When the kid was 7 the shooting began in Jerusalem, and his father locked the door and the family fled to safety across the river.
The father, a professor of Islamic literature, had a library of 60,000 items. But surely the confusion would only last a few days?
His career, however, was shattered; He could not go back, and never succeeded in picking up the pieces.
And the boy, born in the Holy City, grew up in Lebanon and Egypt, educated in both countries, and earned a doctorate in government at the University of Massachusetts in 1969. He taught for a year at Smith College, then came to Washington to work with the League of Arab States.
A year ago last spring he opened the Palestine Information Office on 18th Street.
If you think of the common fate of children in political upheavals, Hatem I. Hussaini did not fare too badly. He survived.
Jerusalem is his city, not Washington and Palestine, not America, is where the bones of his fathers have been gathered for maybe a thousand years.
He is an activist in the Palestinian cause, a job that conjures visions of grenades and explosive bottles and Jews pushed into the sea, in the heads of many Americans.
When Andy Young, the U.N. ambassador, spoke with the PLO man in New York (New York and Washington are the only two cities with Palestine information offices) all hell broke out.
Young resigned -- presumably he would have been fired if he had not resigned promptly -- when his evasive account caused the State Department to issue a false report on the meeting.
One thing the information office, paid for by the Palestine Liberation Organization, tries to do, Hussaini said, is spread the PLO viewpoint every time one of these uproars occurs.
A couple of hours before Young resigned, Hussaini handed me his statement of the PLO position, that "this is a sad and outrageous reflection of the level of Zionist pressure in this country, and of the direction of its foreign policy," adding that if America thinks the Palestinian problem is central to settling the Arab-Israeli tensions then "it becomes crucial for the American government to find out" what the Palestinians themselves think.
Hussaini carries a Jordanian passport -- a man has to have some kind of passport, he said, but Palestine is his country. He is an alien resident.
He could easily pass for an American and speaks better English than most. He is of middle height, muscular, reasonably good-looking, with straight brown eyes. There is nothing smoldering, dark, burning or secret about his appearance or manner.
But the phone often rang and he burst into Arabic, melodious enough but urgent-sounding, as if there were not enough minutes to get things tended to.
People sometimes came in and interrupted.
"I'll see you in two hours," he might say, and his visitor would say no, he could not be reached then. People seemed busy and endlessly mobile, and I had the feeling they were all on madly different and unalterable schedules.
Hussaini said he has a yearly budget of $80,000 for his office, with its staff of five including himself as director, and the rent of the second floor of a converted house, and including the scant publication budget of $15,000.
The State Department said Hussaini's office is legal but they did not expect to cooperate with it. In fact the PLO would not be allowed to send Palestinians into America to open such offices. Hussaini was already a legal resident, and there is no law to prevent his freedom of expression.
PLO representatives in New York are restricted in travel and cannot go more than 35 miles away, but Hussaini can travel freely anywhere.
Often he writes letters to the editor, setting out PLO views, or phones media people to complain of what he sees as inaccuracy.
He lives with his wife and children in Washington and finds no overt discrimination, but plenty that is subtle.
Asked to give an example, he said just such things as Hodding Carter's statement when the office was opened, implying there was nothing the department could do to keep it from opening, but with a hint that State would just as soon the office dried up and blew away. It doesn't make you feel specially welcome, I gathered.
He mentioned Israeli figures who come into America to make speeches, often for large fees, while PLO leaders cannot.
His office does arrange, however, for speakers for colleges, and sometimes people write in for more knowledge of the PLO position. In those cases he sends them brochures or newsletters, but it is a small operation.
"We are not lobbyists," he said. "We don't have the staff, or, really, the inclination to lobby on Capitol Hill."
He said there are a few, very few, members of Congress who sometimes ask for information on some point. He said the former Sen. James Abourezk (D-S.D.) was often called pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian but really wasn't; it was merely that he discovered there was more than one side to the question.
"A brave man," he said.
He said PLO supporters are found mainly around Chicago, New York or the West Coast. He said he finds life comfortable enough in Washington, apart from being rather unwelcome. He said it's odd that it's thought so awful to talk with a PLO person:
"Would Americans think it was wrong to talk with a refugee Jew from the Soviet Union?"
"You aren't taking notes," he said. "Won't you misquote me?"
"I'm paying attention instead of scribbling around," I told him. When people are talking about whole sweeps of fact and emotion, what they mean is more important than the precise wording.
He said you don't know what it's like to be pushed out of your country without a dime. And it's not just the loss of treasured possessions (for a professor, his books; for a kid, his new bicycle) "but the loss of dignity."
For years (as the PLO sees it) the Palestinians still in Israel (as the new state is known) and the Palestinians who fled, sat around waiting for the great world to redress their wounds of displacement, but nobody did anything much.
It was only when acts of violence were attributed to the Palestinians, especially the PLO, that the world began to think of them at all.
In some of their publications the PLO insists -- and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the PLO, said to the United Nations on Nov. 13, 1974 -- the Palestinians want to return to their native land, to live with Christians and Jews and Muslims in a secular state.
They do not see why the persecuted Jews of the world had a right to bounce out the native inhabitants without a dime, leaving refugees (now said to be 2 million) in wretched camps to survive as best they may.
The Palestinians draw a line between Zionism and its religion-based state and the Jews of Israel. Hussaini argues there is no quarrel with Jews, or with Jews finding a home in Palestine. The quarrel is with a state in which Palestinians are denied basic rights, including the rights of the refugees to live in their homeland.
But as the PLO sees it, the predominant power, the United States, hardly cares. The Palestinians have no oil, no votes, no pressure apparatus to bear on American policy.
Many Americans, they strongly suspect, prefer to think there really are not 4 million Palestinians to worry about. Or, even if there are, that surely in the course of a generation or two, the Palestinians will forget their land, their heritage, and everything will be fine.
Still, as another Palestinian once said, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my left hand forget her cunning . . . " and Hussaini asked me how I'd react if the American Indians took over my house?
Bitter rhetoric and violent acts have come from the PLO, and one hears much about it. One hears less, perhaps, from PLO intellectuals, and less of their calm arguments.
Hussaini said Palestine is asked to pay the costs of Western guilt (the Nazi treatment of Jews, for example) and that Americans simply do not hear the Palestinian side.
It has been 31 years since he lived in Jerusalem, but I suspected while listening to him that hell will freeze over before he forgets her. And who really thinks there is going to be any peace with 4 million resentful Palestinians like him?