Lessons from my past – Who is the enemy?

In the early eighties we had the British lefties pretty much behind us including the mainstream British Communist Party that disagreed with the PLO’s armed struggle and military operations, in line with the Israeli Communist Party (Rakah) and the Palestinian Communist Party, but they supported the cause of Palestine.
It was very easy for me to work with communists and at the outset, as a spokesperson of the PLO in London, I became a hit with the radical communists hanging around on the fringe of British politics. Standing ovations galore, there was nothing more egoistic and seemingly successful than making a fiery speech before Vanessa Redgrave’s Trotskyite party which ardently supported Fateh. They had an interesting political agenda: the Arab masses in Egypt would soon heed the call to erupt and they will liberate Palestine; meanwhile Fateh should hit hard to pave the road. If Vanessa hadn’t been a top-notch actress with a great following, the party would have been a quarter of its size; not that it was large at all!
Or the Maoists who would give me a standing ovation for an obscure poem I would come up with on the fly and which my audience didn’t really understand, nor did I, only it included key sentences such as “our blood spilt is not in vain,” or keywords such as monster, darkness and of course the light.
It didn’t take a genius to figure out that such success is worth nothing in the scheme of things. Those tiny fringe groups supported us whether Ramzi Khoury made a speech or not. They had no chance of winning any elections nor were they able to move any masses in England mind you in Egypt!
The most interesting supporters for someone who dropped into public politics from the world of dogma were the Israeli and Jewish supporters. A revealing encounter was with an Israeli communist woman, Hadva, pronounced Khadva. I had a thing for pitch-dark black hair and a tall thin body and this Safardi Jew, who had dropped religion for the sake of activism on behalf of the poor and oppressed, seemed as if she was one of us despite the fact she wasn’t trying to prove it. Hadva, just like the PLO, wanted a one country for all and in which all were equal despite religion or race. “Ghamzi, (how my name is reproduced in Hebrew) who caghes if the state is called Isghael oh Palestine?!!” Damn, if she wasn’t a Stalinist she would be my sister and hadn’t she thought that Zionism is an acceptable form of socialism but Israeli right-wingers misused it, incest would have been a possibility too!
The very Arab looking Hadva may have seemed one of us despite her alien accent but the ultra-religious Ashkenazi Jews with large beards and long curly sideburns of the Naturi Karta movement didn’t; not even a tiny bit.
Unlike Hadva, those cared that the state as a whole should be called Palestine because Jews are not supposed to erect Israel before the coming of the Mesiah, and Jesus as far as they are concerned was not it! Meetings with the Naturi Karta were always focused on their fears that Yasser Arafat would make the grave mistake of recognizing Israel’s existence as a state and they always brought in a letter addressed to him in support of the struggle to liberate Palestine “from the river to the sea.” This is their position today, they remained faithful to faith and still believe that Israel as a state for Jews is a form of heresy. As a matter of fact, they are closer in their politics today to Hamas, only they don’t trust it a bit to recognize Israel over the whole of Palestine on the basis that the Islamic Empire is the goal; not a tiny Palestinian state that doesn’t stretch all the way to China!
London was full of Jewish activists of all kinds, our friends among them a few. Most Jews ardently supported Israel and pushed hatred for all Palestinians as a standard procedure. They had access to the media and the blessings and support of the British government.
Communications between mainstream Palestinian and Jewish organizations were rare since by orders of Israel they were not allowed to communicate with us “the terrorists” and the PLO officially banned talking with the Zionist enemy; them. What was not a rare form of communications from the other side were the letters sent to me by the followers of the notorious racist Kahana, the Jewish Defense League, containing the same message over and again: Ramzi Khoury we will kill you. They never did kill me, it seems they sent these letter to whoever they knew was active, but years later someone killed Kahana leaving the bloody movement in disarray.
The fact that not all Jews are the same and not even Israelis, as well as the notion that the understanding amongst Jews of “Zionism” is not uniform, is a truth that has still not reached the Arab masses. It is easy to make them all an enemy for communication purposes and it is effective because the public goes for easy digestible simple communications. But life is not simple and the struggle to liberate Palestine is more complex than what the majority can digest. Israel too pushed that all Palestinians are terrorist, and Arabs too, and it was very successful in convincing the western public.
I had never had a problem with “Jew,” on the contrary I was impressed by the Rosenthals of Paris who rejected Zionism as an ideology adverse to Jews, Trotsky as well as the great scientists including Freud and Einstein, without whom life wouldn’t be what it is today. But at that time I discovered that a Jew with an Israeli nationality does not necessarily mean foe and could actually be an ally! I also learned that even true friendship is possible and it is not a form of treason.
With these discoveries, the dilemma of how to make a dent in British public opinion was a subject of controversial discussion. Despite the fact that many great Palestinian men and women based in London had been struggling to win the British public to our plight for decades and could boast successes and victories, in the early eighties the ruling Tories of Margaret Thatcher were all the way pro-Israeli, the Labor Party of Neil Kinnock standing closer to the middle but still on the other side and the public in general saw us as terrorists even if we had merit to our cause that the British caused.
It became evident that our comfortable popularity with the fringe parties is far from enough and that we need to be accepted by the mainstream or we will never make a breakthrough. To do so we must learn to speak the language the mainstream in the UK speaks and which Israel is an expert in. Confidently declaring that we want to wipe Israel off the map was getting us to nowhere in the West. But that was the agenda of the PLO that was set in stone and we had to adhere to it until the Palestine National Council, the Palestinian parliament in exile, set another policy that would allow the politicians at least more leeway in communicating to the western publics.
