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Arab College of Jerusalem


One of the most important Arab educational institutions in Palestine during the British Mandate.

The Arab College of Jerusalem was officially established in 1926 in Bab al-Zahira (Herod's Gate) in Jerusalem, on the premises of the Teacher Training Academy (Dar al-Muʿallimin). In 1935, it was moved to Jabal al-Mukabbir in Jerusalem, where it remained until 1948, when its activities were suspended after the creation of the state of Israel.

The Teacher Training Academy was established by Britain, which conquered Palestine in the winter of 1917/1918. A number of Egyptian teachers were appointed to positions at the academy. In 1919, Khalil al-Sakakini, a Palestinian Christian and a well-known Arab literary figure, was named director. He remained in that office until 1922, when he resigned to protest British policy.

Soon after, Khalil Totah, another Palestinian Christian and an educator with a master's degree from Columbia University, was appointed director. In 1925, he too resigned when the students and teachers went on strike to protest the Balfour Declaration of 1917 (the strike coincided with the visit to Palestine of Britain's Arthur James Balfour). Ahmad al-Samih al-Khalidi then assumed the post of acting principal, and in 1926 he became principal. Al-Khalidi introduced important changes in the curriculum that made it necessary to change the name from Teacher Training Academy to Arab College of Jerusalem (al-Kulliyya al-Arabiyya fi alQuds). Al-Khalidi remained principal until the college closed in 1948, when about 726,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from historic Palestine and took refuge in the neighboring Arab countries, most never to return or be allowed to return again.

The Arab College of Jerusalem and its predecessor, the Teacher Training Academy, were open to both Arabs and Jews, but Jews refrained from enrolling; of the twenty-three students enrolled at the academy in 1918, only one was Jewish. As the years went by, only Arab students attended the college; but although the majority of Arab students were Muslim, they also included Christians and Bahaʾis.

The total number of students in the college rarely exceeded one hundred; most graduating classes numbered around twenty. With such small numbers, one would not expect the college to have a great impact on the cultural life of Palestine. In fact, however, it acquired wide fame in both Palestine and in neighboring Arab countries. This was due primarily to the quality of its students and of the education they received. It was a mark of outstanding performance for a student to be admitted to the college.

The principal of the college recruited his first-year students from the various Arab elementary schools in Palestine; he would choose good students who had finished elementary school, interview them, and then select the best from among them. (There were rare exceptions to this rule: Prince Nayef, of the ruling Hashimite family in Transjordan, and Prince Abd al-Ilah, a Hashimite who became regent during the early 1930s in Iraq, were admitted to the college on the basis of their social status.) Al-Khalidi was the first educator in the Arab world to apply intelligence tests to college applicants.

Once admitted, the students did not generally have to pay tuition. They were taken as boarders, for which they paid a modest stipend. This was necessary, since most students came from poor villages. The curriculum of the college was unique in the Arab countries; it was conceived on the pattern of modern British schools, with special emphasis on English language and literature, Arabic, Latin, and practical training in teaching, in addition to history, geography, science, and mathematics. Upon graduation, the students who proved themselves worthy were sent to continue their education at British universities or at the American University of Beirut. The remaining graduates continued their educations at Arab universities. The college's graduates distinguished themselves in the Arab world as doctors, professors, ambassadors, and ministers.

The teachers at the Arab College were outstanding in science, literature, and the arts; the English-language instructors were, in most cases, British. The college attracted numerous visitors from Arab countries and Britain, including Colonel Bertram Thomas, the explorer of Rub al-Khali in the Arabian Peninsula, and Rudyard Kipling, poet laureate of the British Empire.

see also american university of beirut (aub); balfour declaration (1917); khalidi, ahmad al-samih al-; rub al-khali; sakakini, khalil al-.


Abidi, Mahmud. "The Arab College, Jerusalem." Islamic Quarterly 19, no. 12 (1975): 2229.

Tibawi, A. L. Arab Education in Mandatory Palestine. London: Luzac, 1956.

Hisham Nashabi

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