IN MEMORIAM: Issam Abdul Hadi (Um Faisal) – 1928-2008 11Aug13 August 11, 2013


from Peace Women across the Globe   

Fatima Issam Abdul-Hadi, popularly known as Issam, was born in 1928 in Nablus, Palestine.  Her father, chief of Resumption Court at the Ottoman Testament in Al-Bequa, studied in Turkey. He developed a passion for poetry and literature. He died when Issam was only ten years old, after a journey to Haifa where he was involved in a petition on behalf of Palestinian prisoners.

Educated in Nablus and later at the Friends School in Ramallah, Issam developed a refined personality: lovable, kind, democratic, assertive, eloquently expressing herself in both Arabic and English. She participated in protests and strikes organized by revolutionary parties against British occupation in the 1930’s. Women played a vital role in making the ‘Six month strike’ a success, which represented the largest act of civil disobedience and caught the attention of world media.

In 1948, many Palestinians were forced to evict their homes and flee to the West Bank. She led a huge relief campaign to help the refugees.  In Nablus, Issam’s hometown, expatriates were provided with human aid and housing until they were accommodated in secure camps.

Issam was  involved in voluntary social work throughout her life. She served as president of the General Union of Palestinian Women GUPW since its inception in July 1965. She also became a member of the Palestinian National Legislative Council, and was the first female member in the Central Legislative Council of the Palestinian Liberation Organization PLO in 1974. She played a leading role in resisting British and Israeli occupations by organizing and leading protests, writing petitions and by vocalizing the Palestinian ordeal in many national and international gatherings and calling for Palestinians to unite against the occupation. The Israeli authorities accused Issam of supporting and hiding the Palestinian guerrillas and their ammunition, and she was later arrested with her daughter, Dr. Faiha, in 1969 and was eventually deported to Jordan.

Issam was later elected as board member of the Save Jerusalem Committee in Jordan. In 1981, she was elected as chairwoman of the General Union of Arab Women and chief-deputy for the PLO delegation to the International Democratic Union of Women in 1992. She actively participated in United Nations meetings on gender issues from 1983 to 1990, defending women’s right, especially in the Arab world, and always demanded equal rights for them. She said, “Women do not ask to be superior to men, but rather they demand justice and equal opportunity with men. A woman struggles for her rights to education, equal payment and social rights within the family and community.” On her voluntary social work, Issam said, “Through working on peace issues, I find myself…I believe that this was, and will continue to be, my potential aim in life.”

Issam, who spent most of her life in exile in Jordan until her death on 8 August 2013,  deeply felt for her homeland.   To her, “A free homeland is where civilians are guaranteed security and have full right to express their views without discrimination on the basis of gender, color or ethnicity.” Issam was appointed as chief of the PLO’s delegation to the International Conference in Mexico in 1975, the first women’s conference organized by the UN. In one of the conference papers the Palestinian delegation strongly called for the UN’s condemnation of Zionism  as a form of racism, a request that gained the sympathy of the participating delegates. Issam also represented Asia in the Public Conference for Human Rights in Vienna in 1993.

She was awarded the Ibn-Rushed Prize in 2000 in appreciation of her incessant struggles for women’s rights and gender equality. She always emphasized the importance of unity and called for the adoption of democratic national interlocution to solve conflicts. Right to the end, Issam was passionate about women’s rights and the Palestinian cause.   Since the inaugural session of the founding 22-member committee that established the Palestinian National Council in 1964, in which she was the only woman, Issam Abdul-Hadi had been known as one of the most respected and pivotal Palestinian female leaders.

Issam Abdul-Hadi was married at the age of nineteen. She had four children – two boys and two girls – and twelve grandchildren, all of whom, in their own individual way have been touched by the legacy of a distinguished woman, caring mother and kindhearted grandmother. The awarding panel of the Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought aptly described Issam as a “political activist” and “realist feminist” when she won the prize in 2000 . Press coverage of the event extolled her as an individual with “clever remarks, eloquent speeches, rational thinking and a refined sense of humor that captivates and fascinates the audience.”
Educated in the city of Nablus and later at the Ramallah Friends School, Issam Abdul-Hadi developed a solid personality: lovable, kind, independent, assertive and eloquently capable of expressing herself in both Arabic and English. These qualities, among others, earned Issam regional and international recognition. Her strength and courage  won her the respect of all Palestinian factions. She was highly accredited for her full potential of pooling efforts together for a common aim – the end of the belligerent Israeli occupation of Palestine and the support of women’s rights throughout the world. Most significantly, she was a source of inspiration to Palestinian and Arab women struggling with the definition of their newly emerging identity as Arab (Muslim or Christian) women in a contemporary, conflict-ridden and constantly changing globalized world.

In July 1965 the General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) was established in Jerusalem and Issam Abdul-Hadi was elected as President, a position she held until her death.  Nothing deterred her from defending Palestinian human rights.  She will be sorely missed.

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