Al–Shukairy, Ahmad

views updated

Ahmad Al–Shukairy

Ahmad Al–Shukairy's (1908–1980) interest in Arab nationalist affairs developed during his brief tenure as a university student in Lebanon. After being expelled for his activism, he entered law school and began defending Arab activists working for Palestinian independence and contributing political articles to the Eastern Mirror newspaper. Later legal actions centered on saving Palestinian lands from encroaching Zionist occupation, he launched a career as a diplomat in 1945, when he was appointed the first director of an Arab bureau media office in Washington, D.C. From there, he went on to serve in the Arab League and the United Nations, and in 1964 he was elected first president of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Attended Zion School

Al–Shukairy was born in 1908 in the castle of Tibneen in Lebanon. Palestine was, at the time, ruled by the Turkish Ottoman Empire and Al–Shukairy's father, Sheikh Asa'ad Al–Shukairy, at one time served as a member of the Empire's legislative body. After voicing opposition to Ottoman policies, however, he was banished to Lebanon. Al–Shukairy moved to Toulkarm, Palestine, with his mother, who was Turkish, when he was a small boy and learned to speak Turkish. After his mother's death in 1916, he went to live with his father in Akka, Palestine, where he attended primary school and demonstrated his fluency in both Turkish and Arabic. Al–Shukairy also attended lessons at his mosque and read widely from the books in his father's library. After completing secondary school, he waited a year so that he could travel with his younger brother, Anwar, to Jerusalem, where both enrolled in the Zion School. There, Al–Shukairy learned English and graduated in 1926.

Al–Shukairy and his brother both proceeded to the American University in Beirut. Al–Shukairy commenced his higher education in a tumultuous political climate. Palestine, the country where he was raised, had been ruled for many centuries by the Ottoman Empire and was not regarded as an entity unto itself. When the Empire collapsed at the end of World War I, Palestine was occupied by British forces. Under British rule, Palestine acquired its own government and, while not officially recognized as a nation, began to take on a distinct political identity. Its inhabitants, considered British subjects, were known as Palestinians. As Palestine's political status shifted, a growing Zionist contingent sought to establish the area as a national Jewish state. These events spurred a growing nationalist movement among Arabs from both Palestine and surrounding nations.

At the American University, Al–Shukairy joined a club called al–arwat–al–wuthq, a multinational group with strong Arab nationalist underpinnings. Early in his university tenure, Al–Shukairy participated in a demonstration honoring 21 Arab dissidents who had been hanged in Damascus and Beirut on May 6, 1915. Al–Shukairy was so moved by the collective action that he improvised a speech condemning the French occupation of Arab nations, resulting in his expulsion from the university. Al–Shukairy returned to Akka, where he began writing articles for Al–Zumr newspaper in which he expressed his nationalist views and encouraged opposition to Zionism and colonialism. In 1928, he entered the Institute of Law in Jerusalem. Since the Institute's courses were held at night, Al–Shukairy spent his days writing for the newspaper Mir'at Alshark, or "Mirror of the East." While in school, Al–Shukairy became even more active in the nationalist movement, and at one point was arrested by the British police for his political activities. Following his release from prison, he resigned from Mir'at Alshark to concentrate on his studies. He received his law degree in 1933. That same year he married Naseeba Al–Sa'di. Their first child was born the following year.

Joined Isiklal Party

Al–Shukairy then joined the practice of Awni Abdul Hadi, one of the founders of Palestine's Isiklal, or independence party. As an activist, he participated in campaigns urging the British government to end Zionist immigration into Palestine. In 1936, he helped found a national committee aimed at unifying the disparate Arab nationalist movements. He was also again arrested for participating in a general strike against the British authorities and Jewish settlers, which grew into a three–year armed rebellion that was eventually driven back by British forces. Al–Shukairy defended many Palestinians who were arrested or imprisoned in the fight for independence during this time. Following the end of the rebellion, as the British government deported active members of the rebellion, Al–Shukairy was driven from Palestine and relocated to Egypt. He was allowed to return to Palestine in 1940 to attend his father's funeral and he remained there, resuming his law practice. By this time, the Zionist presence in Palestine had grown significantly. The Arab and Jewish residents of Palestine had separate social, cultural, and political entities and two languages—Hebrew and Arabic—were spoken in the country. Jewish residents and immigrants increasingly began to settle in traditionally Arab areas and Al–Shukairy dedicated much of his work during this time to preserving Arab lands.

