Early in life, Shafeeq Ghabra, a Kuwaiti scholar and academic of Palestinian descent, witnessed major transformations that greatly affected his 40-year-long academic career.
He knew the hardships of dislocation, as his Palestinian family fled to Egypt after the 1948 war and later moved to Kuwait. He knew military struggle as a fighter for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and he held administrative positions as founder and first president of the American University of Kuwait. But teaching and research are the work he prefers, and the work that sustain him now during a struggle with cancer.
His Palestinian family’s experience of exile motivated Ghabra to dedicate most of his research to the Palestinian cause, and to focus on Palestinian diaspora studies, besides studying the mechanisms of power and society in Kuwait, where he spent most of his life.
“The Palestinian cause still needs a lot of effort to fill the scientific vacuum to explain its details, like any human tragedy,” Ghabra said in a telephone interview. “Especially in light of the Israeli endeavor to falsify history and erase the identity of the indigenous people whose fates ended in the diaspora.” (See a related article, “Palestinian Diaspora Literature Resurges from Obscurity.”)
Through his studies, Ghabra sought to monitor and document the central role played by Palestinian families in the diaspora to revive their collective memory. He also studied ways to ensure the continuity of links between those inside and outside Palestine, and revealed how some members of these families bore the cost of educating their relatives and fulfilling all their financial needs to protect the Palestinian society from the disintegration caused by the Nakba, the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948, and the Israeli occupation’s policies.
From Armed Struggle to Teaching
Ghabra’s most impactful academic experience came from joining the Palestinian revolutionary factions, after graduating from Georgetown University in the United States. Early in the 1970s, Ghabra fought for the Fatah Movement’s “Student Battalion,” also known as Al-Jarmaq brigade, setting off from southern Lebanon to begin his first steps in confronting the Israeli occupation.