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A Noble Woman, a Noble Cause—Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, “Fighting the Good Fight for Palestine all my Life”

posted on: Sep 30, 2020

A Noble Woman, a Noble Cause—Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, “Fighting the Good Fight for Palestine all my Life”

By: John Mason/ Arab America Contributing Writer                   

Arab America had the pleasure of a Zoom Meeting visit with Dr. Hanan Ashrawi from Ramallah, Palestine this past Saturday. She generously shared her broad knowledge of what it means to be an Arab, an Arab American, and a Palestinian. She did express her belief that bringing our Arab American populations under the banner of heritage is an effective way of organizing. Also, when responded to questions from the audience, Dr. Ashrawi made the negotiated settlement for Palestinians as the basis of an excellent discussion, including the role of Israel and the U.S. in affecting or constraining such a settlement. Dr. Ashrawi discussed some practical steps Arab Americans can take in supporting the Palestinian cause.

Dr. Ashrawi’s Visit and Arab America’s Mission

A Noble Woman, a Noble Cause—Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, “Fighting the Good Fight for Palestine all my Life”

Dr. Hanan Daoud Mikhael Ashrawi is a Palestinian leader, legislator, activist, and scholar who served as a member of the Leadership Committee and as an official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process, beginning with the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991. Dr. Ashrawi participated in an Arab American Zoom meeting last Saturday. The starting point for what was a most fruitful discussion with Dr. Ashrawi was how best to carry out the Arab America Foundation’s mission.

Promoting an accurate and positive image of the Arab American community and the Arab world and bridging the diverse population of nearly 4 million Arab Americans are the two-pronged goals of AA’s mission. In response to a question of how achievable she thought the mission is, Dr. Ashrawi responded, “the answer’s complicated because the mission is daunting, but you shouldn’t be daunted.” It is complicated by “conditions of culture, heritage, and identity,” she noted. Starting from a very positive and empowering base, Dr. Ashrawi noted that Arabs have so much to be proud of, their glorious history, filled with great architecture, art, music, cuisine, medicine. There is so much to celebrate but also differences to overcome, including stereotypes of U.S. Arabs in terms of religion, race, and ethnicity. As Arabs, “we need to embrace our identity, history, our civilization,” she averred.

Defining Ourselves

Dr. Ashrawi stressed that “we are not newcomers; we come from a long line of achievements and need to claim our space in the public domain.” Connection to our homeland is another criterion Arabs should underscore, be comfortable with their national identity. Nationalism needs to be defined, since as Ashrawi noted, “We are not monolithic, we have so many identities.” She described Arabs as comprising “a series of overlapping circles—and to focus on those spheres which make us the same—and celebrate them.” This is especially the case, she insisted, “when we’re all under attack inside and outside our own countries.” Dr. Ashrawi compared Arab nationalism with that of Israel, which she characterized as “hyper-nationalism.” One thing Arabs have in common, she suggested, is democracy and Women’s rights, both of which need greater attention.

Palestinian Rights

Taking up a significant portion of the discussion was the need to “defend our (Palestinian) right to self-determination, …especially because we are totally vulnerable.” Furthermore, different countries are seen to have opposing positions on Palestinians’ rights to their own land. Ashrawi insisted that “You can’t normalize relations with an occupier.” The U.S. wants to make Israel a major power in the region before the U.S. November elections, with no price being paid by Israel for its transgression against Palestinians.

Israel is still taking land, Ashrawi reported, and she cannot even travel from her hometown of Ramallah to Jerusalem. She further insists that Israel expects to get its own way without any words spoken between the two entities, while most of the rest of the world’s nations want a negotiated settlement. Ashrawi reminds us, in any case, that “negotiations are just a means to an end.” The United Nations must be the place where peace is made, she suggested since that’s where international law prevails.  She emphasized that, under the present leadership, the U.S. cannot be an honest broker, “that it is basically only capable of doing damage.”

Israel’s ‘Bait and Switch’

Dr. Ashrawi then underscored how Israel prefers to stir the pot, by insisting on exclusively referring to Palestinians as “Arabs,” which of course they are. But Israel’s point is to insist that Palestinians when called Arabs, suggests that “they don’t belong there,” in their own homeland. Ashrawi continued, “We are Palestinians who speak Arabic. Israelis came to us, not vice versa. They do not want that narrative. Israelis dehumanize us, avoiding the question of who we are.” This Israeli technique is also a not-so-subtle way of avoiding having to state the fact that Israel is the military occupier of Palestinian land and has been so for over the last 60 years.

Chances for Peace

A Noble Woman, a Noble Cause—Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, “Fighting the Good Fight for Palestine all my Life”

Dr. Ashrawi expressed that the reality of any peace strategy must include that fact that Palestinians are “maneuvering for survival,” there are no funds to support us, and there is no one to represent us in the U.S. Many in the Palestinian leadership, she commented, “think they know it all,” and furthermore, there is no institutional base in the country to fight the political battle, much less to improve life for the people.  She indicated that there is corruption in the leadership. Finally, Ashrawi noted, “Israel controls everything.”

Raising Awareness of Palestinian Rights in the U.S.

Dr. Ashrawi did not have a silver bullet to address the question of how Palestinians can gain a more sympathetic ear in the U.S. The U.S., under the present administration, has completely ignored Palestinians, at one point even proposing that Israel help itself to gobble up through annexation more than 30% of the West Bank. First, she advised, “Stand up, speak up, hold your representatives accountable.” Finally, AA’s guest, the Honorable Hanan Ashrawi, as any fine community adviser and the teacher would do, advised, “You need to know your subject in detail.”


Notes from Arab America Cousins Event with Dr. Hanan Ashrawi: “The Intersection of Heritage, Nationalism, and Activism,” Zoom Meeting, Ramallah, Palestine, 9/26/2020

John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.


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