Prominent Palestinian figure and nationalist, Dr. Haidar Abdul Shafi passed away on September 25, at the age of 88 after a two-year struggle with cancer. Abdul Shafi is considered one of Palestine’s most long standing patriots, having served his country and people for over four decades.
Abdul Shafi first began his journey in the Palestinian struggle in 1964 when he participated in the establishment of the Palestine Liberation Organization. He was also a member of the first Palestine National Council. A native of the Gaza Strip, Abdul Shafi was a member of the first Legislative Council in Gaza in 1962 as well.
Abdul Shafi’s involvement in Palestinian political life continued throughout the years, especially after the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in 1967. In 1970, he was deported by Israeli authorities to Lebanon for two months for his involvement in the Palestinian resistance movement.
However, Abdul Shafi also played another critical role in Palestinian life, heading the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Gaza from 1972 to 2005. The society was first established to provide free medical care in Gaza. Abdul Shafi was its first physician.
In 1987, Abdul Shafi used his clout to unify Palestinian factions after the outbreak of the first Intifada under the Unified National Command, a leadership inside the occupied territories that offered directives for the resistance against the Israeli occupation.
He also headed the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, setting in motion peace talks between Palestine and Israel. Then after the inception of the Palestinian Authority, Abdul Shafi threw himself into the new dynamics of Palestinian politics, becoming a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996.
Known for his unbending integrity, Abdul Shafi did not last long in the PLC, resigning two years later in protest of the marginalized role of the PLC and its ineffectiveness as a monitoring legislative authority.
Abdel Shafi was also a founder of the Palestinian National Initiative, headed by Mustapha Barghouti, which ran in the legislative elections in 2006. While sometimes associated with the Palestinian Communist Party, Abdul Shafi was one of the few and far between Palestinians who remained loyal to the Palestinian cause first and foremost and was not overshadowed by factional affiliations. He was always very candid in his criticism of Palestinian figures, most prominently with late President Yasser Arafat over the 1993 Oslo Accords.
Proof of Abdul Shafi’s respect throughout Palestinian society is evident in the statements issued by rival factions, Fateh and Hamas, on his death. Fateh hailed him as “a great national struggler” while Hamas said he was “one of the most important Palestinian figures in Palestinian history.”
(www.Miftah.org; Sep 26, 2007)