Book Review: The Palestinian Muslim Brothers: The Palestinian Organization – Gaza Strip 1949–1967 (Arabic)
The Jerusalem Center for Studies of Israeli and Palestinian Affairs has recently published a book review of The Palestinian Muslim Brothers: The Palestinian Organization – Gaza Strip 1949–1967 by Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh. The review was written by ‘Awni Fares:
The early experience of the Palestinian Islamists in the armed Palestinian resistance against the occupation was marginalized and neglected in Palestinian historical writings. Among the stages that remained mysterious and beyond the reach of researchers and interested parties were those of the 1950s and 1960s and the armed resistance action executed then by the Islamists against the occupation army and settlers. Only very few studies were published about these events, in addition to memoirs of some prominent figures that contained some information about them.
This neglect is due to several factors; all the changes that the rise of resistance factions brought about since the second half of the 1960s; the desire of the new national leadership that documentation and history writings focus on its exploits, considering it the first to resist the occupier after the Nakbah, and granting it the title of “the first bullet.” Consequently, it was imperative that there would be studies that marginalize the efforts of Islamists and other forces that resisted the occupier; in addition, ideology has affected the Palestinian research institutions, which considered Islamists as opponents and part of the “Arab reaction” and “dark” forces, hence they cannot have resisted, and even if they had done so, it must be a modest experience and not worthy of documentation.
Such an approach was reinforced by the short experience period of the Islamists, the diminishing of their field role, and the decline of their status in Palestinian political life. Moreover, their documents were lost, which, over time, it was more difficult to find, and the Islamists were reluctant to record their story for security reasons related to their prosecution by the official Arab regimes. Furthermore, their faith-educational values have been based on self-denial and asceticism, hence they would not talk about personal experiences, in addition, they were not convinced that documentation and writing about their historical experience is important.
The Palestinian Muslim Brothers: The Palestinian Organization – Gaza Strip 1949–1967 was written by Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, a professor of Modern and Contemporary Arab History, and published by al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations. It came after decades of the Islamists’ experience, thus has filled the gaps, answered many questions, and demystified many facts and events.
The book is an analytical documentary study of the experience of the Palestinian Muslim Brothers (MB) in Gaza Strip (GS) 1949–1967. It narrates in detail the story of their organization, the circumstances of its establishment, its development stages, its relations with its surroundings, its preoccupations, its position on the Palestine issue, how it spread, in addition, the book contains brief biographies of its most important leaders and cadres. The book is mainly the narration of the Islamists about themselves, particularly since it relied on the interviews with 31 prominent MB figures, who played a central role at that stage, such as Kamel al-Sharif, Ibrahim Ghusheh, Toufic Houry, Suleiman Hamad, Khairy al-Agha, Muhammad al-Khudari, ‘Abdullah Abu ‘Izzah, ‘Abdul Rahman Barud, ‘Abdul Fattah Dukhan, Muhammad Siyam, Naji Subha and Hashim Sadiq al-Natsheh.
The book is not based only on interviews, it has referred to 183 Arabic and English references and some British official documents. It includes an appendix with the names of 50 Fatah personalities of the founding generation of an MB background, 136 photos, most of which of Palestinian MB figures from that period, with an explanation under each photo, in addition to the biographies of 37 prominent Palestinian MB figures, some of whom are mentioned for the first time.
Being written by Saleh, the book has an added value, for since the 1980s, a major part of his research interest is the experience of the Palestinian Islamists, where he has published a number of books, studies and articles in this regard. We know that he has documented the role of Islamists in the Palestinian resistance in his book The Islamic Movement in Palestine and its Impact on the Jihad Movement 1917–1948, therefore this book is considered a continuation of what was published. It remains for the author to present another study on the Islamists of the West Bank in the post-Nakbah period until 1967, so as to have a complete picture and the documentation about the Islamists and their role in the resistance between 1917 and 1967 becomes accessible.
The book profoundly discusses the various narratives of different studies and researches, and the testimonies and memoires written by prominent Fatah and MB movement members. It made new conclusions counter to what has been popular so far. The author has disagreed with what Yezid Sayigh said about the role of Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) at that stage. He proved that Abu Jihad did not work alone, but rather within a larger and more disciplined structure, and that he did not leave the MB movement before the end of 1957. Second, the unawareness of the traditional MB leadership in GS of the secret military action does not mean that the MB did not contribute to this action, for the lack of knowledge was a requirement. He revealed that what Bayan Nuwayhed and Mu‘in al-Tahir concluded about the MB obstructing the initiatives of their youth who wanted to confront the occupation, was weak. Saleh showed also that what was mentioned in the memoirs of some Fatah leaders was affected by the political situation and the sensitivities brought by the conflicts and rivalries of that time, such as the memoirs of Abu Jihad, Sa‘id al-Misshal, Salim al-Za‘nun and others.
