Abu Iyad, My Home My Land: A Narrative of the Palestinian Struggle (with Eric Rouleau) (New York: New York Times Books, 1981).

My Home, My Land provides important information on the man who is second in command of Fatah and also presents the largely untold “internal” history of that organization. Abu Iyad and Eric Rouleau have collaborated on what is perhaps the most important work on the Palestinian resistance for quite some time. Finally a leader of the resistance is telling the story, not a political scientist in Washington, Tel Aviv or London.

Abu Iyad’s early life is strikingly similar to many of the other leaders of Fatah, and their shared perceptions about their struggle largely explain the unity of Fatah’s leadership. Abu Iyad was a part of the massive flight of Palestinians in the spring of 1948. In the early 1950s he left Gaza for Cairo, where he met Yasser Arafat and Khalil al-Wazir in the General Union of Palestine Students. Both Arafat and Abu Iyad fought in the 1956 Suez War. After that, the future leaders scattered—Abu Iyad returning to Gaza, Arafat and Farouq Qaddoumi going to Kuwait and Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar and Kamal ‘Adwan leaving for Qatar. Abu Iyad quit his teaching jobs and went to Qatar in 1959, on Arafat’s suggestion, to take advantage of the less rigorous state security in the Gulf states and the relatively wealthy Palestinian community there.

The PLO was created at the Cairo summit of 1964—ostensibly called by President Nasser to form a united front in opposition to Israel’s plan to divert the headwaters of the Jordan River, and was, until the June war, largely a tool of Nasser in inter-Arab politics. Ahmad Shuqayri, the first chairman of the PLO, says in his autobiography, Dialogues and Secrets with Kings, that he made no move or statement of any importance without first consulting Nasser.

During the interviews, Rouleau remarks, “Abu Iyad never tired of evoking the successive betrayals of the Arab regimes, which he summed up in the colorful saying, ‘All revolutions conceived in Palestine have been aborted in the Arab capitals.’” The most recent demonstration of this is the support Syria has given to the revolt against Arafat and Khalil al-Wazir, led by Sa‘id Musa and Abu Salih. Abu Iyad asserts that “the founders of Fatah swore to resist all attempts to place the Palestinian national movement under the tutelage of any Arab government…. It was only at this price that our undertaking could be lasting and succeed in the long run.” Fatah sought to preserve its autonomy by accepting assistance from various sources. However, not having a protected territory compromises any liberation movement. With some self-reproach, Abu Iyad acknowledges that Fatah has “let itself be dragged into the byzantine intrigues of inter-Arab relations” since it joined the PLO in 1968.

Abu Iyad stresses that “the regional and international balance of power” must always be taken into account whenever the resistance makes a tactical decision. He supported the creation of a Palestinian “mini-state” in the West Bank and Gaza and termed it an interim stage in the evolution of the resistance. He told an audience in Lebanon in February that

We have to go beyond the negativism and outbidding of the past! The traditional “no” which has characterized the Palestinian movement is not necessarily revolutionary, any more than “yes” is necessarily a form of treason.

The essence of Fatah’s position was codified and unanimously passed at the twelfth Palestine National Council meeting in June 1974. This program later helped to catalyze the formation of the “Rejection Front,” which included the PFLP, the PFLP-General Command and the Iraqi-sponsored Arab Liberation Front. Habash had approved the text before the Council met, according to Abu Iyad, but then shifted after, and the tenuous unanimity which had prevailed fell apart.

Arguments and outbidding erupted within the various organizations…. Needless to say, it was the extremists who prevailed over the moderates, as is usually the case in such debates…. Shortly thereafter the all-or-nothing organizations formally joined forces within the Rejection Front, which was to dangerously divide the Resistance for some years to come.

Abu Iyad calls Habash “an authentic leader”—in contrast to “puppet Palestinian groups” like Abu Nidal—but he alternates his respect with bitterness. “Leftist elements,” led by Habash, “jumbled together the fight for national liberation—which Fatah advocated exclusively—with the class struggle.” These groups’ “criminal obliviousness” to the dominant political and military realities in the summer of 1970 helped to precipitate the civil war in Jordan. Abu Iyad hastens to admit that “we weren’t terribly consistent either” during that summer, apparently referring to Fatah guerrillas. He condemns the “sense of superiority, even arrogance” on the part of the armed resistance in general.

Abu Iyad holds that the proper role of the revolutionary is to infuse hope in his people without, at the same time, deceiving them: “We should be honest with our masses; not to tell them the entire truth is a way of scorning them.” He expresses confidence that the Palestinians will “bring forth a new revolution” to replace the “bureaucratized” one now in operation, one that has evolved into that state out of a concern for world opinion. The question, even more pressing after the siege of Beirut and the dispersal of the guerrillas, is how this new revolution will be made.

How to cite this article:

John Egan "Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land," Middle East Report 119 (November/December 1983).
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