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George Habash ( ) also known by his laqab "al-Hakim" (Arabic:الحكيمthe wise one or the doctor) (August 2, 1926 – January 26, 2008) was a Palestinian nationalist. Habash, a Palestinian Christian, founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which pioneered the hijacking of airplanes as a Middle East terror tactic. Habash served as Secretary-General of the Palestine Front until 2000, when ill-health force him to resign. He died in Ammanmarker, Jordanmarker in 2008.

Biography

Habash was born in Lydda (today's Lodmarker) to a Greek Orthodox Palestinian family. As a child, he sang in the church choir. Habash, a medical student at the American University of Beirutmarker, was visiting his family during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. In July 1948, the Israeli military captured Lydda from Jordanianmarker and Arab Liberation Army forces. Habash and his family became refugees and were not allowed to return home until the fighting ended in 1949.

In 1951, after graduating first in his class from medical school, Habash worked in refugee camps in Jordan, and ran a clinic with Wadie Haddad in Amman. He firmly believed that occupied Palestine must be liberated by all possible means, including armed resistance. In an effort to recruit the Arab World to this cause, Habash founded the Arab Nationalist Movement in 1951 and aligned the organization with Gamal Abdel Nasser's Arab nationalist ideology.

He was implicated in the 1957 coup attempt in Jordan, which had originated among Palestinian members of the National Guard. Habash was convicted in absentia, after having gone underground when King Hussein proclaimed martial law and banned all political parties. In 1958 he fled to Syriamarker (then part of the United Arab Republic), but was forced to return to Beirutmarker in 1961 by the tumultuous break-up of the UAR.

Habash was a leading member of the Palestine Liberation Organization until 1967 when he was sidelined by Fatah leader Yasser Arafat. In response, Habash founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

In 1964 he began reorganizing the ANM, regrouping the Palestinian members of the organization into a "regional command." After the Six-Day War in 1967, disillusion with Nasser became widespread. This prompted the foundation, led by Habash, of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) as a front of several Palestinian factions, like the "heroes of return" and "Palestinian Liberation Front", along with the ANM on December 11, when he also became its first Secretary-General. Habash was briefly imprisoned in Syriamarker in 1968, but escaped. In the same year, he also came into conflict with long-time ally Wadie Haddad, but both remained in the PFLP.

At a 1969 congress the PFLP re-designated itself a Marxist-Leninist movement, and has remained a Communist organization ever since. Its pan-Arab leanings have been diminished since the ANM days, but popular support for a united Arab front has remained, especially in regard to Israeli and western political pressures. It holds a firm position regarding Israelmarker, demanding its complete eradication as a racist state through military struggle and promotes a one-state solution (one secular, democratic, non-denominational state).

The 1969 congress also saw an ultra-leftist faction under Nayef Hawatmeh and Yasser Abd Rabbo split off as the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PDFLP), later to become the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). During Habash's time as Secretary-General, the PFLP became known as one of the most radical and militant Palestinian factions, and gained world notoriety after a string of aircraft hijackings and attacks against Israel affiliated companies as well as Israeli ambassadors in Europe mostly planned by Haddad. The PFLP's pioneering of modern international terror operations brought the group, and the Palestinian issue, onto newspaper front pages worldwide, but it also provoked intense criticism from other parts of the Palestine Liberation Organization.In 1970, Habash was evicted from Jordan due to the key role of the Popular Front in the Black September clashes. In 1974, the Palestinian National Council adopted a resolution recognizing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Habash, who opposed this, formed the Rejectionist Front from several other opposition parties.

Habash aligned the PFLP with the PLO and the Lebanese National Movement, but stayed neutral during the Lebanese Civil War in the late 1970s. After a stroke in 1980, when he was living in Damascusmarker, his health declined and other PFLP members rose to the top.

After the Oslo Agreements, Habash formed another opposition alliance consisting of Rejectionist Front members and Islamist organizations such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, that became prominent during the First Intifada. In 2000, he resigned from his leadership post of the PFLP due to poor health and was succeeded by Abu Ali Mustafa. He continued to be an activist for the group until 2008, when he died of a heart attack in Ammanmarker.

Black September

The PFLP ignored tensions with the mainstream leadership of Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, and instead focused on bringing about revolutionary change in Jordan. Habash expressed the opinion that what proceeded was not "only military but also psychological warfare" and one had to "hold the Israelis under permanent pressure".

