British comedian and champion of Palestinian rights Jeremy Hardy has died of cancer aged 57.
Born in England in 1961, the BBC radio star made his name on the comedy circuit in the 1980s, starting out as a scriptwriter before turning into a stand-up comedian in his early 20s. He has since become known for his strong political views which were often reflected in his work.
“When I started out I just wanted people to laugh and then I thought I need to have a message in this,” Hardy told MEMO in an interview in 2017 at stand-up comedy fundraising event “Give it Up for Palestine”.
“I felt like I’ve got a platform and people are listening,” he said. “So I kind of ended up trapped forever as a political comedian,” he added with a giggle.
Hardy was a long-standing and keen advocate for the rights of Palestinians and a critic of the Israeli occupation. He travelled to the occupied West Bank for the first time in 2002 where he fronted a feature documentary called “Jeremy Hardy vs the Israeli Army”, by Palestinian director Leila Sansour. The film follows the International Solidarity Movement and their activities in Palestine through Hardy’s “extraordinary journey to free Palestine”.
Comparing his 2002 visit with a more recent trip to the occupied Palestinian Territories with Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) in 2017, the award-winning comedian said that Palestinians seemed “ground down, depressed, and much less optimistic about the situation” than before.
“It felt as though Palestinians were very weary now,” he told MEMO. “It felt like the occupation has really debilitated people’s spirit.”
That, however, did not stop them from continuing to be defiant, he explained. “There is still that sumood [Arabic for steadfastness]. That word is very apt to use about Palestinians, but I think the occupation has really taken its toll after 50 years. For some people, it’s all they have known.”
You’ve got the longest occupation in history and the largest refugee population in the world and nothing is being done.
“I hate to say it, but I’m very pessimistic about the situation,” he continued before he went on to lament Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States. “I think Trump is an absolute disaster for the Middle East, certainly for Palestine.”
“The Netanyahu government,” which he described as one of the most right-wing and racist governments Israel has ever had, “have carte blanche to do whatever they want, seemingly, from the White House.”
“Not that the Obama administration had really done anything,” he added. “They only suddenly started making an issue of it in the dying days of the administration when it was all too late.”
When I interviewed Hardy, he was raising funds for Medical Aid for Palestinians alongside six other British comedians, including household names like Bill Bailey. He believed that despite the worsening situation on the ground, people around the world are much more understanding and sympathetic towards the Palestinian cause and that he and others ought to do all they can to help Palestinians in their struggle for freedom.
“The more people find out about the daily grind of occupation that Palestinians face, especially since Cast Lead and what’s happened to Gaza more than once, and the more they see that the West’s role in the Middle East has been mostly pernicious every time it has got involved in any way, they become more and more sympathetic and quite baffled as to why our politicians go out of their way to accommodate whatever the Tel Aviv government decides to do and whatever its army decides to do.”
The world got to know Jeremy Hardy as the funny comedian and satirist that he was, fearless in his commentary and committed to his principles. Palestinians saw him above all else as an honest and compassionate man, who will be sorely missed.