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Personality of the Month

In the Limelight

Najib Nassar*

Born in the village of Ayn Unub, Lebanon, Najib Nassar (1865–1948) grew up with four brothers (Rashid, Ibrahim, Niqula, and Isbir) and two sisters (Lydia and Emilie). His wife was Sadhij Nassar; his son, Faruq.

Nassar received his elementary education in Shuwayfat and his secondary schooling in Suq al-Gharb before enrolling at the American University of Beirut, from where he graduated with a degree in pharmacy. He engaged only briefly in this profession, worked some years as a teacher in Jerusalem, and then bought a few acres of land in Tiberias to work in agriculture. This experience acquainted him with the methods of Zionist settlers and their effect on the peasants.

In 1905, Nassar began a campaign to expose the ambitions and impact of Zionism and published articles on the topic in the newspapers Al-Muqattam in Cairo and Lisan al-Hal in Beirut. Following the 1908 proclamation of the second Ottoman constitution, Nassar sold all his property, bought a press in Beirut, and founded the biweekly Al-Karmel newspaper in Haifa. As Nassar persistently called attention to the Zionist threat, a Zionist campaign persuaded the Ottoman authorities to close down his newspaper in June 1909 for two months. In 1910, he was put on trial by the ministry of justice in Istanbul when the Jewish community accused him of “sectarian divisions and incitement”; the court, however, found him innocent of that charge.

In October 1911, a series of Al-Karmel articles written by Nassar was collected in a small volume titled Zionism: Its History, Aims, and Significance (in Arabic), its information derived from an article on Zionism in the Jewish Encyclopedia. In 1913, he called for convening a congress to establish a “national non-Zionist society,” headquartered in Nablus and devoted to “preserving the country for its people through developing their agricultural, economic, and scientific affairs and creating social harmony among them.” Moreover, Nassar continued to respond to pro-Zionist articles that appeared in some Egyptian and Lebanese newspapers. That year, he also campaigned for criticism of an agreement between Zionist leaders and some Arabs, as reported in the two Egyptian newspapers Al-Muqattam and Al-Ahram.

In the summer of 1914, Nassar called on Palestinian youth to work independently of their traditional leaders, encouraging them to be self-reliant in seeking to improve conditions in the country and urging them to exert moral pressure on Arab landowners and discourage them from selling their land to Jews.

When Nassar opposed Turkey’s entry into World War I on the side of Germany, he was forced to go into hiding, first with the Fahum family in Nazareth and then with the Sardiyya tribe in Transjordan, where he worked as a shepherd for two and a half years. In 1918, he finally decided to turn himself in and was taken to the military tribunal in Damascus, where he received a pardon before the war’s end and returned to Palestine.

Nassar renewed his social and political activities in Haifa following the British occupation of Palestine. He reissued Al-Karmel newspaper and called for the establishment of the Arab Economic Renaissance Society. In early November 1918, he participated in founding the short-lived political party The Arab Party. Thereafter, Nassar joined the Muslim-Christian societies that were springing up in Palestinian cities.

In 1920 Nassar advocated for the establishment of Arab information offices in Europe to expose the true aims and plans of Zionism and warned against selling land to Jewish settlers. He further called for national unity in Palestine. Together with intellectuals and newspaper editors, he established societies to combat Zionism inside and outside Palestine.

Participating at the Third Palestine National Congress in Haifa in December 1920 as the delegate of the Tiberias Muslim-Christian Association, Nassar stressed the need to establish workers’ and peasants’ committees to challenge Zionist settlement activity. At the Fourth Palestine National Congress, held in Jerusalem in May–June 1921, Nassar attended as the delegate of the Haifa Muslim-Christian Association.

Throughout the British Mandate, Nassar continued to criticize Zionism in his newspaper. His wife Sadhij edited Al-Karmel and was arrested for one year in 1938, charged with supplying the rebellion with arms. The Mandate authorities suspended Al-Karmel several times and closed it down permanently in 1944, in accordance with the Emergency Regulations enacted in 1939 to deal with World War II.

At the end of his life, Nassar suffered a great deal, as he saw all his fears and warnings about Zionism, with its ambitions and plans, come true. He spent his last years travelling between his house in the village of Balad al-Shaykh in Haifa district and Baysan, visiting his relatives, the Wahba family, and spending time in his banana orchard. It may have been God’s grace that spared him from witnessing the fall of his beloved Haifa and of Balad al-Shaykh to Zionist forces in April 1948: he died in Nazareth on March 12, 1948, where he was buried.

Nassar was a man of great foresight, discernment, and steadfastness in both views and principles. A pioneer of political journalism in Palestine, he was rightly named its father figure. He was also among the very first to thoroughly study Zionism and persist in calling attention to the threat it posed. Proud of his Arab identity, he adopted the pen name “Muflih al-Ghassani” in some of his writings.

*This article is an adaptation of Nassar’s biography available at https://www.paljourneys.org/en/biography/6570/najib-nassar, which also contains a list of his writings and other sources (in Arabic).

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