Following the end of World War II, Arab bureaus were established in many non–Arab nations, and Al–Shukairy was named director of an Arab bureau media office in Washington, D.C. In 1946, he returned to Palestine to head the Central Arab Media Office in Jerusalem and resume his law practice. Following the end of World War II, in 1945, the British government relinquished its rule over Palestine. In 1947, the United Nations approved a plan to divide the country into two distinct political states, one Jewish, one Arab. Although the Arabs of Palestine, and many surrounding nations, opposed the plan, it was adopted by the U.N. and on May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was officially recognized. The next day, the nations making up the Arab League—Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria—launched an armed rebellion, which commenced an Arab–Israeli War. The Israeli forces prevailed, however, and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee, resulting in additional losses of Arab territory both to Israel and to Jordan's annexation of the country's West Bank. Al–Shukairy and his family were forced from their home and they relocated to Beirut.

Headed Palestinian Delegation to U.N.

Al–Shukairy continued to advocate for Palestinian self–determination in exile. In 1947, he presented a memorandum on the issue at an Arab League meeting, which he attended as an advisor to the Syrian delegation. The following year, he presented a lengthy speech before a United Nations meeting in Beirut in which he advocated for the unconditional right of Palestinians to return to their homeland. In 1949, he was appointed as a member of Syria's United Nations delegation, a post he held for several years. He was also named Assistant Secretary General for the Arab League in Cairo, Egypt, a position he maintained until 1957. Subsequently, he was appointed minister of state for United Nations Affairs in Saudi Arabia. In 1964, he was chosen by the heads of the Arab League nations to serve as their Palestinian representative, following the death of Ahmed Hilmi Abdul Baki, who previously held the post. In his new position, he headed a Palestinian delegation to the U.N.

Al–Shukairy was also charged with obtaining support for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a political body for the Palestinian people which would advocate for Arab control of their homeland and the right of refugees to return. Al–Shukairy visited numerous Arab countries, presenting the proposal for the creation of the PLO to citizens and Palestinian refugees. The First Palestinian National Council for the Liberation Organization was held from May 28 to June 2, 1964. The creation of the PLO was approved and Al–Shukairy was named the organization's president and chair of the executive committee. The organization established a 422–member parliament, the Palestinian National Council (PNC), which adopted a national charter calling for the dismantling of Israel and the return of Palestine to its people. The organization also established the Palestine Liberation Army, which was linked to the military forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, as well as a broadcasting service, research center and offices in several Arab states.

The Six – Day War

In June 1967 Israeli forces attacked Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, launching what came to be known as the Six–Day War. Israel took control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank, all former Palestinian lands still under Arab rule. Despite a UN Security Council mandate for withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the territories, the Israeli government began Jewish settlement in these areas. The defeat of the Arab forces led the PNC to discredit the current PLO leadership, and Al–Shukairy was dismissed from his post.

Al–Shukairy maintained homes in Cairo and Lebanon and remained a vocal advocate for an independent Palestinian state. He spoke widely and published several books on Arab affairs, with a particular focus on Palestine. He lobbied against the United States' support of Israel and was especially critical of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt brokered by American President Jimmy Carter at Camp David. To protest the peace accord, he left his home in Cairo, Egypt and relocated to Tunisia. Suffering from a chronic illness, he relocated one last time, to Hussein Medical Center in Amman, Jordan, where he died on February 26, 1980. Al–Shukairy was buried in Abu Obaida cemetery in the Jordan Valley.


Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East, 4 Vols. Macmillan Reference USA, 1996.


"Biography of Mr. Ahmad Al–Shukairy," Ahmad Al–Shukairy Website, (November 29, 2004).

Biography Resource Center Online,, Gale Group, 2003.