Dar El Tifl orphanage

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Wikipedia-logo-Gaps.png This article has no corresponding Wikipedia page. Wikipedia has quite bland articles on the founder of the orphanage and on the film made about it, but nothing for the orphanage itself, as if its history is irrelevant. See also the below section on wikipedia Shortcomings.
An orphanage in East Jerusalem, in the traditionally upscale Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarah.

Place.png Dar El Tifl orphanageRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
A doorway to the orphanage.

The orphanage was founded in 1948 by Hind Husseini, who saved 55 orphaned survivors of the Deir Yassin massacre. She converted her grandfather's mansion (built in 1891) into an orphanage to house them. It later became a school providing education to the orphans and to other Palestinian children.

In 1967, after the remainder of Palestine was over-run by Israel, half of the 250 orphans were ethnically cleansed to Gaza. In the 1990s the Institution, staff and children were savagely attacked and threatened by settlers and by the IDF. Israel has blocked access to Dar El Tifl by many staff and children. Nevertheless, the Institution has survived so far despite the very difficult conditions imposed on it by the encroaching Judaization of East Jerusalem.

The orphanage is situated opposite Orient House, headquarters of the Palestinian National Authority in Jerusalem. This was finally closed and looted by the IDF in 2001, despite having been guaranteed protection by an exchange of letters preceding the 1993 Oslo Accords[citation needed]. Some details of the campaign against it appear at the article in Wikipedia.


In April 1948, near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem Ms Husseini came across a group of 55 destitute children. They were the survivors of a massacre at the village of Deir Yassin on the outskirts of Jerusalem, in which the Zionists had attacked and wiped out a friendly and unarmed village. The casualties were reported at the time to be at 254 dead, according to observers from both "sides". The orphans had seen their families murdered and their homes torn down. In her words:

I was walking along the streets of the Old City when I came upon a group of the most wretched children. They had been carried from their homes, snatched from the protecting arms of their parents, and thrown into the streets of the Old City. They stood huddled together against the lofty walls of the Holy City, casting terrified looks toward Heaven as if supplicating and praying for an end to that horrible nightmare. Those innocent puzzled eyes glittering with tears made everyone wonder how such outrages could be committed against humanity in an age of enlightenment and knowledge.[1]

Ms Husseini was able to provide the children with shelter in two rooms she rented nearby for her charity, the Social Work Endeavour Society.[1] The head of the Notre Dame de Sion (also known as Sahyoun) convent on the Via Dolorosa was concerned for her safety travelling to visit them in the rented rooms and arranged to take in the children, the rooms themselves being bombed shortly afterwards, 10 days or 2 weeks after the massacre.[2]

After the ceasefire in Jerusalem, the children were relocated from the convent to Ms Husseini's birthplace, a mansion built by her grandfather in 1891. She transformed the house into an orphanage providing shelter to children survivors. Al-Husseini raised money, receiving funds from across the world. The orphanage grew and orphans from different villages and cities received their schooling at the orphanage including two Jewish girls who were not accepted at other schools.[2] The house was re-named Dar al-Tifl al-Arabi (Arab Children's House).

The orphanage grew and two four-story buildings were constructed in the grounds and in 2003 there were 250 orphans and 1,450 day students. Instruction was from kindergarten through to 12th grade. There is a college devoted to Palestinian arts and culture, a joint venture with Jerusalem University. The original family residence now houses a primary health clinic downstairs and guest quarters upstairs for international visitors. Miss Hind was repeatedly offered and turned down offers of millions of U.S. dollars for her property but left it to the Waqf (the Islamic religious authority).[3]

After 1967

After the conquest of East Jerusalem by Israel in 1967, the school became largely girl-only. 300 orphans were still there in 1995 but half of these were from Gaza, where they were forced to return. In 2009, the Follow the Women prize was awarded to Mahira El-Dajani and it was stated that there were 250 orphans living at the house along with 1450 day students receiving instruction from pre-school to graduate level studies.[4] In mid-2008 the UNRWA stated that the number of orphans had dropped to 35 of 2,000 students.[2]

The orphanage was Hind Husseini’s (1916-1994)[5] life-time work. She was twice recognised in Jordan in her later years, and she received the First Degree Medallion in Germany in 1989, 5 years before her death.[2] She was involved in women's issues, established a college for women, and served in the Arab Women's Union.[6]

Settler attention

Dar El Tifl is situated across the road from the offices of the Palestine National Authority and has become a target for settler invasions and attacks. Yigal Amir, later to be the assassin of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was an early organizer of demonstrations against the PNA and the orphanage became a target as well. Mahira Dajani, a life-long educator and newly the head of the Dar El Tifl's Board of Trustees (and still there in 2009)[4], wrote this description in a letter to friends of the institution:

