Emile Habibi

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Emile Habibi
Emile Habibi.jpg
Date of birth28 January 1922
Place of birthHaifa, Mandatory Palestine
Date of death2 May 1996(1996-05-02) (aged 74)
Place of deathNazareth, Israel
Knessets2, 3, 5, 6, 7
Faction represented in Knesset

Imil (Emile) Shukri Habiby (Arabic: إميل حبيبي‎, Hebrew: אמיל חביבי‬‎, 28 January 1922 – 2 May 1996) was an Israeli Arab[1] writer of Arabic literature and a politician who served as a member of the Knesset for the communist parties Maki and Rakah.


Habibi was born in Haifa on 29 August 1922, into an Anglican Palestinian Arab family.[2] His family had originally belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem but converted to Anglicanism due to disputes within the Orthodox church. In his early life, he worked on an oil refinery and later was a radio announcer.

Under the Mandate he became one of the leaders of the Palestine Communist Party. When the 1948 Arab-Israeli War began, he bravely stayed in Haifa while many others were forced to leave the country by the Israeli Army or fled in fear of attack. Having stayed in Haifa, however, Habibi was eventually granted Israeli citizenship. After the war, he helped to create the Communist Party of Israel and established the communist paper Al-Ittihad.

In 1956 he moved from Haifa to Nazareth and remained there for the rest of his life. He died in 1996 in Nazareth, but in his will, he expressed his wish to be buried in his beloved home, Haifa. His will also asked that his tombstone include the phrase "remained in Haifa."[3]

Political career[edit]

Habibi was one of the leaders of the Palestine Communist Party during the Mandate era. He supported the 1947 UN Partition Plan. When Israel became a state he helped form the Israeli Communist Party (Maki). He served in the Knesset between 1951 and 1959, and again from 1961 until 1972, first as a member of Maki, before breaking away from the party with Tawfik Toubi and Meir Vilner to found Rakah. In 1991, after a conflict about how the party should deal with the new policies of Mikhail Gorbachev, he left the party.

Journalism and literary writings[edit]

"Habibi became one of the most popular authors in the Middle East as a result of works depicting the conflicts in loyalties experienced by Palestinians living as an Arab minority in the Jewish state of Israel. In such works as Strange Events in the Disappearance of Said Abu al-Nahs al-Mutashael (1974), the most notable of his seven novels, he explored the duality of those Arabs who, like himself, did not leave their homeland during the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war."[4]

Habibi began writing short stories in the 1950s, and his first story, The Mandelbaum Gate was published in 1954, though he did not resume literary writing until the late 1960s.

In 1972 he resigned from the Knesset in order to write his first novel: The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist, which became a classic in modern Arabic literature. The book depicts the life of a Palestinian, employing black humour and satire. It was based on the traditional anti-hero Said in Arab literature. In a playful way it deals with how it is for Arabs to live in the state of Israel, and how one who has nothing to do with politics is drawn into it. He followed this by other books, short stories and a play. His last novel, published in 1992, was Saraya, the Ogre's Daughter. In it he has a character state:

"There is no difference between Christian and Muslim: we are all Palestinian in our predicament" [5]

Literary prizes[edit]

In 1990, Habibi received the Al-Quds Prize from the PLO. In 1992, he received the Israel Prize for Arabic literature.[6][7] His willingness to accept both reflected his belief in coexistence, though his acceptance of the Israel Prize set off a debate among the Arabic intellectual community. Habibi was accused of legitimizing what they considered Israel's "anti-Arab" policy. Habibi replied to the accusations: "A dialogue of prizes is better than a dialogue of stones and bullets," he said. "It is indirect recognition of the Arabs in Israel as a nation. This is recognition of a national culture. It will help the Arab population in its struggle to strike roots in the land and win equal rights".[8]

Published works[edit]

1969: Sudāsiyyat al-ayyām al-sittah

1974: Al-Waqāʾiʿ al-gharībah fī 'khtifāʾ Saʿīd Abī 'l-Naḥsh al-Mutashāʾil (translated as The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist)[9]

1976: Kafr Qāsim (Kafr Kassem)

1980: Lakʿ bin Lakʿ (play)

1991: Khurāfiyyat Sarāyā Bint al-Ghūl (translated as Saraya, the Ogre's Daughter)


  1. ^ "Emile Habibi, Encyclopædia Britannica". Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  2. ^ Tsimhoni, Daphne. "Arab Christians in Israeli Politics". Retrieved 1 February 2012.
  3. ^ January 2017
  4. ^ January 2017
  5. ^ Imīl Ḥabībī,Saraya, the Ogre's Daughter: A Palestinian Fairy Tale, Ibis Editions, 2006 p.169.
  6. ^ "Israel Prize Official Site – Recipients in 1992 (in Hebrew)".
  7. ^ New York Times 7 May 1992 Jerusalem Journal; To a Novelist of Nazareth, Laurels and Loud Boos by Joel Greenberg
  8. ^ Greenberg, Joel (3 May 1996). "Emile Habibi, 73, Chronicler Of Conflicts of Israeli Arabs". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  9. ^ Ouyang, Wen-Chin (2012). Poetics of Love in the Arabic Novel: Nation-State, Modernity and Tradition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 97. |access-date= requires |url= (help)

External links[edit]