Remembering Al-Hakim George Habash: A Revolutionary Life, a tribute to the great Palestinian Arab leade

Goerge Habash is dead: the revolutionary ascetic.
Posted by As’ad

I was very sad all day today. I would feel my tears on my face every time I would see his pictures on Arab TV stations which reported on his death. I told part of the story here before: on the first time I met Habash in Beirut when I was in high school. `Aziz woke me up after midnight. I did not know where I was going, but `Aziz was smiling. He knew that I would be happy. We went on his motorcycle.

We entered the living room in that apartment in Hamra Street, and there was George Habash and his wife, Hilda. I was 17 years old in 1978. Habash was drinking whiskey. I was mesmerized–by him, not by the whiskey. I never was affected by meeting a person, like that meeting. I never since then found anybody with his charisma. In my eyes, nobody had Habash’s charisma, although I am objectively critical of his political role and the experience of the PFLP.

Of course, the Western media will portray him as a terrorist, and House of Saud neo-conservative writer, Waddah Shararah (I disliked him when he was a Stalinist and I dislike him even more as a neo-conservative Arab but my consolation is that nobody reads him and those who read him don’t know what he wants to say–Sadiq Jalal Al-`Adhm once told me that Shararah writes as inside joke between himself) will repeat what he said before on Habash, that he was a terrorist. I know better.

I even know that he was a gentle man, not a violent man at all–current Zionist obituaries in the Western press notwithstanding. Ironically, the era of the early hijacking and “international operations” made him notorious worldwide in the early 1970s although he had nothing to do with that. That was the brainchild of Wadi` Haddad, who did not have the patience for “mass work” that Habash so favored, what is now called “collective action” in the political science jargon. So during the conversation, Habash brought up the issue of that right-wing student at IC (my obnoxious elitist high school) that I have “bothered.” I prevented the student from displaying books by right-wing organizations during an Arabic book exhibit at the school. I was merely observing–as I still do–the “isolation” of the Phalanges Party–the fascist party of Lebanon–in the wake of the `Ayn Ar-Rummanah massacre. The student’s father was Habash’s dentist, and the father complained to Habash. So Habash brought up the issue: and I so arrogantly–I get embarrassed when I remember–told him: there is no “wisatah” (mediation) in revolutionary matters. Who am I to talk like this to a symbol of world revolution at the time? Who did I think I was? How arrogant of me. I still remember what he said. He said: we can’t say that he (the fellow in question) is “in`izali”(isolationist) nor we can say that he is “watani” (patriotic).

I was deeply affected by the encounter, and my (personal) admiration for him grew. You often meet people you have read about, and then you lose your admiration when you see them up close. It was not like that in the case of Habash, although politically I was growing increasingly toward anarchism and opposed Marxist-Leninist organizations in college–one Stalinist organization threatened to kill me because they said that I was having a bad influence on their members who had left. But I managed to smoke Habash’s pipe afterwards–I hate smoking, but did not want to miss the opportunity to smoke his pipe.

So Habash was not in favor of “international operations” and he was adamant about that and was forced in late 1971 to expel his very best friend Wadi` Haddad over “the hijacking and international operations.” Haddad believed in actions, and nothing else, and that was not Habash. Habash’s family was of course expelled by Zionist gangs under the leadership of Itzhak Rabin (he talked about the expulsion in the Hebrew edition of his memoirs, but not in the English language–why harm Zionist propaganda in the English speaking world, he must have calculated) in 1948.

I saw Habash a few times over the years, and the last time was a few years ago when the publisher, Riyadh Najib Ar-Rayyis and Fawwaz Trabulsi suggested that I talk with Habash about writing his biography. Nothing came out of that, and he said that his wife did not agree: she wanted to monopolize the process. Habash was somebody you can disagree with: in fact, he had read a very critical article I had written on the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine back in 1987 in the Middle East Journal. I also gave him in that meeting another very critical article I have written about him for the Journal of Palestine Studies (titled “Neither Unity, Nor Liberation”).

Prior to the meeting, his entourage and my sister kindly asked me to not be too critical: they were worried about him because he had become too emotional and excitable. I noticed that. He would get very emotional. But he was mentally alert, although he would forget a date here and there. I offered some criticisms in that last meeting: about how the Front did not promote women’s rights, as it should have. He fully agreed, and told me that they are working on promoting more women in leadership positions. I told him that secularism was not pushed hard enough, and he also agreed. But what bothered me was his sense of resignation: he basically felt that he was willing to leave the Palestinian question in the hands of Hamas and Hizbullah because “we the left, have failed.”

