Palestinian community leader and activist Shaher Hussein El-Mashni (Abu Nasser) died on March 1 in Melbourne. His memorial service, on March 18, was attended by more than 200 people, including representatives of Australian Palestinian groups and the Palestinian head of delegation to Australia, Izzat Abdul Hadi, who gave condolences on behalf of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Born on May 10, 1926, in the Palestinian town of Deir Dibwan, near Ramallah, Abu Nasser witnessed some turbulent times: at 10, he witnessed the Great Palestinian Revolt against British colonialism and Zionist colonisation; and in 1948, in response to impending partition and the setting up of the Zionist state, Abu Nasser joined the Palestinian Resistance led by Palestinian leader Abdel-Kader al-Husseini, who had secretly returned to Palestine in January 1948, after being exiled in 1938 as one of the leaders of the 1936 revolt.
Al-Husseini died in April 1948, but Abu Nasser survived the Zionist onslaught, spending the next 11 years in exile in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. He knew if he was captured he would spend the rest of his life in an Israeli prison. During this time he continued his political activity, only to be jailed in Al Jafr prison by the Jordanian regime. Al Jafr, in the southern Jordanian desert, opened in 1953 to house political dissidents and soon became a symbol of political oppression. Closed in the 1970s, it was reopened in the 1990s with the CIA carrying out its secret "renditions" there.
Abu Nasser, with the help of friends, migrated to Australia in 1959. He immediately began his political agitation in Melbourne, seeking out Arabs and Palestinians to organise to support Palestinian and Arab nationalism.
Life-long friend Mohammed Saraya said Abu Nasser was a keen supporter of pan-Arab nationalism, believing it was the only way to build a politically, economically and culturally strong Arab world. Abu Nasser married Victoria in 1967 and they named their first son after Gamal Abdel Nasser, an advocate of this cause.
In the 1960s, Abu Nasser, along with others inspired by Yasser Arafat, formed the Australian wing of the Fatah movement, and became an active participant in the Palestinian National Council (Arafat's Palestinian parliament-in-exile). According to Saraya, Abu Nasser attended many of the PNC conferences, keen to help build a future Palestinian state.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Abu Nasser worked tirelessly with other Palestinians and Arabs to establish a range of organisations such as the Arab Association, the Palestinian Association of Sydney and Victoria, the Arab Australian Friendship Association and the Australian Middle East Study Association. He was also instrumental in helping to establish the first Palestinian embassy in Australia.
Abu Nasser imparted his love of Palestine and his belief in freedom, justice and struggle to his three sons and grandchildren. According to his son Moammar, "Dad always said he had two wives. My most beautiful and precious mother, and Palestine."
In a moving speech, Nasser, his eldest son, told the memorial that his father didn't want, nor ask for, recognition. All he wanted was that "our just struggle not stagger, nor whimper or ever be forgotten. He demanded it grow and grow until victory!"
Dr Bassam Dally of the South Australian Friends of Palestine announced at the memorial the creation of the Shaher Hussein El-Mashni Al Awda Memorial Fund to continue Abu Nasser's work.