Hisham Sharabi, 77, a prominent Palestinian American intellectual and activist who co-founded the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, died of cancer Jan. 13 at American University of Beirut Hospital.
For the past four decades, Dr. Sharabi championed the cause of Palestinians and consistently advocated for women's rights in the Arab world. In addition to scores of scholarly articles and 18 books, he regularly wrote opinion articles and appeared on television as a voice of Arab intellectuals.
Michael C. Hudson, director of the Georgetown center, called Dr. Sharabi "a man of the highest moral and intellectual integrity. . . . The Arab world has lost one of its premier intellectuals."
While arguing for rights of Palestinians, Dr. Sharabi also criticized Palestinian leaders and Arab governments for their democratic shortcomings. In 1999, after PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat ordered the arrests of 11 Palestinian academics who had accused his administration of "tyranny and corruption," Dr. Sharabi, along with Edward Said of Columbia University, signed a letter calling the arrests "a totally unjustifiable attack on the freedom of expression."
His opinions were not without controversy. Two years ago, Jewish students and faculty at Georgetown were outraged when he said that Jews and Americans were seeking "to subdue" Palestinians. According to a Beirut newspaper, he said that "Jews are getting ready to take control of us, and the Americans have entered the region to possess the oil resources and redraw the geopolitical map."
Jewish activists over the years have criticized the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies as "anti-Israel." In 1981, the university returned $600,000 donated to the center by Libya, and in 1978 it returned a $50,000 donation from Iraq.
Dr. Sharabi was born into a wealthy family in Jaffa, Palestine, in 1927 and received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the American University of Beirut in 1947. He was a student at the University of Chicago when Israel was created in 1948.
His family fled their home in Jaffa, and Dr. Sharabi returned to the Middle East for a visit in 1949, joining the Syrian Social Nationalist Party in Lebanon. Shortly after, the Lebanese government cracked down on the party, jailing most of its members and prompting Dr. Sharabi to flee to Jordan and then back to Chicago, where he resumed his studies. He returned to Jaffa for a British documentary in 1993.
Five years later, he wrote an essay for the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine about revisiting the harbor near his childhood home and the "bitterness and anger" he felt. "As I stood there I could hear people speaking Russian, probably recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union. They were full citizens in my country, and I was there only on a limited Israeli tourist visa. . . .
"Does the solution lie in the reversal of what happened 50 years ago and the destruction of Israel?
No, the clock cannot be put back, the past cannot be redeemed, Israel's destruction cannot be the goal. The conflict's real solution cannot be a zero-sum outcome, but only a political compromise. The legitimate struggle of the Palestinians will seek a solution based on justice, international law, and the imperative need for mutual accommodation and survival."
He received a master's degree in philosophy and a doctorate in the history of culture in 1953, both from the University of Chicago. Dr. Sharabi began teaching European intellectual history and political science at Georgetown in 1953. In 1977, he was named to an endowed chair at Georgetown, the Umar Al-Mukhtar Chair in Arab Culture.
In 1975, two years after the Arab-Israeli war and the Arab oil boycott, Dr. Sharabi and others formed the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, the only academic institution in the United States focusing solely on the study of the modern Arab world. Two years later, he was one of the founders of the Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development, of which he also served as chairman. That organization houses the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, founded in 1991 by Dr. Sharabi.
He retired from Georgetown in 1998 and devoted his time to the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center. He had been living in Lebanon for the past two years.
In 2002, Georgetown's History Department convened an international two-day symposium in his honor, "The Role of the Intellectual in Contemporary Political Life." The department also named its graduate essay competition after him.
His wife, Gail Sharabi, died in 1995.
Survivors include two daughters, Nadia Shihabi and Leyla Sharabi, both of Beirut; two brothers; two sisters; and three grandchildren.