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UA Author Profile: Maha Nassar tells story of forgotten intellectuals

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University of Arizona | The Daily Wildcat Maha Nasar is a cultural and intellectual historian of the twentieth-century Arab world, with a focus on Palestinian history during the 1950s and 1960s.

Maha Nassar, a University of Arizona professor in the Department of Middle Eastern and North African Studies, will be presenting her book Brothers Apart: Palestinian Citizens of Israel and the Arab World and discussing the role of writing in Palestinian culture across the generations at this year’s Tucson Festival of Books. 

Nassar’s book examines the writings and lives of Palestinian intellectuals who when the Israelis came did not flee and become refugees, but rather stayed and were granted citizenship. 

These intellectuals lived in a society that restricted their movement and treated them as second-class citizens. Yet, the writings of those like Mahmoud Darwish and Samih al-Qasim were able to spread solidarity and build community in the larger Arab world. 

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“I have been interested in Palestinian history and culture for as long as I can remember and then in graduate school, when I was studying Hebrew, I came across the writings of some of these Palestinian intellectuals and it occurred to me I did not know much about Palestinians who are citizens of Israel,” Nassar said.  

After focusing her University of Chicago Ph.D. dissertation on the topic, Nassar broadened her research spending more time in the archives and interviewing authors in Israel. After coming to the UA in 2006, she continued her work which culminated in her book. 

“One thing I hope people take away from my book is that intellectuals are more than just people who sit in ivory towers and pontificate about things,” Nassar said. 

“A lot of the really best intellectuals are on the ground actually trying to improve the societies in which they live. We have intellectual all around us who do that and don’t always get the recognition they deserve.” 

One of the challenges of writing this book, according to Nassar, was balancing the expectation of academic rigor with the desire to make the book accessible to a broad audience. 

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Nassar wanted to share the stories of these intellectuals and show readers the power of the written word in crossing boundaries and forming connections.  

Nassar will be speaking on the panel "Voices from Palestine" alongside Ibtisam Barakat, an award-winning Palestinian-American author, on Saturday, Mar. 10 at 11:30 am in the Social & Behavioral Sciences Tent. 

Nassar is already working on her next book, which will be somewhat of a sequel to her book on sale at the festival, and will focus on the role of Palestinian citizens of Israel in larger Palestinian debates about statehood and liberation. 


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