Karmi, Ghada 1939-

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KARMI, Ghada 1939-


Born November 19, 1939, in Jerusalem, Palestine (now Israel); daughter of Hasan (a lexicographer) and Amina (Saleh al-Rifai) Karmi. Education: University of Bristol, England, M.B., 1964; attended University College, London, and St. Anthony's College, Oxford; University of London, Ph.D., 1978.


Office—Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, 1 Gough Square, London, England EC4A 3DE.


Physician, medical historian, and activist for Palestinian rights. Hospital physician in London, England, 1964-72; Wellcome Institute for History of Medicine, London, research fellow; Aleppo University Medical School, Aleppo, Syria, lecturer in history of medicine, 1978-79; Yarmouk University, Jordan, assistant professor in history of Arabic sciences; Leeds University, Leeds, England, research associate and senior visiting fellow at the department of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies; Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, associate fellow. Founder, International Campaign for Jerusalem.


International Society for the History of Medicine, Association of the Palestinian Community in the United Kingdom (chair), British Medical Association, British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (vice chair).


Medical Suple Prize, Bristol University, 1963; member, Royal College of Physicians, 1967.


(Editor) Abū Mansūr al-Hasan ibn Nūh al-Qamarī, Kitāb al-Tanwīr fī al-Istilāhāt al-Tibbiyya, Maktab al-Tarbiya (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia), 1991.

The Ethnic Health Handbook: A Factfile for Health Care Professionals, Blackwell (Cambridge, MA), 1996.

(Editor) Jerusalem Today: What Future for the Peace Process?, Ithaca Press (Reading, England), 1997.

(Editor) The Palestinian Exodus: 1948-1998, Ithaca Press (Reading, England), 2000.

In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story, Verso (New York, NY), 2002.


In 1948, at the age of nine, Ghada Karmi's family were forced to leave their home in Jerusalem. As Palestinians, they were no longer welcome in the capital of Israel. They relocated to a largely Jewish section of London, where Ghada's mother attempted to maintain the ancient customs of her heritage while Karmi herself acclimated to her new home, developing a taste for English literature, making friends with her Jewish neighbors, and going on to earn a medical degree. Eventually, events in the Holy Land and prejudice closer to home caused Karmi to reevaluate her relationship with her heritage, and she has emerged as a leading advocate of Palestinian rights, both in Britain and Israel.

Before international politics, Karmi's primary interest was in medicine, and she worked as a hospital physician from 1964 to1972. She also studied and taught the history of medicine, particularly the Arabic contributions throughout the middle ages, when Europe was sunk in scientific ignorance and superstition. She has edited a medieval Arabic treatise on medical terminology and produced The Ethnic Health Handbook: A Factfile for Health Care Professionals to help health workers understand and accommodate ethnic differences in treating illnesses.

But Karmi is best known for her political activism. Throughout the late 1960s, especially in the face of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Karmi felt a growing identity with her Palestinian heritage. In 1972, she founded the first Palestinian organization in the United Kingdom and began speaking out more and more on the Palestinian side of the peace process with Israel.

In 1996, she edited Jerusalem Today: What Future for the Peace Process, a selection of papers from a conference held in London in June of 1995. With contributions from Arabs and Israelis, Jews, Moslems, and Christians, the essays cover legal, political, moral, and historical aspects of Jerusalem's current status. For Arab Studies Quarterly reviewer Andrej Kreutz, it was "a timely contribution, even though its general character and content obviously cannot correspond to the ever present urgent needs and expectations. Although on the whole it is quite well informed and well written, nevertheless it is just a compilation … and can neither cover nor discuss in depth all the essential problems of the Holy City." Writing in Asian Affairs, reviewer Martin Fuller found the work more valuable. "This is a necessary book, providing too-rarely-heard Palestinian viewpoints. Although inevitably uneven, it points to a Palestinian readiness to negotiate a political settlement of Jerusalem, which merits a positive response from Israel," he concluded.

While Karmi's political work has focused on the Palestinian people as a whole, she also has a deeply personal story to tell. In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story takes Karmi from her uprooting in 1948, leaving her beloved nurse Fatima behind, through her struggle to adapt to a new country, and then to earn a medical degree as a woman in the 1950s. It also explains her growing anger at the situation of Palestinians in their own homeland and recounts her feelings of estrangement from her native Palestinians on a visit to Jerusalem fifty years after her exile. An Economist reviewer found the work to be "keenly observed, fierce, honest, and yet light of touch." According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, "Karmi writes engagingly, weaving Palestinian political and social history through her personal recollections and giving the age-old émigré dilemmas a timely twist."

In writing her memoir, Karmi wanted to give voice to the intimate feelings of Palestinians caught up in the diaspora, a surprisingly rare feature in the vast literature on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As she told an online interviewer for the Hampstead and Highgate Express, "I wish Jews would read it. This is not a book written for Arabs. I wrote the book for an English-speaking audience and very much with Jews in mind, because maybe then they would begin to understand what happened and how it feels, actually how it feels, to be Palestinian."



Arab Studies Quarterly, fall, 1999, Andrej Kreutz, review of Jerusalem Today: What Future for the Peace Process?, p. 97.

Asian Affairs, February, 1997, Martin Fuller, review of Jerusalem Today, p. 69.

Economist, January 4, 2003, review of In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story.

Publishers Weekly, September 23, 2002, review of In Search of Fatima, p. 63.

Women's Review of Books, June, 2003, Sherna Berger Gluck, review of In Search of Fatima, p. 9.


Hampstead and Highgate Express Online,http://www.hamhigh.co.uk/ (August 11, 2002), James Kidd, review of In Search of Fatima.*