It bothered me that he was not willing to be critical of the Islamists, or be interested in saving or reviving the Left.

I am very critical of the experience of the PFLP: many things along the way. Oil money (directly or indirectly) reached and corrupted all organizations of the Palestinian revolution. And during the experience of the Rejectionist Front (from 1974-1977), Habash and the PFLP allowed the regime of Saddam Husayn to exercise control over all of them in return for hefty subsidies. That was it. Between Zionism and imperialism, oil money, the Syrian and the Iraqi regime, and the lousy leadership of Yasir `Arafat, they succeeded in aborting the Palestinian revolution. Habash uniquely resigned from the PFLP leadership.

He wanted to found think tank. He gave me a copy of the plan–it was super secret in his mind, as he told me to not share with anybody. I read it later, and felt very sad. He basically had a vision of a think tank, organized Leninistically–with a politbureau and a Central Committee, etc. It never took off of course: he had no money. He barely had money to live, I know that. He also refused offers of financial help from wealthy Palestinians. But lest Zionist hoodlums begin their celebrations too prematurely: I still remember his last words to me: he said, as if to take himself out of a gloomy mood: “and there is and there will be a new Palestinian generation.” How true. Stay tuned.

Posted by As’ad at 8:28 PM

Commemorating the second anniversary of the death of Al-Hakim George Habash, we reprint three articles published in homage to this great man who remains an inspiration and a source for millions. The first briefly recounts the legacy of this great man, the second is an interview in which Dr. Habash in his own words describes the decisive moment of his life and the third is a tribute delivered in London by the Communist Party.
WRITTEN BY Yousef Abudayyeh – With the passing of Dr. George Habash, the Arab people as a whole along with peoples of the world struggling for liberation have painfully lost one of the towering legends of decolonization. Dr. Habash, popularly known as Al-Hakeem in dual reference to him being a medical doctor and the conscience of the Palestinian movement, is unmatched in Arab history.

He is the quintessential intersection of Palestinian democratic nationalism, pan-Arabism, progressive internationalism and egalitarianism.

Yet, even such monumental attributes are but a small part of Al-Hakeem’s legacy. It is his unparalleled principled character, humility, love for his comrades and people and unblemished history that coin him as the archetypical revolutionary leader. From the day he became a refugee in 1948, to founding the Arab Nationalist Movement and subsequently the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, to emerging as one of the most beloved Palestinian Arab revolutionaries in the seventies, to his final departure in Amman, Jordan, Abu Maysa’s 83-year journey is that of Palestine itself. While many barter for mere crumbs the entirety of their once-existing principles, Abu Maysa gave up none – not an ounce. As purported “leaders” construct palaces through thievery from which to command their gangs of fear, he died just as he lived, in modesty, humility and enormous dignity. This is a leader who set the highest example by voluntarily vacating his top political seat while at the peak of his popularity. Al-Hakeem transcended all organizations, political parties, nation-states and borders. He spoke loudly for the deprived, fought for the needy and healed the wounds of the poor. He was Palestinian in heart, Arab in blood and egalitarian in his principles. He leaves a legacy of internationalism situating the Palestinian struggle within an anti-imperialist struggle that transcends the borders of any one state. Al-Hakeem shunned chauvinists and embraced democratic nationalists who valued unity and home-grown socialism. He rejected the blind mechanical importation of political theory, and argued that it must evolve from our particular Arab conditions. He understood the colonial nature of Zionism as an agent of imperial dominance while also recognizing that it is served by functionaries and servants from within the Arab ranks. He was an ardent advocate of the inseparable duality between national liberation and social equality. Unlike others, Al-Hakeem never saluted a Zionist, never “negotiated” under the Israeli flag, never traded kisses with our people’s killers, never knelt before a king and never stretched a hand in beggary.

He remained true to his belief, never oscillating from one political camp to the next in search of a seat of power. Abu Maysa lived and died never distinguishing along religious lines. He was deeply entrenched in the cumulative totality of our Arab history from the Gulf to the Ocean.

