responsible for finances, food, and services; Emile Hamati (Nazareth), who was the secretary; and Subhi al-Joulani (Hebron), who ran errands. All of them were good at what they did. We may add to the administrators the discipline officer Fakhri al-Khatib (Ledda) during 1940-1944, who replaced Fakhri Jawhareyeh (father of the martyr Hani Wajd al-Shaheed Fakhri). Certainly, this was a necessary post since discipline is important. But unfortunately, Fakhri al-Khatib used to treat the students, who were the cream of the crop and the educators of the future generation, with much condescension and hardness. At one point, the students had enough. The resulting problems and investigations in 1945-1946 led to the removal of al-Khatib and the cancellation of the post.

The Academic Body

It consisted of well-qualified teachers, graduates of the best universities of the time. There is no room to mention all of them here, and I will only limit myself to my contemporaries, although I have known and heard of many others. Some of the teachers were graduates of the college, who came back to it after completing their education in universities abroad. Some of these teachers are Nicola Zeyadeh (1924, ancient and medieval history); Muhammad Abdul Salam al-Barghouti (1928, basic mathematics); Abdul Rahman Bushnaq (1930, English Literature); Ahmad Salim S‘eidan (1931, mathematics); Fathin As‘ad Quaddoura (1938, physics). Some of the teachers were not graduates of the college, such as Ahmad Touquan (mathematics); Jamil ‘Ali (mathematics); Ishaq Mousa al-Husseini (Arabic language); Muhammad Hadi al-Haj Meer (medieval and modern history); ‘Ali Hasan ‘Oudeh (Islamic religion); Jamal Badran (drawing and art); Habib Khouri (Arabic language and Christian religion). The grades for religion and art classes were not calculated. These two subjects were taught on holidays (Friday and Sunday), which affected the students negatively since they were looking forward to this holiday for entertainment and rest from the week‘s activities.

We still remember those teachers of ours fondly. I would have liked to talk more about them, but there is no room for this here. Noticeably many of them postponed marriage until the end of their forties and more. A main reason for this was their desire for education and for establishing themselves, as was the case with Jamil ‘Ali, ‘Ali Hasan ‘Oudeh, Jamal Badran, Nicola Zeyadeh, and George Khamis (who never married). This phenomena of late marriage included the administrators as well, such as Henry Knezuvitch, Fakhri al-Khatib, and Emil Hamati. The latter, I believe, never married. As to the style of preparing classes, some like Nicola Zeyadeh, Muhammad al-Haj Meer, Ishaq Mousa al-Husseini, Abdul Rahman Bushnaq, Salim Katoul, and Muhammad Abdul Salam al-Barghouti expected the student to do most of the work, limiting their role to general direction. Others, such as George Khamis, would tire themselves out teaching the lesson, and Jamil ‘Ali would exhaust himself explaining advanced math, which he greatly loved. George Hourani still amazes me with his ability to teach to senior students in the college four hefty subjects: Latin, Greek and Roman history, logic, and the history of philosophy.

A Day in the Life of the College

The students were awakened at 6:00 A.M. every day by a bell rung by that day‘s proctor. They prepared themselves for breakfast at 7:00 A.M., by which time the students of the "house"—the house rented by the college for some of its students—had arrived. It was self-service: each group of ten students would sit at a table, and one of them would serve the rest for a week. After breakfast, at the prompting of the proctor, the students left the hall in the same order as they had entered. Classes began at 8:00 A.M. Each class was forty-five minutes with just a few minutes between classes. The students had five classes before noon, and two after lunch. Friday and Sunday were the official holidays. Between 3:30 P.M. and 6:00 P.M. mandatory athletic activities, such as soccer and basketball, would take place. Although there were tennis courts, tennis was considered a luxury practiced only by a few of the students and faculty. Dinner was at 6:00 P.M., and after it at 7:00 P.M. mandatory study period, or "preparation" as it was called, began. The students would study two hours every evening under the supervision of a proctor. The discipline officer used to select proctors from the senior class, and they would take turns supervising the students during study periods and sleeping hours. Each bedroom had its own proctor. There were five rooms, four of which could take twelve students and one twenty-four students. A special proctor was responsible for timing classes and for mandatory activities throughout the week. A little after 9:00 P.M. the students went to sleep, and studying and all other activities would not be allowed until the morning of the next day.

Extracurricular Activities

College life was formal for the most part and was characterized by surveillance and relative isolation since the college was far from the center of Jerusalem and all its students, even those from Jerusalem, had to board in the school. The location of the college protected it from the noise of the city and provided an excellent atmosphere for study. Extracurricular activities were a must. The mandatory sports activities, as mentioned above, were soccer and basketball, which were played by all students. The college had its own soccer team, which used to compete with other schools and institutions. Among the most prominent players of the team during 1940-1944 were Muhammad Khalil Ibrahim, the goalie; Jamil Ali al-Salih Abu al-Rabb and Mahmoud Yousef Zayed, defence; Muhammad Hasan al-Sufouri, attack (as I recall). Hasan Abu Meizar was on the left wing. The college participated in the annual Maydan Day for the Jerusalem district, which was held on its fields under the aegis of the British high commissioner or the general director of education. The college participated in the mile race; the student Munther Ibrahim al-Fahoum came in first place more than once. This was in addition to an athletic show in which the students of the college performed to music.

