A voice of moderation

Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, Palestinian academic and former Fatah fighter, is trying to buck a tide – but is he succeeding?

By ROBERT SLATER
November 14, 2012 12:54
3 minute read.
Mohammed Dajani Daoudi

Mohammed Dajani Daoudi 521. (photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH 90)

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Mohammed Dajani Daoudi belongs to one of the Palestinians’ most important families – the Dajanis – a family that has been the custodian of King David’s Tomb on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem since the 14th century.

Once a student political leader and fighter for the militant Palestinian group Fatah, today a more mild-mannered Dajani Daoudi at 66 is a leading Palestinian moderate.

He seems alone, a voice crying in the wilderness, but Dajani Daoudi insists that the majority of Palestinians is moderate and wishes for peace as he does. He fights his “moderate” battle while helping to build a future Palestinian state. Since 1995, he has been training thousands of Palestinians on how to conduct the business of running a government.

We talk on the fourth floor of his home in Bet Hanina, an Arab suburb in East Jerusalem. On the walls of the stairway are photos of Nasser, Arafat, Obama, and the large Dajani family. Visible from Dajani Daoudi’s window to the north is the security wall Israel began building in 2002 to keep Palestinian suicide bombers from reaching Jerusalem. With his gray hair, receding hairline, blue tie and white dress shirt, the Jerusalem-born Dajani Daoudi looks more like a banker or accountant than a former Fatah fighter. Unlike other Palestinians, there is no anger in his voice, no hint of frustration, just seriousness and a calm demeanor.

Born in Jerusalem’s Baka section, now an upmarket Jewish neighborhood, his family moved to the Old City’s Muslim Quarter when he was two years old. He remembers attending kindergarten near the Al-Aqsa Mosque and being fascinated with his grandfather and uncles’ swords, which they displayed with pride. With the Old City getting overcrowded, when Mohammed was 15, the Dajani Daoudis moved outside the city walls to the prosperous East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat. Two years later, in 1962, along with his mother, father, two younger brothers and a sister, Dajani Daoudi moved to his current home in Beit Hanina.

In 1964, at age 18, he attended the American University in Beirut, studying engineering. It was there that he joined Fatah, the military wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Trained to fight, he also became a student leader but insists he was not taught to hate Israelis. “They taught us to distinguish between Jews and Zionists,” he tells The Jerusalem Report. “Judaism is a religion. Zionism is political ideology. We should not mix them up. There wasn’t hate on our part as much as there was a fight for liberation.”

Ironically, his only participation in actual fighting was against the Lebanese Army in skirmishes that sometimes lasted weeks. He never fought against Israelis. The Lebanese Army hoped to weaken the “state within a state” that the PLO had created inside Lebanon.

Soon after the 1967 Six Day War, most Palestinians believed that before they could end the Israeli occupation of their lands, they had to unseat corrupt Arab regimes that had been indifferent to the Palestinian cause.

The Palestinians counted on the replacement regimes supporting the Palestinian cause.

Dajani Daoudi and his fellow Fatah members rejected that strategy, favoring the ending of Israeli occupation as their main priority.

From student politics and militancy, Dajani Daoudi switched to academic life in the early 1980s, earning three post-graduate degrees: a master’s and two doctorates in political science, all from American universities.

For a decade – 1985 to 1995 – he lived in Jordan, working first in his family’s radiator manufacturing business, and then teaching political science at a private university.

Back in the West Bank by the late 1990s, he became a Palestinian nation-builder. As Chief Technical Adviser to the Palestinian Authority and then founder of a public administration institute, he trained civil servants in the art of government. “We were basically creating a state,” he said. When charges of nepotism were leveled at him, he insisted that nepotism was good. “I don’t mind you hiring your daughter,” he told one minister, “but give her to me first to train her. So if you leave the ministry, she will remain as part of our progress.”

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