Ibrahim Abu-Lughod


Ibrahim Abu-Lughod

إبراهيم أبو لغد
15 February 1929, Jaffa
23 May 2001, Ramallah

Ibrahim Abu-Lughod was born on 15 February 1929 in the city of Jaffa, in the neighborhood of al-Manshiyya. He had four brothers: Hassan, Mahmoud, Ahmad, and Said. He was married to Janet Lippman Abu-Lughod, and together they had three daughters—Lila, Dina, and Mariam—and one son, Jawad.

Abu-Lughod began his schooling in Jaffa in a private Islamic school and then transferred to a government school. He graduated from the Amiriyya School with a “matric,” or higher secondary diploma, in 1948. He wanted to become a lawyer, so while still in school, he worked as a pageboy in a law firm directed by Fayez Kanafani, the father of renowned writer Ghassan Kanafani, and became accustomed to appearing in the courts. He then became affiliated to another law firm run by Boutros Malak. As a young man, he was religiously observant and would go regularly to the Hassan Beik Mosque in Jaffa to pray. There, the imam of the mosque would sometimes ask him to ascend to the balcony of the minaret in his place to give the adhaan, or call to prayer.

Abu-Lughod was drawn to the struggle for national liberation from colonialism and Zionism under the influence of his father, who was a supporter of Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem. In 1929, his father had established a foundry under the name The Palestinian Iron and Copper Foundry Company-Limited, in which he was secretly manufacturing weapons for the Palestinian rebels. Consequently, the British Mandate authorities arrested him several times and imprisoned him in the jails of Sarafand, al-Maskubiya, and Atlit (among others), and they shut down his foundry on more than one occasion.

During the 1947-48 school year, Abu-Lughod helped to establish the first nationwide union for Palestinian students and crisscrossed the whole country in order to canvass support among students. Then, along with his friends Shafiq al-Hout and Mohammad Liswi, he volunteered to serve in the Jaffa National Defense Committee, armed only with a hunting rifle forged in the foundry to his father, who had passed away in 1944.

After the fall of Jaffa in April 1948 into the hands of Zionist forces, Abu-Lughod’s family fled the city. The family headed toward Nablus, but Abu-Lughod boarded the Princess Alexandra, the last ship to depart from the port of Jaffa, to Beirut on 3 May. From Beirut, he moved on to Damascus, and from there to the Jordanian capital Amman, where his family had decided to settle.

In Amman, Abu-Lughod worked in the customs department and gave private lessons in English to young schoolchildren. There he was introduced to the activity of various political parties and met activists in the Baath Party and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP, known also as Parti Populaire Syrien). However, he was most attracted to the communists in the [Palestinian] National Liberation League and distributed its leaflets.

In late September 1949, with the encouragement of his older brother Ahmad, who had preceded him to the United States, Abu-Lughod secured admission to Syracuse University in upstate New York got a travel document from the Jordanian embassy in Beirut, and traveled by sea from Beirut to New York.

After arriving in the United States, Abu-Lughod enrolled instead at the University of Illinois and worked (illegally) as a travelling salesman in Chicago, a shipping clerk in a pharmaceutical company, and a steel factory worker. Then he found legal work as an interpreter in the US Immigration Office and as a consultant to social workers in impoverished local communities. He continued doing this work until he obtained a scholarship to pursue his studies and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the humanities.

Starting in the early 1950s, Abu-Lughod began working to educate Americans about the Palestinian cause. He also began participating in demonstrations against McCarthyism and in support of the Vietnamese and Algerian struggles for independence, the civil rights of African-Americans, and a ban on nuclear weapons.

Abu-Lughod was awarded a fellowship and moved to Princeton University, where he completed his doctorate in Middle Eastern Studies in 1957. From 1957 to 1961, he worked in Cairo for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a scholar training civil servants in the ministries of health, education, agriculture, and community development in methodologies for research in the social sciences. His stint of working in Egypt provided him with a lot of expertise in research and teaching and gave him the opportunity to visit a number of Arab countries, including Libya, Sudan, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen, as well as the West Bank, which he visited twice a year.