And while the wretched of our people searched for meager pieces of bread and drops of clean water throughout the Gaza Strip and the camps of exile, he did not reside in a palace, nor did he enjoy pay-offs of treason. Ironically, the passing of this exemplary unifying pan-Arabist legend comes at a time when our people in Gaza are tearing down fences to join hands with the Egyptian Arab people across imposed colonial divides. How sad it is to lose George Habash at a time when true leadership is scarce and despots are many. How painful it is to lose such a visionary at a time when our people appear to be led by local agents of Empire. How devastating it is to lose an icon of integrity and pride, when Arab pride is trampled every day, particularly by its presumed custodians. And how untimely his loss is when the need to enhance the democratic pan-Arab nationalist alternative is an existential necessity in today’s era of right wing ascendancy. With the loss of this refugee from the town of Lid, we are all painfully so much less, yet due to his life and legacy we are all so much more. How easy it is to pretend to be a revolutionary during times of luxury, and how almost impossible it is to live and die as one during impossible times. Such is painstakingly achieved only by the select few, of whom El Hakeem is undoubtedly unmatched. Farewell Abu Maysa! The struggle continues… The Free Palestine Alliance January 26, 2008

habash 2nd anniversaryAbout his uprooting during the 1948 battle of Al-Lid Palestine

Interview edited by: Adib S. Kawar, a chapter of his book “Testimonies of Uprooted Palestinians”

Al-Hakim George Habash was a born leader, the respect of whom was inevitable and willingly accepted by the people around him without demand on his part… generations of young and old Palestinians and other Arabs in complete devotion and dedication to the Arab cause in general and the Palestinian one in particular, which is in its core… Al-Hakim (doctor and wise man) George Habash, made irreplaceable and unforgettable favors to all those who accompanied and worked with the beginning of the Arab nationalist movement and Palestinian Arab struggle on the road of return to the stolen and occupied homeland, Palestine and its neighborhood, that is ours in the past, present and future. Al-Hakim exhausted his youth and up till the last breath of his life in the struggle for the cause.

