Tributes pour in for Gharib Asqalani, the 'sheikh of Palestinian novelists'

'The Book of Gaza' author was a luminary of Palestine's cultural movement, often writing about the 'aches and struggles of its people'

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas decorates novelist Gharib Asqalani with the Order of Culture, Sciences and Arts.
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Author Gharib Asqalani, who died in Gaza on Tuesday, has been celebrated for his works, especially for those centering on Palestinian life.

The writer, who was 74, penned six short story collections, nine novels and three essay compilations during his lengthy career. He also published three anthologies of short stories online. His stories have been translated into English, French, Spanish and Russian. His best-known works include The Ring, The Book of Gaza and Nights of the Lunar Months.

Palestinian Minister of Culture Atef Abu Seif said Asqalani was a luminary of Palestine’s cultural movement and wrote about the “aches and struggles of its people.” His legacy, the minister said, will thrive in the Gaza schools he taught and in the cultural institutions he was involved in.

“With the departure of Gharib Asqalani, the national cultural movement has lost an icon and one of its flags, who established creative awareness and enriched the cultural scene with his creative thought and creativity,” the minister said.

Known also as Ibrahim Al-Zant, Asqalani was born in Majdal in 1948, the same year the Palestinian village was depopulated and bulldozed by Israeli forces. His family fled to the Al Shati refugee camp in Gaza.

Asqalani travelled to Egypt to pursue his higher education, receiving a bachelor’s in agricultural economics from Alexandria University in 1969 and a postgraduate diploma in Islamic studies from the Institute of Islamic Research and Studies in Cairo in 1983.

He moved across various professions while pursuing his literary career. He worked as a teacher in the Gaza Strip, an agricultural engineer on Syria’s Euphrates Dam, as a director for the Ministry of Culture as well as a media spokesman for the Palestine International Book Fair.

He was awarded the Medal of Culture, Science and Arts in 2016 by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“He was one of the most famous novelists and short story writers in Palestine,” one Twitter user wrote in tribute to Asqalani. “He was known as the sheikh of Palestinian novelists.”

“May [his] soul be granted mercy and forgiveness,” another wrote. “[He] spent [his] life defending Palestine, waiting to return to the beautiful Majdal. He carried his memories to the refugee camp in the Gaza Strip to embody with his works the Palestinian pain, roaming with his readers the alleys of the homeland.”

Updated: June 22, 2022, 9:06 AM