Born in 1927 in Jaffa, Israel, Hisham Sharabi joined the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) in 1947. That same year, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the American University in Beirut.
After receiving an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1949, Sharabi returned to his homeland to resume his activities with SSNP and became the editor of its monthly magazine, al-Jil al-Jadid (The New Generation). Sharabi subsequently moved back to the United States and earned a Ph.D. in the History of Culture, again from the University of Chicago, in 1953. That same year, he began teaching at Georgetown University. He officially ended his affiliation with SSNP in 1955, and by 1964 he had become a full professor of history at Georgetown.
In 1968-69 Sharabi became a committed leftist, rereading Marx and Freud with the aim of incorporating their works into his analysis of Arab society. He also became very active in Palestinian and Arab affairs, moving to Beirut in 1970 to work at the Palestine Planning Center. In 1970-71 he was a visiting professor at the American University in Beirut, and in 1971 he became the editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies, published by the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies.
In 1975 Sharabi co-founded Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, the only academic institution in the U.S. devoted entirely to the study of the Arab world. He eventually earned the title of Umar Al-Mukhtar Professor of Arab Culture.
In 1977 Sharabi became chairman of the Jerusalem Fund, whose mission was “to foster greater awareness about Palestine, in the United States and abroad, and to ameliorate the lives of Palestinians in Palestine and the diaspora.”
In 1979 Sharabi founded the Arab-American Cultural Foundation and the Alif Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. In 1991 he founded the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, a Washington, D.C.-based institution dedicated to providing information — via papers, talks and symposia — pertaining to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Sharabi was a harsh and outspoken critic of the Oslo Agreement of 1993, referring to it as “within the context of treason.” While emphasizing the need to reform the Palestine Liberation Organization rather than replace it, he also called for the creation of a General Palestinian Conference that should “inscribe on its banner…the right of self-determination and the right of return.”
In 1998 Sharabi called for a “long-term national struggle to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, restore Arab and Muslim Jerusalem, dismantle the Jewish settlements, and establish an independent Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel.” The crusade to bring about this type of Palestinian state, he said, “would claim the right to all legitimate forms of struggle, from non-violent forms of resistance to classical forms of armed struggle.” While speculating that “from a political point of view … non-violent struggle is probably the more effective [strategy] in the long run,” he added: “Yet if the present conditions of [Israeli] repression and humiliation continue, wide-scale violence could prove to be the more likely option. Opting for national struggle is bound to enhance uncontrollable individual acts of self-sacrifice, the ultimate power of the powerless.” Condemning “a dangerously biased American policy in the Middle East,” Sharabi charged that Israel “understands only the language of oppression and force. It strives for absolute superiority.” “In the West Bank and Gaza,” he added, “the failure of the peace process has revealed Israel’s structural inability to accept a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on the UN resolutions and international consensus…. While Rabin’s formula [for peace] was based on a streamlined version of the South African bantustan model with limited self-rule in the guise of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu’s plan is based on an antiquated apartheid model, with local autonomy but without even a vestige of statehood.”
Sharabi retired from his teaching post at Georgetown University in 1998. Over the course of his academic career, he wrote books, including Government and Politics in the Middle East in the Twentieth Century (1962); Nationalism and Revolution in the Arab World (1966); Palestine and Israel: The Lethal Dilemma 1969); Arab Intellectuals and the West (1970; Al-Rihla al-Akhira (The Last Journey, 1987); The Next Arab Decade: Alternative Futures (1988); Neopatriarchy: A Theory of Distorted Change in Arab Society (1988); Introduction to the Study of Arab Society (1990); Theory, Politics, and the Arab World (1991); and Images of the Past (1993).
Aside from his passionate interest in Arab-Israeli affairs, Sharabi was also, according to the Encyclopedia Of The Palestinians, “deeply affected and transformed by his readings of feminist writings” which convinced him that because “the oppression of women is the cornerstone of the (neo)patriarchal system,” “women’s liberation is an essential condition for overthrowing the (neo)patriarchal hegemony.”
Sharabi died of cancer at the American University of Beirut hospital on January 13, 2005.