As to other entertainment, there was a gramophone or a phonograph with its black records, which used to be started by hand, not by electricity. It was in the main dining hall. It had a small copper plaque on it that said it was a gift from Arthur Wauchope, the British high commissioner during 1931-1937. The records were such popular songs as "‘indama Ya‘ti al-masa" (When the evening descends), "Ya wabur ‘ulli rayeh ‘ala fein" (Hey ship, tell me where you‘re heading), "Ya Shira‘an wara‘ dijlata yajri" (Hey, sail cruising in Dijla), "Khatam al-Sabru bu‘dana biltalaqi" (Patience ended our separation with a meeting), and "Ya ma Araq al-Naseem" (How soft is the breeze). In a hut east of the college there was a radio and a tennis table. Students used to go there during free time to play and to listen to the radio, which mostly had news of the Second World War. Students were not allowed to leave the college during weekends (Friday and Sunday) unless they wanted to go to Jerusalem for a few hours to run some personal errands such as shaving. The two barbershops favored by college students were the "Wa‘ari barber shop" and the "Hamoudeh barber shop." Sometimes the students went to the cinema in groups supervised by the college. The students were not permitted to go to their towns except on winter break (for ten days from the end of December to early January), spring break (for ten days in April), and summer holiday, during July, August, and September.

We must not forget the short trips to the areas surrounding Jerusalem. They were very exciting, especially the daylong hiking trips. There were also longer trips in buses to the Dead Sea, the Jordan Valley, the Monastery of the Temptation on Jabal Quruntul, or to Beer al-Sabe‘, Gaza, Majdal, and ‘Asqalan. The students would return on the evening of the same day. We heard about a historic two-week trip to East Jordan in 1940, one that covered the whole country. In the spring of 1944 there were preparations to visit Egypt, but the trip was cancelled at the last minute.

As to our visitors, among them were Dr. Muhammad ‘Awad Muhammad from Egypt and Dr. Paul Kraus from Cairo University and a specialist in Semitic languages. We heard that the latter committed suicide not long after. Other visitors were Professor Isaacs, who taught English in the Hebrew University and who talked to us about rhythm in language and poetry; and Sir Ronald Storrs, one of the wily British politicians and the governor of Jerusalem at the beginning of the Mandate. He talked in his lecture about detective stories! We were also visited by the late Ahmad Safi al-Najafi, who read some of his poetry. Muhammad Yousef Najem, who loved to impersonate others, took the first chance he had to impersonate Mr. al-Najafi: he wore a white robe and a kafiyyeh and ‘ikal and recited the poem in an Iraqi accent! On a few occasions local cultural evenings were held by the college students and were attended by Mr. al-Khalidi.

It is worth mentioning those who taught in the Arab college from its inception, which can be a lengthy affair. Some have already been mentioned above. In his study on this subject, Dr. Hisham Nashabeh covered this area well, especially because he relied on the manuscript of Mr. al-Khalidi‘s memoirs: "Filasteen kama ‘araftuha" (Palestine as I knew it). It suffices to mention some of the Arab Palestinian names which Dr. Nashabeh lists such as Khalil al-Sakakini, Khalil Totuh, Mustafa Murad al-Dabbagh, Dya‘ al-Deen al-Khatib, and Darwish al-Mikdadi. Among the non-Palestinians there were the Lebanese Gabriel Katoul and his brother Salim, the Iraqi Ma‘rouf al-Risafi, and the British Stuart Byron, John Attenborough, and Sir Francis Ashley.

To the best of my memory, here are, the names of my contemporaries during 1940-1944 and those who graduated before me, along with their year of graduation: the well-known historian and writer Nicola Zeyadeh (Nazareth, 1924); Mahmoud Suleiman al-‘Abidi (North ‘Aseera/Nablus, 1927), writer, historian, educator, and archeologist; Ihsan ‘Abbas (‘ayn Ghazal/Haifa, 1941), researcher, critic, translator, and author; Ahmad Salim S‘eidan (Safad, 1931), mathematician and Arabization expert; Jabra Ibrahim Jabra (Beit Sahour or Bethlehem, 1937 or 1938), the respected novelist; ‘Abdul latif al-Tibawi (al-Taybeh/Tulkarem), educator and historian; ‘Abduallah al-Rimawi (Beit Rema/Ramallah), educator and politican; Tawfiq ‘Abdulaha al-Sayegh (Tiberias, 1943), researcher, poet, and historian; Khayri Hammad (Nablus), media person, translator, and writer; ‘Erfan Qa‘war or ‘Erfan Shaheed (Nazareth, 1944), historian, and encyclopedic researcher; Fateen Yousef Boulos (Kufr Yaseef/‘Acca, 1944), atomic scientist; Amin ‘Abdul Karim Muwafi (Kalkelya, 1942), distinguished university teacher of mathematics; Mahmoud Yousef Zayed (‘Anabta/Tulkarem, 1943), historian; Mahmoud Ali al-Ghoul (Silwan/Jerusalem, 1942), educator and expert in languages of the Arab peninsula; Muhammad Yousef Najem (Majdal ‘Asqalan, 1943, ‘Abdul Rahman ‘Abdul Wahab Yaghi (al-Masmeyeh, 1943); Nayef Nimr Kharma (Safad, 1944).

