Oct 26 2014

Palestinians mourn celebrated businessman, philanthropist

Published by at 10:02 am under Articles,Palestinian politics


By Daoud kuttab

It would be difficult to find a student at Birzeit University who does not know the name Said Khoury. Since 2009, a 3,611-square-meter (38,868-square-foot) building bearing his name has stood tall on the hills of the new university campus. It houses the Center for Development Studies, the Ibrahim Abu Lughod Institute for International Studies and the Institute of Community and Public Health.

In a similar vein, it would be almost impossible for a student at al-Quds University not to know the name of this Palestinian businessman and philanthropic role model. The Said Khoury Information Technology Center of Excellence, in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Dis, has been a successful incubator and hub of teaching for Palestinian students since 2002.

Said Tawfiq Khoury died Oct. 16 in his adopted city of Athens at the age of 91. He was known throughout Palestine for his love and support of his homeland and his faith in the Palestinian struggle for freedom, independence and the right of return. Imad abu Kishek, president of al-Quds University, told Al-Monitor, “[Khoury] loved Jerusalem and its university and never turned down a request we asked of him.”

Khoury’s importance to the nation and the region was made clear by the unannounced appearance of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah at his funeral in Beirut’s Orthodox Church of Saint Nicolas. Also in attendance were Lebanese Prime Minister Tamam Salam and former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Born in 1923 in the northern Palestinian town of Safad (also the birthplace of President Mahmoud Abbas), Khoury received a degree in engineering from the American University of Beirut. In 1952, with his brother-in-law Hassib Sabbagh and Kamel Abdul Rahman, Khoury cofounded the Consolidated Construction Co., now the largest construction company in the Middle East, employing more than 110,000 workers of 80 different nationalities. In 2009, Khoury was ranked the 10th richest Arab by the Arabian Business magazine, with an estimated worth of $7 billion.

Sabbagh, who met Yasser Arafat in 1970 at the home Arab Bank chairman Abdul Majed Shoman (another major Palestinian philanthropist who established the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation), played a key role in connecting the Palestine Liberation Organization with Lebanese and US officials and was active in supporting Palestinian students throughout the world, providing them with scholarships. After the death of his wife, Sabbagh established the Diana Tamari Sabbagh Foundation.

In 1983, Khoury, along with other Palestinian businesspeople, including Sabbagh, Shoman and Abdel Mohsen Qattan, decided to pool their monies and create the Welfare Association, the largest Palestinian philanthropic organization. Shoman was selected to serve as the first chairman of the association, which was officially based in Geneva, to protect against closure by Israel. Khoury was a founding trustee and co-chairman of the board, with Qattan, from 2005 to 2007. Qattan also made major contributions to assist children (especially in Gaza) and to promote culture and the arts through the A. M. Qattan Foundation, helping Palestinians everywhere.

Atallah Kuttab, executive director of the Welfare Association from 2005 to 2011, recalled his time with Khoury in an interview with Al-Monitor. “We worked closely together in support of the goals of the Welfare Association, namely, that Palestinians, whether in Palestine or in the diaspora, should live with dignity and respect, fulfilling their utmost potential in all aspects of life.”

Kuttab said Khoury contributed to this goal with his financial and other resources. “He believed in strengthening and building the strong Palestinian heritage founded over the centuries on respect and tolerance,” Kuttab said. Of note, Khoury was one of the few diaspora Palestinians to pay attention to the plight of Palestinian citizens of Israel, contributing to the building of churches and mosques in Galilee.

Palestinian philanthropy has been a key element in the survival of Palestinians, especially those living in refugee camps after 1948 and after 1967 under occupation. For years before the Oslo Accords, assistance from Palestinians in the diaspora also supported the nonviolent resistance, especially during the first intifada.

The vast majority of Palestinian philanthropy has been directed toward social and intellectual projects outside Palestine and at education and health projects ins the occupied territories. The years of Israeli efforts to subjugate the Palestinian population produced the concept of steadfastness, through which support for Palestinians staying on their land became a major goal of the Palestinian national movement. Said Khoury was a model for forward thinking, collective work and a genuine supporter for his people.


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