He sacrificed his promising and lucrative profession as a medical doctor that he studied and worked hard to complete for long years, but he sacrificed the profession, wealth and his health without regret or request for gratitude. He deserves all the gratitude, respect and admiration by all his people… In the words of Dr. George Habash: Place and date of birth: Al-Lid Palestine 1927 I left Al-Lid twice, the first time to Yafa at age 13 after completing my elementary schooling. I had the patriotic feelings, simply general patriotic feelings, and I still remember demonstrations and resistance that were organized by Palestinian Arab citizens… In Yafa I joined the secondary Orthodox school, and remained in it up till second secondary. I would like to mention here my Lebanese teacher of the Arabic language, Munah Khoury from the Lebanese south. He left in us a deep and strong impression. Arabic as a language was for him his complete, beloved and full world, he was reciting poetry as if being sung, and I admire him today. I still remember him well.
I met him in Beirut when I joined the American University of Beirut, and I learned that he left later for the United States. As Yafa’s school was an incomplete secondary school, I had to move to Jerusalem to join the Terra Santa secondary school. Upon completing my secondary education I returned to Yafa where I taught for two years, and in 1944 I joined the American University. While in Yafa I used to frequently go the Orthodox Club to read newspapers and magazines that came from Egypt, in which I used to read literary and cultural topics. At the American University I was a top student, paying full attention to my lessons. In my spare time I used to practice my hobbies, especially swimming and sometimes I used to sing. I had a good voice. Politics was out of my mind, and never occurred to me that I would get involved in it, and that it would become my whole life.
This condition of mine remained constant up till the beginning of my fourth year in the university, my second year in the school of medicine. When one day a friend in the university, Maatouk Al-Asmar, approached me and said that there was a professor in the university – meaning Dr. Constantine Zureik – who was conducting small closed cultural circles, talking to a limited number of students (20 – 30 students) about Arab nationalism, and about the Arab nation and how and why it should resurrect. He suggested to me the idea of attending these circles. These were lectures the aim of which was enlightenment and stirring debate, and there were no organizational commitments.
To be specific, Maatouk told me about a person called Ramez Shihadeh who at the time had already graduated from the university. “I want you to meet him to talk about Arab unity and the salvation of Palestine and how to achieve these goals,” but as I was at the time planning to go back home, the meeting didn’t materialize. That was at the end of June/July 1948, when Zionists had been trying to complete the uprooting of Palestinians from their homes and land, which at the time had reached its peak. The year ended and the university closed its doors. I told myself that I should go to Palestine and to Al-Lid in particular. Zionist forces uprooted the people of Yafa to temporally settle in Al-Lid. But my parents asked me to stay in Beirut, and sent me money; my mother was always worrying about me a lot. My arrival surprised the family and my mother said, “What do you want to do son?” And my sister for her part asked: “What could you do?” I wondered whether I could fight. I had already started studying medicine and probably I could help in this field. There was in the hospital a doctor of the Zahlan family, and I started assisting him. Al-Lid, like other Palestinian Arab cities and villages was in severe conditions of confusion and worry. Zionists airplanes were bombarding Palestinians and frightening them.
Conditions were severe and horrible. I was involved in my work when my mother’s aunt came to the hospital and told me that my mother was worrying about me and asked me to return home. I refused and insisted on remaining in the hospital, but she insisted and I in my turn insisted on doing my duty. When I continued refusing then she told me that my elder sister whom I dearly loved had passed away. On my way back home I saw people in the streets in a severe condition of fright, and the injured, including some that I knew, lying unattended on the sidewalk. We buried my sister near our house, as reaching the graveyard was impossible. Three hours later Zionist terrorists attacked our house shouting and ordering us to leave in Arabic, “Yala Barah, yala barah ukhrojo”, go out, leave.
My mother and I, along with my sister’s children – including a baby whom we carried – walked with our relatives and neighbors. We didn’t know where to go. The terrorists were ordering us to walk, and we walked. It was a very hot day, and it was Ramadan. Some of those around us were saying “this is resurrection day” and others said, “This is hell”. Upon reaching the end of the town we saw a Zionist check point to search the people. We didn’t have any arms or weapons. And it seemed that our neighbor’s son, Amin Hanhan, was hiding money; fearing that they would steal it from him, he refused to be searched. The terrorists shot him dead right in front of us. His mother and his younger sister rushed to see him and started wailing. His younger brother, Bishara, was a friend and classmate of mine, and we used to study together. You ask me why I chose this path, why did I become an Arab nationalist. This is Zionism and they speak about peace? This is the Zionism I know, saw and experienced.(*) Al-Hakim referred us to details in the book: “Palestinian Struggle Experience. A full dialogue with George Habash”. One of the founders of ‘The Arab Nationalist Movement” and “The Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine”, and their first secretary general.
George Habash, a revolutionary life The following tribute was delivered to a meeting organised by the Communist Party
(http://www.cpgb-ml.org/) in Central London on Saturday 10 February 2008. Issued by: CPGB-ML Issued on: 10 February 2008 In his 1944 speech, Serve the People, Comrade Mao Zedong said these famous words: “All men must die, but death can vary in its significance. The ancient Chinese writer Szuma Chien said: ‘Though death befalls all men alike, it may be weightier than Mount Tai or lighter than a feather.’ To die for the people is weightier than Mount Tai, but to work for the fascists and die for the exploiters and oppressors is lighter than a feather.”
Today, the heroic Palestinian people are continuing to resist, whether in the breaking of the barrier with Egypt to alleviate the genocidal siege of Gaza, or in the martyrdom operation at Dimona, the nuclear site where imperialism and its stooges do not demand inspections, to express a sense of grief at the loss of Al-Hakim, Dr George Habash, one of the greatest leaders of the Palestinian people, and, more importantly, to celebrate his glorious life and give real political vitality and clarity to the essential work of building solidarity with the Palestinian people in the British working class and in the anti-war and other progressive movements. Comrade George Habash, who has passed away at the age of 82, gave more than six decades of his life to the revolution. He was born into a prosperous Greek Orthodox family in the Palestinian city of Lydda. At that time, the Palestinian people were under the rule of the British colonial mandate, which was systematically preparing the way for the creation of a zionist settler colonial state, which, in the words of Sir Roland Storrs, the first British governor of Jerusalem in the 1920s, would form “for England a ‘little loyal Jewish Ulster’ in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism”.
In the summer of 1948, whilst studying medicine in Beirut, George went back home to help organise resistance to the zionist catastrophe that was sweeping over the Palestinian people, driving them from their ancestral homes and lands into exile and dispossession. At this time, he and his whole family, along with 95 percent of the inhabitants of his native city, were forced out at gunpoint by the zionist terrorists and ethnic cleansers commanded by Yitzhak Rabin. Years later, Habash was to observe: “It is a sight I shall never forget. Thousands of human beings expelled from their homes, running, crying, shouting in terror. After seeing such a thing, you cannot but become a revolutionary.”
During al-Nakba, the catastrophe, more than 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and lands, made stateless and refugees. Graduating as the first in his class, Dr Habash eschewed the chance to pursue a lucrative career, opting instead to open a people’s clinic offering free treatment and a school for refugees in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian
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