Each of the following was distinguished academically: Amin Fares Malhas (Nablus 1942), well-known author; Muhammad al-Sheikh Salem Fayad (Kartya 1942), ranked number one in the matriculation exam in 1940 and a scientist who worked with international organizations; As‘ad Yousef Nasr (Nazareth), ranked number one in the matriculation exam in 1945, business man and administrator and former director of Middle East Air; Badr Sa‘eed al-Fahoum (Nazareth 1935), economist and banker; Abdul Razzaq al-Yahya, one of the PLO officials; Hamed Abu Sitte (Beer al-Sabi‘, 1944), a PLO official; Mahmoud Dawoud al-S‘Amroa (Tantoura/Haifa, 1945), researcher, university president, and minister in Jordan; Ahmad Yousef al-Hasan (Um al-Fahem/Jenin, 1942), engineer, minister, and distinguished university president in Syria; Rajeh Mohammd al-Amin (Tantoura/Haifa, 1943), distinguished chemical engineer and one of the founders of the Jordan Industrial Development Bank; Naser al-Deen al-Asad (Amman 1943), minister, researcher, scientist, university president, diplomat, and head of Royal Mujama‘ for studies of Islamic Civilization (al-Bayt Institution/Amman); Muhammad Nouri Shafiq (Amman, 1945), educator, minister, distinguished administrator and former head of a number of large Jordanian public institutions; Mansour Farid al-Armali (Haifa, 1944), one of the most prominent optometrists in the United States; Hilmi Samara (Tulkarem), a mathematician and an expert consultant for oil companies; Jamil ‘Aref al-Budeiri (Jerusalem, 1944), educator and successful businessman. I will stop here, with my apologies to those who have not been mentioned, either because of lack of information about them or for lack of space.

Despite the fact that I have already gone beyond the word limits of this essay, I cannot end it without discussing, albeit briefly, two figures who had an important role in the history of the college: Mr. Ahmad Sameh al-Khalidi , the college director, and Mr. Jerome Farrell, the general director of education.

As to Mr. al-Khalidi (Abu al-Walid), he is known for his love for education as a profession and the long time he spent working in the college, which gave him the chance to contribute to its development from a teachers‘ training institute to an educational and academic landmark. For the college was about to be the nucleus of a university except for the catastrophe of 1948. In running the college he was enlightened, kindhearted, strict, respectable, and devoted to his work. He was author, translator, and researcher in education and other academic fields as well. He also headed some social and humanitarian institutions such as "the general orphan committee," which was an agricultural educational institution founded in the village of Deir ‘Amro near Jerusalem to care for orphans of martyrs of the Great Revolution. When he was appointed to the post of the technical assistant to the general director of education, it became impossible for him to carry out all his responsibilities, so he delegated his teaching responsibilities starting in 1942 and some of his administrative duties in 1946. I have the impression that Mrs. Um Usama (‘Anbara Salam al-Khalidi) was a supporter of her spouse, Abu al-Walid, in all his efforts. Walid belongs to our generation, and we still remember him for his good manners, serenity, and hard work. As to Sulafa, his sister, frankly traditions did not permit that we speak to her. As to Usama, Randa, and Tareef, they were little at the time.

As mentioned above, the other personality important to the college was Mr. Jerome Farrell, the general director of education. Originally an Irish Catholic, he was educated at Cambridge. He had a military disposition, for he had served in the First World War. He was a strict administrator, classically oriented, and celibate, a man dedicated to knowledge and work. He had his own weight among his colleagues, the British directors, who were equivalent to ministers in their departments. He took his post after Humphrey Bowman in the second half of the thirties and was succeeded by B. De Bunsen in 1946. Farrell‘s personality was reflected in the college, to which he devoted much of his attention and which he visited frequently despite his busy schedule. He played a big role in its development, helping to divide it into science and art streams in 1939, to open a sixth secondary grade, to institute the intermediate examination, and to devise the academic curriculum for the art stream, at least for the fifth and sixth grades. He included in the above-mentioned exam logic, Greek and Roman History, Philosophy, and Latin. We often wondered, my colleagues and I, about the usefulness of studying a dead language like Latin. The answer came rather late: about a year ago I addressed the question to Mr. Hasan al-Karmi during a visit I paid him. His answer was that Farrell once met Dr. Taha Hussein and because of Farrell‘s bad French and Hussein‘s bad English, Mr. Karmi acted as a translator for them. It seemed they were in agreement as to the importance of Latin in transmitting the products of the Arabo-Islamic civilization to Europe, which apparently encouraged Farrell to institute Latin in the curricula of Palestinian higher education instead of French or German or other living languages used on a wide scale.

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