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Queen’s community remembers Emeritus Professor Elia Zureik

Emeritus Professor Elia ZureikThe Queen's community is remembering Elia Zureik, an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Sociology, who died Sunday, Jan. 15, aged 84.   

Dr. Zureik was born in Akka, Palestine in 1939, moving to the U.S. and receiving a BA in Political Science from San Francisco University, an MA in Sociology from Simon Fraser University, and a PhD in Political Sociology from Essex University in the UK. He was Professor of Sociology at Queen’s University from 1971 until his retirement in 2005, and won the Research Prize for Excellence in Research. Between 2014-16 he was Head of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies in Qatar. 

Dr. Zureik is remembered as an energetic and committed colleague and teacher, and a prolific author of numerous books and articles, including The Palestinians in Israel: A Study in Internal Colonialism (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979), Palestinian Refugees and the Peace Process (1996), and Israel’s Colonial Project in Palestine: Brutal Pursuit (Routledge, 2016); a co-editor of Sociology of the Palestinians (St. Martin’s Press, 1980), Public Opinion and the Palestine Question (St. Martin’s Press, 1987), and Surveillance and Control in Israel/Palestine: Population, Territory and Power (Routledge, 2011). Along with his highly influential work on Palestine, Dr. Zureik was a major figure in the Sociology of Information and Communication Technologies, including work on surveillance, co-editing Global Surveillance and Policing: Borders, Security and Identity (Willan Publishing, 2005) and Surveillance, The Globalization of Personal Data: International Comparisons (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008).

In addition to his intellectual work, Dr. Zureik was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Refugee Working Group of the Multilateral Talks of the Middle East peace process since 1992, and served as a consultant for the Canadian Government, UNESCO, the UN on the Question of Palestine, the Norwegian Institute for Applied Social Science, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission; he was a Board of Trustees member of Shaml, the Palestinian Diaspora and Refugee Center in Ramallah; he received the Palestine National Award in Sociology; he was appointed by the Sharjah Women’s Higher College of Technology as the first holder of the UNESCO Chair in Applied Research in Education in early 2005.

“Elia was really the first person who befriended me when I came to the department in 1990. I learned a lot from him about the Middle East of course but also about how universities really work. He also seemed to take great delight in making me laugh during ‘serious’ department meetings. I think in part he enjoyed it because he knew he could do it so easily,” says Vince Sacco, Emeritus Professor in the Sociology Department. “Elia was one of a kind and the impact he had on people and the influence he had on scholarly work in his areas of interest will continue to be felt for a very long time. He will be missed.”

Emeritus Professor David Lyon says: “I've been thinking more about my relationship with Elia over many years and I'm so thankful for what he meant to me. We began corresponding almost 40 years ago (1984) and I can't recall if he wrote to me or vice-versa. But we discussed the social origins and impacts of ‘new’ technologies that were emerging from communication and computing techniques. I didn't imagine then that we'd be colleagues one day, but that's what happened at Queen's, where we began working together in earnest, first in SCIT (Studies in Communication and Information Technologies, a seminar program he’d been catalysing for a number of years) and then in the Surveillance Project from 1999, which would become the Surveillance Studies Centre in 2009. And of course, we dreamed up and hosted what was probably one of the very first international research seminars in Surveillance Studies, back in 1993. At the same time, of course, we often spoke of Palestine and the Palestinians, and I learned much from him, which also led eventually to my visiting Israel and the West Bank – now several times. This included teaching where Elia had once taught, on sabbatical, at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. So, I owe Elia a lot, both in terms of his scholarly example – including the massive headache of the nine-country international survey on surveillance and privacy, a decade ago – and his personal and political commitment to Palestine. I valued him as a friend, colleague and mentor. I've said a lot more in the chapter that will appear from Bloomsbury in July this year. The festschrift is Decolonizing the Study of Palestine: Indigenous Perspectives and Settler Colonialism after Elia Zureik.”  

“I remember Elia as very direct, thoughtful and quick with a laugh,” adds Professor Annette Burfoot, “and I remain impressed by the extent of respect for Elia and his scholarship.” 

"Elia and Mary were the first people I met on arriving at Queen's for my job interview, taking me out to dinner, and I was quickly introduced to a fantastic sense of humour, fierce intelligence, and wry commentary concerning the realities of academic life. He was a huge presence, an outstanding mentor, and will be greatly missed,” says Professor Martin Hand, current Head of the Sociology Department.      

“Elia Zureik was an important colleague in my career, taking it upon himself to provide me with initial mentorship upon my arrival, and continued insights even after he retired. His style of a bark far out of proportion to his bite, a sense of humour that made everything seem absurd, and a vault of disciplinary knowledge that shamed the rest of us, made regular visits to Elia's office must-be- experienced events. He was easily one of the most interesting people I have ever met. His life story was fascinating and his ability to share it with others unparalleled. Elia also had a work ethic that was quite remarkable. Even as recently as the semester that was prematurely ended by the first arrival of COVID, Elia was teaching a graduate class in the department and banging on my door to make sure I was doing my job properly, all with a mischievous twinkle in his eye,” says Professor Stephen Baron.           

“My memories of Dr. Elia Zureik go back 37 years. During my undergraduate degree, I worked as a research assistant to Professors Zureik and Sacco on a study of computer-related crime. A year later, I worked again for Professor Zureik, this time on a project coding data on conflicts and injuries in the West Bank and Gaza. I hold onto a treasured, signed copy of his book, The Palestinians in Israel: A Study in Internal Colonialism, Elia gave me as a gift years ago. More than a decade later, I returned to Queen's as a faculty member and Elia became my senior colleague and mentor down the hall. He had integrity and cared deeply for the Sociology Department, program and graduate students. I'm grateful to have known him,” says Fiona Kay, Professor of Sociology.