Hind Husseini’'s legacy

Dar El Tifl today

Today, 250 orphans live at Dar El Tifl and 1,450 day students receive instruction from pre-school to graduate level studies. All high school graduates have excellent English skills. The high standards of the curriculum and staff have earned a prestigious academic record for the school.

Conscious that not all students are destined for higher studies, Hind established vocational training in such subjects as catering and secretarial work. A new science workshop is being overseen by two Palestinian professors living in California for 20 gifted students between the ages of 13 and 15.

Working on five computers, students carry out experiments in fluid dynamics, genetics and physics. Primarily working with materials around them – grocery bags and bottles – they have created a model submarine and hot air balloon.

The Hind Husseini Art and Literature College has since been established on the compound and offers bachelor’s degrees in English, Arabic and social studies. Dar El Tifl shares supervision with Al Quds University over a master’s degree in Palestinian and Islamic civilisation. The original family residence now houses a primary health clinic and guest quarters downstairs while administrative offices are upstairs.

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Above and below: Young students at Dar El Tifl. Children still suffer abuse from Israeli extremists who gather at the school's entrance

Intimidation continues

Yet, more than 50 after the massacre at Deir Yassin, Dar El Tifl was suffering more than ever at the hands of extremist right-wing Israeli Jews bent on taking over all of Jerusalem. Orient House, the unofficial headquarters of the Palestinian National authority in Jerusalem, was the special target of the Jewish settlers who brought Benjamin Netanyahu into power as prime minister in June 1996. Orient House is directly across the street from Dar El Tifl, and Israeli militants often break into the school grounds and threaten students as they approach the school.

Teachers and students alike have received hope from the United States since 1992 when Dalal Muhtadi, a Saudi citizen who lives in California, founded Dar El Tifl – USA. “I had wanted to assist needy Palestinian children for years,” Muhtadi explains. “Then in late 1992 my Auntie Hind called from Jerusalem and said she needed my help.”

Over the years, the Saudi government had made grants to Dar El Tifl but these had dried up after the Gulf War. Muhtadi travelled to Jerusalem, talked to her great aunt Hind Husseini, the directors and teaching staff and familiarised herself with the school curricula and operation of the orphanage.

“I was convinced Dar El Tifl was accomplishing the goals it had set for itself. Now it was my turn to muster support for it in the United States,” continued Muhtadi.

But, why, we asked, would Israeli extremists want to terrorise Palestinian orphans. Hasn’t enough blood been shed over the past half-century?

“They don’t hide their motives,” Muhtadi replied. “Fundamentalist fanatics in Israel want to wipe out every trace of a Palestinian presence in Jerusalem.”

Mean-spirited settlers do their best to make life miserable – even scary – for Dar El tifl students. Settlers have broken the gate of the school, entered the playground area and threatened children. In their protests against Orient House, fanatic settlers have installed themselves in front of the school and raised wooden signs painted with a skull and crossbones on the school wall. When day students approach the school, shouting settlers with raised fists make them walk a gauntlet of insults and loud curses.

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Teaching peace in the face of conflict

Mahira Dajani, who heads Dar El Tifl’s board of trustees, writes: “We have tried to teach our children the love of peace and to train them to accept peaceful coexistence as a reality and to forget the evils of war. The presence of settlers outside the school gate changed the children’s outlook on life as a whole.

“The settlers harassed the children in many ways, including: uttering filthy words and making lewd gestures, throwing rotten fruit and empty bottles at the school gate and inside the school grounds, and trespassing on the school grounds repeatedly so that the school has been forced to erect a wire fence over the wall.”

The Israeli military also has intensified its presence in front of Orient House since Netanyahu’s election. Dar El Tifl’s school wall has become a favourite place for Israeli troops to stand, thus imposing a siege mentality on the children in the playground. School officials complain the tear gas the soldiers use has an unpleasant smell.

But the bad odour is nothing compared to the stench of urine. Portable latrines have been set up in front of the school for the soldiers’ use, but they relieve themselves throughout the area. The Palestinians believe this is a deliberate insult and provides a frightening spectacle to young girls on their way to school. “You can’t imagine how terrible it is,” Muhtadi commented. The urine odour is overwhelming for a three-block radius.”

Many day students have transferred to other schools rather than be chased and threatened by nasty settlers. The Israeli policy of making Jerusalem off-bounds to West bank and Gazan Palestinians has left students from these areas with two options: either to become boarders at Dar El Tifl and seldom be with their families or transfer to schools in Gaza or the West Bank. The school has also lost those of its teachers who live on the West Bank, because Israel won’t grant them identity cards to enter Jerusalem.

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Above: Pupils at the school

Today's boarders

What are the circumstances of the children who live at Dar El Tifl? Two such youngsters are Sabreen, aged five, and Wafa, 15.

Sabreen's story... Sabreen’s father was shot and killed after he finished his prayers at a mosque in Gaza. At the time, Sabreen’s mother, who has twice undergone surgery for a heart condition, was pregnant with her third child. She had no choice but to leave Sabreen at Dar El Tifl.

Wafa's story... Wafa is from Bethlehem, where her mother was shot dead by Israeli bullets while she was shopping. Wafa’s father is unemployed. Rather than have his children starve, he brought Wafa and her two brothers and two sisters to Dar El Tifl.

Continuing Hind Husseini's legacy

Despite the racist behaviour of the settlers, Dar El Tifl continues to heal and educate. Each year since 1950, some 800 Palestinians have graduated from the institution.

Funds from Dar El Tifl USA have established a counselling centre where a social worker, a graduate of the Hind Husseini College of Art and Literature, works with traumatised students and refers those with special needs to professional care-givers.