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October 6, 2020

Interview with Hesham Youssef

Hesham Youssef is an Egyptian diplomat. He served on the Egyptian team, working on the Steering Committee and in three working groups (REDWG, water, and the environment).

November 27, 2020

Interview with Yezid Sayigh

Yezid Sayigh is a former Palestinian diplomat. He served as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation to ACRS. 

February 11, 2021

Interview with Bishara Bahbah

Bishara Bahbah is a Palestinian professor. He was the associate director of Harvard’s Middle East Institute and served as a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) talks following the Oslo Accords.

November 13, 1974

United Nations General Assembly Official Records, 29th Session : 2282nd Plenary Meeting, Agenda Item 108, 'Question of Palestine (continued)'

As other documents in this collection on Moroccan nationalists in 1947 and 1950 have exemplified, the United Nations was an important arena in decolonization struggles for Arabs, as it was for Asians and Africans as e.g. Alanna O’Malley’s The Diplomacy of Decolonisation: America, Britain, and the United Nations during the Congo crisis, 1960-1964 (2018) has shown. In this regard, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was founded in 1964 and taken over by the Fatah movement in 1969, was no exception.

To be sure, Palestinian organizations including Fatah and the PLO decried key UN actions. One was the UN Palestine partition plan of 1947; another was UN Security Council resolution 242 of November 1967. Calling upon Israel to withdraw “from territories occupied” during the Six-Day War in June and calling for the “acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace,” it did not mention Palestine or the Palestinians. Even so, the PLO sought to get access to the UN and UN recognition. A crucial landmark on this road was the address to the UN in New York in November 1974 by Yassir Arafat (1929-2004), a Fatah co-founder in 1959 and from 1969 PLO chairman.

Arafat did not speak at the Security Council, which was and is dominated by its five veto-carrying permanent members Britain, China, France, the United States, and the USSR/Russia. Rather, he addressed the UN General Assembly (UNGA), where from the 1960s Third World states were in the majority; his speech was the first time that the UNGA allowed a non-state representative to attend its plenary session. The UNGA invited the PLO after having decided, in September, to begin separate hearings on Palestine (rather than making Palestine part of general Middle Eastern hearings), and after the PLO was internationally recognized as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, a landmark accomplishment for the organization. The UNGA president who introduced Arafat, Abdelaziz Bouteflika (1937-2021), was the Foreign Minister of Algeria, which since its independence in 1962 had supported the Palestinian cause organizationally, militarily, and politically. Arafat spoke in Arabic; the below text is the official UN English translation. Arafat did not write the text all by himself; several PLO officials and Palestinians close to the PLO, including Edward Said, assisted, as Timothy Brennan has noted in Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said (2021). Later in November 1974, the UNGA inter alia decided to give the PLO observer status and affirmed Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

February 1973

A Declaration of the Cherikha-ye Fedai-ye Khalq about the Plan of Imperialism, Zionism, and Other Reactionaries and the Need for the [Middle Eastern] Region’s Revolutionary Forces to Unite (Excerpts)

Iranian leftists like the Constitutional Revolution’s Social Democrats, in 1905-1909, and proper Marxists like the members of the Iranian Communist Party—one of the earliest in the Middle East, founded in 1920, and enjoying considerable standing in the Comintern—never succeeded to capture the state in modern Iran. But as works like Maziar Behrooz’ Rebels with a Cause: The Failure of the Left in Iran (2000) and Stephanie Cronin’s edited volume Reformers and Revolutionaries in Modern Iran (2004) remind us, Marxism was an influential sociopolitical and ideological force in Iran in the 1920s and especially from the 1940s to the 1980s.

Thus, from its birth as a general leftist party in 1941 via its transformation into a properly Marxist party—memorably analyzed in Ervand Abrahamian’s Iran between Two Revolutions (1982)—to its repression after the CIA-led coup d’Etat of 1953, the Tudeh was the most powerful party of mid-century Iran and the biggest of its kind in the Middle East.

