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Haidar Abdel-Shafi

Haidar Abdel-Shafi

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Haidar Abdel-Shafi ( June 10, 1919 – September 25, 2007) was a Palestinian physician, community leader
Community leader
A Community Leader is a designation, often by secondary sources , for a person who is perceived to represent a community. A simple way to understand community leadership is to see it as leadership in, for and by the community...

 and political leader who was the head of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference of 1991
Madrid Conference of 1991
The Madrid Conference was hosted by the government of Spain and co-sponsored by the USA and the USSR. It convened on October 30, 1991 and lasted for three days. It was an early attempt by the international community to start a peace process through negotiations involving Israel and the Palestinians...



Abdel-Shafi was born in Gaza
Gaza , also referred to as Gaza City, is a Palestinian city in the Gaza Strip, with a population of about 450,000, making it the largest city in the Palestinian territories.Inhabited since at least the 15th century BC,...

, one of six children of Sheikh Muheiddin Abdel-Shafi, head of the Higher Islamic Council Waqf
A waqf also spelled wakf formally known as wakf-alal-aulad is an inalienable religious endowment in Islamic law, typically denoting a building or plot of land for Muslim religious or charitable purposes. The donated assets are held by a charitable trust...

 and custodian of the holy places in Gaza and Hebron
Hebron , is located in the southern West Bank, south of Jerusalem. Nestled in the Judean Mountains, it lies 930 meters above sea level. It is the largest city in the West Bank and home to around 165,000 Palestinians, and over 500 Jewish settlers concentrated in and around the old quarter...

 (from 1925-27). He attended primary school in Gaza; secondary education as a boarder at the Arab College in Jerusalem and graduated in 1936. He graduated in 1943 from the American University of Beirut
American University of Beirut
The American University of Beirut is a private, independent university in Beirut, Lebanon. It was founded as the Syrian Protestant College by American missionaries in 1866...

 College of Medicine in Beirut
Beirut is the capital and largest city of Lebanon, with a population ranging from 1 million to more than 2 million . Located on a peninsula at the midpoint of Lebanon's Mediterranean coastline, it serves as the country's largest and main seaport, and also forms the Beirut Metropolitan...

. At the University he joined George Habash
George Habash
George Habash also known by his laqab "al-Hakim" was a Palestinian nationalist. Habash, a Palestinian Christian, founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which pioneered the hijacking of airplanes as a Middle East militant tactic...

's Arab Nationalist Movement
Arab Nationalist Movement
The Arab Nationalist Movement , also known as the Movement of Arab Nationalists and the Harakiyyin, was a pan-Arab nationalist organization influential in much of the Arab world, most famously so within the Palestinian movement.-Origins & Ideology:The Arab Nationalist Movement had its origins in a...

 dedicated to Arab nationalism
Arab nationalism
Arab nationalism is a nationalist ideology celebrating the glories of Arab civilization, the language and literature of the Arabs, calling for rejuvenation and political union in the Arab world...

  and the "liberation of Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....



Abdel-Shafi worked at the British Mandate of Palestine's Municipal Hospital in Jaffa
Jaffa is an ancient port city believed to be one of the oldest in the world. Jaffa was incorporated with Tel Aviv creating the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel. Jaffa is famous for its association with the biblical story of the prophet Jonah.-Etymology:...

. In 1944-1945 he joined the Desert Army of the British Jordanian Army, then part of a new British Ninth Army intended to open a second front - which never materialized - in the Balkans. Spent the war instead in various locations in Palestine: Al-Azraq, Ashona, Jericho
Jericho ; is a city located near the Jordan River in the West Bank of the Palestinian territories. It is the capital of the Jericho Governorate and has a population of more than 20,000. Situated well below sea level on an east-west route north of the Dead Sea, Jericho is the lowest permanently...

, Gaza, and resigned his commission at the war's end. He returned to Gaza and entered private medical practice. He then co-founded a branch of the Palestine Medical Society in 1945, and participated in the first Palestine Medical Congress in 1946.

In 1947 and during the Arab-Israeli clashes following the UN partition plan, he provided medical support for the Palestinian fighters. During the 1948 Arab Israeli war, he ran a clinic in Gaza to serve the refugees who flooded into Gaza in large numbers. During this period he worked closely with the Quakers , who provided humanitarian relief for the refugees until UNRWA was established in 1951.


