Matiel Moghannam, “The Palestinian Gandhi”


Matiel Toomey Moghannam (February 15, 1899 – August 11, 1992) was an important figure in the Palestinian women’s movement during the British Mandate. Born in Lebanon, she moved to the United States as a child, and in the 1920s traveled to Jerusalem, Palestine, where she married Moghannam Elias Moghannam, a leading lawyer and member of the National Defense Party.

Matiel Moghannam, in the center with the big white hat, with the women’s delegation in front of the High Commissioner’s residence, 1929

In 1929, in the aftermath of the Al-Buraq (Western Wall ) riots, Matiel became active in the Palestinian women’s movement and was a co-founder, with Wahida al-Khalidi, of both the Arab Women’s Executive and the Arab Women’s Association, nationalist, as well as feminist organizations. Their primary purposes were to promote the education of girls and the social and economic status of women, but they also actively protested the British Mandate and promoted support for the Palestinian national cause.

Matiel Moghannam with her husband, Moghannam Moghannam and their child, Jerusalem, late 1920s

Together with Tarab Abd al-Hadi, Matiel organized the First Congress of Palestinian Arab Women, and in October 1929, they became the first two official representatives of a Palestinian women’s delegation to meet with High Commissioner, Lord Chancellor.

Arab Women’s Union, King David Hotel, Jerusalem, September 15, 1944. Matiel Moghannam, wearing a white turban, is seated on the left of Huda Shaʻrawi (center, seated, with black headscarf). Photographer: Matson Collection, American Colony Source: Jerusalem Interrupted: Modernity and Colonial Transformation 1917 present, ed. Lena Jayyusi. Northampton. Olive Branch Press, 2010, p. 167).

Matiel also spoke at the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock during the Arab Women’s non-violent March to the Holy Sites on 15 April 1933.

She authored “The Arab Woman and the Palestinian Problem,” (London: Herbert Joseph,1937).

In 1938, she participated in the first Arab Women’s Congress in Cairo, headed by leading feminist, Huda Shaarawi.

Matiel Moghannam, second from the left, with the women’s delegation that met with the High Commissioner in 1929 Source: Library of Congress

In 1939, Matiel established the Arab Women’s Union Society in Ramallah, in order to provide relief, charity activities, and to offer sewing and embroidery workshops for women.

In 1980, she finally returned to Virginia, USA, where she died of congestive heart failure in 1992.

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