The prominent Palestinian lawyer and the first president of the PLO. Ahmad Al-Shukairy was born in Tebnin, in the south of Lebanon, where his father Sheikh As’ad Al-Shukairy was banished because of his opposition to the policies of the Ottoman rule during the reign of the Sultan Abdul Hameed.
Ahmad moved as a child to the city of Toulkarm in Palestine to live with his mother. In 1916, he moved to Akka where he completed his primary school education. He then proceeded to Jerusalem to complete his secondary schooling in 1926. Then he joined the American University in Beirut, but was expelled the following year by the French Mandatory Power in Lebanon, due to his participation in addressing a demonstration organized by the Arab students at the AUB in memory of the 6th of May. At that point, he returned to Palestine and joined the Institute of Law in Jerusalem, studying at night and working during the day at a newspaper called Mir’at Alshark “Mirror of the East”.
After he graduated from the Institute of Law, he worked and trained at the office of the distinguished lawyer Awni Abdul Hadi who was one of the founders of the Istiklal party “the Independence party” in Palestine. During this period, he met many of the leaders of The Great Syrian Revolution who found refuge in Palestine, including Shukry Al-Quwatly, Riyadh Al-Sulh, Nabih Al-Athmeh and Adel Arsalan.
In the nineteen twenties and thirties, Palestine had lived consecutive revolutions. The Great Palestinian Revolution (1936 – 1939) was the most important one of all. Al-Shukairy became actively involved in this great nationalist movement and struggled against the British mandatory rule and the Zionist infiltration into Palestine. He also defended prisoners and Arab Palestinian revolutionists in the British courts. When the Revolution ended, Al-Shukairy was persecuted by the British, and therefore had to leave Palestine and move to Egypt. He returned to Palestine, in the early days of World War II, and started his own law office in Akka. He specialized in defending the nationalist militants and concentrated on the issues of the threatened Palestinian territories. Al-Shukairy succeeded in saving many Arab lands and preventing the Zionists from laying their hands on them.
When it was decided to establish the Arab Bureaus, headed by Musa Al Alami, in foreign countries, Al-Shukairy was chosen in 1945 as the first director of the Arab Media office in Washington, D.C. Later in 1946 he was appointed as the head of The Central Arab Media Office in Jerusalem, where he resumed his law practice. He remained in Palestine until he was forced in 1948 to migrate to Lebanon and take refuge with his family in Beirut.
The Syrian Government decided to make use of Al-Shukairy’s growing experience in foreign policy. He was therefore appointed as a member of the Syrian delegation to the United Nations (1949 – 1950). Soon after, Al-Shukairy was nominated to become the Assistant Secretary General for the Arab League in Cairo, Egypt, and he remained in office until the year 1957. Al-Shukairy was then appointed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as minister of state for the United Nations affairs. During his extensive work at the United Nations between 1949 and 1963, Al-Shukairy was always a dedicated, strong and eloquent advocate of the Palestinian cause as well as other Arab nationalist issues, especially those concerning Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.
After Al-Shukairy returned from the United Nations in 1962, he was chosen by the heads of the Arab states to represent Palestine in the Arab League, following the death of the previous representative, Ahmed Hilmi Abdul Baki. The decision was made in the 1st Arab Summit held in January 1964 to entrust Al-Shukairy, as the Palestinian representative, to start contacts for establishing the Palestinian Entity. Al-Shukairy accomplished his mission with excellent results. He toured the Arab countries, where Palestinians had taken residence, and presented to them his proposals for the National Charter as well as the by-laws of establishing the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The preparatory committees were chosen, and these in turn nominated their representatives to the Palestinian Conference, which was held in Jerusalem between May 28 - June 2, 1964. The Conference was entitled The First Palestinian National Council for the Liberation Organization. The Conference elected Ahmed Al-Shukairy as its president and announced the establishment of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. It approved the by-laws and National Charter of the PLO, and elected Al-Shukairy as Chairman of the Executive Committee. He was delegated the task of choosing the 15 members of the Executive Committee. The Conference also decided to mobilize the Palestinian people and establish the Palestinian National Fund.
Al-Shukairy presented his report to the Second Arab Summit Conference (September-1964) on the establishment of the PLO as the Palestinian Entity. His report explained the organizational aspects of the PLO and its goal to achieve the mobilization of the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberating their homeland. Al-Shukairy also presented the members of the Executive Committee of the PLO and urged the Summit to pledge financial support for the Organization. Al-Shukairy devoted himself to the tasks of the Executive Committee in Jerusalem. These included the establishment of PLO disciplines and departments as well as representative offices in Arab and Foreign states, and above all the creation of the military body, named the Palestinian Liberation Army. At the end of the second Palestinian National Council (Cairo, May 31- June 4, 1965), Al-Shukairy presented the achievements of the Executive Committee. He then submitted his resignation and the Council accepted it. His presidency of the Executive Committee was immediately renewed and this granted him the right to choose its members once again.
After the Israeli invasion of June 1967, major changes affected both the Arab and the Palestinian fronts, and differences of opinion arose among the Executive Committee. Al-Shukairy, therefore, submitted his resignation to the Palestinian people in December 1967.
From this point onward, Al-Shukairy declined any official position and directed his efforts towards writing. He alternated his residence between Cairo in winter and Lebanon in summer.
His house was never void of Palestinian and Arab visitors, who exchanged opinions on various Arab and international issues. Al-Shukairy always argued that political bargaining would not liberate Palestine, and that armed struggle was the only means towards liberation. He also stressed that Arabs should try to curtail the American imperialist support to Israel and its Zionist plans to contain the Arab Nation and destroy its resources. Furthermore, Al-Shukairy emphasized that oil could be used as a weapon to fight imperialism.
The Camp David Agreement, the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, and the normalization of relations between Egypt and the Zionist state were considered by Al-Shukairy as high treason towards the Arab and Palestinian cause. He, therefore, left Cairo for Tunisia in 1979. He spent several months there until a chronic illness, aggravated by disappointment, required his transfer to the Hussein Medical Center, in Amman, where he died on the 26th of February 1980. He was buried upon his request in the cemetery of Abu Obaida, one of Prophet Muhammad’s companions, in the Jordan Valley, only a stone’s throw from his beloved homeland: Palestine.
Al-Shukairy had left a number of valuable books, speeches and publications on various Arab and Palestinian issues.