The scholastic year 1995/1996 was the worst year in the history of Dar El Tifl. We have tried to teach our children the love of peace and to train them to accept peaceful co-existence 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, trespassing onto the school grounds repeatedly so that the school has been forced to erect a wire fence over the wall. The cost of the fence was NIS 5,000 ($1,700), money which could have been spent on the children's needs. Additional harassment [included] ... prevention of anyone entering or leaving the premises [and] the arrest and interrogation of the school president.... [Orphans] were chased and threatened by settlers, and the school nurse and warden were threatened with death.[7]

Despite the daily Islamophobic obscenities of the settlers in conjunction with the IDF, Muhtadi’s organization managed to raise $14,000 for Dar El Tifl in 1996 - and then donate half of it to people in even more need. Some 105 Lebanese civilians were killed in April 1996 by deliberate Israeli shelling of a United Nations camp at Qana, Lebanon, and a project was started on behalf of many other injured victims.[3]

Working conditions under occupation

From an article in the California Chronicle of 1997, republished by The Palestine Free Voice and quoting the head of the Trustees:

"Since Netanyahu’s election, the military presence has been increased in front of Orient House. School officials complain the live ammunition the soldiers use has a bad smell. But the odor of gunpowder 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, as a deliberate insult. "You can’t imagine how terrible it is, the urine odor is overwhelming for a three-block radius."[3]

Day students are in particular danger from being chased and threatened by settlers. Israel blocks access to Jerusalem to anyone from the West Bank or Gazan, and many students forced either to become boarders (seldom seeing their families) or leaving. Israel also lures Dar El Tifl teachers and staff away with better salaries. The school has lost those of its teachers who lived on the West Bank a few miles away, because Israel won’t grant them identity cards to enter Jerusalem.[3]

2010 Film set at the orphanage

The 2010 film Miral (WP link) covers part of the history of the orphanage and Hind herself (played by Hiam Abbass). Her life and work is portrayed largely through the perspective of the titular orphan, Miral (Indian actress Freida Pinto of "Slumdog Millionaire") who, in 1978, at the age of 5, went to the Institute following her mother's death. She knows little of the troubles until 1988 when, at the age of 15, she becomes a teacher at a refugee camp and falls in love with a militant.

Palestinian reviews

A Palestinian orphan who "spent years of my adolescence in the early 80s" at Dar El-Tifl orphanage but later reached the US was badly disappointed:

... I knew that Israel and its various American lobbying wings had protested the showing of this film at the UN, claiming it to be anti-Israel.[8]

That gave me even more hope that I was about to watch the first honest portrayal of life as a Palestinian growing up under Israeli military occupation. By the time the film was over, however, the only reason I could fathom for such protestations was that Miral is perhaps the first semi-mainstream film to show Palestinians as something more akin to human rather than monsters ... to be recognized as fully human, even if only in a film - it is perhaps a feat after six decades of little more than the damaging and painful stereotypes.

... My reaction to the film was mostly cerebral because it failed to pull me in emotionally. If I were to depict the film graphically, I’d draw a more or less flat line. There was one exception and it is this scene: Miss Hind is standing alone by the gates of the orphanage and then the film cuts to her funeral. The abrupt transition knotted my throat with the realization that I never got a chance to say good bye to that incredible woman who took me in when there was no other safe place in the world for me. I never got a chance to thank her, or tell her how profoundly she touched my life. So I cried in the theatre for the loss of el Sit Hind, as we called her.

... Someone with no background on the realities of this wretched conflict will walk away from Miral with the sense that it’s a dispute between two essentially equal sides who simply don’t see eye to eye. There was no real hint of the gross imbalance of power or the racially motivated destruction of life that inches deeper and deeper every day into what little remains of Palestine to Palestinians. No hint of the apartheid system employed as a means of slow ethnic cleansing. Even when it came to the bloody orphans of Deir Yassin, we are told that "soldiers" killed their parents. Anyone with knowledge of history or the social circumstances of the time would have known that the residents of that village would have likely been screaming warnings to others to run because "the Jews are here". The word "soldier" then referred to the British and I can’t help but believe that the use of that word was meant to tiptoe around the fact that terrorist Jewish gangs butchered civilians in home after home in that village. At one point we see the British flag lowered and the Israeli flag raised, perpetuating the idea that Palestine was never there. These are just some examples of a fundamental dishonesty that underpins Miral.

