Elias Shoufani, who died a few days ago, forcefully helped unleash an urgent rebuttal to a dangerous belief that prevailed in the aftermath of the 1948 tragedy. This dangerous belief sought to persuade the Arabs in general that those Palestinian Arabs who stayed in Israel were either “suspects” or should “not be trusted.” Elias Shoufani was a leader in helping deconstruct this fallacy and slander.
Elias came to Lebanon and Syria with Sabri Jaris and others, to put an end to this obvious and reckless distortion and untruth. Elias was a pivotal leader in bringing to Arab consciousness the awareness of the wealth of resilience, commitment, and resistance of the Arab population in Israel. This enhances the overall Arab scene with an awareness, appreciation, and a challenging role to the Zionist project, especially by highlighting the institutional discrimination against them in Israel and clearly proves the deficit of Israel’s claim to be “democratic.”
Elias Shoufani insisted and was eager that the Hebrew language should be taught in Arab schools. His appeal found instant response, and among his first students was my late wife, Hala Salaam. Elias worked from both the PLO Center and the Institute of Palestine Studies from Beirut and later from Syria. His dedication helped bring a much-needed awareness of an obvious truism: “You must know your enemy.”
Elias Shoufani was a pillar in enlightening generations of Arabs to an obvious reality. In celebrating his life, he leaves us with an awareness that tapping the potential of a people whose resistance to Israel’s apartheid policies is a major priority in the Arab liberation movement.
Clovis Maksoud is a former ambassador and permanent observer of the League of Arab States at the United Nations and its chief representative in the United States for more than 10 years. Maksoud served as the League of Arab States' ambassador to India and Southeast Asia from 1961 to 1966 as well as the League of Arab States' special envoy to the United States in 1974. As a journalist, Maksoud was senior editor of the daily Al-Ahram in Cairo and editor-in-chief of Al-Nahar, an Arabic-language weekly published in Beirut. He is the author of several books on the Middle East and developing countries.