Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout
بيان نويهض الحوت
Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout was born in 1937 in Jerusalem to Ajaj Nuwayhed, whose family came from the village of Ras al-Matn, Lebanon, and the poet Jamal Salim, who came from the town of Jibaʿ al-Shouf, Lebanon. She had three sisters (Noura, Sawsan, and Jinan) and one brother (Khaldoun). She married Shafiq al-Hout and has one son, Hader, and two daughters, Hanine and Serene.
Nuwayhed began her schooling at the Schmidt Girls’ School, a German convent school in Jerusalem. Her father was a leader of the Palestinian national movement and one of the founding members of the Hizb al-Istiqlal (Arab Independence Party), which was founded in August 1932. Her father’s extensive library, which had books on a wide range of topics, greatly enriched her knowledge and left an indelible mark on her mind. On 26 April 1948 she was forced to leave Jerusalem along with her mother and sisters; her father remained to continue his political work. The family went to Lebanon, with the intention of returning to their home in Baq‘a al-Fawqa when it was safe to do so, but the move was permanent. Her father Ajaj, in the meantime, stayed on in Jerusalem in their house in Baqʿa al-Fawqa neighborhood, going back and forth every day to and from the headquarters of the Arab Higher Committee in Baqʿa al-Tahta to discuss and work with Ahmad Hilmi Pasha Abd al-Baqi, the only official of the committee who had remained in Palestine. Then, when West Jerusalem fell to Zionist forces in mid-May, they moved their base of operations to the Islamic Orphanage in Jerusalem’s old city. In the aftermath of the Nakba, Ajaj Nuwayhed began living in Ramallah after being appointed as director of the Jordanian broadcasting service. Then, from the early 1950s, he settled in Amman.
Nuwayhed continued her schooling at the Scientific College for Girls in Choueifat, which was a boarding school known at the time by the name of its principal Ms. Malek. Then, in 1951, she moved to Amman, where her father had settled, and enrolled in the Queen Zein secondary school for her second year of high school. After obtaining a high school diploma, she studied at the Teachers’ Training College for women in Ramallah, and also began writing her first poems, following in the footsteps of her mother. During the two years she spent at the college, she became familiar with the towns and villages of the West Bank and its social institutions, and she visited Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque countless times.
After graduating from the Teachers’ Training College in 1956, Nuwayhed worked as a teacher at the Sakina Bint al-Hussein School in Amman. During this period, she joined the Arab Socialist Baath Party, whose principles were compatible with her own pan-Arabism. Martial law was imposed in Jordan in the spring of 1957, and so her party work had to be clandestine. Since Jordan did not yet have a university, she enrolled in Damascus University to study education, and so during her frequent trips to Syria, she carried messages from a group of dissenting “free officers” in the Jordanian army to a group of Baathist militants from Jordan and other Arab countries living in Damascus.
In 1959, her father decided that the family would move permanently to live in Lebanon, where he owned an old house in Ras al-Matn, so she enrolled in the Lebanese University in Beirut to pursue her undergraduate studies in the Faculty of Law and Political Science.
In the early 1960s, Nuwayhed began to work as a journalist, writing articles for the magazine Dunya al-Mar’a [Women’s World] which was published by her sister, Noura Nuwayhed Halawani, with Edvick Shayboub as editor-in-chief. Working in this magazine gave her the opportunity to meet several Lebanese and Arab writers and poets, such as Nizar Qabbani, Nazik al-Malaika, Fadwa Tuqan, Badawi al-Jabal, and Youssef al-Khal.
In the spring of 1960, Nuwayhed changed jobs to work as an editor at the magazine al-Sayyad, where she remained until 1966. There, in the office of its owner, Said Freiha, she was introduced to the poet Said Aql, who wrote a weekly column to the magazine, and to the novelist Emily Nasrallah, who worked at the magazine; the two soon became firm friends. Since the Algerian revolution was in those years the lifeblood of the Arab nationalist cause, Nuwayhed published seventeen articles on it in one year, most of them in al-Sayyad and the rest in the daily newspaper al-Anwar (published by the Sayyad publishing house). As part of her work at al-Sayyad, she conducted interviews with many Arab intellectual and political figures, including the Arab nationalist thinkers Satiʿ al-Husari and Zaki al-Arsuzi, the famous Moroccan militant Mahdi Ben Barka, the Algerian leader Mohamed Khider, and ambassador Ali Kafi, who became the president of Algeria in 1992.
In Lebanon, Nuwayhed continued to work with the Baath Party, and she was responsible for leading the party branch in Chiyah (Beirut), which included eighty members, most of whom were workers. And when the party leadership decided to establish the Palestine party chapter, headed by Tawfiq al-Safadi, she moved to work within the chapter. The breakup of the union between Egypt and Syria in September 1961 was, for her, earth-shaking and a greater catastrophe for the Arab nation than the Nakba of Palestine. It pained her greatly that her party did not take a resolute stand to fight this breakup, so she informed her comrade al-Safadi that she could not continue within the party ranks. She handed him a memorandum in which she clarified her critique of the statement made by the party’s national leadership regarding “separation”; she regarded the statement as being both late and insufficiently firm.