Moreover, from the 1950s to the 1960s Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919-1980; r. 1941-1979) and his regime saw the remaining Tudehis and 1960s Maoist splinter groups in Iran and in exile as a threat. It was against this political backdrop, too, that some socioeconomic policies like the 1963 land reform picked up long-standing communist demands, though that reform had other roots, too, and sought to neutralize Iran’s land-holding urban upper class. And in early 1971, it was a new Marxist group, the Sazman-e cherikha-ye fada’i-ye khalq-e Iran,The Organization of the Iranian People’s Fada’i Guerillas (OIPFG), that launched an armed struggle against the shah’s regime, a history told in Peyman Vahabzadeh’s A Guerilla Odyssey: Modernization, Secularism, Democracy, and the Fadai Period of National Liberation in Iran, 1971-1979 (2010). The Fada’i-ye Khalq denounced the Tudeh for sitting on its hands, excoriated the Soviet Union and soon also China for accommodating the shah, and forced competitors like the Islamo-Marxist Mujahedin-e Khalq to spring to action as well. Many fada’iyin died an early violent death.

Even so, several ones wrote influential theoretical texts while in prison, like Bizhan Jazani (1937-1975), or in the underground, like Amir Parviz Puyan (1947-1971) and Mas‘ud Ahmadzadeh (1947-1972). Although hailing from two different groups that had been active before early 1971 and then joined to form the Fada’i-ye Khalq, they had much in common. Thus, they welcomed Cuban, Chinese, and Vietnamese armed revolutionary experiences, but never saw them as simple models to emulate. They had contacts with the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a story and whose long aftermath is analyzed in Naghmeh Sohrabi’s “Remembering the Palestine Group: Friendship, Global Activism, and the Iranian Revolution” (2019). And partly drawing on Regis Debray and Latin American urban guerilla theorists, they most crucially stressed the need for a self-sacrificing vanguard that attacks the state to shatter workers’ lethargy. (As this did not happen, by 1975 some fada’is split and turned to political agitation; some even joined the Tudeh.)

At the same time, there were disagreements, too. Perhaps key was the nature of the US-Iranian relationship. Ahmadzadeh saw the shah as a US puppet pure and simple, whereas Jazani though he had considerable autonomy while under US control. In this regard, the text produced here hews closely to the Ahmadzadeh line, which was dominant at the time of publication, in 1973. The text is an English translation of a Persian text published in the (obviously prohibited) fada’i publication Nabard-e Khalq; it did not have a byline. The text is of interest in this collection not only because of its systemic reference to US imperialism but also because of its region-wide perspective.

June 1, 1971

If We Immigrate to Israel, We Are Bound to Incite the Panthers' Bitterness

For many centuries Jews not only from Europe but also from across all of what we now call the Middle East trickled to Eretz Israel/Palestine, most importantly to Jerusalem. Moreover, in the mid-nineteenth century, the leading proto-Zionist thinker Rabbi Judah Alkalai (1798 [Sarajevo]-1878 [Jerusalem]) was a Sephardi, i.e. a Jew whose family was originally from Sepharad, Spain, and ended up in the Ottoman Empire after being expulsed in the fifteenth century. And when in the later nineteenth century Zionism arose, it found some followers in the Middle East, too.

Despite all the above, Zionism’s political-ideological epicenter was the Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Whether left- or right-wing or liberal, Zionist parties were led by European-born Jews (who were quite diverse, though). And while Jews from Middle Eastern countries continued to arrive in Palestine in the very late Ottoman period (1516/17-1917/18) and the British Mandate (1917/22-1948), most Jewish immigrants were from Europe. This changed only after and due to the Holocaust, in which about two out of three European Jews were killed. In the early postwar Americas and Western Europe, relatively few Jews wished to emigrate, and the Soviet Union, which after World War II replaced Poland as the European country with the largest Jewish population, forbade emigration.