... Moviegoers watching what little is shown of this reality will likely judge Israeli actions as justified, however distasteful ... the minimally negative light in which Israel is shown is contextualized. Not so for Palestinians. Take for example Schnabel’s treatment of what could have happened to Israelis in a movie theatre when Fatima leaves a bomb under the seat [it never goes off, btw]. We see their innocent faces, one by one. They’re just like us, ordinary people just going to see a film. We see an unsuspecting couple making out, kissing in their seats. It’s not an emotional scene at all. But it does set the stage to give soldiers justification later on to beat Miral. The actions of the Israeli soldiers thus have context. On the other hand, Fatima seemingly decided to blow up a theatre full of people because she lost her job.

... Another striking failure of this film is the scene of a home demolition. Schnabel shows us a random family being told to leave their home and then we see the walls of that home crumble as an unseen soldier demolishes it. Racially motivated demolition of Palestinian homes is a constant and lately accelerated reality for Palestinians. There are plenty of real footage of these evictions and subsequent destruction of homes that could have been rendered in the film. ... Israeli soldiers rip people from their homes kicking and screaming. Neighbors come out to help and are met with brutal suppression by soldiers. ... There was none of this in that in Schnabel’s interpretation. His treatment of what could have been an immensely emotional scene was nearly comatose.

... Footage of the first Intifada looked like street rioters faced with good police doing their job to restore order. There was nothing of Israel’s "break their bones" policy, or of their specific targeting of children, who were left with nothing to do but roam the streets when Israel enforced a "no school" ignorization policy for Palestinian children. This context - of the sheer brutality and racism of Israeli policies toward Palestinians - was largely missing. I’m not saying that a Palestinian film must incorporate all of these elements. But if you’re going to include it, do it with honestly, not obfuscation.[9]

An Electronic Intifada review of the film said:

"Any major film addressing the Israel-Palestine conflict can expect to court a measure of controversy, but American artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel’s intervention is unlikely to cause much consternation among a mainstream cinema audience." and "... a film that spends more time in the posh American Colony hotel in Jerusalem than the streets of the West Bank and Gaza - which is rendered completely inconspicuous in the film - cannot be seen as representative of the Palestinian experience. Moreover, the unproblematic reification of the Husseini family, and in particular Hind’s Mother Teresa-like nonviolent teachings as some kind of counterpoint to strategies of the first Palestinian intifada are more than troubling. The other core ideological strand that runs through Miral is that of coexistence. This comes across most vividly through Schnabel’s distorted representation of ordinary Israelis as refuseniks who spend their time skinny dipping, listening to The Who and the Rolling Stones and have no qualms about dating Palestinians. However "[a]part from the benign figure of Jamal, Palestinian men spend their time raping, drooling over or marrying off their daughters."[10]

Non-Palestinian reviews

Miral holds an 18% rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 62 reviews.

Many main-stream reviews called the story "one-sided" and said there was insufficient understanding of the Israeli position. Flick filosopher said: "How could such a film be controversial? Ah, here is Schnabel’s mistake: his story is about a Palestinian girl, and he fails to give equal time to the Israeli side of the story, an unforgivable transgression in the eyes of many. Merely treating Palestinians as human could well be too egregious a crime to some. Ironically, there are plenty of nonpolitical reasons to frown upon Miral: it’s simply not a very engaging film, even to those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause."[11]

The entertainment-trade magazine Variety questioned the film’s narrative choices, asking, "why, of the countless stories that have been told about the conflict, this one was worth singling out?"[12]

New Jersey On-Line asked "how can you appeal to both sides when you tell only one side’s story? ... Israel’s founding is dramatized through acts of Jewish aggression against innocent Arabs. The Six-Day War is similarly recounted. The Yom Kippur War, though, is pretty much skipped. So is Entebbe. So are the ’72 Olympics. ... No armed Arab is ever shown. Neither is any Jewish corpse. There are two terrorist bombings in the entire film. In the first, the bomb’s a dud; in the second, it’s a symbolic act that hurts no one. Yet if Arab acts of violence don’t exist here, Israeli injustices are dwelt on. The woman who sets the failed bomb gets three life sentences anyway (including one for disrespect). A Palestinian house is bulldozed while the family weeps. But who lived there, and why was the house destroyed? The film has no time for that - although it does spend quite a while watching Israeli authorities humiliate and beat a teenage girl. None of this is to say that there aren’t acts of government brutality and oppression. But to say that you want to bring people together while claiming that only one side is at fault is to build a bridge to nowhere."[13]

Kansas City.com said "Generally well-acted and often beautiful to gaze upon (Schnabel has a painter’s eye for color and composition), "Miral" puts us in the shoes of an occupied people. But it feels strangely undernourished, as if the filmmakers were afraid to really let go and express big emotions. Perhaps they were."[14]

Directors interest

Director of the film, Julian Schnabel, felt that the project had relevance for his own family history, figuring that he was "a pretty good person to tell the other side of the story" given his background as an American Jew, son of the president of the Brooklyn chapter of Hadassah the Women's Zionist Organisation of America in 1948.[15][8] He said "I think it portrays Israel in an accurate way. I think it’s critical of certain events. I think it’s very light in the context of things that happened."

