In Memoriam: Marwan Burgan (1955-2009)

Article excerpt

ON MARCH 5, Marwan Burgan returned to the Georgetown University Hospital Emergency Room in Washington, DC. Being admitted to hospitals had become somewhat of a routine for Marwan, following his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer two years ago. This trip was different, though.

Chemotherapy had taken its toll, causing his lungs to collapse. Soon he was lying in the ICU; friends were allowed to stand over him, one by one, for a very short time. We all hoped he'd have more time to accomplish his many goals. For most of his adult life, Marwan was on what one truly could call a crusade to ensure that Arab Americans take their rightful place and enjoy full participation in this country's political process, and that the Palestinian people finally realize justice.

The day before he died, he compared the excellent medical care he received in this country to the fate of Palestinians in the occupied territory suffering from cancer. "I'm sure if I lived in Gaza or the West Bank I'd be dead by now," he told the audience gathered at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC to listen to a video-streamed report from London about Palestinian health care published in The Lancet (see p. 57). Marwan took the opportunity to compliment Radia Daoussi and Brian Hennessey, the DC co-moderators of the Lancet press conference. "We never acknowledge people who work tirelessly, selflessly to get things done," he said. In a way, he was talking about himself.

Marwan was born in Amman, Jordan in 1954 to a Christian family-his father was Jordanian, his mother Palestinian. He would tell anyone who would listen, especially when American Jews were in the crowd, that his mother was "spirited away" from her hometown of Nazareth to Amman in 1948-playing on the words Theodor Herzl wrote in his diary concerning the fate of the Palestinians. The stories his mother told of her Nakba experience would play a major role in shaping her oldest son.

When he arrived in America in the 1970s, he came as a Palestinian. In 1985, after earning his master's in sociology from American University,Marwan decided to try his hand at politics. He approached Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-CA), whom he knew was sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and whose father was Muslim, for a job as an intern. Marwan first was hired as a foreign policy legislative assistant, then became Dymally's legislative director. By the time Dymally retired in 1993, as the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Marwan was administrative assistant (chief of staff) in Dymally's Washington, DC office. While on the Hill, Marwan assisted in passing bills that dealt with important issues such as combating hate crimes and increasing assistance to the world's refugees. …