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Date: 2024-02-29 Page is: DBtxt001.php txt00000798

People Who Make a Difference
Abdel Bari Atwan

Abdel Bari Atwan was born in Palestine, and his life reflects the struggles of this people. But Abndel Bari has risen above problems in a very productivc way.


Peter Burgess

In June 2011 Abdel Bari Atwan was among 50 'most influential Arabs' named by Middle East Magazine.

Abdel Bari Atwan was born in Gaza, Palestine but has lived in London since 1979. He has been the editor of London-based al-Quds al-Arabi, an independent, pan-Arab daily newspaper since 1989. He is the author of The Secret History of al-Qa'ida, and A Country of Words, his memoir and is currently preparing a new book, Al-Qa'ida, the Next Generation. He is a regular contributor to a number of quality UK broadsheets and his, often controversial, opinions are frequently sought by print and broadcast journalists the world over. He is well-known for his lively and passionate debating style and is a frequent guest on television shows in the west and the middle-east. Atwan also lectures worldwide and contributes to international conferences on a regular basis.

For more detailed descriptions of Abdel Bari Atwan's incredible life story as outlined below we highly recommend his moving and entertaining memoir, A Country of Words, see BOOKS page.

Abdel Bari Atwan was born in Palestine, and his life reflects the struggles of this people. But Abndel Bari has risen above problems in a very productivc way.

Abdel Bari Atwan's parents Zilfa and Muhammad Atwan lived in the peaceful Palestinian seaside village of Isdud until they were forced to flee their homes by the occupying Israeli army in 1948. They were among 800,000 Palestinians uprooted and dispossessed in the ethnic cleansing operation that continues to this day and is annually lamented as the Nakhba - the 'catastrophe'.

Isdud is now Israel's biggest port and has been renamed Ashdod.

In 1950, Abdel Bari Atwan was born in the refugee camp his father spent the rest of his life in - Deir al-Balah in the Gaza strip.

Atwan's childhood was characterized by poverty, football, friends and adventures. All recalled with humour and warmth in the memoir. Read an extract from the chapter 'Thorns in Our feet'.

In 1965, Muhammad Atwan died at the age of just forty two. His spirit had been broken and his health ruined by the torture he endured at the hands of the Israelis who imprisoned him. The majority of Palestinian males have been imprisoned at regular intervals by the occupying Israeli forces.

Zarifah Atwan was widowed with ten children to look after. With two of his older brothers away, 15 year-old Abdel Bari Atwan now found himself head of the family and they moved to another refugee camp, Rafah, where they had close family.

In 1967, in the aftermath of the six-day war, 17 year-old Abdel Bari Atwan was sent out of Palestine by concerned relatives. Massacres in the camps and villages had targetted young men in particular.

Abdel Bari Atwan found himself in Amman Jordan, where he slept on a hotel roof top with hundreds of other impoverished Palestinians. He found work variously as a refuse collector, a cannery worker and a driver delivering Turkish Delight. Read an extract from Atwan's account of this period here.

During the period 1967 - 1970, Amman was a haven for Palestinian guerrillas and the young Atwan met many fighters and the leaders of various factions.

From 1970 Atwan studied in Egypt. First in Alexandria then at Cairo University where he majored in Journalism. This period also saw student uprisings, mirroring what was happening in Paris, and in which Atwan enthusiastically participated.

Atwan's journalistic career started in Libya in 1974 when a lucky break propelled him into Colonel Gadaffi's good books and his very first article appeared on the front page of Gadaffi's favourite paper.

A stint in Saudi Arabia working for al-Madina and Asharq al-Awsat led to a posting to London as Bureau Chief. At the time London had become a magnet for Arabs of all nations and types, so much so that it was dubbed 'Beirut-on-Thames' in the British media.

In 1981 Atwan completed a Masters degree at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

1984 saw the start of a very happy marriage and Mr and Mrs Atwan celebrated their silver wedding in 2009. They have three children.

In 1988 Atwan founded al-Quds al-Arabi - the only truly independent Arab daily newspaper.

Atwan became the focus of global media interest when he interviewed (and spent three days with) Osama bin Laden in 1996. His hair-raising trip to Tora Bora in Afghanistan is recounted in vivid detail in his book The Secret History of Al-Qa'ida. Read an extract from his account by clicking here.

In the 1990s Atwan was able to return to visit his mother in Rafah refugee camp. He also met Yasser Arafat on several occasions in his new Gaza headquarters overlooking the sea - the building was later destroyed by Israeli bombardment. By 2000 Atwan had been banned from re-entering Palestine - his own country - by the Israeli authorities.

In 2003 Zarifah Atwan passed away. Abdel Bari was not able to be with her or to attend her funeral.

The text being discussed is available at
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