Emile Habibi

Emile Habibi

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Imil Shukri Habibi was an Israeli
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

Palestinian people
The Palestinian people, also referred to as Palestinians or Palestinian Arabs , are an Arabic-speaking people with origins in Palestine. Despite various wars and exoduses, roughly one third of the world's Palestinian population continues to reside in the area encompassing the West Bank, the Gaza...

 writer of Arabic expression and a communist politician, son of a Christian family.

In 2005, he was voted the 143rd-greatest Israeli of all time, in a poll by the Israeli news website Ynet
Ynet is the most popular Israeli news and general content website. It is owned by the same conglomerate that operates Yediot Ahronot, the country's secondleading daily newspaper...

to determine whom the general public considered the 200 Greatest Israelis.


Habibi was born in Haifa
Haifa is the largest city in northern Israel, and the third-largest city in the country, with a population of over 268,000. Another 300,000 people live in towns directly adjacent to the city including the cities of the Krayot, as well as, Tirat Carmel, Daliyat al-Karmel and Nesher...

 on Aug. 29, 1922 in today's Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, which at that time was part of the British Mandate of Palestine.
Born into a Protestant Palestinian Arab family (his family had originally been Arab Orthodox
Arab Orthodox
The Arab Orthodox are Arab Greek Orthodox Christian communities which have existed in Greater Syria since the early years of Christianity. During the Palestine Mandate they were prominent in many of the major cities including Jaffa, Nazareth, Haifa and Jerusalem and also formed the majority of...

 but converted to Protestantism due to disputes within the Orthodox church)
In his early life he worked on an oil refinery and later was a radio announcer.

Under the Mandate he became one of the leaders of the Palestine Communist Party
Palestine Communist Party
The Palestine Communist Party was a political party in British Mandate of Palestine formed in 1923 through the merger of the Palestinian Communist Party and the Communist Party of Palestine...

. When the 1948 Arab-Israeli War
1948 Arab-Israeli War
The 1948 Arab–Israeli War, known to Israelis as the War of Independence or War of Liberation The war commenced after the termination of the British Mandate for Palestine and the creation of an independent Israel at midnight on 14 May 1948 when, following a period of civil war, Arab armies invaded...

 began in 1948 he stayed in Haifa while many others chose or were forced to leave the country. As a result he was granted Israeli citizenship. After the war he helped to create the Israeli Communist Party and established the Israeli communist paper Al-Ittihad
Al-Ittihad (Israeli newspaper)
Al-Ittihad is an Israeli Arabic language daily newspaper based in Haifa. Once considered the most important Arab media outlet in Israel, it is owned by Maki, the Israeli Communist Party, and was edited by a former Maki/Hadash Knesset member, Ahmad Sa'd until his death on 20 April 2010.-History:The...


He stayed in Haifa his whole life. His gravestone reads (at Habibi's own request): "Emile Habibi – Remained in Haifa."

Political career

Habibi was one of the leaders of the Palestine Communist Party
Palestine Communist Party
The Palestine Communist Party was a political party in British Mandate of Palestine formed in 1923 through the merger of the Palestinian Communist Party and the Communist Party of Palestine...

 during the Mandate era. He supported the 1947 UN Partition Plan
1947 UN Partition Plan
The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine was created by the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine in 1947 to replace the British Mandate for Palestine with "Independent Arab and Jewish States" and a "Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem" administered by the United...

. When Israel became a state he helped form the Israeli communist party ICP.
He served in the Knesset
The Knesset is the unicameral legislature of Israel, located in Givat Ram, Jerusalem.-Role in Israeli Government :The legislative branch of the Israeli government, the Knesset passes all laws, elects the President and Prime Minister , approves the cabinet, and supervises the work of the government...

 between 1951 and 1959, and again from 1961 until 1972, first as a member of Maki
Maki (historical political party)
Maki was a communist political party in Israel. It is not the same party as the modern day Maki, which split from it during the 1960s and later assumed its name.-History:...

, before breaking away from the party with Tawfik Toubi
Tawfik Toubi
-Biography:Toubi was born in Haifa to an Arab Orthodox family in 1922, and was educated at the Mount Zion School in Jerusalem. He joined the Palestine Communist Party in 1941 and later was one of the founders of the League for National Liberation, which originally opposed partition of Palestine but...

 to found Rakah. After a conflict about how the party should deal with the new policies of Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev is a former Soviet statesman, having served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, and as the last head of state of the USSR, having served from 1988 until its dissolution in 1991...

 he left the party in 1991.


Habibi began writing short stories in the 1950s, and his first story, "The Mandelbaum Gate" was published in 1954.

In 1972 he resigned from the Knesset in order to write his first novel: The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist, which became a classic in modern Arabic literature. The book depicts the life of an Israeli Arab
Arab citizens of Israel
Arab citizens of Israel refers to citizens of Israel who are not Jewish, and whose cultural and linguistic heritage or ethnic identity is Arab....

, employing black humour and satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

. It was based on the traditional anti-hero Said in Arab literature. In a playful way it deals with how it is for Arabs to live in the state of Israel, and how one who has nothing to do with politics is drawn in to it. He followed this by other books, short stories and a play. His last novel, published in 1992, was Saraya, the Ogre's Daughter.

Literary prizes

In 1990 Habibi received the Al-Quds Prize from the PLO
Palestine Liberation Organization
The Palestine Liberation Organization is a political and paramilitary organization which was created in 1964. It is recognized as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" by the United Nations and over 100 states with which it holds diplomatic relations, and has enjoyed...

Two years later (in 1992) he received the Israel Prize
Israel Prize
The Israel Prize is an award handed out by the State of Israel and is largely regarded as the state's highest honor. It is presented annually, on Israeli Independence Day, in a state ceremony in Jerusalem, in the presence of the President, the Prime Minister, the Knesset chairperson, and the...

 for Arabic literature. His willingness to accept both reflected his belief in coexistence.
Though after accepting the Israel Prize a debate set off among the Arabic intellectual community. Habibi was accused of legitimizing the Israeli anti-Arab policy. Habibi replied to the accusations:
"A dialogue of prizes is better than a dialogue of stones and bullets," he said. "It is indirect recognition of the Arabs in Israel as a nation. This is recognition of a national culture. It will help the Arab population in its struggle to strike roots in the land and win equal rights".

Published works

1969: Sudāsīyat al-ayyām al-sittah

1974: Al-Wakāʾiʿ al gharībah fī ikhtifāʾ Saʿīd Abī al-Naḥsh al-Mutasāʾil (translated as The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist)

1976: Kafr Qāsim (Kafr Kassem)

1980: Lakʿ bin Lakʿ (play)

1991: Khurāfīyat Sarāyā Bint al-Ghūl (translated as Saraya, the Ogre's Daughter)

External links