Obituary: Irene Bruegel

Born London, November 7, 1945. Died London, October 6, 2008, aged 62.


Founder-secretary of Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) in 2001, Irene Bruegel campaigned for Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank, captured after Jordan's intervention in the 1967 Six-Day War.

British- born, like her older brother who survives her, she was the child of Sudetenland (German-origin) Czechs, who met and married in London.

Her father, who worked with the Czech government in exile during the Second World War, was baptised a Catholic by his Jewish-born parents. Her Jewish mother left Prague as a medical student after Hitler's occupation in October 1938.

Her Uncle Charles was a Zionist, who moved to Palestine in 1926 but returned to organise Zionist youth movements in Austria and Czechoslovakia. One of his members was the future mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek. The uncle later became Israel's ambassador to Norway and Czechoslovakia.

After the war her father returned to Prague, only to leave in 1946, due to the Czech government's persecution of Sudetenland Czechs. Her mother completed her medical training in London and later founded the Jewish Medical Health Association.

They welcomed refugees, often doctors, from around the world, including many Czechs after the suppression of the Prague Spring uprising of 1968.

Irene attended Henrietta Barnett and South Hampstead High Schools before graduating in economics at Sussex University in 1967 and taking an MA in urban planning at University College London.

Her first job, from 1968-70, was at the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies in Birmingham. She then worked on social policy in town councils, polytechnics and children's and environmental agencies until 1990 when she joined the South Bank University, becoming reader in urban policy in 1995 and professor in 2000.

Retiring in 2006, she led a course at Birkbeck College on researching London's localities, a subject she loved and campaigned for.

Her first visit to Israel took place in 1987, at the start of the first intifada. She returned in 2001, soon after the start of the second intifada, and visited the West Bank territories.

Deeply troubled by the tense and deteriorating situation, she gathered a group of 15 friends to create JfJfP.
She followed it up with the British Shalom-Salaam Trust (BSST), working with like-minded Israelis on health, peace, educational and cultural projects on both sides of the Green Line.

Her energetic activism was stopped only by the fatal progress of her auto-immune disease.

She is survived by her partner, Richard Kuper, son, daughter, two grandchildren and two stepchildren.

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