She met the Palestinian journalist Shafiq al-Hout in 1960, during her participation in a panel organized by the newspaper al-Sahafa around 15 May. At the time, he was the publishing director of the magazine al-Hawadith. They moved in the same circle of intellectuals and journalists, including the Palestinian poet Kamal Nasser, at Faisal Restaurant and at the Arab Cultural Club in Beirut. They married in the spring of 1962.
Nuwayhed joined the Palestine Liberation Front, which was founded in late 1961 by Shafiq al-Hout, Nicola al-Durr, Ibrahim Abu Lughod, and Palestinian writer Samira Azzam, who was in charge of the women’s section. The front’s motto was “The path of return is the path of revolution.”
Nuwayhed continued her studies at the Lebanese University, graduating with a BA in political science in 1963, when her daughter Hanine was three months old. She wanted to go to graduate school but the Faculty of Law did not offer a graduate program at the time, and so she became a full-time journalist.
In 1966, Nuwayhed stopped working in print journalism and turned to scriptwriting for the radio. After her husband was appointed head of the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) bureau in Beirut and the Palestinian revolution gained visibility, she met the most prominent leaders of the revolution, including Abu Youssef al-Najjar, Salah Khalaf, Kamal Adwan, and Abu Hassan Salameh. At about this time she faced the biggest difficulty in her life: the recurring assassination attempts on her husband, the first of which occurred on 17 February 1967, at the door of their apartment building.
In summer 1969, the Lebanese University offered a postgraduate program in the Faculty of Law and Political Science, and so she returned to the university. Her political involvement ended; she stopped working with the General Union of Palestinian Women, and the leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Front decided to dissolve the organization in 1968. She focused on her academic program, and in 1970 obtained a Master’s degree in public law and a Master’s degree in political science in 1971.
Her doctoral dissertation, which was supervised by the Palestinian historian Anis Sayigh, was titled “Political Leaderships and Institutions in Palestine from 1917–1948.” During the fieldwork phase, she interviewed more than forty politicians and militants who had lived through the British Mandate period, the most notable among them being Muhammad Amin al-Husseini.
After the Lebanese civil war broke out in April 1975, Nuwayhed moved to Cairo with her three children for one year and enrolled them in the German School. She spent much of her time in Cairo visiting libraries, which enabled her to augment the references she used in her university thesis. In 1978, she earned a doctorat d’Etat in political science. In 1979, she began to teach two courses at the Lebanese University in the Faculty of Law and Political Science: The Palestinian Question and Middle Eastern Studies. She strove to follow the pedagogy of the great professors under whom she had studied, including Edmond Naim, Boutros Deeb, Anwar al-Khatib, and Salah al-Dabbagh. In addition to teaching, she worked as a history researcher; in 1979, she edited the papers of Palestinian leader Akram Zuaiter for publication by the Institute for Palestine Studies (IPS).
On 25 June, about twenty days after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, her father, Ajaj Nuwayhed died in Beirut. He had willed that he be buried in the mausoleum that he had built for himself in the garden of his home in Ras al-Matn, but reaching during that period was nearly impossible, because of checkpoints and roadblocks. When he was finally able to be transported for burial, his daughter was unable to accompany him.
During Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, her home in West Beirut was under bombardment by the Israelis, and so the family moved temporarily to an apartment in Saqiyat al-Janzeer. Yasir Arafat visited them regularly. Their temporary home was also a meeting place for writers and intellectuals, including Mahmoud Darwish and Ibrahim Abu Lughod, to come and talk about the political situation and what potential developments were on the horizon.
After they returned to their home in Wata al-Mousaytbeh, and a few days after the Israeli army occupied West Beirut, it was raided on 17 September 1982 by a squad of four Israeli soldiers led by an officer looking for Shafiq al-Hout. When they did not find him there, they searched every room in the apartment and rifled through the files on the bookshelves.
The Sabra and Shatila massacre in September devastated Nuwayhed. She decided to collect the names of the victims and record the testimonies of their next of kin and began the project in the utmost secrecy with a group of her female friends, as soon as the Israeli occupiers withdrew from Beirut. Her main objective was to respond to the Kahane Report (issued by the Israeli commission of inquiry into the massacre) to prove that what took place was not the outcome of a battle, but a real massacre that claimed the lives of thousands of innocent noncombatants. This effort eventually culminated in a massive book on the massacre that was published by IPS in 2003.
In addition to her teaching and research work, Nuwayhed has also collaborated with the PLO Research Center, the IPS (including as member of the advisory editorial board of its Majallat al-dirasat al-filastiniyya), and the Center for Arab Unity Studies (as a member of the editorial board of its magazine al-Mustaqbal al-arabi).
