[News] Examining the Palestinian Left at SOAS : Episode I

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jun 30 10:55:17 EDT 2010

Examining the Palestinian Left at SOAS : Episode I

Rizzo • Jun 30th, 2010 at 12:46

WRITTEN BY CAFE' THAWRA, Intro by Mary Rizzo

I am always astounded that activists, especially 
those in the West, have got little to no grip on 
the history of Palestinian political movements. 
Yes, they know one or two things about the PLO 
(most of it very vague), al Fatah, 
Hamas,  Arafat, those who are slightly more aware 
of things even have an opinion about the Oslo 
Accords and the Rejection Front. Yet, there is a 
gaping hole in the awareness of politics in 
Palestine and of the Palestinians who live in 
Israel, that I believe leads activists to be 
precisely where the Hasbara wants them to be, 
entrenched in a reductive state of ignorance and 
generalisation. I am always astounded that STILL 
today, there is the misconception about 
secularism in Palestinian politics and the 
hasbara lie that the Left (even the Palestinian 
one) is atheist, just because some of the 
earliest proponents were Marxists. This of course 
works to create a divide between Palestinians, 
which is the last thing they need, seeing as how 
the only real threat to Israel and Zionism is the 
return to the Arab body of the Palestinian 
people. Rhetoric does not bother Israel, but a 
mass movement that is united like the Intifada 
does. I do understand that many do not engage in 
dialogue with people in these groups, so perhaps 
this ignorance may be forgiven, but we can't 
persist in it. Indeed, to continue to insist that 
there are the strictest of political divisions is 
something that makes sense in the West but is 
completely irrelevant in Palestine and is 
actually an effective Hasbara tool to maintain 
division, which only serves the zionists and any 
others who do not put "Palestine First". As Rabah 
Mohanna of the PFLP in Gaza stated: 

"I don't think that we are going to civil war. 
There might be the continuation of clashes 
between some factions of Fatah and Hamas. I don't 
see we have the conditions for civil war. The 
mentality and the constitution of the Palestinian 
society will make it difficult for the clashes to 
expand into a real civil war. The constitution of 
the Palestinian society holds a kind of control 
over this situation. You might imagine this as if 
for instance in my house, I am with Fatah, my 
wife is with Hamas, my son with PFLP. People have 
strong relations with each other and they are all interconnected."

That is, there is a tolerance, understanding and 
reciprocity that is deeply rooted in Palestinians 
so that the divisions that in Israel or the West 
that we take for granted have complete and total 
irrelevance in the family/society that is 
Palestinian. Indeed, to illustrate this concept 
that makes perfect sense to many Arab 
nationalists, Palestinian patriots and those who 
follow these lines of thought, but is alien to 
those who try to stick their own reductive 
reading of politics onto everything they get 
near, I present a conversation on a very popular 
discussion forum in English that is mostly used 
by Palestinians or non-Palestinians sympathetic 
with the PFLP and the DFLP (Al Jabah). The issue 
of secularism came up when discussing the music 
used in some of the videos depicting the armed 
resistance operations. Several of the comments 
were very interesting, and I will reprint a few here:

"i am talking about why be communist if you have Islam.
and i am talking about why be secular if Aqsa is for Islam?"


"I think we have to remember that not everybody 
in PFLP are Muslims but there are many Christian 
members too. It seems to me that they basically 
protect their homeland and their freedom to live 
in their homes, without occupation of zionists. 
Their goal is same than other Palestinians, even 
if they don't do it for the name of Islam."

other replies:

"maybe you should know more about Palestine, first. history, politics
and i wouldn’t call PFLP communist, i see it says that on wikipedia.
and the word secular is being misinterpreted. it doesn’t mean atheist.
it basically means religious sectarianism is not 
part of the political system, secular does not mean atheist.
even the most religious person can be a communist, socialist.
or even a fascist, zionist or whatever

"al-Jabha is not Communist, we adhere to a 
Marxist style politics, there's a small 
difference. Also, I didn't appreciate the one who 
said Falisteen is for Islam only, there are many 
Christians who have given their lives and blood 
for our independence movement, while many Muslims 
(Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Gulf states) sit on their 
arses and watch as our people die. I am a Muslim, 
but many of my comrades are Christians, and we 
dream for the same goal-to have a homeland for 
our people, and to return to this land without restriction.

