MERIP mourns the unexpected passing of Martha Wenger (1955–2006), who was the indefatigable assistant editor of Middle East Report from 1982–1993. During her lengthy tenure at MERIP (she started working with the collective in 1980), Martha was the moving force behind new features — especially short, informational primers — that made this magazine look and read like a magazine. Among the complicated topics her deft editorial hand made easily comprehensible: Western arms sales to the Middle East, Middle Eastern refugee crises and the Sudanese civil war. Her work along with founding editor Joe Stork and publisher Jim Paul on Middle East Report 145, “The Struggle for Food,” won MERIP the 1987 World Hunger Media Award. Following her departure from MERIP, Martha pursued an advanced degree in library science and, from 1998, she served as a librarian at the Washington International School in Washington, DC. She was very active in community work and in her Quaker meeting. She is survived by her husband Konrad Ege, their son Hans, her mother, four sisters, and five nieces and nephews. Memorial contributions may be made to Adelphi Friends Meeting, 2303 Metzerott Road, Adelphi, MD 20783 (please specify that the contribution is for Hans’ Education Fund). We asked several members of MERIP’s staff and editorial committee in those years to contribute some words in Martha’s memory.
I am stunned beyond words, beyond belief, by the terrible news that Martha is gone. We worked together closely for many years, and she, as much as anyone, made MERIP and Middle East Report what it was then and what it is today. I was privileged to work with her for so long and so closely in that endeavor, but that is only part of what she left me. What she left me above all was an indelible impression of a person of great integrity, a person who brought tremendous warmth and dignity, respect and dedication to everything she did and to everyone she touched. She touched me deeply.
As we moved to other work and pursuits, first Martha and then myself, our encounters became less frequent, but I thought of her often, with great fondness, and with an urge to know how she and Konrad and Hans were doing, with a recurrent thought in these just-passed months that I would like to see her again, that it had been too long.
Martha, it has been too long, and you are now too long gone from our lives here. I don’t have words to say how much you meant to me in those years we worked side by side, and how devastated I am today that I have to be saying goodbye. The world is a better place because you were among us, and a lesser place now that you have gone.
We were privileged to work with Martha for about five years, from the late 1980s through first half of the 1990s. Day in and day out, working with her — the life and the laughter — was a rare pleasure. It was a time of political discussion rooted in values of dignity, peace, justice and the full human rights that all people deserve, a time when head and heart, theory and practice, teaching and learning were intimately linked.
Martha knew everything about MERIP’s operations because, at one time or another, she had done just about everything: from accounting, managing cash flow and securing photographs to editing articles, writing primers, assisting subscribers and greeting donors. And Martha had a great sense of humor. She annotated her notes to us about cash flow by suggesting that “employees get grouchy” if not paid.
Martha was deeply grounded in her own guiding principles of integrity, compassion, respect, love and justice. They informed both how she worked and who shewas every day. You felt yourself fully when you were around Martha. She felt a deep love for the people, cultures and land of the Middle East and North Africa. Despite the craziness of a time when there were always more tasks than there were hours in the day, Martha would still make time for celebrating the moment. Peggy remembers a recurring image of Martha searching files for just the right photograph to accompany an article. She would stop, look at the faces and share them with us, so we could talk about the pain or the beauty of their context.
Esther once told an intern: “It doesn’t get any better than this.” This meant the quality of the relationships; the affirmation that each person is equally valued and respected; and the humility that makes a person thrive and feel part of a community that is seeking to make a difference. Sharing life with Martha was a gift that will remain with us always.
—Peggy Hutchison and Esther Merves
Martha joined MERIP’s Washington office at a time of organizational transition. The 1960s-style approach was giving way to more structure and formal accountability. We all wanted to work more effectively, but also to retain MERIP’s political soul. Martha was more than we could have hoped for. An enormously committed political person, with very strong attachments to peace and justice, she was also extremely efficient and well-organized, comfortable with keeping track of MERIP’s finances and ensuring that the editorial and production process ran smoothly.
MERIP, at that time, was divided into two small offices, one in New York (where I was in charge) and one in Washington (headed by Joe Stork). We talked a lot on the phone, and sent texts back and forth by computer modem (before the days of e-mail). Smooth operations required a lot of mutual trust, shared approaches and good spirit. Money was always very tight. The Middle East was then, as now, easily a source of frustration. In this environment, Martha was a source of inspiration, with her calm strength, her deep commitment and her joy of life. It was such a pleasure to work with her! She bound us all together and symbolized our highest political aspirations.
Martha was modest, kind and generous. She was a marvelous friend and colleague. She inspired us all with her commitment and her radiant attachment to a world of justice. I am grateful for her friendship and for all she did to enliven and strengthen MERIP in those lively but difficult years.
The MERIP office, always busy, was in overdrive in the late 1980s, as the first intifada raged. The three of us were crewing for MERIP as interns. We worked with Martha Wenger, who tirelessly and fastidiously turned out issues and primers, fielded press calls, and took care of all the office business. No looming deadline or computer crash could fluster Martha, and rare was the typo that slipped past her into print. In so many ways, she was our mentor: she was a role model of compassion and steely resolve, of professional carefulness and deep human warmth. She taught us how to focus our (then) youthful exuberance and political agitation into published products to serve the cause of political justice, social solidarity and aspirations for peace. Martha was a woman committed to good causes. We, and MERIP, were so lucky to have been a part of her world. We mourn her passing.
—Lisa Hajjar, Steve Niva and Mouin Rabbani
The news of Martha Wenger’s death comes as a terrible shock to us. While she was with MERIP, her calm, efficiency and (last but not least) good humor contributed tremendously to the organization’s survival and development. She weathered several crises with quiet determination and unwavering commitment to our work. She was especially active in developing primers and other centerfold displays that helped to make the content of the magazine more accessible to a broader, non-specialist audience. She was MERIP in many ways: she kept it anchored despite internal turbulence and a hostile world. She was always warm, humane, at peace, insightful and methodical. We do not know what MERIP would have done without her.
—Joel Beinin, Beshara Doumani and Zachary Lockman