Hanan Ashwari

Hanan Ashwari

Hanan Ashrawi was born in 1946, and grew up in the West bank town of Ramallah. From the tender age of three she was adamant to learn, particularly captivated with the written word. Her affinity for languages was inspired by her parents, both of whom were avid readers, with her father also writing on a variety of issues that Ashrawi
would continue to pursue. The influence Daoud Mikhail had on his youngest daughter is evident throughout her achievements and aspirations. Encouraging her to write and talking to her on issues of style, language, substance and humanity. He made his daughter aware of her surrounding and challenged her to use her own perceptions of the world and to have a unique voice. Daoud Mikhail impressed on his daughter the main issues. First, he used to always say "women deserve equality by right and not as a gift condescendingly bestowed by men." Second, a famous statement of his was, "liberate yourself, you liberate the land." Both statements are evident in the work of MIFTAH, the non-governmental organization she created and heads since 1998, and show the enduring influence they have had on her life.

In 1967, when Israel's Six Day War broke out, Ashrawi was receiving her Bachelor and Master's degrees in Literature in the Department of English at the American University of Beirut (AUB). All residents who were not in the country after the war were labeled "absentees," with no legal status or right to return home, Ashrawi found herself cut off from her family, but took advantage of this period and earned a PhD in Medieval and Comparative Literature from the University of Virginia. Her political career began as early as her days at AUB, where she was actively involved in student politics and even helped dig shelters in Palestinian refugee camps, driven by her passionate commitment to the Palestinian cause. While studying in America she also became actively involved in the Women's Movement, a cause she continues to proudly advocate.

Finally able to return to her homeland in 1973, Dr. Ashrawi established the Department of English at Birzeit University on the West Bank and served as Chairperson of that Department from 1973 - 1978 and again from 1981 through 1984. From 1986 - 1990 she served the university as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, after which she remained a faculty member at Birzeit University until 1995. During this time she authored several books, short stories, poems and articles. Her time at Birzeit University placed her at the heart of the Palestinian fight for independence, as she led her students on demonstrations. One of the most difficult and painful experiences she has had was cradling the head of a dying student. With the student movement and the faculty opposing Israel's occupation, Ashrawi was arrested with her students several times as she was trying to protect them. She had to carry wounded students in her car and go through checkpoints, teargas and bullets to take them to hospital. As the university suffered intermittent closures by the Israeli military, Ashrawi was busy founding the Birzeit University Legal Aid Committee/Human Rights Action project and teaching in her home or at a local hostel. However, this was only the beginning, her political work was about to take a great leap.

In 1988, Dr. Ashrawi, still unknown to the world at large, was ripe to grab the limelight, when she was invited to appear on ABC's "Nightline" as part of three hour discussion between four Palestinians and four Israelis. Her fluent English and clarity of argument astonished the Western world and she was immediately in demand by other broadcasters. She was successful in presenting the Palestinian cause in a sympathetic light, humanizing their plight and giving them a voice that appealed to the world. She joined the Intifada Political Committee, serving as well on its Diplomatic Committee until 1993. From 1991 - 1993 Yasser Arafat appointed her as Official Spokesperson of the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Process and a member of the Leadership/Guidance Committee and Executive Committee of the Delegation. At the peace conference in Madrid, Dr. Ashrawi dazzled the world by upstaging her Israeli counterpart, a man who would later become Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

In 1993, with the Oslo Peace Accords signed by Arafat and Rabin, and Palestinian self rule established, Ashrawi headed the Preparatory Committee of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizen's Rights in Jerusalem, and was Founder and Commissioner of that committee until 1995. From 1996 through 1998 the served as Minister of Higher Education and Research and became a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. In 1998, however, Ashrawi resigned from the government in protest against political corruption, specifically Arafat's handling of peace talks. At the same time, she founded MIFTAH -- the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, whose ultimate goal is a respect for human rights, democracy and peace. MIFTAH reflects Dr. Ashrawi's drive to end the Israeli occupation on humanitarian, rather than historical or ideological, grounds.

Dr. Ashrawi is a member of the Independent International Commission on Kosovo and of numerous international advisory boards including the Council on Foreign Relations, the World Bank Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA), and the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD).

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