Haidar Abdel Shafi

Haidar Abdel Shafi

Dr. Haidar Abdel Shafi, Physician, leading secular Palestinian nationalist leader in the Gaza Strip. Highly respected non-partisan figure, though with links to the Palestinian People's Party. Physician, head of the Red Crescent Society for the Gaza Strip, Commissioner-General of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizen's Rights. A founding member of the Palestinian National Initiative, launched June 2002, also a member of the Birzeit University Board of Trustees.

Born in Gaza in 1919. One of six children of Sheikh Muheiddin Abdul Shafi, head of the Higher Islamic Council and custodian of the holy places in Gaza. Attended primary school in Gaza; secondary education as a boarder at the Arab College in Jerusalem, graduated 1936. Left for Beirut, to study medicine at the American University, where he joined the Arab Nationalist Movement. Graduated 1943, went to work at the British mandate government's Municipal Hospital (Mustashfa Al-Baladiya) in Jaffa.

In 1944 joined the Jaysh al-Badiah (desert army) of the British Jordanian Army, then part of a new British Ninth Army. Spent the war in various locations in Palestine: Al-Azraq, Ashona, Jericho, Gaza. Resigned his commission at war's end; returned to Gaza and entered private practice. Co-founded a branch of the Palestine Medical Society (1945), and participated in the first Palestine Medical Congress in 1946.

Provided medical support to Palestinian guerillas in the clashes between Jews and Arabs following the UN partition resolution in 1947. Ran a medical clearing station in Gaza the first Arab-Israeli war (1948), when Gaza was flooded with 200,000 refugees. Worked closely with the Quakers, who provided humanitarian relief for Gaza Palestinians until UNRWA was established in 1951. Left Gaza for the US, where he studied surgery at the Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. Returned to Gaza in 1954, worked as a surgeon for the Egyptians at the Tal Zahur Hospital.

Israel invaded and temporarily occupied Gaza in 1956, installing a municipal council with Abdel Shafi as one of its 10 members. Gained a reputation as troublemaker by comparing Israeli rule unfavourably to Egyptian control, and refusing to serve on council.

In 1957, married Hoda Khalidi, daughter of a prominent Jerusalem family, refugees in Alexandria since the 1948 war. Appointed by the Egyptians as head of medical services in the Gaza Strip, 1957-60, during this period, became a strong admirer and personal friend of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Returned to private practice 1960.

Served as chairman of the first Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza (1962-4). Also a delegate to the first all-Palestinian conference which convened in Jerusalem in 1964 and established the PLO. Served as a member of the first PLO-Executive Committee (1964-5). Developed a constituency and political base through the Gaza clinic system, and by 1966 was the leading PLO figure in the Gaza Strip.

Worked as a volunteer at the Shifa hospital in Gaza during the 1967, in which Israel again occupied Gaza, this time for the long-term. Temporarily detained by Israel at war's end, suspected of support for the military activities of George Habash's PFLP. Upon release, he refused all co-operation with Israel's plans to tie Gaza to Israel through the development of a common infrastructure, as punishment Moshe Dayan expelled him for three months to the isolated Sinai village of Nahal in 1969. Deported again on 12 Sept 1970, this time to Lebanon for two months, along with 5 other prominent members of the Gazan leadership, in retaliation for a PFLP hijacking.

Founder and Director of Palestinian Red Crescent Society in the Gaza Strip from 1972, providing free medical care and a forum for cultural activities. Distanced himself from Egypt after the Camp David Accord of Sept 1978.

Led the Palestinian element of the Pal-Jordanian delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, and subsequently led the Palestinian negotiation team for 22 months in the Washington talks (1992-3).

Resigned from delegation in April 1993 (over settlements). Resumed position under pressure - only to urge the suspension of Palestinian participation in the talks in May 1993.

Elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996 as member for Gaza, gaining highest number of votes of any member. Ran for speakership of the PLC, but lost to Ahmed Qurai' (Abu Alaa) by 57-31 votes. Instead took up leadership of the PLC's political committee. Walked out of April 96 Palestine National Congress meeting, arguing that Arafat should not amend PN Charter to recognize Israel until Israel gives reciprocal recognition. Announced intention to resign from PLC in October 1997 (effective from 30 March 1998) on the grounds that it did not have any real power to change the Palestinians' situation.

In April 1998 initiated unity talks for all factions in Gaza, to include Fatah, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the left-wing PFLP and DFLP.

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