Hence, the government of Prime Minister David Ben Gurion (1886-1968; r. 1948-1954/1955-1963) expanded initiatives—in some cases “helped” by Arab nationalist pressures on domestic Jews—to bring to Israel the ‘edot ha-mizrah, the (Middle) Eastern communities, a plural that would morph into the collective mizrahim. After all, Israel in 1948 counted “only” about 700,000 Jews. While many middle- and upper-class Jews e.g. from Morocco and Egypt left for Europe, a large majority—but far from all—of those Israel-bound emigrants were poor. As if this did not make starting a new life hard enough, the relatively poor newly-found State of Israel was overwhelmed by the ensuing population explosion. Worst, however, was systemic institutional and individual discrimination, analyzed e.g. in Ella Shohat’s classic article “Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the standpoint of its Jewish victims” (1988). Yes: the Palestinians who had remained in Israel after the nakba had it worse, for the Jewish State did not treat them as full citizens, even subjecting them to military rule until 1966. But in the eyes of most Middle Eastern Jewish immigrants, this was cold comfort.

Protests occurred from the 1950s. They took a new turn in February 1971, when poor Jerusalemites, many with a petty criminal record and most from Morocco, founded the Black Panthers (BP), organizing demonstrations and asserting that their communities had “enough of deprivation [and] enough of discrimination.” Although the Panthers would have a limited long-term effect politically—only one, Charlie Bitton (born 1947), would go on to have a lasting political career, as a communist member of parliament—socially, they did. The government reacted not only with repression but also by increasing social services; besides, the Panthers helped bring different Middle Eastern Jewish communities closer. For our purposes most crucial, though, is the Panthers’ choice of name. While they did not too often refer to their US namesakes and never to leaders like Huey Newton (1942-1989), their name reflected the influence on Israel of US developments, as Oz Frankel’s “The Black Panthers of Israel and the Politics of Radical Analogy” (2012) argues. And although the Israeli Panthers shared neither the Americans’ separatist nationalism—they wanted fully in, not out—nor their use of arms nor their support for Palestine, calling themselves Panthers shocked Israel’s Ashkenazi (European) establishment. It presumably harmed Israel’s reputation, also by the hand of Arabs. Moreover, by the late 1960s Israelis and some US Jews believed that most African Americans had become anti-Semitic.

The text featured here, an English translation of a Hebrew article published in the leading daily Yediot Aharonot, reflects some of these intricate international dimensions of the rise of Israel’s Panthers.

September 18, 1970

Statement on Palestine by Eldridge Cleaver, Minister of Information, Black Panther Party, International Section, Alger, Algeria, September 18 ,1970

Founded in 1966 in Oakland, California, by college-educated and -socialized Huey Newton (1942-1989) and Bobby Seale (born 1936), the Black Panther Party (BPP) was a particularly influential part of Black Power from the later 1960s to the 1970s in the United States. During its heyday Black Power was quite distinct from the civil rights movement (CRM), which had begun in the 1950s, in terms of its separatist-nationalist aims, its readiness to use arms as a means to that end, and its revolutionary style, which included exercising the right to carry firearms. However, as Nico Slate’s introduction to the edited volume Black Power beyond Borders: The Global Dimensions of the Black Power Movement (2012) stresses, the extent of changes from the CRM to Black Power is a still debated and deeply political issue. Thus, there were political and personnel overlaps between the CRM and Black Power. And regarding the BPP, both it and the CRM were fundamentally focused on African Americans while both also nurtured relationships abroad. This being said, certainly to white Americans the BPP’s Marxist-inspired internationalism was more radical than the CRM’s, and more radical, too, was the anticolonial politics of the BPP’s foreign friends like the Vietcong and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Soon after the BPP’s foundation, its leaders started stressing internationalist relationships and linking US black liberation to anticolonialism. They would continue to do so in several stages and places of the BPP’s existence. As Sean Malloy’ Out of Oakland: Black Panther Party Internationalism During the Cold War (2017) in general and in particular Michael Fischman’s Black Power and Palestine (2018) show, it was already in 1967 that the Palestinian cause started interesting BPP members, when all were still in the United States. After the Arab-Israeli War of June 1967, the influence and visibility of the political-military organization Fatah—officially founded in 1959 and led by Yasser Arafat (1929-2004) who in 1969 took over the PLO—rose fast. BPP members identified with Fatah/PLO fighters’ bravery and long odds more than with perhaps any other non-US anticolonial cause.