Nuwayhed has served as a member of the General Union of Lebanese Writers, the Arab National Conference, the National Islamic Conference, and the board of directors of the Jerusalem Foundation. She has given lectures and participated in several academic and history-related conferences held in Arab and other cities over the world.
Nuwayhed began publishing her poetry in Jordanian newspapers beginning in the mid-1950s. She also published short stories in Lebanon. When the magazine al-Hawadith announced a short story competition in 1964, she submitted a short story called “They Were Four…” that won first prize. However, she has not written poetry and short stories since the end of the sixties; she chose instead to focus on scholarly research.
Nuwayhed has identified her work on her book Filastin: al-Qadiyya, al-Shaʿb, al-Hadara [Palestine: The Cause, the People, the Civilization] as one of the highlights of her career. It topped the list of best-selling books in Jordanian newspapers on 29 December 1993, beating books by major Arab writers and poets. This gave her great joy, because it was proof of the general readers’ interest in learning about the Palestinian cause.
In 2013, on the occasion of International Women's Day, the Arab Cultural Club in Beirut paid tribute to her at a public event, during which Talal Salman, the publisher of the newspaper al-Safir, novelist Emily Nasrallah, and law expert Salah al-Dabbagh spoke about her achievements. The club president honored her with a trophy. On 22 September 2014, the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, Ashraf Dabbour, paid her an official visit at her father’s home in Ras al-Matn, where he presented her with a shield of honor in recognition of her contribution to the Palestinian nation. The presentation was conducted in the presence of Azzam al-Ahmad, Ramzi Khouri, Fathi Abu al-Ardat, and a delegation from the group Not to Forget Sabra and Shatila, led by two witnesses to the massacre, British doctor Ang Chai Swee and American nurse Ellen Siegel.
In 2015, Nuwayhed received the Jerusalem Award for Culture and Creativity in the Arab World. The award was granted to her in recognition of her distinguished achievements in the field of committed, national culture, that have championed Jerusalem, the Palestinian cause, and [broader] human and social causes. Because she could not attend the awards ceremony in Ramallah in person, she received the award from the committee chair, Othman Abu Gharbiya in her home in Beirut, in the presence of Palestinian militants who had accompanied him.
Nuwayhed has never stopped writing and conducting research throughout her life. After retiring from teaching at university in 2001, she has devoted herself entirely to doing historical research. In 2009, she lost her husband and life partner, Shafiq al-Hout.
Bayan Nuwayhed al-Hout is a militant, a journalist, a university professor and historian who has been involved in the Palestinian cause since her youth, spent growing up in the home of her father, the Arab nationalist militant and historian Ajaj Nuwayhed. She strengthened her bond to the cause through her marriage to the Palestinian leader and founding member of the PLO, Shafiq al-Hout, as demonstrated by her work for the Palestinian liberation struggle, the university courses she taught, and her research and writing on the Palestinian cause, especially her comprehensive documentation of events in the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
Sabra and Shatila: September 1982. London: Pluto Press, 2004.
"وثائق الحركة الوطنية الفلسطينية 1918-1939: من أوراق أكرم زعيتر" (إعداد). بيروت: مؤسسة الدراسات الفلسطينية، 1979.
[(ed.) Documents of the Palestinian National Movement, 1918-1939: The Papers of Akram Zuaiter]
"القيادات والمؤسسات السياسية في فلسطين 1917-1948". بيروت: مؤسسة الدراسات الفلسطينية، 1981.
[Political Leaderships and Institutions in Palestine, 1917-1948]
"الشيخ المجاهد عز الدين القسام في تاريخ فلسطين". بيروت: دار الاستقلال، 1987.
[The Warrior Sheikh Izzeddine al-Qassam in Palestinian History]
"فلسطين: القضية. الشعب. الحضارة: التاريخ السياسي من عهد الكنعانيين حتى القرن العشرين (1917)". بيروت: دار الاستقلال، 1991.
[Palestine: The Cause, the People, the Civilization: A Political History from the Canaanite Era to Twentieth Century (1917)]
مذكرات عجاج نويهض: ستون عاماً مع القافلة العربية" (إعداد). بيروت: دار الاستقلال.1993.
[(ed.) The Memoirs of Ajaj Nuwayhed: Sixty Years with the Caravan of the Arabs]
"إشكالية الوعي والذاكرة العربية على ضوء الصراع العربي-الإسرائيلي". بيروت: دار المعارف الحكمية، 2012.
[Arab Memory and the Dilemma of Consciousness in Light of the Arab-Israeli Conflict]
"أحاديث ومراسلات عجاج نويهض: الحركة العربية ( 1905- 1935)". بيروت: مركز دراسات الوحدة العربية، 2022.
[Conversations and Correspondences of Ajaj Nuwayhed: the Arab Movement, 1905-1935]
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