Dr. Nabeel Kassis
By Dr. Mamdouh Aker
Undoubtedly, Dr. Nabeel Kassis is one of Palestine’s notable talents par excellence. He enjoys a rich career in both academia and public service. Dr. Kassis was born in Jerusalem in 1945, grew up in his hometown Ramallah, and soon after he completed high school there, he headed to the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany, where he studied physics and obtained an MSc degree in 1969.
After the 1967 War and the occupation of what remained of Palestine, Dr. Kassis and his younger sister, who was at school in Lebanon, were amongst the many Palestinians who were caught outside and opted for a perilous crossing of the waters of the Jordan River in order to return home and preserve their rights as citizens.
He obtained a doctor of philosophy degree in physics from the American University of Beirut in 1972. He gained his first teaching experience as graduate assistant while working on his MSc thesis in theoretical nuclear physics in Mainz and later as senior graduate assistant at AUB. Between 1972 and 1978 he worked as an assistant professor and later as associate professor of physics at the University of Jordan, in Amman. He spent 1978 to 1980 as a visiting scientist at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom; but after two successful years in academia in Britain, he decided to fulfil his desire to return to Palestine, not yielding to the career temptations of good job opportunities in Britain and Europe and a tenure appointment in Jordan.
After settling at home, Dr. Kassis worked as an associate professor then as professor of physics at Birzeit University for a number of years. During his time there he attained a number of accolades and advanced to various positions of responsibility. In 1982 he became chairman of the Physics Department, and in 1984 he was appointed University Vice President for Academic Affairs. His contribution to the university was fully recognised in 2004 when he was appointed President of Birzeit University.
In addition to his academic career in Palestine, Dr. Kassis has held a number of other senior positions in the arenas of research and public service, and has contributed widely to the community. He was named director of the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) which he founded in 1994, and he headed the Bethlehem 2000 Project as a member of the government of the Palestinian Authority. He has also held the positions of Minister of Planning and Minister of Tourism.
On behalf of the PLO leadership in Tunis, Dr. Kassis was invited by the late Faisal Husseini to join the Palestinian delegation for the Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991, followed by bilateral Palestinian-Israeli negotiations in Washington between 1991 and 1993. During the Washington talks he was appointed deputy to the head of the Palestinian delegation, the late Dr. Haidar Abdel Shafi. Later he was appointed General Director of the negotiations Technical and Advisory Committees at the Orient House.
His skills as a scientist were reflected in his well-known attention to detail and insistence on accuracy and precision. These skills proved to be assets during his work as a political negotiator.
Dr. Kassis is straight-talking and focuses on facts, but behind his commanding seriousness in public is a surprisingly emotional and very caring personality. He enjoys music, appreciates the arts, and has a good sense of humour.
Dr. Kassis is recognised as a serious scholar who has published widely and has attained a number of important research grants. He is a polyglot, fluent in Arabic, English, and German. Thanks to his wife, Vanoush, he has also learned the Armenian language. Dr. Kassis is happily married and has a son, Jareer, a daughter, Ellen and three grandchildren
Dr. Mamdouh Aker, FRCS, Ed, is a consultant urologist and Commissioner General of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights.