|Birth Day:||August 15, 1926|
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He arrived in Israel after being banished from Iraq and Iran for leading communist movements in both countries.
Born as Kamal Shalah, Sami Michael was the firstborn of a large, secular, Jewish family in Baghdad, where his father was a merchant. Michael grew up and was educated in a mixed neighborhood of Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Baghdad. Michael completed his education in the Jewish educational system of Baghdad, in Shamash School, receiving his high school diploma in 1945.
At the age of 15, two years after the outbreak of World War II, he joined and soon became a leader of a leftist (Communist) underground group acting against the oppressive regime in Iraq. Michael later wrote about this period of his life in his novel A Handful of Fog. Shortly after, aged 17, he began writing articles for the Iraqi press. His political activities led to a warrant being issued for his arrest in 1948, Michael was forced to flee and went to Iran. The Iraqi court sentenced him to death in absentia. In Iran, he joined the communist party, Tudeh. Unable to return to Iraq, Michael came to Israel in 1949.
Michael settled in an Arab quarter of Haifa, Wadi Nisnas. He was invited to work for a newspaper by Emil Habibi. Michael was the only Jew on the editorial board of Al Ittihad and Al Jadid (Arabic language newspapers of the communist party), where he worked as an editor for four years. At the same time, he had a weekly column in which he wrote stories and articles under the pseudonym Samir Mared. His stories, while written in the spirit of "socialist realism", were laced with irony and humor. In 1955, disillusioned with the policies of the USSR, he terminated his affiliation with the communist party, and concluded his work on both papers: "I left the party but not the ideals of socialism."
Michael was amongst a group of leaders of the Communist underground in Iraq. At this time there was no written material on Communism in Arabic, which meant they had to translate everything from English. During his time in Iran Michael joined Tudeh, the Iranian Communist party. Once in Israel he joined the Israeli Communist party; he was a youth leader and worked on the editorial board of Al Itihad and Al Jadid (Arabic language newspapers of the communist party) where he worked as an editor for four years. At the same time, he had a weekly column in which he wrote stories and articles under the pseudonym "Samir Mared". In 1955, a short time before the mass disillusionment with Stalin he ended his affiliation with the communist party, and concluded his work on both papers: "…because they transgressed against all my ideals. Today I am a Marxist." "Communism was a beautiful illusion; despite the disillusionment I will always believe in the human spirit and justice," said Michael. "I joined Communism as a Jew and I left Communism as a Jew", wrote Michael in Unbounded Ideas.
In Israel, his sister Nadia married Israeli spy Eli Cohen. Cohen, a Mossad spy, was captured by Syrian authorities after achieving high-level penetration into the Syrian government, and was executed in 1965. Michael claimed that the Mossad had originally tried to recruit him in the 1950s, and only turned to his brother-in-law after he turned them down.
At the age of 45 Michael embarked upon the project of mastering the Hebrew language. In 1974 he published his first novel, in Hebrew, All Men are Equal – But Some are More, about the lives of immigrants in transit camps in Israel in the 1950s. The title of the novel – Shavim ve-Shavim Yoter – became a well-known phrase depicting the struggles for equality of Jews from Arab countries. This book opened the door for profound discussion about the socio-economic gaps in Israel and also about the situation of the Arabs in Israel.
In 1982, he left Haifa for 10 years, moving to the rural, northern Galilee town of Ma'alot, on the hillside overlooking a valley. It is here that he wrote the novel Brown Devils about rock hyraxes that frequently stole the fruits of his well-tended garden. In 1992 Michael he returned to Haifa.
In 1987 the Israeli High Court of Justice appointed Michael as arbitrator to decide on a matter of education and multiculturalism. The subject was widely covered in the press, and his decision was a precedent in Israel which still stands.
In 1987 the Israeli High Court of Justice appointed Michael as arbitrator to decide on a matter of education and multiculturalism. The subject was widely covered in the press and his decision was a precedent in Israel which still stands.
Michael was invited to give lectures in Cairo directly following the signing of the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. During the first Palestinian Intifada (uprising) he was amongst a delegation of intellectuals that broke through IDF barriers that besieged Hebron. In 1994 Michael, was invited together with Palestinian author Emil Habibi to Tunis (at a time when Israelis could not travel there) sponsored by UNESCO and the Tunisian Ministry of Culture for a conference in Carthago on Arabic Literature.
In 1998, Michael hosted a 13-part series on the Educational Television channel on World Literature, where he engaged writers, researchers and scholars in discussion about their favorite literary masterpieces.
In 1998, he was elected president of The Society for Solidarity between the People of Israel and the People of Iraq, a non-profit society founded by key public figures from cultural, academic and intellectual circles in Israeli society. The group, attracting much attention in Israel, the Arab world and elsewhere, stresses that a clear distinction ought to be made between the Iraqi oppressive regime and the Iraqi people, who have unjustifiably borne the horrifying consequences of the ongoing conflict in the region. The request of the group, however, to be registered as an official non-profit organization was denied by the Interior Ministry’s registrar, claiming that Israeli law forbids “contact with 'enemy states'.” In April 2003 the founders reestablished the Society. Michael was reelected as its president. In the same year after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, Michael was invited to join the group of composers of the new Iraqi constitution. As he did not reside in Iraq nor had he for many years, he felt that it would not be right. He did however have one request which was to insert one important clause: the defense of minorities.
Sami Michael's Way – "The man is the crown of creation" (literary way) – is a route in the Wadi Nisnas, an Arab quarter of Haifa, named after Michael in 2002. Literary extracts from his novels are written along the walls of the route, both in Hebrew and in Arabic. Michael dedicated three novels to Wadi Nisnas including: A Trumpet in the Wadi.
Sami Michael has published 11 novels and 3 non-fiction books focusing on cultural, political and social affairs in Israel, 3 plays and a children's book. Most of Michael's books were published by Am Oved publishers. Michael left Am Oved in 2007 and moved to Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir publishers after receiving a very attractive offer, granting him a fixed monthly salary. His first book that published with them was Aida. Michael has also written numerous articles and essays. His writings and his social and political activities have made him a household name in Israel. Michael has never been an author of the establishment, which meant that he did not enjoy promotional or financial assistance.
In 2007 Michael, together with David Sasson, created the Forum of the peace initiative with Syria. The forum included Intellectuals, academics and business people such as Yaakov Peri, Amnon Lipikin Shahak and Alon Liel. An extract of the declaration composed by Michael: "We gave up Sinai and in return we gained peace with Egypt. We call upon the government of Israel, upon those amongst us who are responsible for designing policy, to listen to the voices that are making themselves heard from Damascus. Peace with Syria means peace with the region in which we live. The price of peace is much cheaper than the bitter and destructive price of war."
In 2008, Michael was appointed as an honorary member of the Arabic Language Academy in Israel.
In 2013, the Sami Michael Association was formed with the aim of upholding Michael's heritage. As of 2017, the nonprofit department awards individuals "who work for society with regard to reducing gaps and providing equal opportunities, in the spirit of author Sami Michael's concept of heritage, with an emphasis on social and geographical periphery." Among the winners of the award are Shula Mola, Yoav Lalom, Netta Elkayam and Ibtisam Mara'ana.
Currently, Sami Michael is 96 years, 1 months and 11 days old. Sami Michael will celebrate 97th birthday on a Tuesday 15th of August 2023.
Find out about Sami Michael birthday activities in timeline view here.