Some people don’t deserve the harshness life imposes upon them. Jaber El-Wanni was one of those persons.
This summer, when I last visited him in his home to bid him farewell before heading back to Palestine, I was speechless. How do you tell someone goodbye when you both know it will be the last time you will ever see each other? The fragile giant of a man that barely resembled the Jaber I chose to remember, slowly got out of his recliner and, as always, took the initiative. He said, “Well, if I don’t see you again, please take good care of yourself.” My pitiful answer was all I could muster, replying to him that I’ll see him again soon, maybe around Christmas. We both knew better.
After a long and difficult battle with cancer, Jaber El-Wanni passed away at home in Youngstown, Ohio on September 8, 2016, surrounded by family and friends. He suffered months on end for sure, but you would not know it by sitting and talking with him. He lived the last period of his life with the same dignity that he lived the rest of his life. A man of high intelligence and keen intellect, Jaber was not one to live in empty slogans but rather approached life’s challenges with an analytical mind that operated in a world of facts and reality. Whether the discussion was about history, politics, current events, cinema, or music, Jaber would have insight and value to add to the conversation.
Jaber was born in Marda, a Palestinian town located in the Salfit Governorate in the northern West Bank, 18 kilometers Southwest of Nablus. He left Marda to pursue his studies in the US and successfully did so in California and Michigan, earning a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in economics. He was a leader in the US branch of the PLO’s General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS), which is how I first met him.
Throughout the 1980s, his work led him to spend significant time in South America promoting the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence. When his work frequently brought him to Youngstown, Ohio, we became more than friends. The couch in my small apartment’s living room on Roosevelt Drive became a place he started to call his second home. We bought memberships at the Scandinavian Health Spa in Boardman and challenged each other to go work out whenever he was in Youngstown, me heading straight for the pool and Jaber…