A self-identified Christian and feminist, Hanan Ashrawi was born on October 8, 1946 in Nablus, a city in the West Bank. Her father, Daoud Mikhail, was a co-founder of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Ashrawi earned a master's degree in literature at the American University of Beirut, where, during her student days, she dated Peter Jennings of ABC News, who was stationed there as his network's bureau chief.
When the Six-Day War broke out in 1967, Ashrawi, who was then in Lebanon, was declared an “absentee” by Israel and was denied re-entry to the West Bank until 1973, when she was permitted to return under terms of the family reunification plan. During her six-year absence, Ashrawi had earned a Ph.D. in Medieval and Comparative Literature from the University of Virginia. She also had spent time working as a spokeswoman for the General Union of Palestinian Students in Lebanon, helping to organize women’s revolutionary groups, and serving as a guide to foreign reporters visiting Palestinian refugee camps.
Upon returning to the West Bank, Ashrawi established the Department of English at Birzeit University, where she would remain on the faculty until 1995. In 1974 she founded the Birzeit University Legal Aid Committee and Human Rights Action Project.
During the First Palestinian Intifada in 1988, Ashrawi joined the Intifada Political Committee and served there until 1993. In 1991 Yasser Arafat appointed her as Official Spokesperson of the Palestinian Delegation to the “Middle East Peace Process.” She also served as the PLO's Minister of Higher Education and Research, and for one year she was the head of its Political Committee.
Ashrawi has long defended Hamas as a legitimate component of the Palestinian “political spectrum.” She unequivocally does not “think of Hamas as a terrorist group.” “We coordinate [with Hamas] politically,” she said in April 1993, “... the people we know and talk to are not terrorists.”
Also in 1993, Ashrawi justified the PLO's practice of murdering Palestinians whom it suspected of “collaboration” with Israel.
From 1993 to 1995, after the Oslo peace accords had been signed by Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Ashrawi headed the Preparatory Committee of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights in Jerusalem. In 1996 she was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council's Jerusalem Governorate, where she continues to serve to this day.
Also in 1996, Ashrawi was appointed as the Palestinian Authority Minister of Higher Education and Research, though she resigned the post two years later in protest against Arafat's handling of the peace talks with Israel.
In 1998 Ashrawi founded MIFTAH, an NGO that seeks to undermine Israel's legitimacy and refers to that nation's 1948 creation as “Al Nakba,” or “The Catastrophe.” Ashrawi refuses to recognize Israel's legitimacy within any set of borders whatsoever, and has called for Israel “to ... admit its responsibility and culpability for the plight of the millions of Palestinian refugees who are dispossessed and dispersed and who have lived … in atrocious conditions and tremendous pain and oppression, totally deprived of any rights.”
Ashrawi has long been a Holocaust denier. In the July 2, 1998 edition of the official Palestinian Authority newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, she published an article calling the Holocaust “a deceitful myth which the Jews have … exploited to get sympathy.”
In 2001 Ashrawi became a spokeswoman for the Arab League, an organization of Arab dictatorships that consistently expressed solidarity with Saddam Hussein.
Ashrawi favors the Palestinian “right of return” to Israel, which would render the Jews a permanent minority in their own country and would thus spell the end of Israel.
In speeches she has delivered on various occasions, Ashrawi has accused Israel of “carrying out ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem”; “shooting at civilians”; “besieging the towns and cities and camps of the Palestinians”; “occupying other people’s lands”; and “enslaving” Palestinians.
Ashrawi views virtually all Palestinian attacks against Israelis as understandable and justifiable. For example, when Palestinian mobs tortured, mutiliated, and lynched two unarmed Israeli reserve soldiers in Ramallah in October 2000, Ashrawi defended their actions.
Ashrawi once signed a petition against suicide bombings targeted at Israeli civilians, leading many in the media to view her as a moderate. But in fact, that petition actually did not condemn suicide bombings in principle; rather, it argued that the timing for such attacks was wrong from a practical standpoint – because they would inevitably harm the Palestinians by generating bad press and Israeli reprisals.
Adapted from "9/11 Outrage In Colorado," by Steven Plaut (September 5, 2002).