By the way, I have Islam but I'm secular in my 
politics. Why? Because not everyone has Islam, 
nor desires to have it. It's not the politicians' 
job to deal with religions. That's the clerics'."

In order to truly honor God and his judgements, 
we must respect those around us who may not share 
our faith. Not only will it ensure a safe and 
happy future for Palestine but it will be what 
separates us from the Zionists. Never forget the 
goal is not just national liberation, but the 
defeat of Zionism and hatred in the region. 
Whatever gets in the way of that should be set aside. Palestine first!

So, it is in the spirit of indicating a current 
"state of affairs" of the Palestinian left, so 
that we can cast off a dangerous ignorance, that 
I'm presenting the very fine report made on the 
recent conference in London. Hope it helps to 
contribute to understanding the true essence and 
reality of Palestinian politics, where the heroes 
also have the names of the greatest patriots of 
all time, George Habash, Laila Khaled, Azmi 
Bishara, Ahmed Sa'adat and others whose love of 
their land and people means exile, imprisonment 
and seeing their ideas and ideals thwarted and 
distorted by "friends" whose own ignorance could 
be lethal for the cause of National Liberation.  Mary Rizzo

from Café Thawra:
I was very excited a few weeks ago to come back 
to my beloved university SOAS and attend the 
conference about the Palestinian left organised 
there. I was also able to see my ex classmates, 
going back to our old debates regarding our 
beloved region: the Middle East. The subject of 
the conference was very special to me, as I feel 
on many issues and positions very close to the 
Palestinian left. Georges Habash, a central 
figure within the Palestinian left, is actually a 
personality that I respect and look up to very 
much, it is I think our Che Guevera of the Middle 
East, directly involved with armed and political 
struggle, as well as an incredible and inspiring 
thinker, never forgetting the interest of the 
masses. The Revolution was always in his mind.

Right, after this rather politics/sentimental 
episode, let us come back to our conference, 
where many personalities gathered to give the 
public the best overview of a Palestinian left currently in perdition.

Many speakers mentioned the terrible situation in 
Palestine and the inability of the left to fill 
the vacuum or present an alternative to both 
Fatah and Hamas. Azmi Bishara, who intervened 
through video conference, criticized the neutral 
position of the left as a mark of its 
incompetence in relation to the conflict between 
Hamas and Fatah. He added that the struggle is 
actually not between an Islamic movement on one 
side and a secular group on the other side, as 
reported many times by the Western press, but 
rather an opposition between collaboration and 
resistance. The left should have claimed its 
clear support to resistance and denounce the 
security cooperation between the PLO and Israel. 
Azmi Bishara ended his presentation by declaring 
that the unity of the PLO cannot be used as an 
alibi, and this inability to take position is on 
the opposite an indicator of the left’s crisis in Palestine.

This weakness brought us back to the history of 
leftist Palestinian political parties and what 
made them strong in the past. Leila Khaled, from 
the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of 
Palestine (PFLP), and member of the PNC, who 
wasn’t by the way allowed to come because British 
authorities refused to grant her a visa, 
explained the evolution of her party the Popular 
Front for the Liberation of Palestine created in 
1967. They recruited most of their members in the 
refugee camps in the neighboring countries. The 
1st document of the organization determining the 
political strategy of the party and the paths to 
Revolution was published in 1969. It defined 
notably very clearly who the enemies were:

- USA imperialism
- Zionism racist ideology and the Israeli State
- Arab reactionary regimes

It also showed the friends of the Revolution, in 
order to demonstrate to their members that they were not alone in the struggle:

- Arab liberation movements
- Socialists and workers
- Progressive States

The Party had a very clear Marxist ideology: the 
workers, the petit bourgeois and the proletariat 
were the classes interested in the Revolution, 
whereas the bourgeois class was not. The 1st 
objective of the Revolution was the creation of a 
Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as its capital 
and the return of the refugees, which was and is 
still its most important request. The 
mobilization of the masses was made through numerous ways:

- contact with the masses, forward information and organize seminars
- contact with the workers, the syndicates and the PLO
- information activities, newspaper, tracks
-Political education, sending members to 
socialist countries, learn Marxism and its 
theories, and then members would come back and 
diffuse the message to the masses. They 
established schools in refugee camps in Lebanon 
and Jordan. They sent students abroad to pursue 
their studies and offered them scholarships.