The first chapter provided a summary of the Palestine issue, its developments since the British occupation of Palestine and the position of the Arab countries towards it. It displayed the history of national action, then reviewed the emergence and spread of the MB movement in Palestine, and explained its theoretical and practical position on the Palestine issue and its role in the 1948 war. Afterwards, it discussed the results of the Nakbah, the shifts in the official Arab position, the emergence of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the rise of Palestinian national initiatives, and the regional and local context that contributed to the decline of the MB role.
Chapter two discussed the MB movement in GS during the 1949–1956 period and the factors that contributed to the expansion of its popularity and its strong presence. These factors include the resistance action of the movement in the 1948 war, its religious, cultural, social and political discourse, which was in harmony with the Palestinian society, and the weakness of its rivals from the national forces. It concluded that the MB movement was the top political movement in GS at that time. The chapter provided details about the MB administrative office, its leadership and cadres, such as ‘Umar Sawwan, Hashem al-Khazindar and later Hani Bsiso, ‘Abdul Badi‘ Sabir, ‘Abdullah Abu ‘Izzah and others. It explained the office’s organizational links with the mother movement in Egypt, its most important public advocacy, charitable, student, trade union and national activities, in addition to the relations of the Palestine MB with their counterparts in the national movement. Furthermore, it discussed the rise of Gamal ‘Abdul Nasser, his clash with the MB movement and the impact of these events on the MB movement in GS.
Chapter three focused on the circumstances and motives of the MB movement to establish the “Palestinian MB Organization,” which included the MB of GS and other Arab countries, except Jordan. It discussed the Palestinian organization’s action during the 1957–1967 period, in addition to the repercussions of the clash of ‘Abdul Nasser with the MB movement on it. This organization went through two stages; the first in 1960 at a meeting in Cairo, and the second in 1963 at a meeting in Khan Yunis in GS, Its most prominent leaders and cadres were Hani Bsiso, ‘Abdul Badi‘ Sabir, ‘Abdullah Abu ‘Izzah, Isma‘il al-Khalidi, Muhammad Abu Dayyah, ‘Abdul Fattah Dukhan, Hammad al-Hasanat, Ahmad Yasin, Khairy al-Agha, ‘Abdul Rahman Barud, Hasan ‘Abdul Hamid and others. The chapter also revealed the nature of the organization’s relationship with the MB executive office of the Arab countries, shedding light on its organizational structure and the nature of its activities in Palestine, Egypt, Kuwait and Syria, in addition to the position of the Nasserite regime on it. This chapter concluded that the Palestinian MB movement enjoyed cohesive organization, mature consultative environment, high internal dynamism, a great ability to adapt to different circumstances, and that its leadership remained abroad all the time. However, it was unable to influence the Palestinian course of action and the developments of the Palestinian struggle.
The fourth chapter discussed the MB military action against the occupation, 1949–1956, its motives and characteristics. It mentioned its most important members, and displayed some examples of its armed operations and their political and organizational implications.
As for chapter five, it talked about the relationship between the Palestinian MB movement and the Fatah movement. It linked the emergence of the Fatah movement to the new circumstances of the MB movement in general, and the Palestinian MB military structure in particular, in addition to the developments of the official Egyptian position on the Palestine issue. It discussed how Khalil al-Wazir proposed to the MB movement the idea of forming a movement that would lead armed action, which was refused due to its timing, and the prospects of its success, in addition to its impact on the ability to control the movement’s moves. The chapter explained how Fatah was able to advocate widely in the Palestinian MB community, where the unclear “gray areas” paved the way to recruit many leaders in Kuwait, such as Yusuf ‘Umairah and Suleiman Hamad. This situation continued until 1960, when the differentiation and separation between the MB movement and Fatah became clear.