After returning to the United States in 1962, Abu-Lughod taught at Smith, a women’s college in northwestern Massachusetts. Then, in 1965, he was hosted by McGill University in Montreal, Canada as a visiting professor for one year at the Institute of Islamic Studies. At McGill, he discovered the work of Frantz Fanon; he was already familiar with the careers of Nehru and Gandhi, and the work of Fanon made an impression upon him.

In September 1967, Abu-Lughod began teaching at Northwestern University in Illinois in the African Studies program. He was appointed to sit on the board of its university press and put in charge of publishing a series of books on African affairs. Toward the end of that year, he helped to establish the Association of Arab-American University Graduates in Chicago, an organization for university graduates who had come from Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria, and he was elected to its board of directors and then as its president. In 1968 and 1969, he played a prominent role in organizing its annual conferences: the first had as its theme “Arab Americans and the Challenges of the Future” and the second “The Palestinian Revolution.”

In August 1970, during a visit to Cairo, prominent journalist Mohammad Hassanein Heikal invited Abu-Lughod to lunch at a restaurant. They were joined by Yasir Arafat, Salah Khalaf, Ibrahim Bakr, and Farouk al-Qaddoumi, Abu-Lughod’s friend from his school days in Jaffa. Arafat invited Abu-Lughod to attend a session of the Palestine National Council (PNC) in Amman.

Beginning in 1971, Abu-Lughod started visiting Beirut on a regular basis, where he was a frequent visitor to the Palestinian refugee camps. He also began to take an interest in developing a national curriculum for the education of Palestinians. Along with some of his colleagues, he developed a program for training qualified Palestinian school teachers, and in 1975, he proposed the establishment of a Palestinian open university. UNESCO was interested and commissioned him to draft a 1,500-page study on this project, which he presented at the UNESCO General Conference held in 1980 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. However, the implementation of this project was cut short by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Abu-Lughod was in Beirut in the summer of 1982 when Israeli forces invaded Lebanon. He lived through the siege of the Lebanese capital and left the city on 24 August 1982, after the decision was made to evacuate the PLO forces from Lebanon. From Beirut, he first went to Damascus and then to Amman, and from Amman he returned to the United States. He returned to the United States and went on a speaking tour of US cities to talk about his experience of the siege in Beirut and resumed teaching.

Abu-Lughod, who had been elected in 1977 as a member of the PNC, and Edward Said, who also a PNC member, met with US Secretary of State George Shultz on 26 March 1988 to discuss the representation of Palestinians within the framework of the negotiating plan that Shultz had proposed to Arab and Israeli leaders after the outbreak of the first intifada in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (December 1987). Although they could not agree on the role of the PLO; they did reach a consensus that any Palestinians present in negotiations must be ones who enjoyed credibility among the Palestinian people.

In 1990, Abu-Lughod suffered an internal hemorrhage in the chest and underwent surgery. After this, he decided to consider whether he would return permanently to his homeland. He resigned from the PNC, and in December 1991, made an exploratory trip to Palestine, visiting Jaffa, Haifa, the Galilee region, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem and the nearby Dheisheh refugee camp, and Nablus, where he visited al-Najah University; he also went to the Gaza Strip. During this visit, he delivered a number of lectures. He returned to Palestine again in March 1992, after receiving an invitation to take part in a forum organized by the Tamer Foundation for Community Education, and during that visit he decided to settle permanently in Palestine.

After returning to Palestine in summer 1992, Abu-Lughod taught at Birzeit University in its International Studies Program. He was appointed Vice President for Academic Affairs, after he proposed to the university’s president, Hanna Nasser, the establishment of a school for graduate studies. He also resumed his earlier project to start a center for developing Palestinian educational curricula, and after UNESCO undertook to help the PLO establish it, he was given the responsibility of heading this center from 1995 to 1997. As head of this center, he managed to develop a comprehensive plan for a nationwide curriculum for Palestinian public education, with the help of a grant from Italy. After completing this plan, he worked with the Abdul Mohsen Qattan Foundation for Educational Development.