- Education of Palestinian culture
- Implement masses organizations for women, youngsters, workers, etc

The left at that time was very successful in 
mobilizing different sectors of the society 
including women, youth, workers, etc

After 1982, the Palestinian national movement 
declined, as well as the armed struggle, the 
departure of Lebanon was indeed a heavy blow to 
the movement. The mobilization nevertheless 
continued and the 1st Intifada gave the 
Palestinians a lot of hope. The position of the 
left was revitalized and the focus of the 
struggle was transferred from the outside to the inside of Palestine.

M. Jaradat, a Campaign Unit Coordinator for Badil 
and an activist during the 1st Intifada, supports 
this version and adds that the Left in the 80s 
was part of the community, not an arrogant and 
elitist movement, their members were mostly 
peasants. Popular movements influenced by the 
left had strong civic networks, they were 
autonomic and self financed depending on local 
resources, and composed mostly of youth, students 
and workers. Women associations were numerous and 
played an important role in girls’ education. 
Popular education was enshrined by the left in 
several regions. Education was actually the most 
important capital for the Palestinians, as M. Jaradat reminded.

The 1990s were the beginning of the downfall of 
the Left on different levels. On the 
International level, they lost their main support 
and model: the USSR. The left was not prepared to 
the demise of the socialist block. On the 
regional level, Arab regimes ceased to support 
the PLO and the left. On a national level, the 
conclusion of the Oslo agreements marginalized 
the role and the importance of the PLO and 
therefore weakening the left. This latter opposed 
the Oslo agreements because it achieved no 
objectives of the Palestinian Resistance such as 
the right of return or the establishment of a 
sovereign State. Many leftist seniors and 
militants were actually arrested because of their 
opposition to the Oslo agreements by the new 
Palestinian security services. The newly created 
Palestinian Authority has actually gathered since 
then the power and the financial resources given 
by the International Community. The left was in 
its majority not included in the PA, only few 
officers, who supported the creation of a 
Palestinian State even on a small part of the territory, joined it.

On societal issues, the left also stepped back, 
Aitemad Mouhana from Swansea University and ex 
PFLP member, reports how in the beginning of 
1988, some young boys started to throw stones on 
the young girls unveiled in Gaza. Leftist parties 
as PFLP did not try anything to solve this 
situation; on the opposite, they claimed it was 
not their problem and that in a traditional 
society such things are normal. PFLP cadres knew 
that Hamas was behind this trend, but for the 
sake of the Palestinian unity they did not 
intervene. Certain FPLP cadres even used this new 
trend or tradition to control women in their 
close entourage. Aitemad Mouhana denounced this 
state of affairs claiming that political 
coalitions should not sacrifice women or personal 
freedoms, and that, quite on the opposite, 
national liberation is linked by all means to the 
liberation of women and other personal issues. In 
her opinion, national liberation should erase all 
forms of social and traditional inequality. This 
showed the contradictory practices of the PFLP 
and allowed the historical foundation of Hamas 
expansion. Hamas bargained on the political scene 
but continued to spread their religious program. 
In 1995, the majority of women were veiled in 
Gaza, this islamisation of the society by Hamas 
was consolidated by a pragmatic strategy. As 
Gramsci’s theory stated it, Hamas has advocated 
as a particular class that provides the dominant culture: the Islamic culture.

The leftist political parties also lacked 
understanding of the situation, the 
transformation and the realities of Palestinian 
and Arab societies, as pointed out by Jamil 
Hilal, an Independent Researcher in Ramallah and 
Gilbert Achkar, a Lebanese teacher at SOAS and 
leftist militant. Many members of leftist 
organizations were indeed sent in socialist 
countries, adopting Marxism as a dogma while not 
understanding the dynamics of their society. They 
should have started with their own country 
reality, as remarked by Hilal and Achkar; there 
was a clear absence of the socio political 
conception of the conflict. The class structure, 
as Jamil Hilal noticed, was different for a 
Palestinian in Gaza, the West Bank, in the Gulf 
countries and in refugee camps in Lebanon or Jordan.