The MB and the Resumption of the Resistance After the Nakbah
One of the most important topics discussed in this book is the involvement of the Palestinian MB in the armed resistance after the Nakbah. It reveals an unknown part of their history, providing important details about the Palestinian resistance after the Nakbah. In a bold move, it re-reads the history of its resumption after 1948, based on the accounts of key actors in that historical era. Here, it is necessary to state some of the important conclusions reached by Saleh.
Saleh affirms that there was an organized effective MB military action against the Zionist occupation between 1949 and 1956, led by Kamel al-Sharif, who had direct connections with the MB leadership in Cairo, specifically Sheikh Muhammad Farghali, who was a member of the Guidance Bureau and the general commander of the MB campaign in the 1948 war in Palestine. The armed organization included Palestinian MB from GS and Bedouins. Al-Sharif had a strategic vision, for he was aware of the conditions that had resulted from the 1948 war. He believed that to better serve the Palestine issue, a guerrilla war must be waged against the occupation until the Arab armies are ready, and that any delay in launching this war would grant the occupation more time to build its capabilities. He believed that the central force must be of Palestinian fighters.
The author also notes the advantages enjoyed by the organization, which reflected positively on its field action; including the fresh MB resistance legacy, some members of which were still alive and eager to continue their resistance; the presence of a young Palestinian generation willing to resume resistance; the organization was not linked to the official MB Egyptian and Palestinian leaderships and it was independent from the Special Apparatus in Egypt; its contacts with non-MB movement members, especially the Bedouins; and its attempt to develop its performance by including the West Bank.
The book also revealed the names and experiences of some of the members of this organization, such as Muhammad Abu Sido, Khairy al-Agha, Muhammad Al-Khudari, Muhammad Siyam, Khalil al-Wazir (aka Abu Jihad), Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar, Riad al-Za‘nun, Hamad al-‘Aydi. These were the ones who were later major participants in the establishment of both Fatah and Hamas movements.
Of the most prominent armed resistance operations of this organization were the operation to attack Sde Boker settlement (1954), the Zohar reservoir operation (1955), the Bus or Ma‘ale Akrabim operation (1954). The author explains how these works reflected positively on some of the hot issues at that time, such as the settlement and the relationship between al-Nasser regime and the Palestinian resistance.
The Relationship Between the MB and Fatah … Dismantling and Restructuring
There is no doubt that writing about the roots of the relationship between the MB movement and the Fatah movement is an extremely complex and difficult task. For in addition to the fact that the historical events had great impact on it and that there were many conflicts at different milestones, the sources that enable the researcher to clear out some ambiguous events are absent. Moreover, the findings of researchers are limited to the story of the founders of the Fatah movement, hence, the importance of this book.
This book has obtained the narration of the other side, which is the MB movement, and has broken the silence about that stage. It compared the narratives with a focus on showing the MB narration, since it is the subject of the book. It was able to decipher some of the mysteries of the relationship between the two parties, and then it reconstructed them, so as the image would become clearer and more coherent. It succeeded to do so particularly after reviewing the circumstances of the emergence of Fatah and its connection to the new information revealed related to the Palestine issue in general and the MB movement and its armed Palestinian organization, in particular. Moreover, the book monitored the interactions between the two parties, and how the leaders and cadres of the Palestinian MB movement left the movement to join Fatah. It discussed the factors that helped this to happen and how the MB movement worked to stop this attrition. It concludes that “the MB movement should not exaggerate attributing Fatah to it, as well as, Fatah should not also deny its background and early beginnings. Even if the birth of Fatah took place within the MB environment, Fatah was neither established by a decision of the MB movement, nor according to their plan. Fatah’s project did not carry the MB ideology, nor the limitations that ensure that this project would serve their goals” (p. 278).
This book is an important addition to the effort of writing the history of Palestinians resisting their occupiers. It documented unknown aspects of the biography of the Palestinian MB movement. Its content is undoubtedly remarkable, especially with regard to the history of the MB-Fatah relationship. The new information that this book presents are useful to any serious attempt to understand what happened between the two parties over the past few years and until now.
The book is distinguished by its MB leaders and cadres interviews, whom the readers would not have known their historical role were it not for this book. Fortunately, the author was one of the first to note the need to preserve their experience in a special book. We do not exaggerate if we say that this book has a distinguished status in the literature concerned with the history of the Palestine issue, the armed resistance and the MB role in this resistance, in the 1950s and 1960s. It was nice of al-Zaytouna Center to provide a soft copy of the book in addition to the hard copy, so to it thank you very much.