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Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh

Fatah has the right to be proud of its leading role in the Palestinian National Project for more than 40 years; that it has sailed against odd tides and contributed vastly to the goals of Palestinian independence, liberation and return.

Fatah had succeeded for decades in representing to a large extent the sector of non-ideological Palestinians (i.e. non-leftists, or non-islamists), giving priority to the national Palestinian affairs over other affairs. Thus, it maintained the large popular support it enjoyed among the Palestinians in Occupied Palestine and in Diaspora; regardless of the strenuous internal problems it faced. Fatah demonstrated impressive flexibility that enabled it to encompass many contradicting sides within the Palestinian scene, and deal with the Arab and international setting with proper means. All this kept its representative role of the Palestinian people acceptable.

Fatah is a national, Arab and Islamic accumulation; and it is our duty as academics -as well as concerned with the Palestinian issue, to partake in critically evaluating its experience.

In here, this article will focus on two arguments:
Not the First Bullet
TheFirst Settlement

Not the First Bullet
This year Fatah commemorates 45 years of “firing its first bullet” in 1/1/1965. Although on that date Fatah’s military arm, Al-‘Asifah (lit. the storm), issued its founding statement, “the first bullet” was not actually fired until few days later.

The literature of Fatah is loaded with quotes on firing “the first” bullet in the Palestinian revolution, to the extent that this argument became nearer to indubitable historical fact. But this argument is not true, or at least lacks some necessary phrasal conditioning. 

The first form of Palestinian resistance to the Zionist project was observed in 1886, i.e., around 80 years before the establishment of Fatah movement; when the villagers of al-Khudeira and Mullabbas resisted their forceful eviction from their villages that were bought by Jews from some feudal landlords.

The first form of a Palestinian military order was a secret association called Jam’iyyat al-Fida’iyyah (lit. the association of commandos), established in early 1919 (i.e. 38 years before Fatah’s establishment in 1957). This association was formed few months after the British Occupation of Palestine, and it had quarters in Jaffa, Jerusalem, Gaza, Nablus, Tulkarem, al-Ramleh, and Hebron. It was initially led by Muhammad al-Dabbagh, then Mahmoud ‘Aziz al-Khalidi. From behind the curtains, figures like Haj Amin al-Husseini, Sheikh Sa’id al-Khatib, Sheikh Hassan Abu-al-So’oud, and Sheikh Mohammad Yousef al-‘Alami were in charge of directing it. The association subsisted in various forms until 1923. 

As for the issue of “the first bullet”, it most probably dates back to the first Palestinian uprising, known as the uprising or revolution of Mawsim An-Nabi Moussa

[lit. the festival of Prophet Moses] in Jerusalem in April 1920, and that is before Fatah shooting its “first bullet” by around 45 years. This rise that lasted one week, led to the death of 5 Jews and the injury of 211 others; while among the Arabs 4 died and 24 were injured.

Palestinian uprisings and bullets continued to follow since then; the uprisings of Jaffa 1921, Al-Buraq 1929, Al-Kaff Al-Akhdar [lit. the Green Palm] 1929-1930, the events of October 1939, the Palestinian Revolt of 1936-1939… and others.

Before Fatah’s establishment, many Palestinian military organizations existed and fired its “first bullet”-s: Izz Ed-Din al-Qassam who established the al-Jihadiyyah organization, fired his first bullet in November 1935, few years after the organization’s establishment; the movement of Al-Jihad Al-Muqaddas that was led by Abdul-Qader Al-Husseini and participated in the Palestinian Revolt of 1936; the Muslim Brotherhood Movement that participated in the 1948 war, etc.

Those in Fatah might respond that their “first bullet” is contextualized within the contemporary Palestinian Revolution that followed the 1948 catastrophe. Although this context is not clear in the majority of the -written and spoken- texts that include this quotation, the same argument remains contested. Following the 1948 war, one of the most-known armed Palestinian organizations in that period was the special branch of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza Strip. Among its prominent members was Khalil Al-Wazir, known also as Abu Jihad (one of Fatah’s founders, and the second man in Fatah until his assassination in 1988), and other members who later joined Fatah including Muhammad Yousef al-Najjar, Kamal ‘Idwan, Mu’az ‘Aabed, etc. It performed some commandos operations after 1948 war, specifically in the years 1953-1954.

