Palestine's champion, Naseer Aruri, dies aged 81

Palestine's champion, Naseer Aruri, dies aged 81
The charismatic and distinguished author, scholar and activist who fought tirelessly for Palestinian rights was suffering from Parkinson's disease.
3 min read
13 February, 2015
Aruri: Committed to Palestinian justice and human rights

Naseer Aruri, a leading human rights activist, author and professor who fought tirelessly for Palestinian rights, has died at the age of 81. He was suffering from Parkinson's disease.

His death on February 10 was received with sadness across the Middle East and much of the rest of the world, with tributes paid to a charismatic, distinguished and devoted champion of the cause of his homeland.

"Naseer was a man of great integrity. He was a mentor not only to his students but to all who knew him. He led by example, not through preaching," said Lamis Andoni, the editor-in-chief of al-Araby al-Jadeed.

"He was committed to justice in Palestine and to justice and human rights as fundamental principles driving his life and work. His wisdom, compassion and towering presence will be sorely missed."

Aruri had for decades used his status as a top activist, author and academic in the US to expose the injustices against the Palestinian people, and to fight for a better future.

He had continued to write into his later years, with his last book, Bitter Legacy: The United States in the Middle East, published last year. Dishonest Broker: The US role in Israel and Palestine, published in 2003, was lauded as a superb analysis of how the US relationship with Israel had marginalised the Palestinian right to statehood.

     His wisdom, compassion and towering presence will be sorely missed.
- Lamis Andoni, al-Araby editor-in-chief

Born in Jerusalem, Palestine, on January 7, 1934, his family split their time between the city and Burham, in what is now the occupied West Bank, where the family home still stands.

His father was a headteacher at a Jerusalem school.

Aruri moved to the US aged 20, gaining a BA in history at the American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts, before completing a PhD in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Scholar and advocate

While a student at AIC, he was adopted by the sizeable local Lebanese community and married Joyce Thomas, a Lebanese-American, to whom he was married for 54 years.

He became a leading advocate in the US for the Palestinian people, becoming a member of the Palestinian National Council, the parliament-in-exile of the Palestinian people. He also served the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, the Independent Palestinian Commission for the Protection of Citizens' Rights in Ramallah and was a member of the advisory board of directors of the International Institute for Criminal Investigations in The Hague.   

He testified as an expert witness in US and Canadian courts on cases of political asylum and deportation.

His activism was recognised when he was admitted to the boards of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, serving Amnesty between 1984 and 1990, and HRW from 1990 to 1992.

Professor Aruri lectured at hundreds of universities, wrote for magazines, newspapers and journals and was a regular commentator on ABC, PBS, CNN, Al-Jazeera, NPR, and the BBC.

Aruri was chancellor professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth,  serving the faculty from 1965 to 1998, and chaired the political science department for eight of those years.

Charisma and respect

His compassion and charm were recognised in the citiation for a research award from U-MAS in 1993, which stated that he had demonstrated himself to be "charismatic and extraordinarily accessible".

"You have communicated to your students, along with a wealth of information and unique insights, a respect for them as valuable human beings and genuine interest in their personal and academic evolution," it read.

In his own words, Aruri spoke of the resilience of the Palestinian people.

In an interview with the Institute for Middle East Understanding in 2006, he said: "A whole population are imprisoned in the West Bank and Gaza, the institutions are demolished, their history is taken away, their records are destroyed, the Apartheid Wall is being built. Despite all that, I am impressed that people keep going."

Aruri is survived by his wife and four children - Faris, Karen Leila, Jamal and Jay - as well as 13 grandchildren, two sisters, a brother, a niece and nephew.