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Samiha Khalil

Samiha Khalil

Published: March 30, 2010
Samiha Khalil

Samiha Khalil

Palestinian leader and founder of the Society of Ina’ash El-Usra, which empowers women by training them in skills they could use in their own homes. Khalil ran against Yasser Arafat in the first Palestinian presidential elections. She died in 1999.

Samiha Khalil was born in 1923 in the Palestinian village of Anabta in the West Bank where her father was mayor. She received her early education at the Friends Girls School in Ramallah and at the age of seventeen she married Salameh Khalil. Her life was a comfortable one until the War of 1948 when she and her family became refugees.  Then, she lived in Gaza, selling her jewelry to survive until leaving by boat to Lebanon. The experience of war and of being a refugee shaped her life as she struggled to gain back her country by shaking off the effects of Israeli occupation and oppression.

Settling in Ramallah after she returned from exile in the Arab world, she founded the Society of Ina’ash El-Usra, (Arabic for “the preservation or renewal of the family”) in 1965. The organization empowers women through vocational skills trainings.  The center also offers residential child care and, through its sale of embroidery and crafts, helps preserve Palestinian heritage and culture during the years of occupation. From modest beginnings, Ina’ash El-Usra has grown to have a $6 million annual budget, giving Palestinians the opportunity to maintain their dignity and hope as they struggle to maintain their presence in their historic home.

"I will not offer you a chair as long as you come as an occupier, but in the future, if you were to come in as a friend, I will slaughter a lamb in your honor," she once said to the Israeli military governor when he broke into Ina’ash El-Usra to search her files.

Samiha was also called "Um Khalil," meaning "mother of Khalil". (Um is Arabic for mother.) "Um" was an apt name for her, since she came to represent the mother of all of Palestine as far as the affection of her people was concerned.

Her political activity led her to become the only woman on the National Guidance Committee that set policy for the Palestinian resistance to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Her stature as a leader is best revealed by the fact that she ran against Yasser Arafat in the first Palestinian presidential elections.

By no means a pacifist, she gradually became reconciled to a two state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. She remained a major political force until her death in 1999.