Even when moving to the 1960s, Fatah was not the one who fired “the first bullet”. Then, other commandos organizations existed, and were involved in preparing or performing commandos resistance activities. Examples include Palestine division in the Arab Nationalist Movement (Harakat Al-Qawmiyyin Al-Arab – Firi’ Filasteen) that established in May 1964 “The National Front for Liberating Palestine” (Al-Jabha Al-Qawmiyyah li-Tahrir Filasteen) and performed military operations, contributing its first “martyr”, Khaled Abu ‘Eisha on 2/11/1964; two months before the introduction of Fatah’s military wing Al-‘Asifah [lit. the Storm]. In addition, few months after the taking off of Al-‘Asifah, “Palestine Liberation Front (PLF)” (Jabahat Tahrir Filasteen) launched its military activities in mid 1965, after being able to set up three fighting groups. The Front contributed its first “martyr”, Khaled al-Amin in an attack on the settlement of Dishum in Safad district in Upper Galilee.

It is important here to emphasize that this whole discussion about the “first bullet” is not intended as captious dialectic, but rather as an investigation of historical facts. It is also intended at clarifying the abuse of this statement, especially in the political context, in a manner that eliminates or curtails the contributions of others in that period or before; in an attempt to monopolize the political legitimacy of a specific faction to represent the Palestinian people as a whole, or to silence rivals and critiques; on the claimed pretext of “firing the first bullet”.

On the other hand, Fatah won’t be losing much upon clarifying the fact that it did not fire “the first bullet”. What is more important for Fatah is that when it fired its first bullet, it managed to continue its encounter amid adverse -and even sometimes hostile- Arab environments, that accused it of being communist or Islamist. Fatah performed 200 operations before 1967 war, led the Karamah [lit. dignitiy] battle in March 1968, and performed around 2000 operations in the period between 1968-1970; according to its sources. In early 1980s, statistics released by the Foundation for Social Affairs and Welfare for the Families of Martyrs and Prisoners in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) indicated that Fatah members constituted 56% of the martyrs of the Palestinian revolution and The Lebanese National Movement, and 70-80% of the total prisoners in the Occupied Territories.

Even when Fatah opted for the political settlement, al-Aqsa Brigades (a military wing of Fatah) had a central role in al-Aqsa Intifada, along side with Hamas and other factions. An estimated 3500 members of Fatah are still in detention in Israeli Occupation jails.

The First Settlement
The first political settlement that was signed in the name of the Palestinian People (Oslo Accords), was actually signed by Fatah’s leadership. In that agreement, Fatah took on its behalf providing political and legal cover for the settlement, through its control over the PLO; regardless of some objections by some leading figures in Fatah, the main impetus in favor of the agreement was Fatah.

There is a wide difference between the shooting the first bullet to “liberate Palestine from its river to its sea” (i.e. Jordan river and Mediterranean sea), efforts to push forward Arab regimes to war or at least some clashes with the Israeli Occupation, and revolutionize the PLO on one hand; and between signing Oslo Agreement, recognizing “Israel”, and the concession of 77% of the Palestinian lands, on the other.

There is a wide difference between “the democracy of a wood of riffles”, “all the riffles against the enemy”, and the accusation of treason to those who agree on resolution 242, sign Camp-David, and have connections with the Israeli Occupation; and between “democracy under the Quartet conditions and Dayton’s instructions”, security coordination with Israelis, pursuing resistance fighters, commitment to “peace”, and rebuffing “terrorism” and “violence”.

And there is a wide difference between Fatah members who used to blame each other in al-Himmah camp in Syria when any of them spills a cup of tea, for squandering the revolution’s resources, and between those spending hundreds of millions of dollars on their own selves through the wide-spread channels of corruption within the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (PA), with abundant examples to mention, starting from the PA’s annual budget, and not ending with the scandals of petroleum, cement, and cell-phones importations… etc.

So why Fatah adopts the settlement track, and at the same time lauds “the first bullet”? Is it some kind of “realism”, or “dynamic” dealing with events and the surrounding environment? Is it an attempt to yield all that is possible, especially at a time when many others let down the Palestinian cause and people? Is it the spirit of responsibility that obliges Fatah to some choices that no other can understand, taking into consideration the huge pressure it faces from various sides, internally and externally? Or is it the desire to monopolize the representation of the Palestinian people, no matter what the cost is? Yet more; was Fatah susceptible to additional pressures and to surpass more strict red lines? And who gave Fatah leadership the right to concede the majority of the Palestinian lands? Is it a non-elected national council, or a nation that was never consulted?