In 1951 he began his studying medicine at Miami Valley Hospital
Miami Valley Hospital
Miami Valley Hospital is a large urban hospital located in Dayton, Ohio and is a member of the Premier Health Partners network. The hospital has a second location named Miami Valley Hospital South in Centerville, Ohio. It currently has the Dayton region's only level I trauma center and also has a...

 in Dayton, Ohio
Dayton, Ohio
Dayton is the 6th largest city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Montgomery County, the fifth most populous county in the state. The population was 141,527 at the 2010 census. The Dayton Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 841,502 in the 2010 census...

. He returned to Gaza in 1954, by which time it was under Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

ian rule. He worked as a surgeon at the Tal Zahur Hospital. In 1956, as the Gaza strip came under the control of Israel, a municipal council with Abdel-Shafi as one of its ten (10) members was installed.

In 1957 Dr. Abdel-Shafi married Hoda Khalidi, from a prominent JerusalemiteJerusalemite
Demographics of Jerusalem
Jerusalem's population size and composition has shifted many times over its 5,000 year history. Since medieval times, the Old City of Jerusalem has been divided into Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian quarters....

 family. 1948. Dr. Abdel-Shafi was appointed as Head of medical services in the Gaza Strip
Gaza Strip
thumb|Gaza city skylineThe Gaza Strip lies on the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The Strip borders Egypt on the southwest and Israel on the south, east and north. It is about long, and between 6 and 12 kilometres wide, with a total area of...

 from 1957 until 1960. During this period, he became a strong admirer and personal friend of Gamal Abdel Nasser
Gamal Abdel Nasser
Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein was the second President of Egypt from 1956 until his death. A colonel in the Egyptian army, Nasser led the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 along with Muhammad Naguib, the first president, which overthrew the monarchy of Egypt and Sudan, and heralded a new period of...

. In 1960, he returned to his private medical practice.

He held a two-year term as chairman of the first Palestinian Legislative Council
Palestinian Legislative Council
The Palestinian Legislative Council, the legislature of the Palestinian Authority, is a unicameral body with 132 members, elected from 16 electoral districts in the West Bank and Gaza...

 in Gaza beginning in 1962. He was also a delegate to the first all-Palestinian conference (Palestinian National Council) which convened in Jerusalem in 1964 and helped establish the Palestine Liberation Organization
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...

 (PLO). He served as a member of the first PLO-Executive Committee (1964-1965). By 1966 he was a leading PLO figure in the Gaza Strip.


In June 1967, Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 controlled Gaza after the Six-Day War
Six-Day War
The Six-Day War , also known as the June War, 1967 Arab-Israeli War, or Third Arab-Israeli War, was fought between June 5 and 10, 1967, by Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt , Jordan, and Syria...

. During and shortly after the war, Dr. Abdel-Shafi volunteered at al-Shifa Hospital
Al-Shifa Hospital
Al-Shifa Hospital is the largest medical complex and central hospital of Gaza, located in the district of North Rimal. The current director of the hospital is Khaled Hassan.-History:...

 in Gaza. He was later temporarily detained by Israel, suspected of support for the military activities of George Habash
George Habash
George Habash also known by his laqab "al-Hakim" was a Palestinian nationalist. Habash, a Palestinian Christian, founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which pioneered the hijacking of airplanes as a Middle East militant tactic...

's new guerilla faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is a Palestinian Marxist-Leninist organisation founded in 1967. It has consistently been the second-largest of the groups forming the Palestine Liberation Organization , the largest being Fatah...

 (PFLP), an offshoot of the Arab Nationalist Movement. Abdel-Shafi denied membership, but expressed his sympathy for the group's goals.

Upon his release, he refused all co-operation with Israel's plans to tie Gaza to Israel through the development of a common infrastructure. Moshe Dayan
Moshe Dayan
Moshe Dayan was an Israeli military leader and politician. The fourth Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces , he became a fighting symbol to the world of the new State of Israel...

 expelled him for three months to the isolated Sinai village of Nekhl in 1969. Deported again on September 12, 1970, this time to Lebanon for two months, along with five other prominent members of the Gazan leadership, in retaliation for a PFLP hijacking.