In 1970, Habash masterminded the hijackings of four Western airliners over the United States, Europe, the Far East and the Persian Gulf. The aircraft were blown up, after the passengers and crews were forced to disembark. Habash was also behind the hijacking of an Air France airliner to Entebbe, Uganda and an attack on Israel's Lod airport in which 27 people were shot to death. Forty-seven people were killed in the bombing of a Swissair jet in 1970. The Dawson's Field hijackingsmarker of 1970 were instrumental in provoking the Black September crackdown, which came close to destroying the PLO. The hijackings led King Hussein of Jordan to carry out a major offensive against the Palestinian militants in his kingdom, killing thousands of them. In autumn 1970, Habash visited Beijing. After Black September, the PLO fedayeen relocated to Lebanon. In 1972, Habash experienced failing health, and gradually began to lose influence within the organization. The Palestinian National Council's (PNC) adoption of a resolution viewed by the PFLP as a two-state solution in 1974, prompted Habash to lead his organization out of active participation in the PLO and to join the Iraqimarker-backed Rejectionist Front. Only in 1977 would the PFLP opt to rejoin, as the Palestinian factions rallied their forces in opposition to Anwar Sadat's overtures towards Israel, pro-U.S. policies and fragmentation of the Arab world. During the Lebanese Civil War that broke out in 1975, PFLP forces were decimated in battle against Syria Later, the PFLP would draw close to Syria, as Syria's government shifted, but PFLP involvement in the Lebanese war remained strong until the U.S.marker-negotiated evacuation of PLO units from Beirut in 1982, and continued on a smaller scale after that.

In 1980 Habash suffered a severe stroke and with his consistently poor health younger members of PFLP began up to assume greater responsibilities. During this time Habash lived in Damascusmarker, Syria and the PFLP neared the Syrian Ba'thist regime of Hafez al-Assad, united by the common opposition to Yasser Arafat's increasing concessions including the refusal to tie the PLO position with Syria's claims on the Israeli occupied Golan Heightsmarker and the concession of water rights, port access, and recovery of land occupied by Israeli settlers. In 1992 Habash left Damascus to return to Amman.

Oslo agreement

After the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, Habash and the PFLP again broke completely with Arafat, accusing him of selling out the Palestinian revolution. The group set up an anti-Arafat and anti-Oslo alliance in Damascus, for the first time joined by such non-PLO Islamist groups such as, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which had grown to prominence during the First Intifada. After finding the position sterile, with Palestinian political dynamics playing out on the West Bankmarker and Gazamarker areas of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Habash carefully sought to repair ties to Arafat, and gain a hold in post-Oslo politics without compromising PFLP principles. However, there is no indication that he ever accepted the two-state solution. This balancing act could not save the PFLP from being eclipsed by the militant Islamist factions on the one hand, and the resource-rich Fatah with its PNA patronage network on the other. The significance of the PFLP in Palestinian politics has diminished considerably since the mid-90s. The PFLP participated in the Palestinian legislative elections of 2006 as Abu Ali Mustafa won 4.2% of the popular vote.

In the late 1990s, Habash's medical condition worsened. In 2000 he resigned from the post as Secretary-General, citing health reasons. He was succeeded as head of the PFLP by Abu Ali Mustafa who was assassinated by Israel during the Second Intifada. Habash went on to set up a PFLP-affiliated research center, but he remained active in the PFLP's internal politics. Until his death he was still popular among many Palestinians, who appreciate his revolutionary ideology, his determination and principles, the rejection of the Oslo Agreements and his intellectual style.

Death

Habash died on January 26, 2008, at the age of 81 of a heart attack in hospital in Amman, Jordan. The President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas called for three days of national mourning. Habash was buried in a suburban cemetery of Amman with processions by the Greek Orthodox Church.

Abbas said Habash was a "historic leader" and called for Palestinian flags to be flown half-mast. The current PFLP deputy Secretary-General Abdel Raheem Mallouh, called Habash a "distinguished leader... who struggled for more than 60 years without a stop for the rights and the interests of his people". Hamas leader and dismissed Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya sent his condolences, saying Habash "spent his life defending Palestine".

References

  1. Arab Gateway: Palestine Who's Who (C-M)
  2. BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | Palestinian radical founder dies
  3. ‘’Aziya i Afrika segodnya’’ -- cited in edition ‘’Välispanoraam 1972’’, Tallinn, 1973, lk 129 (‘’Foreign Panorama 1972’’)
  4. Palestinian party founder George Habash dies - USATODAY.com
  5. BBC NEWS | Middle East | Palestinian radical founder dies
  6. Tales of Black September - Haaretz - Israel News
  7. Palestinian radical founder dies BBC News
  8. PFLP founder George Habash dies Al-Jazeera


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