This recognition soon turned into a relationship in the United States with PLO representatives and with Arab American organizations. The relationship deepened in 1969. That year, Eldridge Cleaver (1935-1998), his wife Kathleen Neal Cleaver (1967-1987), and additional BPP members landed in Algeria after a stay in Cuba, on the run from the US government. In Algiers, they associated inter alia with Fatah/PLO officials. When in September 1970 the Algerian government granted the BPP the status of a liberation organization, it issued the below statement, in English. Its context was the Jordanian army’s attack that month—since called Black September—on the PLO and on Palestinian refugee camps, which forced the PLO to relocate to Lebanon. BPP members in the US and the organ Black Panther used language similar to that of this text. At the selfsame time, however, Newton began invoking Arab-Jewish co-existence. Tellingly, this move mirrored a domestic reorientation of his, away from armed struggle for revolutionary separatism towards social services for black communities and towards electoral participation in order to challenge white racism from within. All this contributed to BPP-internal tensions that, partly due to FBI misinformation, split the party in 1971, with Newton’s faction ending up in control of most BPP assets.

March 26, 1965

Palestine Delegation in Peking

Formed in 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was not the first Palestinian organization after the nakba (catastrophe), the escape from violence and the Israeli expulsion of a good half of Palestinians in 1948. The two most important earlier organizations were Harakat al-Qawmiyyin al-‘Arab (Arab Nationalists Movement [ANM]) and Harakat al-Tahrir al-Watani al-Filastini (Palestinian National Liberation Movement [Fatah]).

Founded in 1951 in Beirut, ANM became committed to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) and his version of pan-Arab nationalism, which it saw as the means to liberate Palestine, opening a separate Palestinian branch in 1959. (In 1967, it would give rise to the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which split in 1968, one wing forming the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PDFLP)).

Rejecting Arab states’ tutelage, Fatah was officially born in 1959, though organizational activities began in 1956 and though it built on military cells operating from Egyptian-ruled Gaza from the early 1950s. After Arab armies’ crushing loss against Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 killed any remaining hopes, weakened since the early 1960s, that Arab armies would liberate Palestine, Fatah grew in strength. In 1969, it took command of the PLO. The latter had been founded in 1964 for several reasons. Nasser hoped to weaken Fatah and Syria, a state then in competition with him. Also, the PLO served (upper) middle class Palestinians some of whom—like Ahmad al-Shuqayri (1908-1908), Palestine’s representative to the Arab League and the PLO’s founder and first chairman—had played a Palestinian political role until 1948 and wished to do so again. And these men and women believed Palestinians needed their own statist entity, as Yezid Sayigh’s monumental Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993 (1997) notes.

In 1965, PLO delegates led by Shuqayri for the first time visited the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as reported in the English issue of the multi-language international organ Peking Review. Already in 1964 a small Fatah delegation led by Yassir Arafat (1929-2004) had accepted an invitation to visit Beijing, founding an office there. Sure, upon its establishment in 1949 the PRC had de jure recognized Israel, following the lead of the Soviet Union that acted as its older brother in the communist camp. (Israel in turn was the first Middle Eastern state to recognize the PRC, in 1950.) But after the PRC and the USSR split in 1960, Beijing amplified its anti-imperialist rhetoric and policies versus the Soviet Union and the United States, as Gregg Brazinksy’s Winning the Third World: Sino-American Rivalry during the Cold War (2017) has shown. It was in this context that it from the mid-1960s delivered arms especially to Fatah and the PLO—it soon also would train fighters—and that it politically embraced the Palestinian cause. The PRC framed this policy as that of one “revolutionary people” helping another one, a story strand in Paul Chamberlin’s The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War Order (2012). By the early 1970s, however, Chinese support became more lukewarm. Moreover, after the death of Chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976), relations with Israel cautiously warmed, though remaining surreptitious until the establishment of full diplomatic ties in 1992.

