DEBKAfile Exclusive - August 18, 2001See Also: Husseini: Man of Peace ?
Faisal Hussein, master and owner of Orient House, died suddenly in Kuwait on May 30 at the age of 61. As Palestinian Authority Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, who turned his mansion into the unofficial symbol of the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem, he often received foreign diplomats. Israeli pro-Oslo politicians cultivated him as the archetypal Palestinian moderate.
In Kuwait, the local media in a Pavlovian response to his untimely death initially accused the Israeli Mossad of killing him. But a few days later, two Kuwait publications carried an inconspicuous report revealing that a few hours before his death Hussein was seen in a loud shouting match with four very angry unidentified men in the lobby of his hotel.
With the help of the secret Orient House archives captured with the building by Israeli police last Friday, August 10, DEBKAfile throws some light on this incident.
The angry quartet were representatives of Qatar, Bahrain, Omanand the United Arab Emirates in the inter-Arab fund set up in the mid-nineties to promote the Arab hotel and tourist industry in Jerusalem in the face of the rapid development on the Israeli side of the city. Hearing of Husseini's arrival in Kuwait, they marched to his hotel to demand explanations for the disappearance of the $1.8 m. transferred to Orient House in Faisal Husseini's names between 1996 and 1998. Previous attempts by the Qatari representative, when he visited Jerusalem on other business, to track down the missing funds were fruitless. The answer to the mystery is to be found in the scandalous nature of Husseini's affairs, as revealed in the private papers found hidden in Orient House.
DEBKAfile has learned some of those secrets from sources close to the investigation of those documents.
The Fund for the Development of Tourism and New Hotels in East Jerusalem:
The entire $1.8 Million donated by Gulf Emirates was funneled into Hussein's private bank accounts in Switzerland and Austria.
Orient House built up a vast documentary falsification and forgery enterprise to divert moneys handed over for the Palestinian cause by Austria, Germany, the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Their government were shrewd enough not to hand over funds without seeing detailed projects, together with budgetary estimates and orders in writing from contractors. But they were outwitted. The archives showed that Husseini and his staff had artistically altered the sums bid by contractors, increasing them tenfold. Alternatively they recycled old invoices without the contractors' knowledge to show fictitious bids. Husseini deposited the sums accruing from this scam in banks in the Gulf Emirates.
Office for the Protection of Palestinian Properties in Jerusalem:
in pursuit of the sacred national objective of keeping Arab land, buildings and properties out of the hands of Jewish purchasers, Orient House established an informal land registry office, corresponding to the official Israel Land Registry. Dozens of surveyors were employed to map out the locations of Palestinian property on both sides of Jerusalem and make sure it was not sold to Israelis. Those surveyors may not have realized that in the process of rescuing properties worth some $150 m from Israeli purchasers, they were making large chunks of valuable estate available to Feisal Husseini. Hundreds of plots of land, vacant building sites and buildings were located whose legal owners were absent, some since 1967 when all Jerusalem came under Israeli rule.
Sources close to the investigators studying the archives tell DEBKAfile that the scale of document forgeries and fraudulent diversion of moneys is colossal. Because many of the owners lived in the United States or South America and were unable to return to claim their properties, Husseini was able to falsify the deeds of ownership and forge their signatures in order to transfer their properties to himself. Here, private greed masqueraded successfully as a just Palestinian cause.
To launder the vast robbery, Husseini oddly enough registered the stolen property in his own name at the Israeli Land Registry.
Towards the end, rumors of the misappropriations were reaching some of the absentee owners who sent anxious letters to Yasser Arafat and asked for his intervention to recover their stolen estates. Half a dozen letters from Arafat to Husseini were discovered in Orient House files, demanding explanations for the property transfers. Husseini filed the letters without answering them.
Fund for the Relief of the Homeless In pursuit of his crusade for self-enrichment Hussein came up with a special swindle for the poor. Orient House announced a housing scheme requiring an applicant to make a down-payment according to his means, with the fund topping up the full price of home purchase. Applicants were promised notification when arrangements were completed.
Those notifications were never sent out. Cheated applicants, some of whom had parted with borrowed funds or their life's savings for the sake of a home, complained to Arafat, who again wrote letters to Husseini demanding explanations, which were never forthcoming. A glimpse behind the facade of Orient House and into its damning files is enough to explain the bitter estrangement that had developed in recent years between Orient House and the 200,000 Palestinians resident in Jerusalem and why Hussein's star as a local leader had dimmed.
it also accounts for the reluctance of Orient House managers and legal counsel to fight the Israeli shutdown of the institution in court. Aware of the contents of the documents in the hands of the Israeli police and Shin Beit, they prefer not to expose the workings of Orient House to a full court hearing.
Upstaged by Tirawi
Towards the end of his life, Hussein shunned the joint public and media appearances he had made for years with Israeli politicians associated with the Oslo Accords. Another secret he was anxious to keep dark was the way in which control of the security functions of Orient House had been wrested from him by Tawfiq Tirawi, the Ramallah-based chief of Palestinian General Intelligence. Tirawi used this lever to assert control of the security apparatus on Temple Mount as well. The Husseinis had become ciphers on their own turf. The displacement was far-reaching. It added up to a coup executed by the Ramallah faction of Arafat's Fatah against the Jerusalem leaders and its seizure of control of the organs of power in Jerusalem. This was a scarcely bearable comedown for the proud and old-established Husseinis.
The Israeli authorities also had an interest in keeping this takeover dark, lest the Israeli public catch on to the extent to which Arafat's administration had been allowed to hold sway on the Palestinian side of Jerusalem.