By David Kattenburg
Nothing captures my attention more, listening to Canadian public radio, than a discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian “conflict” or the U.S.-backed “Peace Process” with Palestine’s leading woman politician, Hanan Ashrawi.
These days, much of what passes for incisive current affairs programming at Canada’s Mother Corp seems devoid of substance — particularly when it comes to topics “responsible” broadcasters tend to handle with kid gloves — so an interview with Ashrawi is not to be missed. On a recent trip to Palestine, I set out to speak with Ashrawi myself.
Hanan Daoud Khalil Ashrawi was born in 1946, in the city of Nablus, to Palestinian Christian parents. She was studying English literature in Beirut, in June 1967, when Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem. For six years, Israel would refuse to let her return home. Ashrawi spent the time fruitfully, earning a doctorate in Medieval and Comparative Literature at the University of Virginia.
Upon her return to Palestine in 1973, Ashrawi helped found the Department of English at Bir Zeit University, on the edge of Ramallah, serving on faculty and administration until 1995. When the First Intifada broke out in December 1987, she threw herself into the struggle.
Throughout the “peace process” leading up to the 1991 Madrid Conference and the drafting of the 1994 Oslo Accords, she would be one of Palestine’s most articulate spokespeople . In 1996 she won a seat on the Palestinian National Council, the legislature’s first woman member. Following the formation of the Palestinian Authority, she was appointed Minister of Higher Education and Research, but she quit the post in 1998 in protest against corruption.
Hanan Ashrawi was a friend, colleague and protege of one of Palestine’s great independent voices, Edward Said. Shortly after Said’s 2003 passing, together with current Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, she helped found the Third Way as an alternative to Fatah and Hamas-style party politics. She continues to occupy a seat on the Palestinian National Council, and is currently the chair of the board of directors of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). Ashrawi is a also a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
It was at the PLO’s offices, in Ramallah, that Hanan Ashrawi and I sat down for this conversation late last August.