Musa Alami

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For the mayor of Jerusalem, see Musa al-Alami (mayor of Jerusalem).

Musa Alami (1897–1984) (Arabic: موسى العلمي‎, Müsə al-‘Alāmi) was a Palestinian nationalist and politician. Alami was the founder and president of the Arab Development Society. Due to Alami having represented Palestine at various Arab conferences, in the 1940s Alami was viewed by many as the leader of the Palestinian Arabs.[1]


Musa Alami was born in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem to a wealthy landowning family.[2] His father was Mayor of Jerusalem Faidi al-Alami, his sister was married to Jamal al-Hussayni and he was the uncle of Serene Husseini Shahid.[3] Alami attended school in the American Colony and the French Ecole des Freres in Jaffa. He fled to Syria in 1917-1918 to flee the Ottoman draft. In 1925, after studying law at Cambridge he began working as a legal officer for the British administration in Mandatory Palestine. In 1932 he was appointed private secretary to the High Commissioner for Palestine and pushed for the political rights and economic interests of the Arab population. In 1934-1936, he took part in a delegation that met with the Zionist leadership, hoping to negotiate a compromise.[4] In 1967, after the Six Day War, Ben-Gurion phoned Alami, who was then in London, to initiate peace talks.[5]

Musa Alami died in Amman, Jordan, on June 8, 1984, due to circulatory problems.[6] His funeral was held at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.[7]

Civil service career[edit]

Musa Alami at London Conference, St. James' Palace, February 1939. Left to right: Fu'ad Saba, Yaqub al-Ghusayn, Musa Alami, Amin Tamimi, Jamal Al-Husseini, Awni Abdul Hadi, George Antonious, and Alfred Roch

Upon his return to Jerusalem, Musa Alami worked for the legal department of the British Mandatory authorities and eventually became the private secretary of the High Commissioner General Arthur Grenfell Wauchope. In 1934, Alami participated in talks with the leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett. When Ben-Gurion suggested that the Zionists could provide significant help developing the region, Alami replied that he would prefer waiting one hundred years and leaving the land backward, as long as the Palestinians did the job themselves.[8] According to Alami, the Arabs regarded the Turks as partners rather than oppressors and "a greater degree of freedom and self-government existed in Palestine than in many Turkish provinces."[9]

Alami was ousted from his government position as legal adviser by the British authorities and went into exile in Beirut, and later in Baghdad. He played an important role in St. James Conference, negotiations with the British government in London in 1938–1939.[10] He was a major contributor to the White Paper of 1939.[citation needed]

In 1946, Alami headed the Arab Office, which presented the interests of the Arabs to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry.[11]

In his memoirs, Walter Laqueur quotes Alami as saying that the "new [Palestinian] leaders were a set of young men of some education, all of them in the traumatic condition induced by the consciousness of having suffered a resounding defeat at the hand of an enemy whom they had heartily despised."[12]

In an article published in 1949, Alami analyzed what he called the "great national disaster" suffered by the Arabs of Palestine.[13] He accused the British of being the prime cause.[13] He lamented the disunity, lack of a unified command, improvisation, diversity of plans, slackness and lack of seriousness that led to the Arabs defeat in the war,[13] and claimed that the evacuation and homelessness of the Arabs was planned and intended by the Jews.[13] According to Alami, the incompetence of the Arab governments revealed itself in its handling of the refugees: "It is shameful that the Arab governments should prevent the Arab refugees from working in their countries and shut the doors in their faces and imprison them in camps."[13] He further argued that the ambitions of the Jews were not limited to Palestine alone, and they would attempt to take all of Palestine[13]

Social activism[edit]

Alami founded an agricultural school and experimental farm in Jericho to provide training for the Palestinian refugee population. He acquired a concession of 5,000 acres (20 km2) of desert from the Jordanian government. In 1945 he founded the Arab Development Society (ADS)to aid refugees in Jericho following the British withdrawal from Palestine.[14] After he discovered water he founded a large farm and school for refugee children.[15] Alami raised funds for building villages for the refugees and founded an agricultural farm whose produce was exported.[16] The farm was destroyed in the course of the Arab riots in Jericho against the British[17] but with help from the World Bank and the Ford Foundation, Alami managed to rebuild it.

According to Gilmour, who interviewed Alami in February 1979, the farm and school were highly successful until the Six-Day War. He claimed the Israeli army systematically smashed the irrigation system, buildings and well-boring machinery, and most of the land quickly reverted to desert. He told Gilmour: "I gain no pleasure from this place now. I stay here out of duty. I know the Zionists have been wanting to get rid of us for years. They want me to go and have told me so. They want to build a kibbutz here. But I have a duty to keep going, a duty to my people."[18]

The Israel Defense Forces crossing on the eastern exit of Jericho is named for Musa Alami.[19]

Published works[edit]

  • The Lesson of Palestine, Middle East Journal, Vol. 3, No. 4, October 1949, pp. 373–405.
  • (Preface): The Future of Palestine, (Hermon Books, Beirut, 1970)


  1. ^ Palestine, a Study of Jewish, Arab, and British Policies, 1283, Esco Foundation for Palestine, inc - 1970
  2. ^ Furlonge, G. (1969). Palestine is my Country: The Story of Musa Alami. London: John Murray.
  3. ^ Teveth, Shabtai (1985) Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs. From Peace to War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-503562-3. p.130
  4. ^ Musi Alami (1897-1984)
  5. ^ Vivid, arresting portrait of successful Israeli campaign
  6. ^ Musa Alami, Founder Of an Arab Aid Group, New York Times
  7. ^ Musa Alami: The Last Palestinian
  8. ^ Laqueur, Walter: Dying for Jerusalem: The Past, Present and Future of the Holiest City (Sourcebooks, Inc., 2006) ISBN 1-4022-0632-1. p. 161
  9. ^ David Gilmour: Dispossessed. The Ordeal of the Palestinians. Sphere books, Great Britain, 1983, (first published in 1980) pp. 35-36, (Gilmour interviewed Musa Alami in Feb. 1979)
  10. ^ Abcarius, M.F. (nd) Palestine. Through the Fog of Propaganda. Hutchinson. p.204
  11. ^ Albert Hourani: in memoriam
  12. ^ Laqueur, Walter: Dying for Jerusalem: The Past, Present and Future of the Holiest City (Sourcebooks, Inc., 2006) ISBN 1-4022-0632-1. p. 162
  13. ^ a b c d e f Musa Alami, The Lesson of Palestine, Middle East Journal, Vol. 3, 1949, p.373–405
  14. ^ Arab Development Society Collection
  15. ^ David Gilmour: Dispossessed. The Ordeal of the Palestinians. Sphere books, Great Britain, 1983, (first published in 1980) p. 128-9,
  16. ^ Something for Ammi Jul. 20, 1953 Time
  17. ^ Southeast Weekly Bulletin,October 3, 1957
  18. ^ David Gilmour: Dispossessed. The Ordeal of the Palestinians. Sphere books, Great Britain, 1983, (first published in 1980) pp. 128-130
  19. ^ Easing measures for the Palestinian population during the eid al-Adcha holiday

Further reading[edit]

  • Furlonge, Geoffrey W., Palestine is My Country: The Story of Musa Alami (NYC, Praeger Publishers, 1969)