Palestinian physician who founded the Red Crescent Medical Society and the Active Organization for the Liberation of Palestine (AOLP), a non-combatant group that offered medical assistance to Palestinian resistance fighters. Nominated by the AFSC for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983.
Dr. Isam Sartawi was born in Acre, Palestine, in 1935. He received his medical training in Iraq and the United States, returning from there in 1967 to join the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). While he never established a medical practice, he was a founder of the Red Crescent Medical Society and in 1967 founded the Active Organization for the Liberation of Palestine (AOLP), a non-combatant group that offered medical assistance to Palestinian resistance fighters. In 1968, his group merged with Fatah, the main PLO armed resistance group, but later split with them, only to rejoin them in 1971 after the Black September events in Jordan when the PLO was forced out of the country by Jordan’s King Hussein.
Sartawi became a close advisor to Yasser Arafat, who defended him against hardliners who did not like Sartawi's moderate tone in talking about the shape of an eventual peace with Israel. Several times Arafat refused Sartawi’s attempts to resign from the Palestinian National Council, the Palestinian parliament in exile.
"The Palestinians did not say, 'Who are these people? They do not exist and they never existed'," Sartawi was quoted as saying in The Link (Jan.-Feb., 1977). "[Instead, Palestinians said] they [Israeli Jews] are here and they must love the country as much as we do, so we shall share it with them. In the Palestinian National Council of 1969, all Israeli Jews were granted equal citizenship in the projected, secular democratic state of Palestine."
With the full knowledge of Arafat but acting on his own, Sartawi became known as one who sought contacts with the peace movement in Israel. He established close ties with Arie (Lov) Eliav, with whom he shared the Austrian Kresiky Prize in 1979. He was among the first in the PLO leadership to urge the mutual recognition of Israel and the PLO, seeking a two-state solution to the conflict. However, in many of his speeches, he also stated his desire for a secular democratic state in which Jews and Arabs would live side by side.
The hardliners in the PLO condemned him for these views and, while attending a meeting of the Socialist International in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1983, Isam Sartawi was assassinated. It is thought that the Abu Nidal group was responsible for his assassination. That year Sartawi and Israeli Mattiyahu Peled were nominated by the American Friends Service Committee for the Nobel Peace Prize.