Fatah as a movement is in dire need to review its ideological and political discourse, that has changed the track of its leadership from resisting to liberate the entire Palestinian lands, to the one-state option where jews (include migrant Zionists and settlers), muslims and Christians live in complete equality (in 1968), to the 10 points program that calls for establishing the Palestinian state on any piece of liberated Palestinian land (in 1974), to the Palestinian declaration of independence according to the Partition plan of the UN resolution 181 of 1949 and recognizing resolution 242 that deals with the Palestinian issue as an issue of refugees (in 1988), then to Oslo Accords and Interim Self-Government Arrangements (1993), without achieving any solution to all the critical final status issues, such as the refugees, Jerusalem, the settlements, the borders, the sovereignty, … and others.

Oslo was a “trap” that entailed the Palestinian people to the fault of the PLO leadership. According to the late Palestinian intellectual, Edward Said, the Palestinians, led by Arafat and the PLO, were lured to a trap with no foreseeable escape; they [i.e. Arafat and some PLO/Fatah figures] opened their arms blindly to the Israelis and Americans. Another renowned Palestinian intellectual, Hisham Sharabi, comments that the Palestinian leadership doesn’t know how to make decisions, and that its competence to deal with the Israeli professionalism in negotiations and strategic planning is almost nil.

In around 17 years of negotiations and arrangements, the Self-Rule Authority that was established in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was disoriented away from the Governance, independence and state-building; and engaged in security “commitments” especially in pursuing resistance and destroying its infrastructure. It was involved in endless futile negotiations, and was corrupted by those seeking private and personal interests. On the other hand, the Israelis were able to hand the responsibility of some of “the Occupation’s tasks” to the PA, thus managing a form of indirect “clean” colonization through Palestinian hands. Settlements and Judaization activities have been increasing gravely, and the number of settlers in the West Bank (WB) increased from 180 thousand settlers to 450 thousand. The cities and towns of the WB are today isolated from each other by a maritime of 190 settlements, 220 settlement blocs, 600 barriers, bypass roads, and the Separation Wall. Jerusalem’s Arab and Islamic character has started to fade away with continuous ferocious Israel Judaization campaigns. As such, it became clear to many figures in Fatah, how Oslo was merely a cover for the Israelis to continue Judaization and create facts on the ground.

On the other hand, it could be that Fatah’s success in finally convening its sixth conference in August 2009 has marked its 45th anniversary with a blink of hope. It was an opportunity to re-arrange the internal order of Fatah. And although it is not the aim of this article to get into assessing the conditions and results of the conference, neither those of Fatah movement today; Fatah today is challenged by many serious questions that can no more be ignored or postponed. Some of these are:

– Is there real willingness -on behalf of Fatah- to critically review the peace settlement and negotiations track, and adopt new strategies?

– Is there real willingness to reform the PLO and its institutions, after 20 years of deliberate de-activation? 

– Is there real willingness to implement effectively a peaceful transfer of power within the PA, and accept all its ramifications?

– To what extent could Fatah be capable of holding its corrupt members accountable, especially those who occupy influential positions in Fatah or the PA?

– Is it possible to restructure the Palestinian internal affairs in a way that best serves the national Palestinian goals, priorities and interests, i.e. not according to the Quartet conditions imposed on Fatah, or the arrangements of Oslo; as national interests and priorities should overrule and preced foreign pressures in decision-making. This has been identified by many Palestinian strategists and politicians as a necessary prelude to achieving national unity and reconciliation?

Briefly put, the “first bullet” could never be a legitimization to the “first settlement”. Neither it should be a pretext for preventing other Palestinians from their right of resisting the occupation by all legitimate means, including armed resistance. And if it was the case that those who fired the first bullet have found “shooting” is useless, or have opted for a different strategy; they should not force others to go along the same lines. 

Only a denier could negate Fatah’s historical role in the Palestinian revolution, but today there are figures within Fatah who who damage this image; by turning their backs to the national fundamentals on which the movement was established, and by practicing various forms of corruption and sowing insecurity and divide between the Palestinians, then finding no one to stop them or set them right.  

Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh is an Associate Prof. in Modern Arab History with special emphasis on the Palestinian issue. He has authored, co-authored, and edited many articles and publications in this field. He is currently the General Manager of Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations in Beirut.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 23/3/2010