In 1998, the Institute of International Studies was founded at Birzeit University and was subsequently named after Ibrahim Abu-Lughod. It offers an interdisciplinary master’s program that combines political science, diplomacy, and foreign policy, with a focus on developing the analytical skills of Palestinian students in understanding their political, economic, and legal struggle to win freedom and independence.

Abu-Lughod died in Ramallah on 23 May 2001 during the second intifada. Despite the many checkpoints set up, his remains were transported surreptitiously to Jaffa, where he was buried, according to his wishes, next to the graves of his father and brother.

Ibrahim Abu-Lughod was a prominent Palestinian-American academic, scholar, strategic planner, and militant for the Palestinian cause. He played a major role in raising awareness about the Palestinian cause and the struggle for justice for Palestinians in academic and political circles in the United States and in the US media. The Association of Arab-American University Graduates, which he cofounded, came to was regarded as one of the most important Arab advocacy organizations in the United States. He was also a member of the Palestinian Council for Higher Education and cofounded the Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights.

Upon his passing, his friend Edward Said described him as “Palestine’s foremost academic and intellectual.” In an obituary in the London Review of Books, published on 13 December 2001, Said eulogized him in these words: “It was Ibrahim who introduced Arabs in America to the world of national liberation struggles and post-colonial politics.... By the same token, as the director of Northwestern University’s Program of African Studies, he had an impressive acquaintance with Africa’s liberation movements, many of whose leaders he knew and invited to Northwestern. He was years ahead of his time in appreciating such figures as Amilcar Cabral and Oliver Tambo, in distinguishing their movements and the kind of colonialism or system of oppression they fought against, as well as finding parallels with the situation in Palestine.”

Selected Writings

The Arab Rediscovery of Europe: A Study in Cultural Encounters. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963.

(Editor) The Transformation of Palestine: Essays on the Origin and Development of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1971.

(Editor) The Arab-Israeli Confrontation of June 1967: An Arab Perspective. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1971.

(Editor). Palestinian Rights: Affirmation and Denial. Medina Press, 1982.

(Co-edited with Eqbal Ahmad). "The Invasion of Lebanon.” Race & Class 24, no.4 (Spring 1983). .

He also wrote books on research methodologies and community development, two of which are

"البحث الاجتماعي: مناهجه وأدواته"، مركز التربية الأساسية في العالم العربي، 1959

[Sociological Research: Methodologies and Tools]

"التقويم في برامج تنمية المجتمع: مبادئ وخبرات"، مركز التربية الأساسية في العالم العربي، 1960.

[Evaluation in Community Development Programs: Basic Principles and Experiences]



Abdul Hadi, Mahdi, ed. Palestinian Personalities: A Biographic Dictionary. 2nd ed., revised and updated. Jerusalem: Passia Publication, 2006.

Abu-Lughod, Ibrahim. Resistance, Exile and Return: Conversations with Hisham Ahmed-Fararjeh. Birzeit: Birzeit Univiersity, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod Institute of International Studies, 2003.

Said, Edward. “My Guru.” London Review of Books, 13 December 2001.

The Shultz Meeting with Edward Said and Ibrahim Abu-Lughod.” Journal of Palestine Studies 17, no.4 (Summer 1988): 160–65.

أبو لغد، إبراهيم. "مقاومة، منفى وعودة. محادثات مع هشام أحمد فرارجة". جامعة بير زيت، معهد إبراهيم أبو لغد للدراسات الدولية، وحدة الهجرة القسرية واللاجئين، 2011.

أبو لغد، ليلى. "عودة أبي إلى فلسطين". "مجلة الدراسات الفلسطينية"، العدد 48 (خريف 2001)، ص 122–130.

"ذكرى ميلاد: إبراهيم أبو لغد.. السياسة من منظور رجل الفكر"، "العربي الجديد"، 15 شباط/فبراير 2021 ذكرى-ميلاد-إبراهيم-أبو-لغد-السياسة-من-منظور-رجل-الفك