Schnabel was led to the story by his close friendship with Rula Jebreal, who, in 2003 wrote the original semi-autobiographical "Miral" based on her own time at the orphanage from 1978 (age 5) to the age of 18. Jebrael is now an Italo-Palestinian journalist, novelist and screenwriter with both Israeli and Italian citizenship, she received a scholarship from the Italian government to study medicine at the University of Bologna, where she graduated with a degree in physiotherapy, followed by a masters in Journalism and Political Science. She won a Media Watch award for her coverage of the 2003 Iraq War and the International Ischia Award for Best Journalist of the Year in 2006. In that year she became co-presenter of Anno Zero, an Italian current politics show. In 2008 Jebreal filmed 30 episodes of a show on Egypt covering politics, economy, and the collapse of society in Egypt under the Mubarrak regime.[13]

Actor Shot Dead

On April 4, 2011, days after the film's US release, Juliano Merr-Khamis, the Israeli actor and peace activist who plays Seikh Saabah in the film was shot to death at close range in his car by a a masked gunman outside the "Freedom Theater" he had established in the Jenin refugee camp.[16]

Wikipedia Shortcomings

Hind al-Husseini gets an article at Wikipedia, the orphanage (her enduring legacy) is a major section but does not have an article of it's own. There is no mention of the difficult conditions under which it functions. The article on the film contains six reviews but no comment from Palestinians is carried. The TalkPage here contains examples of the hatred often freely expressed by Wikipedia editors even towards Palestinian humanitarians.


  1. a b "Hind Husseini: The Woman Behind Dar Al-Tifl". This Week in Palestine. June 2002.
  2. a b c d "The Legacy of Hind al-Husseini" United Nations Relief and Works Agency celebrates International Women’s Day. 8 March 2008.
  3. a b c d During the Netanyahu Regime :Israelis Terrorized Dar El Tifl the palestinefreevoice.com, originally from the California Chronicle March 1997.
  4. a b Award of the FTW prize 2009 to Mahira El-Dajani, President of the Board of Trustees of Dar al Tifl since 1995.
  5. Hind Husseini biography at Passia.org.
  6. "The Legacy of Hind al-Husseini". An article originally hosted by UNRWA, now available at Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. May-June 2008.
  7. Suffer the Little Children The Link - Volume 29, Issue 4 Page 12. Sept-Oct 1996.
  8. a b Julian Schnabel Discusses His New Film, a Palestinian Story ... the New York premiere of "Miral" attracted a fusillade of criticism from American Jewish groups that consider it anti-Israeli. New York Times 22nd March 2012.
  9. Miral: A Palestinian disappointment Palestine Chronicle and Mondoweiss. April 4, 2011.
  10. Film review: Palestine as Hollywood fantasy in "Miral" Omar El-Khairy The Electronic Intifada 23 November 2010.
  11. [http://www.flickfilosopher.com/blog/2011/04/miral_review.html#ixzz1qbONCNMM Miral (review)] "simply not a very engaging film, even to those sympathetic to the Palestinian cause". Flick filospher. 25th Apr 2010.
  12. Venice, Miral (France-Israel-Italy-India) While Pinto looks appropriately willful, driven and occasionally fierce ... neither she nor the material convincingly demonstrates why, of the countless stories that have been told about the conflict, this one was worth singling out. Variety Sep. 2, 2010.
  13. a b 'Miral' review: A one-sided story New Jersey On-Line LLC March 26, 2011.
  14. ‘Miral’ tries too hard to get along in the Mideast "as if the filmmakers were afraid to really let go and express big emotions". 2 ½ stars. Kansas City.com 7th Apr 2011.
  15. Jewish director Julian Schnabel brings Palestine to Venice The Guardian. 2 September 2010
  16. 'Miral' murder Israeli actor murdered in Jenin outside his Freedom Theater in the Jenin refugee camp. NY Post. 5 April 2011.