By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
He was the one who drafted the first statement of Fatah’s official launch in early 1965, and the one who printed and received the correspondence of the Filistinuna journal (Full name: Nida’ al-Hayat Filistinuna (The Call to Life, Our Palestine)) in Lebanon. It was the journal that introduced the Fatah movement to the world, and guided the Palestinian diaspora to join it (1959–1964). He had a major role in establishing and facilitating the activity of the Fatah movement in Lebanon. At the same time, in the 1950s, he was deputy head of ‘Ibad al-Rahman Group (a.k.a. the Worshipers of the Merciful), the declared front façade of the Muslim Brothers (MB) movement in Lebanon.
He is Toufic Rashed Houry, born in 1933 in Beirut, the son of a renowned Lebanese Beiruti family. I was honored to visit Houry twice, for the purposes of historical documentation on the question of Palestine; the first was in Beirut on 4/1/2007; and the second was in his summer house in Sofar, on 10/10/2018 (in the presence of his esteemed wife Laila Da‘ouk).
The Nationalist Muslim Activist for Palestine:
Houry finished his Baccalaureate degree three years earlier, for that was according to a system that allowed him to take both tests of Baccalaureate and Brevet degrees at the same time. He studied Economics at the American University of Beirut (1948–1952) and earned his masters at the London School of Economics (1952–1954). He was active in the ‘Ibad al-Rahman Group, and a pioneer in the activism for Palestine in the university. There, he organized support campaigns, providing food and clothing to Palestinian refugees, and providing for their needs. He was also active in popular mobilization and raising cultural awareness about the Palestine issue. As a ‘Ibad al-Rahman member, he was active in da‘wah among the Palestinians of Lebanon, and had coordinated with Sheikh Fadl ‘Abbas in Ein El Hilweh Refugee Camp.
In the 1950s, ‘Ibad al-Rahman Group was the front façade of the MB movement in Lebanon, (This representation was later transferred to al-Jama‘ah al-Islamiyyah, whose founders were the leaders of ‘Ibad al-Rahman in Tripoli). Houry was the deputy of the founder and President of ‘Ibad al-Rahman (1954-1962) ‘Umar al-Da‘ouk, and he became later his son-in-law. At the same time, Houry had powerful connections and friendships with Arab and Palestinian leaders and figures, foremost among them Palestine’s Mufti Haj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, who lived in Beirut during his final years until his death in 1974.
Nida’ al-Hayat: Filistinuna Journal
The founders of the Fatah movement, especially Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) and Yasir ‘Arafat (Abu ‘Ammar), had strong relations with Houry. In 1959, both men visited him and asked him about the possibility of issuing a journal. They chose him because of his known Islamic background (‘Ibad al-Rahman), and his pro-Palestine activism. He proposed to them to issue the journal in his name, putting himself at the front and bearing the responsibility for it, for it was neither easy nor likely to obtain a license in that period of time. Houry remembers that it was a shock to Fatah’s leaders (Arafat and Abu Jihad) to know that it was difficult and may be impossible to get a license for the Filistinuna Journal. He adds that when he sat with them, he told them that he published his book Tariququm Ya Muslimun (Your Path O Muslims) without any license, therefore practically, there is no obstacle hindering the journal’s publication. In October 1959, the journal was published and it continued for five years. Houry bore the responsibilities resulting from publishing the journal without an official Lebanese license, while a Lebanese address was put on it. He volunteered to put his own name and address for correspondence. It was considered an act of breaking the siege imposed on spreading the vision and ideas of Palestinians. The journal was printed in Beirut, and sent to Kuwait where it was distributed.
According to Abu Jihad’s historical testimony, published by the Journal of Palestine Studies under the title “The Address of Fatah Movement: The Beginnings,” issue 104, Fall 2015, Fatah—in its beginnings—took two quantitative leaps under “two banners;” the first was the Filistinuna journal, and the second was the office of Algeria. According to Abu Jihad:
“this journal played the role of a candle in the darkness of the Nakbah, while the eyes of those confused used to turn toward it to find the path, and that was when the voice of the journal was raised, calling for a Palestinian revolutionary entity that faces what was called for at the time, a political entity sponsored by the Arab regimes (….). We used to feel overwhelming joy when we saw this great massive echo of our call, this great massive echo of our active vision, when we used to receive successive letters asking and inquiring in order to know and participate (…) We used to rush to start this dialogue, [and] very soon these brethrens used to come and join the others under the banner of Fatah. It is precisely because of this, we have said that the Fatah movement was considered a river into which all the streams of real revolutionary organizational action pour and meet. The river became full of life and water, it became the “Fatah” movement” with its great and creative struggle.” End of quote.
