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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor