Dr. Sumaya Farhat-Naser

Palestinian Territories

Peace activist

DAAD Scholarship, DAAD Doctoral Scholarship 1979-1982

Dr. Sumaya  Farhat-Naser by Elke Wetzig (Elya) [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

She has been called a “secret agent for peace” because she courageously and creatively advocates an end to violence in the Middle East. The Palestinian Sumaya Farhat-Naser refuses to think in friend-foe categories; she fights against the Israeli occupation policy, for the democratisation of the Palestinian Territories, and condemns the suicide bomb attacks. She was the first Palestinian woman to publicly discuss a possible peace with Israeli women. For her commitment, she and the Israeli Gila Svirsky were jointly awarded the Hermann Kesten Medal by the German PEN Centre in 2002. In 2011, Sumaya Farhat-Naser won the Open Church’s AMOS Prize.

Only those who have hope can think creatively and find ways to escape the vicious circle of violence.
Sumaya Farhat-Naser

Sumaya Farhat-Naser was born the same year the State of Israel was founded, in June 1948, during the war. She grew up in a Christian family in Birzeit near Jerusalem and attended a German boarding school in Beit Jala near Bethlehem. At 14, her grandfather, as was customary, wanted to marry her off to a relative. Sumaya Farhat-Naser resisted. In her first book Thyme and Stones, she writes: “Grandfather was so shocked he couldn’t say a word and left the house.”

The young Palestinian prevailed over all conventions and, after gaining her school-leaving certificate, went to Germany, where she studied from 1979 to 1982 on a DAAD scholarship, gaining a doctorate in biology in Hamburg. When she returned home, the Israelis had already occupied Palestine. She campaigned for peace and in Jerusalem met the Jewish woman Gila Svirsky, who for her part advocated dialogue with the Palestinians. The two women went on demonstrations together and actively supported women’s rights in their countries. From 1997 to 2001, Sumaya Farhat-Naser ran a women’s centre in East Jerusalem, where Israeli and Palestinian women work for peace.

Even as everyday life became ever more difficult and she had little freedom of movement left, she kept up the dialogue with her Israeli co-activists by email. Sometimes, she smuggles herself through the checkpoints to Israel to give talks, always closely observed by her compatriots. One wrong word or an overnight stay with Israeli friends and she would be considered a traitor to the Palestinian cause.

In 2002, she was offered the position of Mayor of Birzeit – she turned it down. Farhat-Naser sees herself as an educational worker, not a political administrator. During a reading in Cologne in 2012, Sumaya Farhat-Naser said it was important never to allow any room for hatred, “for hatred destroys the soul.” The peace activist regularly gives lectures in Germany, Austria and Switzerland on education, everyday life, ecology and women, presenting her books and reporting on the situation in Palestine on German radio and television. Conversely, in Palestine he cautiously talks about her experiences in Germany. “The good things I’ve learned in Germany – about tradition, political thinking and history – I like to absorb and transfer to my own culture and then develop them,” she said in an interview with Bavarian broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk in 2015.