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Home > English > Website archives > Rainbow of Crisis > Al-Hakim: In Memoriam


Al-Hakim: In Memoriam

Sunday 10 February 2008, by Michael Warschawski

George Habash, founder of the PFLP Last month, after a long disease, Dr. George Habash—al-Hakim as many of us used to call him—passed away. With his death, the Palestinian people lost one of the last great figures of the Palestinian liberation struggle. Though I never had the privilege to meet him face to face, he definitely took a central place in my life, for at least two reasons.

The first reason was the impact of his ideology in shaping our perception of the Arab and the Palestinian revolutions. By “our,” I mean the Marxist anti-Zionist Left in Israel, and more specifically, in the Matzpen movement. During the 1970s and 80s, we reproduced many of his writings in small booklets, distributed throughout the Palestinian communities in Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and we translated some of them into Hebrew for the progressive Israeli public.

These writings contributed, on the one hand, to our perception of an Arab national movement struggling for a united, independent, progressive Arab entity, and, on the other, for a critical approach to the political strategy of the Fatah leadership of the PLO, especially the illusion of the possibility of a truly sovereign and viable Palestinian state by way of negotiations with Israel, without a radical change of the political relations of forces in the Middle East.

One must confess that under the pressures of the Oslo process, the PFLP (as well as a majority among Matzpen members), moved gradually to the positions of Yasser Arafat and the PLO majority—as if a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza became an unavoidable perspective, and a positive step towards Palestinian liberation—though the PFLP never accepted to be part of the Palestinian Authority institutions. That political turn of the PFLP was led by others –Abdel Rahim Malu’h and Ahmad Sa’adat—while al-Hakim was paralyzed by his long illness, and no one can assess whether or not he shared the analysis and the conclusions of his party.

This is why Dr. Habash will be identified with the original orientation of the PFLP more than by its later political course, an orientation that failed under the pressures of the global war and the recolonization strategy of the US and Israel. For, George Habash political outlook and personal history was part and parcel of the great decolonization movement of the fifties, seventies and the beginning of the eighties, and it stopped being relevant with the end of that era.

The irony of history is that, for exactly the same reasons, the strategy of al-Hakim’s bitter opponent, Yasser Arafat, failed as well, and the way was open for a new Palestinian leadership ready to play a role in a general sale of the Palestinian legitimate rights, under the supervision of the US neocon administration. In a sense, and despite their divergences, al-Hakim and Yasser Arafat will be remembered as the last leaders of the anti-colonial movement of the 20th century, who died on the frontline without having succeeded to deliver to their people what they have been fighting for half of a century to achieve: freedom and sovereignty.

The second reason why al Hakim played an important role in my life is more personal. When I was arrested by the Israeli Security Services, in February 1987, a substantial part of my interrogation focused on my “relations” with al-Hakim, and alleged meetings with him. As I mentioned before, I never met Dr. Habash (I definitively would have done it if the opportunity had occurred, and so I said to my interrogators), but I had hard time trying to convince the ISS interrogators that this was so. Later on, I asked myself why the ISS interrogators were so sure, at least at the beginning, that I was lying about the matter. The only answer I can find, even today after two decades, is the kind of intimacy I use in speaking about al-Hakim, as if we have been for many years personal friends. This kind of intimacy is in fact a kind of “generational behavior,” and not specific to Dr. Habash. For my political generation, the heroes of the revolutions, the national revolutions as well as the class struggles across the planet, from Bolivia to Yemen, from Amilcar Cabral to Rudy Dutschke, were our comrades, in the deepest sense of the word, and we related to them as if we knew them personally. This is something the ISS interrogators could not understand, and I doubt that political activists of the 21st century can understand this either.