Logistics Support and Training:
On the other hand, Houry provided important logistical support in the beginnings of the Fatah movement. By establishing a fish hatchery, he provided Fatah a cover for training and arms smuggling. This hatchery was a real commercial venture, whose participants were mostly non-Lebanese, while Houry was its manager. The project started in 1960, when a plot of land (362 dunams) was purchased in northern Lebanon in the Sheikh Zenad area by the sea, one kilometer away from the Syrian border. The Fatah members sought permission to use the farmland and establish a secret camp on it, which Houry approved. It became a training camp to where weapons were also smuggled from the sea and from inside Lebanon itself. Sometimes his wife, Laila Da‘ouk, was used—without her knowledge—to transfer arms to the farmland in the trunk of her private car that she drove, while having her little girl with her. A detail confirmed by Da‘ouk herself.
When I asked Houry why did he support military action, and provide it with cover, despite being the deputy head of ‘Ibad al-Rahman Group, which rejects military and political action, he answered, “I was doing my duty, and was doing it out of ‘Aqidah [religious belief].”
In an interview with Ibrahim al-Masry (the former leader in ‘Ibad al-Rahman then a current leader in al-Jama‘ah al-Islamiyyah), he said that Houry had colleagues in ‘Ibad al-Rahman, who used to help him in supporting the Fatah movement, among whom was Hani Fakhoury, who was an employee in one of the Lebanese banks. When al-Masry and his brethren used to receive donations for Palestine, under Houry’s directions, they would deliver them to Fakhoury, who in turn would deliver them to Fatah. Houry confirmed his relationship and friendship with Hani Fakhoury, and that the donations for Fatah were delivered to Fakhoury, who would deposit them in a private account. Out of security precautions, the receipt vouchers were written as if the money was received in Syria rather than in Lebanon. Houry would also sometimes provide financial loans to Fatah, which would later pay them back. However, Fatah’s financial circumstances sometimes (Perhaps in the establishment stage) did not allow it to repay the debt, thus putting Houry in financial trouble, he would deal with the matter goodheartedly.
Fatah’s First Statement:
When the leadership of Fatah decided to launch the “contemporary Palestinian revolution,” it considered Houry the best one to introduce it to the world, by issuing its launch statement. So he drafted the first statement of the launching of Fatah movement early 1965, and Fatah’s leadership adopted his text to which Abu ‘Ammar added to it only one sentence, related to the free and honorable of the world.
A Separation That Doesn’t Affect the Friendly Sentiments:
According to Houry, he disagreed with the Fatah leaders, especially after the entry of members of different ideologies to the movement, such as the Ba‘athists, leftists and others. Nevertheless, Houry kept cooperating with his Fatah colleagues, whenever they needed him.
‘Arafat had a strong social relationship with Houry’s family, treating them with the same loyalty that Houry showed him. Laila Da‘ouk, Houry’s wife since 1960, remembers the family’s strong relationship with Yasir ‘Arafat, their respect and appreciation of him, and how he kept in touch. When they used to stay in the summer in Sir al-Dennieh area in northern Lebanon, ‘Arafat would visit them and eat with them. Da‘ouk remembers that when she used to ask him about his marriage, he would answer that he is married to “the [Palestine] cause”!! She remembers also, with appreciation, his financial support to the family, when, during the Israeli invasion, they were forced out of their home, located in Tariq al-Jadidah area of Beirut, and moved to Australia street, near Raouche. Moreover, she remembers, with appreciation, ‘Arafat calling her in 1984, on his own initiative, days after her eldest son Rashed was shot and seriously injured. He offered to cover his treatment, and he actually paid for it abroad.
Toufic Houry is the son of the businessman and philanthropist Haj Rashed Houry (died in 1973), who played a major role in the establishment of the Beirut Arab University, with an Egyptian sponsorship, and which opened in 1960. Toufic continued his father’s role after him, taking care of the university through the Righteousness and Charity Society, and by being a member of the university’s Board of Trustees, since 1960 and for over fifty years.
Toufic Houry also is one of the founders of the Islamic Center for Education, 1979, which oversees Al-Imam Al-Ouzai College for Islamic studies and the Islamic Faculty of Business Administration, attracting thousands of students of Arab, Islamic and foreign nationalities from all over the world.
The Due Honoring and Gratitude:
Most probably not many know Toufic Houry, even those concerned with the Palestine issue, and even those affiliated with Fatah or are Islamists, such as the members of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). He was an activist, who worked in silence, not looking for fame or praise. Nevertheless, his role in the modern Palestinian history must be recorded; for he played important roles at a crucial stage in this history; whether due to his Islamic background, his work in the fields of da‘wah, education, and relief, among the Palestinian refugees; or his role in the establishment and launching of Fatah, when Fatah used to represent the aspirations of the masses to liberate Palestine from river to sea. In addition, to his pioneering role in Lebanon in the fields of da‘wah, education and culture. Houry and people like him deserve a word of thanks and gratitude, which cannot be fulfilled except by Allah the Almighty.
This article was originally published in Arabic on Arabi 21 on 6/12/2019.