1961

Lam‘i al-Muti‘i, 'The Tragedy of the Negros in America' (Excerpts)

For decades, African Americans’ still unfinished fights for equality were in varied organizational and ideological ways intertwined with decolonization struggles abroad and linked to the question of US power in the world; an early analysis of this history was Penny von Eschen’s Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957 (1997).

The case of Arab Americans somewhat differed. As Salim Yacub’s Imperfect Strangers: Americans, Arabs, and U.S.-Middle East Relations in the 1970s (2016) has argued, they fully developed political demands about U.S.-Arab relations only after the 1967 Six-Day-War, in groups like the Association of Arab American University Graduates; previously founded bodies like the Organisation of Arab Students became political in the later 1960s, too. Earlier, such demands were quieter, except lobbying for Arab Palestine in the 1940s. Yet earlier, it was Arab migrants’ acceptance within the US racial order that required political (and especially legal and social) activity, as Sarah Gualtieri’s Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian American Diaspora (2009) has shown—and this activity manifested a wish to be counted as white more than solidarity with African Americans. Again different was the case of nationalist Arabs living in the early postcolonial Arab world. As Alex Lubin’s Geographies of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary (2014) shows, they saw African American struggles and decolonization struggles as linked, like many African Americans, Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans who were critical of the United States and its role in the postwar world.

The text printed here is a case in point. It is a series of excerpts, in English translation, from an Arabic-language book written around 1961 by Lam‘i al-Muti‘i (1927-2003), an Egyptian author, translator, and travel writer. He also published texts on African decolonization movements, e.g. in Rhodesia, in the same Cairo publishing house and series as this book. Here, he did not talk about “African Americans,” a term that became popular in the 1980s. Rather, he spoke of zunuj fi Amrikā, zunuj (sg.: zanj or zinj) being Arabic for Negros as per the Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. In the below translation, I use the term Negros (in America—fi Amrikā) in order to distinguish zunuj from ifriqi (African) in al-Muti‘i’s book, and because many African Americans used the term at the time al-Muti‘i wrote his book, though some, like Malcolm X, already objected to its use, associating it with oppression.

2018

Elaine Mokhtefi, 'Algiers: Third World Capital. Freedom Fighters, Revolutionaries, Black Panthers' (Excerpts)

The author of the book from which the below excerpts are taken, Elaine Mokhtefi née Klein, is a US American of Jewish origin born in 1928 in New York. She became politically involved there in the late 1940s. In 1951, she moved to Paris, where she worked as a translator for various anti-racist and anti-colonial movements. It was in the French capital that she met Algerian independence activists and became involved with the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), which was founded in November 1954 and started Algeria’s independence war. She participated in the 1958 All-African People’s Conference in Ghana (for which see also the entry on Frantz Fanon’s FLN speech). In 1960-1962, she worked in New York for the FLN. FLN representatives stationed in the United States sought to contact US politicians and officials, and in New York successfully lobbied at the United Nations headquarters during its war against France, as Matthew Connelly showed inA Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era (2002). Moreover, already at this time the FLN was deeply involved with various other anticolonial liberation movements, as Mokhtefi’s fascinating book illustrates. When Algeria became independent, in 1962, she moved there. She worked in various official capacities, inter alia for the Algeria Press Service. And due to her New York experience and command of English, she often was asked to work with representatives of foreign independence movements, including the US Black Panther Party (BPP), whose presence in Algeria in 1969 and its effect on the BPP’s take on the Arab-Israeli conflict has been studied in Michael Fischbach’s Black Power and Palestine: Transnational Countries of Color (2018). Many such movements were assisted by the Algerian government, which saw itself as a player in multiple overlapping anticolonial and postcolonial frameworks, including African unity, Arab unity, Afro-Asianism, and Third Worldism, as Jeffrey Byrnes has shown in his Mecca of Revolution: Algeria, Decolonization, and the Third World Order (2016). Mokhtefi was for political reasons forced to leave Algeria in 1974, accompanied by her Algerian husband, the former FLN member Mokhtar Mokhtefi. They settled in Paris, and in 1994 moved to New York.

Pagination