This was no discovery of mine. Several Palestinian leaders who had been based in the West had made this discovery way before I reached puberty and were advocating solutions of sorts amongst the leadership which knew through long and dramatic military struggle against Israel that without western support it was impossible to achieve liberation.
The events of 1982 Beirut resulted in the departure of the Palestinian revolution from Lebanon, but unlike previous departures now the Palestinians had lost every position bordering Israel and through which they could carry out military attacks.
The Palestinian fighters were placed in remote military camps in Algeria and the politicians became based in the vast distance of Tunisia. Arab governments were exerting painful pressure on the PLO including the freezing of bank accounts and arrest of activists trying to pull off operations against Israel or just passing through to carry out chores.
Moreover, after the departure of the PLO from Lebanon and under the supervision of Israel, its militia allies conducted bloody massacres that took the lives of thousands of the women and children of the Palestinian fighters (Sabra and Chatilla massacres) followed by a Syrian sponsored besiege of the camps in which the Palestinian civilians faced a devastating hunger and lack of medical support. The fighters were not there to help their families and frustration amongst the Palestinians was running very high.
The departure of the PLO from Lebanon opened the door for some Arab governments to try and hijack the Palestinian cause from the PLO or to at least finish off the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Anwar Sadat of Egypt had already made peace with the Israelis in the late seventies despite the fact that Israel had no intention of making one concession towards resolving the conflict with the Palestinians.
The notion of Arab unity in support of the Palestinians became the subject of cartoons and public mockery: Anwar Sadat’s message of “each for their own” became the new adopted policy of Arab governments despite the fact that they boycotted Egypt for its “treason,” which was evidently for the purpose of public consumption rather than a practical scheme.
The Palestinians had never felt so alone in history and it became evident that there needs to be a change in policy that would bring a breakthrough, or the abyss. Unfortunately, whereas leaders saw the dangers awaiting the cause as a whole, the public saw things differently. As far as the public was concerned, since Israel was not able to wipe off the revolution in Beirut and fighters left with their weapons on shoulders, it was a victory. Any engagement with Israel through any means but bullets was still a form of treason. The first thing Yasser Arafat did after leaving Beirut was to visit Anwar Sadat in Egypt; breaking the political boycott! The public, including many of us who had our hnds and feet in the mud, couldn’t understand his “treason.” Arafat, as early as the mid eighties, along with other first tier commanders saw the situation very clearly.
As a result, second in command of the PLO Khalil Al Wazir (Abu Jihad) launched the First Intifada in Palestine, a revolt of the civilians against occupation and it was massive. The only way the Intifada could produce results was for the PLO to achieve political buy in and support in the West to maximize pressure on Israel and force it to engage in some process for a political settlement. There was a great opportunity for us as images of children standing in the face of the mighty Israeli military started flooding the news. Israel was dumbfounded and for the first time ever their typical communications of “they are animals who send their kids to die” didn’t work.
Behind the scenes, PLO leaders were conducting back-channel communications, at least with those Israelis who wanted to see a political settlement and knew that Israel will never wipe off the Palestinians and time is not on the side of their state. As a result several of these PLO leaders were murdered in cold blood by Palestinians who considered it an act of treason including Said Hamami, the PLO’s envoy to the UK who had been shot in his office by an Abu Nidal operative in 1978, a mere four years before my arrival in London. Abu Nidal and his organization was based out of Baghdad and enjoyed the protection of Saddam Hussein. Almost three decades later, when the USA was building up to invade Iraq and dismantle Saddam rule, Abu Nidal was killed in Baghdad, seemingly, by those who had sheltered him for decades. Word amongst his past supporters is, Abu Nidal (Sabri Al Banna) who had more Palestinian blood on his hands than Israeli, had sold out the hand that had been feeding him. Not many cried when he was killed, but during the early eighties he had enough supporters to worry all of us.
Under these circumstances, my task and that of the rest of us, was naturally to maximize the benefits of the Intifada and help achieve the public (and in turn official) support Palestine needed so badly. At that point it also had become clear that Israel was our enemy, and so were we.

To be continued next week…

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About Ramzi Khoury

Ramzi Khoury is an opinion columnist and satirist who publishes a weekly page, Piece of Mind, at the Saudi Gazette and elsewhere every Wednesday, Ramzi E. Khoury started his career in Granada Television in the 80s working on documentaries and since then has worked in the print, television and radio media all over the world. In addition to reporting with international news agencies he held several posts in the media including Chief Sub Editor/Political Editor of the Jordan Times, Editor in Chief of the Arab Daily newspaper and Secretary General of the Arab Media Organization. He continues to be adviser to several newspapers, television and radio stations as well as online media. He has worked with numerous satellite channels on television programs, documentaries and news and is often invited to offer his political analysis on television and radio stations from all over the world especially on Mideast and related issues. Currently based in Malaysia with extensive travel in the Middle East and Europe Khoury advices governments and private sector organizations on Perception Management with focus on issues related to politics and religion including the divide between the Muslim World and the West and is active with several non-government organizations. Before Malaysia he was based in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Palestine, Jordan, USA and the UK in order.

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