He was the founder and director of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in the Gaza Strip in 1972, his own rallying organisation for Palestinian improvement. He was attacked by Islamists, who, in 1981 burned down his clinic.

During the First Intifada
First Intifada
The First Intifada was a Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories. The uprising began in the Jabalia refugee camp and quickly spread throughout Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem....

 in May 1988 he was one of three Palestinians (the others were Saeb Erekat
Saeb Erekat
Saeb Muhammad Salih Erekat Saeb Muhammad Salih Erekat Saeb Muhammad Salih Erekat (also Erakat; Ṣāʼib ʻUrayqāt or ʻRēqāt, born April 28, 1955 in Jordanian controlled East Jerusalem was the Palestinian chief of the PLO Steering and Monitoring Committee until 12 February 2011...

 and Hanan Ashrawi
Hanan Ashrawi
Hanan Daoud Khalil Ashrawi is a Palestinian legislator, activist, and scholar. She was a protégé and later colleague and close friend of Edward Said. Ashrawi was an important leader during the First Intifada, served as the official spokesperson for the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East...

) to participate in Nightlines Town Hall meeting from Jerusalem. It was the first time that Palestinians and high ranking PLO members had directly addressed Israeli and Western audiences.

The Madrid Conference and after

In 1991, he led the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference and subsequently led the Palestinian negotiation team for 22 months in the Washington talks (1992-93). He broke with the Palestinian negotiating team over the Oslo peace agreement
Oslo Accords
The Oslo Accords, officially called the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements or Declaration of Principles , was an attempt to resolve the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict...

 over the question of the Israeli settlements. He was one of the first to predict that the Oslo process would collapse because it failed to tackle the issue of settlements.

In 1996, he was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) with the highest number of votes as member for Gaza. He took up leadership of the PLC's political committee. He resigned as a deputy in the PLC in late 1997 to protest what he described at the time as the failure to deal with corruption in the Palestinian Authority. Two years later he initiated unity talks for all factions in Gaza. Following the outbreak of the second Intifada
Al-Aqsa Intifada
The Second Intifada, also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada and the Oslo War, was the second Palestinian uprising, a period of intensified Palestinian-Israeli violence, which began in late September 2000...

, he urged the Palestinian Authority (PA) to organize the Intifada rather than distance itself from it , and to widen its democratic base by forming a government of national unity.

He co-founded the Palestinian National Initiative
Palestinian National Initiative
Palestinian National Initiative is a Palestinian political movement or party led by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti.Its formation was formally announced on June 17, 2002 in Ramallah on the West Bank, part of the Palestinian Territories, by Dr. Haidar Abdel-Shafi, Dr...

 in 2002 along with Edward Said
Edward Said
Edward Wadie Saïd was a Palestinian-American literary theorist and advocate for Palestinian rights. He was University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and a founding figure in postcolonialism...

, Mustafa Barghouti
Mustafa Barghouti
Mustafa Barghouti is a Palestinian democracy activist. He was a candidate for the presidency of the Palestinian National Authority in 2005, finishing second to Mahmoud Abbas, with 19% of the vote.Barghouti was born in Jerusalem...

 and Ibrahim Dakkak
Ibrahim Dakkak
Ibrahim Dakkak Ibrahim Dakkak Ibrahim Dakkak (born in Jerusalem in 1929, is a Palestinian civil engineer and activist.-Early life:Dakkak completed his secondary education in Palestine and graduated from the American University in Cairo with degrees in science and mathematics in 1947. He worked as a...

 as a national platform for combining the struggle for national liberation and the return of refugees with the values of national unity, democracy and social justice.

On April 8, 2007 he was presented with the Palestinian Star of Honor by President Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas , also known by the kunya Abu Mazen , has been the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation since 11 November 2004 and became President of the Palestinian National Authority on 15 January 2005 on the Fatah ticket.Elected to serve until 9 January 2009, he unilaterally...

 largely for his role as founding member and President of the Palestinian National Initiative.

He died from cancer in Gaza aged 88. His funeral rally was attended by various political factions in Gaza in a rare show of unity. He is survived by his wife, four children (Hind, Khaled, Tareq, Salah) and seven grandchildren.


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