MERIP mourns the passing in mid-January 2005 of Hisham Sharabi, a formidable thinker and extraordinary teacher who, along with Edward Said and Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, led a generation of activist Palestinian intellectuals who lived and worked in the United States. Sharabi died of cancer at the age of 78 in Beirut.
Born in Jaffa in mandate Palestine, Sharabi was a student at the American University of Beirut when that campus began to be the center of political-intellectual ferment in the Arab world. After leaving Lebanon due to political pressure, he nurtured a life-long passion for Western philosophy and intellectual history while completing his doctorate in those subjects at the University of Chicago. Toward the end of his distinguished 45-year teaching career at Georgetown University, where he helped to establish the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, he was known to most students as the convener of a challenging and required “Great Books” course.
But Sharabi’s heart always remained in Palestine, and he devoted much of his professional life to building institutions of public education and advocacy for his home country and his people’s national rights. He was the long-time editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies and the co-founder of the Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development and its educational arm, the Palestine Center (originally called the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine). Like Said and Abu-Lughod, he offered key intellectual guidance and moral support to Middle East-related projects with a broader canvas, like this magazine, particularly early on. Also like his peers, Sharabi was a caustic critic of corruption and poor strategic thinking in the PLO leadership, and an important voice for progressive political and social change in Palestine and the Arab world.
Though he was courtly and soft-spoken, Sharabi did not always suffer fools gladly in the classroom. No one who took his course with me can forget when he evaluated one student’s laborious presentation on a post-modernist thinker with one sentence: “You haven’t added to my understanding.” Hisham Sharabi, with his omnivorous, exacting mind and his infectious interest in what he taught, added immeasurably to the understanding of generations of his students. He will be long remembered and sorely missed.