These elements weakened considerably the left in 
different manners as explained by few 
participants; the main ones were the following:

- Lack of recruitment mechanisms
- Lack of financial resources, which were only 
available through the PLO and Western donations 
through NGOs. This complicated their opposition 
to the Oslo agreement; the leftist parties 
therefore became a kind of loyal opposition 
towards the PLO or adopted a more liberal stand 
towards western countries to receive funds. They 
were many withdrawals of qualified cadres from 
leftist parties who joined NGOs. Leyla Khaled 
besides talked about the emergence of NGOs in 
this period and the way they tried to become an 
alternative to the leftist political parties, 
particularly after the Oslo agreement.
- The leadership in Damascus claims their will to 
become the 1st political party on the Palestinian 
scene, but they failed on the diplomatic scene to 
achieve this objective and they did not try to unite a common leftist front.

These elements led to a sharp drop in popularity 
for leftist parties which were around 17% in 1993 to 5 % today.

Gilbert Achkar also criticized from a Marxist 
perspective the historic strategic deficiencies of the left of the PLO:

-  The Palestinian left was characterized by a 
Palestinian centralism after 1967, independent 
from other Arab movements. Their key principle 
was actually: non intervention in Arab regimes 
affairs. This Palestinian centralism was not 
valid in the Palestinian case because of the 
conflict’s nature and because the Palestinians 
are being divided in different countries. This 
strategy was and is non sustainable, the 
advantages were therefore for Israel in this 
configuration. Jamal Zahalka, Chair of the 
National Democratic Assembly/ Tajamu and Member 
of the Knesset, also stressed out the need to 
connect with other Arab movements to lead a 
successful struggle against Israel. Dr Achkar 
affirmed the need for the Palestinian left to 
create links with other leftist parties in the Arab world.

- After 1967, financial resources were needed to 
support the bureaucratization of the party, and 
this led in seeking rapprochement with Arab 
dictatorial regimes such as Syria, Iraq and 
Libya. This was in opposition with the 
revolutionary discourse of the party. The FPLP 
had besides known a faster increase in numbers 
when it was active as an underground movement and 
not linked to certain of these regimes.

- FPLP always criticized the social class and the 
infrastructure of the PLO, but never left the 
organization. The PLO structure was indeed not 
democratic and was under Fatah’s control. The 
demand to change the PLO’s structure was 
abandoned later by the FPLP which perpetually 
recon ciliated with the Fatah and Arafat after 
important political disagreements. The main key 
principle of the left has always been Palestinian 
Unity and this at any means. This has 
unfortunately meant a lack of critical attitude 
against the PLO and the left failed to present 
itself as an alternative to it. This was one of its main problems.

- Last but not least, armed struggle should not 
be the only perspective; a global political 
program should be put on the table by the left.

Few speakers also explained Hamas success, which 
on the opposite of the left clearly presented 
itself as an alternative to the PLO. Hamas always 
refused to enter the PLO in his current 
infrastructure, without any reforms which would 
lead to a democratization of the organization. In 
addition to this, Hamas had a political 
independent stand against the corrupt Palestinian 
Authority and had enormous financial resources. 
These elements explain partially Hamas arrival to 
power. However Hamas ideological use of the armed 
struggle was criticized and characterized as very 
elitist: a small group of armed men struggling 
and resisting against Israel, while the rest 
should only support them and stay aside. During 
the 1st Intifada in 1988, which was the peak of 
the Palestinian struggle, there was a huge social 
mobilization and no heavy arms were used, every 
Palestinian participated in the revolt and not a small armed minority.

In conclusion, Jamal Juma, member of popular 
committee in Palestine and expressing himself 
through video, said that the left in Palestine is 
currently unfortunately not very influential and 
respected. The foundation of a gathering of 
leftists and progressive associations is 
necessary and this movement should have a one 
secular state solution objective. This remark was 
echoed by different speakers such as Jamal Zahalka and M. Jaradat.
Stay tuned for more discussion around this SOAS Event!


Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/news_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20100630/7fc50554/attachment.html>

More information about the News mailing list