Mercer professor who left Palestine for a better life shares journey in memoir

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Dr. Hani Khoury in front of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in October 2018.
Dr. Hani Khoury in front of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in October 2018. Photos courtesy Dr. Hani Khoury

Dr. Hani Q. Khoury believes we all have a story to tell. Sharing our life journeys and hearing about the struggles and triumphs of others helps us to better understand the people and world around us.

The professor and coordinator of mathematics in Mercer University’s College of Professional Advancement said people often ask him about his life, and he always answers their questions readily. That curiosity and encouragement from others led him to write Giving Up Is Not An Option: Memoirs of a Palestinian-American, which was published a year ago. 

Since then, Dr. Khoury has given more than 10 presentations about his book, and his memoir was one of 51 books worldwide nominated by the London-based Middle East Monitor for the 2022 Palestine Book Awards. He next plans to travel around the world to promote his memoir as well as a nonprofit foundation he is establishing to support Palestinian college students with disabilities. 

Dr. Hani Khoury (being held in center) as a child with his family in Palestine.
Dr. Hani Khoury, who is being held by his grandmother, is also pictured with his parents and siblings in Palestine on Christmas Day 1965.

Finding a place to prosper

Dr. Khoury was born in Nablus, Palestine, in 1965 and grew up under Israeli military control. 

“The occupation itself was a challenge for everyone living there, but I was also born with a physical disability,” he said. “I have spinal muscular atrophy, which confined me to a wheelchair at the age of 18. Therefore, searching for another place, another home that I could survive and live and prosper in became my parents’ priority.”

So, Dr. Khoury came to the United States in 1983 and began his quest toward higher education by enrolling at Onondaga Community College in New York.  

Dr. Hani Khoury as a child.
Dr. Hani Khoury in kindergarten.

Western values were already familiar to him since his mother had taught in missionary schools for a while. Once he came to America, those ideals began to materialize in his daily living. Dr. Khoury obtained his first electric wheelchair, which changed his life.

“For me, that was full freedom. I was able to go to classes, go to campus, go out with my friends … just being able to live life as normal as possible. It happened here. America means a lot to me, and the future of America means a lot to me as well. I became a citizen of this country, and I didn’t feel like a stranger.”

After completing his associate’s degree in math and science, Dr. Khoury transferred to Syracuse University. He earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and information systems. Realizing his passion for the classroom, he obtained a master’s degree in computer science and a Ph.D. in mathematics education, so he could teach.

Dr. Khoury said his professors at Syracuse welcomed and nurtured him. He developed wonderful relationships and was active and involved on campus.

“I was able to live the American dream in a very meaningful and unusual way,” he said. “I always enjoyed academia. I always loved to learn. I had this curiosity about the world, so I always grew up wanting to solve problems. My disability was a major problem in my life. I wanted to overcome my disability and the barriers and challenges. I had to really work hard.”

While at Syracuse, he met his future wife, Diane. They married in 1990 and moved to Macon in 1994, so Dr. Khoury could join the faculty at Mercer, where he’s taught ever since. The pair have six children, two from his wife’s first marriage and four they adopted in Macon. Their youngest is now 17 years old. 

“I really liked the colleagues that I interviewed with and the environment of the university,” Dr. Khoury said of Mercer. “The overall character of Mercer was very appealing to me. I really enjoyed being in the South. Everyone I met was welcoming. It felt like home.”

Dr. Khoury said teaching has been a gratifying career.

“When you see that the students’ lives are moving forward and their dreams are being fulfilled, you feel that you’re part of that journey. I think that is extremely rewarding to be part of someone else’s journey toward success, toward independence, toward freedom,” he said. 

He strives to create a positive classroom climate where students feel comfortable asking him questions. He believes curiosity should be encouraged and embraced.

“That’s what learning is about,” Dr. Khoury said. “You meet other people, and you want to know more about their lives, their culture, their past. We should reward asking questions by providing answers to the best of our ability.”

Sharing his story

The cover of Dr. Hani Khoury's memoir.
The cover of Dr. Hani Khoury’s memoir.

Wishing to write a book about his life, Dr. Khoury took a sabbatical from Mercer about five years ago. The research aspect was much more demanding than he anticipated, but he didn’t let that stop him. 

“I wanted to share a story. I think each one of us has a story in life, and I think each one of us can write our autobiography and memoir for others to read,” he said. “The more we read about each other, I think the better our chances for a better future. We’re all truly equal in this world.”

Giving Up Is Not An Option, which is sold by Amazon and Barnes & Noble, touches on many different dimensions, including politics, disability, marriage, family and hopes for the future. The book delves into the conflict in the Middle East, and Dr. Khoury hopes his readers gain a better understanding of the complexities of the situation. It’s a topic he often speaks about in the community, most recently during a breakfast meeting at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta in December.

“I’m very eager to see in my lifetime peace prevail in the Middle East. I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not. Things are getting worse now,” he said. “I want to give people a chance to look at the conflict in the Middle East, the lives of Palestinian people under occupation, and what that means not only for the occupied but also for the occupier.”

Through his book, Dr. Khoury also wanted to convey how good things can come from hardships and suffering and how important it is to take risks in life, both of which he has experienced firsthand. 

“If you’re born with a disability and you feel that you’re different, there’s always a chance to improve the quality of your life,” he said. “My choice to leave (Palestine) was not an easy choice. I left behind family, friends and memories. But home is where your dreams also can become true. I really want people to know that humanity matters in this world. Sometimes we forget about what unites us, and we focus more on what separates us.”

Another recent endeavor by Dr. Khoury goes hand-in-hand with his book. In honor of his mother, he is creating the Laurice Khoury Foundation for the Support of Disabled Palestinian Students, which will provide financial support to students with disabilities at colleges across Palestine. He hopes to have 501(c)(3) nonprofit status completed this spring. 

It is his goal to travel around the world promoting both his book and the foundation, which will help educate people about the situation in the Middle East as well as the plight of Palestinian students with disabilities. 

Dr. Khoury said he enjoys doing speaking engagements, and he’s made a lot of connections through past travels. He gave four presentations about his book during the 15th Annual Convention for Palestine in the U.S. in Chicago in November and spoke at Georgia Southern University the month prior. 

Dr. Khoury led a Mercer On Mission trip to Jordan in 2013, and he hopes to take more Mercer students to Middle Eastern countries in the future. The Middle East can be difficult to understand, and exposure, education and awareness throughout our communities is vital to finding solutions to the longstanding conflicts, he said.

Dr. Hani Khoury with Mercer students in Jordan in 2013.
Dr. Hani Khoury, second from right, with Mercer students and the local residents they worked with at SOS Children’s Village Association of Jordan Summer Camp during a Mercer On Mission trip to Jordan in 2013.

 

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Andrea is a digital content specialist at Mercer. She creates and maintains written and multimedia content for primary University web pages. She ensures a consistent, University “voice” throughout various forms of online communications platforms. She also plans and executes campaigns for the primary official Mercer University social media accounts.