'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Death of George Habash 

An excerpt from an excellent article by As'ad Abukhalil, posted at Electronic Intifada:

I lived more than half of my life in the US and I never felt the alienation that I felt on the day I read George Habash, the Palestinian revolutionary who passed away last week, labeled as a "terrorism tactician" in a front page obituary in The New York Times. What do you when they want to convince you that a kind and gentle man you met and respected as a person is a terrorist when you know otherwise? Do you quibble with their definitions to no avail? Do you go back and see how they wrote glowing obituaries for Zionist militia leader and later Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, a man whose record of killing civilians is as horrific and grotesque as that of Osama Bin Laden, former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, Fatah Revolutionary Council founder Abu Nidal or Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet?

But they can't invent facts, and they can't distort the narrative of Palestinian history. Many of my generation and older knew and respected George Habash. We did not worship him or declare him infallible. We respected that on the personal level he was incorruptible. Here was a man who refused more than the $300 monthly pension he was receiving in Amman, Jordan. Once, a group of wealthy Palestinians schemed to try to pay him in his later years because they did not want the symbol of the Palestinian -- the Arab -- revolution to die in poverty. He would not budge, not even to accept funds to hire a research assistant to help with his memoirs.

George Habash was the antithesis of Yasser Arafat: he was honest, while Arafat was dishonest; consistent when Arafat was inconsistent; principled, while Arafat was shifty; transparent, while Arafat was deceptive; sincere, while Arafat was fake; dignified while Arafat was clownish; modest, while Arafat was arrogant; tolerant of dissent, while Arafat was autocratic, and on and on.

George Habash embodied an era that extended from the Nakba, or mass expulsions of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948, until the beginning of the Lebanrse civil war in 1976, when the decline of the Left, and the launching of Sadatism began. Up until that time, when a deep ideological transformation took place in the Arab world, Habash was a major actor on the Arab political stage. He was feared by Arab regimes, and respected and loved in the refugee camps. I don't believe I have ever seen the ordinary people of the camps react to a person as they reacted to Habash. Their love for him was genuine because they felt that he was genuine.

If there is a world revolutionary symbol for the second half of the 20th century, it should be George Habash. He may not be widely known in 2008, but anybody who read a newspaper prior to the rise of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, when Islamism eclipsed the Arab Left, would know him. Habash is one of the main makers of Arab contemporary history and one of the handful of names who changed the course of the Palestinian political struggle.

Abukhalil has posted a number of his personal rememberances at his blog, The Angry Arab News Service. For example, here and here and here. Consider also this piece by Lamis Adoni.

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