Dec 27 2017

Obituary: Abdel Mohsin Al-Qattan (1929–2017)

by Brady Ng

ABDEL MOHSIN AL-QATTANPalestinian philanthropist and founder of AM Qattan Foundation, passed away in the morning of December 4, 2017, at the age of 88. Courtesy AM Qattan Foundation

Palestinian philanthropist and cultural figure Abdel Mohsin al-Qattan, also known as Abu Hani, passed away in the morning of December 4, 2017, a month after his 88th birthday.

Born on November 5, 1929, al-Qattan’s roots lie in Jaffa, though he studied at al-Nahda College, a boarding school for boys, under Palestinian scholar and Arab nationalist Khalil al-Sakakini in Jerusalem, before moving to Beirut to enroll in the political science department at the American University in 1947. One year later, the Nakba (“catastrophe”) occurred, and 700,000 Palestinians were displaced during Jewish military advances that culminated in the establishment of Israel as a sovereign state. Al-Qattan’s family was expelled from Jaffa, and were living as stateless refugees in Amman; he changed his major to business studies so that he could provide immediate financial support.

After a brief stint as a teacher in the early 1950s, al-Qattan worked in the Kuwaiti Ministry of Water and Electricity and became director general years later, then left to found his own construction company.

It was in the 1970s, after amassing a fortune, when al-Qattan became involved in philanthropy. He chose to fill the void in preserving and developing Palestinian culture, and was one of the founders of the Institute for Palestine Studies and the welfare association Taawon. He was also Palestine’s governor at the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development—in this post, he secured funding for an irrigation project in the Jordan Valley in the 1980s—and joined the board of trustees at the American University of Beirut. Over the years, al-Qattan and his late wife Leila Darwish Miqdadi have provided financial support to many students and institutions, including Birzeit University and the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies – Masarat.

Despite the fact that he lived outside of his homeland for over 50 years, al-Qattan was deeply involved with the politics and cultural development of Palestine, counting scholars and academics Edward Said and Ibrahim Abu-Lughod among his peers. In May of 1999, he would revisit his roots, stepping foot in Jaffa for the first time since 1948. He then received an honorary doctorate from Birzeit University, located near Ramallah.

Al-Qattan’s legacy includes the nonprofit AM Qattan Foundation, which was established in 1993 in London, and organizes an array of cultural activities in Palestine, Lebanon, the United Kingdom and other locations. In 2011, he bestowed a quarter of his wealth to the foundation, which is currently constructing its new headquarters in Ramallah, set to launch in the first quarter of 2018.

Brady Ng is the reviews editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

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