Obituary: Assad Saftawi

Assad Saftawi, schoolmaster and political activist: born Majdal, Palestine 1935; died Gaza 21 October 1993.

ONCE AGAIN Palestinians have murdered one of those brave men among their ranks who were not afraid to speak out in favour of a peaceful solution to the Palestinian- Israeli conflict. Assad Saftawi, who was assassinated yesterday, was one of the wise old men of the Palestinian community in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip. A softly spoken, courteous avuncular headmaster of a UN school in Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza strip, he was a voice of moderation and experience who commanded great personal respect for his principled stand, but had made enemies among the more extreme groups opposed to any accommodation with Israel.

Like two-thirds of the population of the Gaza Strip, he was a refugee from what is now Israel proper. He was born in what Palestinians call Majdal, now subsumed into the Israeli town of Ashkelon. Yet he had come to accept that Israel was here to stay and that he would never recover his former home. He sought practical ways to achieve a negotiated settlement that would achieve a compromise between the national aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis.

He was uniquely placed to bridge the Islamic and nationalist movements. Gaza has always been more inspired by militant Islam than the more cosmopolitan West Bank. Saftawi, an observant Muslim and deeply religious man, flirted in his youth with Islamic politics.

Like Yasser Arafat, he had started his political activity within the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, when both were studying at Ain Shams University in Cairo. Like Arafat, he decided that it was within a broader, nationalist movement that the Palestinian cause could best be served. With Arafat, he was a founder member of Fatah, the mainstream movement within the PLO set up in 1965. And he was subsequently scathing about what he regarded as the political immaturity of groups like Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, which he felt had no practical programme for achieving their aims of liberating Palestine. He accepted there were ideological differences between Palestinian factions, but believed it was politically unrealistic of Hamas to expect anyone other than the PLO to have the weight to achieve concrete goals.

Saftawi's nationalist credentials were irreproachable. He spent four years in Israeli jails after being convicted in 1973 for handling PLO funds, and later was locked up without charge for political activity.

In 1989, he came up with his own 11-point peace proposal. The then Likud government relaxed travel restrictions so that he could take it to Cairo. In July 1992, he survived an assassination attempt.

He was happy to receive guests in his modest house Beit Lahiya, on the outskirts of Gaza city, serving them tea and - in the hot summer months - refreshing lemon juice brought by one of his daughters. In April, he entertained the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. Saftawi's son Emad followed in his father's footsteps, seeking inspiration for the nationalist goal of Palestinian liberation under the banner of Islam. But Emad chose a different path, that of revolutionary Islam, within the small, extremist Islamic Jihad organisation. He was arrested and convicted for the murder of three Israeli civilians. Then, in 1987, Emad achieved fame of a sort when, shortly before the eruption of the Palestinian uprising or intifada, he and other members of Islamic Jihad broke out of an Israeli jail under cover of thick fog. He is still on the run.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture