In a TV commercial marking 40 years since the Six Day War, the voice of the late Uzi Narkiss, who headed the IDF's Central Command at the time, is heard ordering his troops to move into the Old City of Jerusalem while being careful not to harm the civilian population.
Narkiss' voice evoked memories of an unfamiliar story about occupiers and those being occupied.
At the beginning of the 1980s Uzi Narkiss contacted me and made a special request. He relayed that in April 1948, while serving as a regiment commander of the Palmach Harel division, he arrived at the scene of battle in the Kastel where Palestinian commander Abdul Kader Husseini had been killed a short time earlier.
Upon searching his body, a small, adorned Koran was found in his shirt pocket. I took the book as a souvenir and it has been in my library ever since, continued Narkiss. He enquired as to whether I knew any of Abdul Kader's relatives, because he said he would like to return the Koran to his family. I replied that I knew his son, Faisal. Please contact him, pleaded Narkiss, and tell him that I would like to return his father's Koran.
As I knew Faial Husseini well I had no qualms about contacting him. I was sure that he would be happy to receive the book that was taken from his father. I called to tell him about it. To my surprise several moments of silence went by after which he mumbled: I will get back to you on the matter; he said goodbye and slammed down the receiver.
Several weeks went by without me hearing a word from Faisal Husseini. I thought there may have been some misunderstanding.
What about public relations?
I contacted someone who I knew was very close to the Husseini family, the late Anwar Nusseibeh, who was the Jordanian defense minister at the time and one of the most prominent Palestinians of that period. Where did I go wrong? I asked Nusseibeh. You went wrong, Nusseibeh replied, because you were unfamiliar with our society's customs. In a situation such as this you do not contact a person directly; you do so through a mediator. Me for example – you could have contacted me and I would have turned to Faisal and his family. If he had any reservations or wished to turn down the offer – it would have been more convenient for him to do so through a third party.
Anwar Nusseibeh went on to say that in his opinion, the moment Husseini heard that a general in the Israeli army was proposing to return the Koran, he feared that the Shin Bet security forces were setting him a trap – that the Israeli defense establishment was trying to tempt him into becoming a collaborator.
The Palestinians, said Nusseibeh, attribute great importance to the Koran of their national hero; it is a highly important national asset that should be displayed at the museum near the al-Aqsa Mosque. Please contact Mr. Narkiss, he continued, and tell him on my behalf that we can settle the matter if the Koran is returned quietly and unceremoniously.
I returned to Narkiss and relayed Nusseibeh's message. His answer was as follows: What about public relations? I would like to perform this act in the presence of journalists and TV cameras – otherwise I am not interested!
Abdul Kader's Koran remained in Narkiss' library. I feared that Husseini, who has also since died, would ask me what happened to his father's Koran, but he never did.