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Days before he departed, Gabi asked his life companion, Mrs. Haifa Baramki, to read for him the latest email from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), so he could contribute to the discussion and share his views regarding a letter PACBI was drafting to encourage BDS campaigners in South African Universities to intensify their efforts. We in PACBI’s Steering Committee were astonished to see Gabi’s timely answer to the email! How could anyone in the intensive care unit, barely clinging on to his life, keep on thinking about resistance and his contribution to the national struggle till his last breath?
But here is where the secret lies, our dear colleague and friend Gabi was not just “anyone;” he was a distinguished, highly accomplished professional, yet also a most principled, dignified and compassionate human. He dedicated his entire life to education and resisting Israel’s colonization as well as the fight for the full rights for the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination, freedom, justice and the right of return.
Gabi never made us or anyone else feel his prominence as a Palestinian figure, or even his seniority in terms of age, despite his eight decades with all their wealth of experiences, eminent achievements and lessons learned. He used to engage and participate with everyone as colleagues on equal terms, and did not seek to be distinguished, though distinction was in his DNA.
When we decided to launch a campaign against the Israeli museum that was established in the place of his birth in Jerusalem – the Baramki House – that was confiscated by Israel in the 1948 Nakba, we used to go over the details of the Israeli theft of the house, a fate endured by tens of thousands of Palestinians who were ethnically cleansed, forced out of their homes and turned into refugees by the Zionist paramilitary groups and later by the state of Israel. We discussed the intricacies of the house, poring over its particulars, architectural beauty, the details of the family uprooting and banishment to what became known as East Jerusalem… and Gabi participated in the discussion throughout while rising above his own personal sorrow. This continued till he described to us how his father, the architect and owner of the house, used to visit the separation line that divided West and East Jerusalem everyday and sit for hours watching his stolen home, in silence and anguish and with determination to reconnect with it, at least spiritually. At that point, Gabi, and only for a moment, was overwhelmed by his emotions.
Gabi never succumbed to his personal history of dispossession or resigned to the role of the victim; he resisted and triumphed in many ways: from becoming acting president of Birzeit University, after its president, Dr. Hanna Nasir was exiled by the Israeli occupation authorities, to leading his fellow colleagues in national demonstrations against the closure of Palestinian universities in 1988, in the midst of the first Intifada. He had many other major accomplishments, especially in developing education in Palestine through his prominent posts at the Ministry of Higher Education and the Council for Higher Education, as well as through his voluntary work in leading non-governmental organizations. Gabi commanded national respect and admiration like few others.
His contribution to building the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel through his voluntary work in the Steering Committee of PACBI was powerful, sophisticated, and marked by generosity and creativity. Gabi was without a doubt the ‘Campaign’s diplomat’, par excellence. He was the man for tough jobs who did not hesitate for a moment in knocking on the door of a minister or senior official to set things right and resist normalization with Israel or to spread the culture of BDS in schools as an integral component of bringing up a generation rooted in principles of dignity, freedom, and self-determination realized through resisting oppression.
The best of educators is that person who inspires people to think, to learn, and to take action on their own accord and without indoctrination, who instead of ‘teaching’, in the traditional sense, nourishes learning and leads by example. We have all learned from Gabi, without him needing to ‘teach us’. We learned from him to combine dignity, humility and boundless giving in the process of struggling for freedom and liberation of the mind.