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Palestinian activist Issam Nashashibi died at home in Dawsonville, GA on Thursday, August 28th. His untimely death at the age of 52 will be felt deeply by many. His spouse, Margaret, and his two siblings survive him.
Issam was born in Jerusalem. His family was unable to return to their Jerusalem home in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War. Ethnic removal by Israel of Palestinian Arabs, both Muslim and Christian, gave form to Issam’s political consciousness.
Issam, in the best sense of the term, was the product of the Enlightenment. He was raised in what was once the cosmopolitan environment of Jerusalem where Christians, Jews, and Muslims mixed easily, intermarried, and shared holidays. Despite the offenses his family and friends suffered at the hands of the Israeli state, Issam was never reflexively anti-Semitic. Indeed, he worked closely with Jews who saw the injustices of the Zionist project of expansion, while conversely admiring the vigorous political and intellectual life of Israel’s people.
Issam was an atheist who admired and easily worked with people grounded in religion. He was tolerant, forgiving, understanding, and compassionate. Yet, he was motivated to act against injustice and did so with great vigor and effect throughout his life.
Issam often took leading roles in activist organizations. He headed the Arab student organization in London in the early 1970s. In his usual humorous self-deprecating way, he always explained this was more a function of geography than a testament to his leadership, as selecting a Palestinian was an acceptable compromise to the far more numerous Egyptian and Iraqi students. Yet, knowing Issam I am sure there was more at work than geography and compromise in his selection as a student leader.
In the tradition of successful Jewish businessmen of yesteryear that hated capitalism, Issam received his MBA from UNC-Chapel Hill and thrived in business, while always questioning the inhumanity of “really existing capitalism.” He continued to dedicate his life to activism through the Palestinian cause. He was active with the Americans for Middle East Understanding (AMEU). He served the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee as a board member and was President of the US chapter of Deir Yassin Remembered.
Issam was a regular contributor of essays to CounterPunch, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, and Yellow Times, along with newspapers in San Diego and other cities. Issam had strong links to the African-American community. He moved to Georgia for family reasons in 2001 and volunteered for then Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. At the convocation ceremony for Martin Luther King at King’s Ebenezer church, Issam was one of the few non-African Americans selected honored to speak on behalf of King’s legacy.
Issam never led for reasons of ego. Indeed, he was happy to write articles for other persons and organizations and to work invisibly where this proved more effective.
Issam was steeped in education projects. His last was s a lesson-module on the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict designed for use in schools and for community groups. This innovative project placed that issue in world historical context. He just began using it in schools only days before his passing.
Donations in Issam’s memory can be made to the Deir Yassin Fund: http://www.deiryassin.org/donation.html
JEFFREY SOMMERS is an Assistant Professor of History
at North Georgia College & State University. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org