…probably to a better place. He died today in Beirut, Lebanon, apparently in the hospital. Though he suffered from heart problems for years, and underwent bypass surgery in the United States, news reports today indicate that he died of cancer.
He was born in Yaffa on 13 January 1932, and went into exile with his family during the fighting that surrounded the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, moving directly to Lebanon and earning Lebanese citizenship..
He was one of the founders of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and served for years as an independent member of the PLO Executive Committee, and as a close advisor to former PLO leader Yasser Arafat, with whom he frequently disagreed. Arafat always respected Shafik, who was the PLO spokesman for many years.
Shafik al-Hout was also a journalist, and for many years served as the PLO’s representative to Lebanon, until the PLO was expelled after a 1982 Israeli invasion spearheaded by Israeli commander Ariel Sharon that beseiged Beirut until an international deal was reached which obliged the PLO leader, Arafat, and his fighters, to go into various distant exiles after evacuating Beirut aboard Greek ships flying a United Nations flags. But Shafik stayed, doing what he could.
Palestinian-American historian Rashid al-Khalidi, in his book on Palestinian Identity, called Shafik al-Hout “one of the greatest Palestinian orators of his generation, and perhaps the most thoughtful”. Khalidi wrote in particular praise of Shafik al-Hout’s speech to the Palestine National Council after the PLO leader and fighters were forced to evacuate from Beirut and to go into exile, saying that that it was “perhaps the most brilliant speech of his career” … “denouncing those who would portray what had just happened in Lebanon as a victory, and accusing them of lying to the Palestinian people”.
In 1993, he resigned from the PLO Executive Committee, along with Palestinian National Poet Mahmoud Darwish, in disagreement with the Oslo Accords. He was also great friends with two other members of the Palestine National Council (PNC) who opposed the Oslo Accords, Edward Said and Ibrahim Abu Lughod, though they were very different personalities. All of them — and Arafat — are now gone from this world. If you believe in these things, it’s amusing to think that maybe they’ll soon be having a lively reunion in the next.
In New York City, in 1979 or the very early 1980s, during one of his trips as part of the Palestine Liberation Organization delegation to the UN General Assembly in New York, I watched as one quarter of the audience of Palestinians in America picked up the hotel chairs to throw at other parts of the audience. Shafiq al-Hout was not afraid. He talked and shouted at the mostly male audience, trying to pull all the emotional strings to get them to face reality.
Shafik al-Hout was a big human being, courageous, capable of real outrage and anger and love, a real man, an honest person, a genuine human being, who respected other people and who was beloved by those who can take those who speak the truth — and even by a few of those who could not.
He loved those he loved, and they were always better off for his affection — starting with his intellectual and academically accomplished wife, Bayan, a university professor and writer, of whose accomplishments he was proud and totally supported, and their children. Bayan, who was born in Jerusalem, has produced the most authoritative study of the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila by Lebanese Christian Phalangist fighters after their leader was assassinated in 1982, shortly after the forced evacuation of the PLO leader and fighters.
Angry Arab wrote today about Shafik al-Hout that “He has that voice that betrays long years of enjoying somoking and drinking–for those who enjoy smoking and drinking. He was blunt and truthful, when lying was a job description in Arafat’s apparatus. I first admired him when as kids we used to read a most funny and witty column written in Al-Muharrir newspaper in Lebanon (its headquarters were bombed and its offices closed down when the Syrian regime entered Lebanon in 1977.) The funny column on the back page was signed by Ibn Al-Balad and my father told us that it was Shafiq Al-Hut who write it. The columns were collected recently in a book and I recommend that you go back to them. I told Al-Hut in recent years that I liked his columns a great deal and he dimissed that and said: oh, that was during the years of Tastil (getting high on Hashish). Something about him I liked: not only the politics but the personality. He was interesting and sharp and was a great conversationalist and writer … He graduated from the American University of Beirut and followed the foreign press and was one of the most quotable Palestinians before and during the Lebanese civil war. While people credit Mahmud Darwish for the speech delivered by the lousy Yasir `Arafat at the UN in 1974, Shafiq Al-Hut played a very part in the drafting of that speech. He tells funny stories about Arafat’s lousy command of Arabic and his misreadings of text. In a closed talk I gave to a group of (mostly retired) Palestinain professionals in Lebanon 5 years ago, he asked me to identify the factors that have frustrated Palestinian struggle for liberation. The question stayed with me and I may write about that in Arabic soon”. [No, As'ad, please write about it English.] The Angry Arab comments can be read in full here.
To listen to an audio excerpt from Shafik speaking about Palestinian rights to an audience in Washington D.C. in October 1993, a month after Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords’s Declaration of Principles, following their exchange of recognition between the State of Israel and the PLO: click here