Leaders » Political Leaders » EMILE HABIBI
Emile Habibi was a Palestinian writer and a communist politician who became one of the most popular authors in the Middle East through his insightful literary works. His works mostly depicted the conflicts in loyalties experienced by Palestinians living as an Arab minority in the Jewish state of Israel. Born in Palestine, he became a communist in the early 1940s when he had not even completed his graduation and later helped in founding the Communist Party of Israel. He served as a member of the parliament and served as the editor of the party’s newspaper for over three decades. Emile Habibi began writing fiction in the 1970s and created plays and short stories in addition to his novels. He was committed to nonviolence and peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews. He was one of the major forces in the development of the Arabic novel and provided it with some of its most interesting experimental works. His writings are credited with provoking serious debate among Palestinians within Israel and generating interest and controversy in the Arab world. With the debates raised through his political views, he succeeded in putting the Palestinian question firmly on the literary agenda. Throughout his career he kindled controversies, and the heated discussions generated through his work are testimony to his lasting importance as a prominent literary figure and a symbol of Palestinian identity
Emile Habibi became a news announcer for the Palestinian broadcasting station in Jerusalem after withdrawing from his studies.
He tried his hands at numerous different jobs during the initial years of his career before he decided to pursue writing seriously. He worked in an oil refinery and also as a radio announcer among other odd jobs.
He became deeply involved in the resistance movement against the British mandatory government in Palestine and in 1940, became a member of the Palestine Communist Party (PCP) along with several other Palestinian and Arab writers.
In September 1943, he joined the National Liberation League that was formed out of the PCP. The following year, he was appointed the editor-in-chief of the PCP newspaper, ‘Al-Ittihad’.
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, he stayed in Haifa while many others chose to flee away or were forced to leave the country by the Israeli Army.
After the defeat of Arabs in the war and the establishment of Israeli regime, he was granted Israeli citizenship and subsequently, he helped to create the Israeli Communist Party (ICP).
In 1950s, he began writing short stories, and published his first story, ‘The Mandelbaum Gate’ in 1954.
In 1956, he moved from Haifa to Nazareth and stayed there for the rest of his life.
He became actively involved in Israeli politics when he was elected to the Knesset, Israeli parliament, and remained an outspoken Knesset member from 1953 to 1972.
In 1965, even after the ICP was re-formed into the New Communist List (Rakah), he continued to represent his party in the Knesset.
In 1969, his collection of short stories, ‘Sudasiyat al-Ayam al-Sitta: Riwaya min al-Ard al-Muhtalla (Stories of the six days: a story from the occupied land)’ was published which focused on the life and times within Israel after the 1967 War.
In 1991, he resigned from the party following a disagreement with his fellow party members concerning the party’s reactions to the new reforms of Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.
Among his other literary works were his plays ‘Luka the son of Luka’ (1979) and ‘The Pedlar Woman’ (1992), and the novels, ‘Ikhtiyyah’ (1985) and ‘Saraya the Ogre's Daughter’ (1992).
He was also influential in the establishment of ‘Arabesque House Publishing Company’ in Haifa, and also played a key role in the publication of the literary journal ‘al-Masharif’.
In 1974, Emile Habibi wrote his most acclaimed novel titled ‘al-Waqa’i al-Ghariba fi Ikhtifa Sa’id Abi’l-Nahs al-Mutasha’il’ (The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist). It narrates the life, fortunes, and misfortunes of an Arab living within Israeli borders and is considered to be one of the best novels written in Arabic.
As a politician, he supported the struggle of the Palestinian people who stayed behind after the creation of the state of Israel on their land. He fought to defend their legal, political and human rights, devoting most of his active life for the promotion of their cause.
Emile Habibi was born on August 29, 1922, in Haifa, mandatory Palestine, to a family of Protestant Christian Arabs, who originally belonged to the nearby village of Shafa Amr.
After receiving his early education, he started studying for a London University degree in petroleum engineering through correspondence, but failed to complete his education.
He was married and had two sons.
Emile Habibi died on May 2, 1996, in Nazareth, Israel, at the age of 74. He was then moved from Nazareth to Haifa, his birth-city, and was buried there.