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Fat'h and the Compelling Memoirs of the Resistance
Fighter, Ali Abu Mughaiseeb
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, January 22, 2016
Editor's Note about the word Fat'h:
The apostrophe and the letter h together ('h) stand for an Arabic glottal
sound. Without the apostrophe, a non-Arabic reader may pronounce the word as
"fath," which is incorrect. If the letter a is added before the letter h
(to become Fatah), it
changes the correct Arabic pronunciation of the word. Hence, Fat'h is the
correct spelling or literation of the word.
Ali Abu Mughaiseeb knows little about
the current intrigues of the
Fat'h Movement, or, perhaps, he is just not interested. Although he
has dedicated most of his life fighting within its ranks, he never saw his
membership in Fat'h as his defining identity. For him, it was, and will
always remain, about Palestine and nothing else.
Now living in
an old, rusty and tiny caravan somewhere in Gaza, Ali has no money, no
family, but also no regrets. We spoke at length about his life. He wanted
to share his story, and I wanted to understand what went wrong in what was
once Palestine’s leading (resistance) movement.
Now that the
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also the Head
of Fat'h, is fighting an open and covert war to keep his party together,
Fat'h is facing yet
The current struggle to inherit one of the
two largest political movement in Palestine (the second being Hamas)
promises to be dirty, especially since the Old Guard is losing its
grip, as a younger, more vibrant, generation is ready to step in and take
over long-overdue power. A split in Fat'h could mean the partial or
total collapse of the PA, which is dominated by Fat'h members. When
rightwing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, recently ordered his
the possible collapse of the PA, the Fat'h leaders immediately took
dismissing Netanyahu’s claims and asserting that everything is still
But this is not the same Fat'h that Ali had
fought for or, more precisely, fought within; because, for the 65-year-old
man, with failing health and marks of torture that can be traced all over
his body, Fatah was a mere platform that allowed him to fight Israel, with
the promise that his struggle would take him, and a million other
refugees, back to their villages and homes in Palestine. Since he joined
Fatah’s military bases in Jordan, in 1968, refugees have not returned, as
their numbers have now exceeded the five million mark. Concurrently, Fatah
morphed to become the Palestinian Authority, whose very survival is
dependent on Israeli political support and the West’s financial handouts.
Ali Abu Mughaiseeb is a
Palestinian Bedouin, from the nomadic tribes that lived in the Beer Al-Sab'a
region in Palestine. In 1948, his family lost everything. His father
became a squatter in the land of some Gaza feudalist, herding a few sheep
in a pitiful attempt to survive. Ali, who was born in 1951, ran away from
home just months after Israel occupied the Gaza Strip (and the rest of
historic Palestine) in 1967, without even informing his parents of his
decision. The parents died as poor refugees in Dair El-Bala'h, in central
Gaza, without ever going back to Palestine, without ever seeing Ali again,
and without their pride.
This may seem like a typical refugee
story, but it is far from that. For Ali’s odyssey that followed was not
only compelled by circumstances, but also choices that for the rest of us
may seem extraordinary. From Gaza, he sneaked through the ‘death zone’
border area to Israel, then to the occupied West Bank, where he hid in the
Hebron hills, before being smuggled with a tribe that escaped the war to
Jordan. There, he joined Fat'h and, only months later, enlisted in his
first mission, code-named the ‘Green Belt’. The daring operation
represented the rise of Fat'h, following the collapse of the Arab armies
in the 1967 war.
But the sudden collapse of pan-Arabism,
following the ‘Naksa’ or ‘Setback’ of 1967, ushered in the rise of
Palestinian nationalism, led by Arafat, George 'Habash and others, who
took charge of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and began
articulating a unique, unprecedented Palestinian discourse. The new
struggle for Palestine had shifted from seeing Palestine primarily as an
Arab priority, into one that was essentially Palestinian.
Although Arafat is often remembered for signing the Oslo peace accords
with Israel, which led to the rupture of Palestinian unity and the
breakdown of the entire national liberation project, Ali remembers him as
the man who managed to restore Palestinian hope after the defeat of 1967.
To assert the rise of the new war of liberation, a guerrilla warfare, by
the logic of that period, was a must, and Ali fought many battles so that
Fat'h and the PLO could make it clear to Israel that sealing the fate of
Palestinian refugees was far from over. In the ‘Green Belt’, Ali and 39
other fighters selected from four factions, infiltrated Israel from the
Jordanian border, killing several soldiers and capturing two in order to
exchange them for Palestinian prisoners.
However, the real rise
of Fat'h was truly marked in the Al-Karameh battle in 1968, in which the
Jordanian army, together with various PLO factions, took part. True, the
Israelis destroyed most of the PLO camps at the Jordan border, but were
driven out in what, unexpectedly, turned into an all-out war. Ali fought
that war too, and remembers how the morale of the fighters, despite their
heavy losses, changed overnight. Soon, however, the empowered PLO factions
found themselves in another all-out war, this time against the Jordanian
army. The outcome was devastating, not just because it saw the death of
thousands and the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan, but the capture of Ali
himself. Injured in the civil war,
Ali was sentenced to death and was held in Al-Jafr desert prison
before he escaped to Syria.
There was, indeed, a time when Fat'h and the Hafiz Al-Assad
regime got along just fine, but that was a short phase in what later
became quite a tumultuous relationship between Fat'h and the Assads
throughout the years.
Ali fought since he was a teenager, and
spent most of his life either in battle (as a member of Fat'h) or in
prison. In the Arab jails
where Ali was held prisoner, he was a guest
in Syrian dungeons the longest, staying a total of 10 years.
In his last prison stint he was held, along with 80 other people, in a
four by four-meter prison cell. Following the Syrian-uprising which turned
into war, he was deported to Lebanon.
That was the same Lebanon
where Ali fought the Israelis, and also fought the Phalange Christians.
After the PLO left Jordan, Lebanon became the new battlefield. But
Lebanon’s protracted conflicts made it an unsuitable host for the PLO.
In 1975, Fat'h-led PLO factions were at the heart of Lebanon’s civil war,
triggered partly by the Phalange massacre in 'Ain El-Rummaneh, where
nearly 50 Palestinian children were ambushed and murdered. The details of
that dirty war are still as fresh in Ali’s memory as if it happened
recently. His anger is still palpable, as is his defense of the PLO
Ali, despite old age, failing health and the
awful scars of bullets and torture marks, insists that if he were to have
the chance again, he would fight the Israelis with the same enthusiasm as
a young man. In fact, when the Lebanese
deported him to Egypt in 2014, and the
Egyptians deported him to Gaza
a few days later, he tried to volunteer with the Gaza Resistance. The
young men respectfully declined. Ali is handsome, but disheveled, with a
bushy beard, missing teeth and many wrinkles. When he walks his left foot
seems to drag behind him as if it is connected to his torso by mere skin.
Ali Abu Mughaiseeb may seem
like a relic of a bygone era. But the fact is, Ali has remained committed
to Fat'h’s early revolutionary principles, where the fight was, in fact,
for a homeland and not international handouts; for freedom, not false
prestige; for national liberation, not useless titles.
involved in the current power struggle within Fat'h are possibly unaware
of who Ali is and of the values which he stubbornly defends to this day.
It is important, though, that they take notice, before all is lost.
– Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20
years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant,
an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His
books include ‘Searching Jenin’, ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada’ and his
latest ‘My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story’. His website
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