Sand and Roots: An Exchange on Jerusalem, Exile and the Difficult Return

A Dialogue between Mohammed Abu Maizer and Sakr Abu Fakher

The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies has published Sand and Roots: An Exchange on Jerusalem, Exile and the Difficult Return, the latest in a series of Palestinian dialogues commemorating milestones in contemporary Palestinian history. In conversation with ACRPS editor Saker Aboufakher, Abu Maizar recounts his early awakening to political consciousness and the story of his affiliation with the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party and subsequently the Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Fatah), in which he took up media and foreign relations portfolios. With his long personal experience in Fatah, this dialogue with Abu Hatim unearths interesting facts, incidents and biographical details of prominent contemporary individuals in the Palestinian national movement.

Political Awareness and Arab Renaissance

In the first of the book’s 14 chapters, “Beginnings and Early Influences,” Abu Maizar discusses his childhood in Hebron and the family’s move to Jerusalem after the death of his father Suleiman, his return later to Hebron and then back to Jerusalem – noting the psychological impact of this back-and-forth shuttling, and its contribution to his political awareness in Jerusalem.

In the second chapter, on "Memories of Student Days and Growing National Consciousness” Abu Maizar recollects Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter and his days in the al-Rashidiya Secondary School for Boys, after “the Arab College” the second most prestigious school in Palestine.

Chapter Three, “A New Political Consciousness,” recounts joining the Ba'ath party in a period of fervent national struggle replete with contending positions and ideas, when he felt there was no issue of “Palestine,” separate from that of the Arabs, as one people, in Palestine: “we saw the occupation of Palestine and the creation of the Zionist entity there as being the establishment of a base for domination of the entire Arab region.

Culture and Choice of the Ba’ath

In the fourth chapter, “Jerusalem’s Illness,” Abu Maizar recounts his return to Jerusalem in 1997, forty years after his departure, and the changes he witnessed there – with a visit to the Old City of Jerusalem awakening old memories: “I could feel the police batons crashing down on my shoulders and on my head”.

In Chapter Five, “Culture and Place,” Abu Maizar discusses his intellectual beginnings: “We read neither the Torah nor the Gospels, nor anything related to our Zionist enemy, because reading about Israel or even listening to Israeli radio was forbidden. We read about the founder of the Zionist movement Theodor Herzl and his pamphlet The Jewish State, but until 1975 it was next to impossible to find anyone who had read it in Arabic”. He also touches on Palestinian personages who were role models at the time, such as Bahjat Abu Gharbiyeh, Jamil Abu Maizar, Tawfiq Abu al-Saud, Bishop Jacobs, Abdullah Na'was and Abdullah Rimawi. 

The sixth chapter, “al-Ba’ath,” recalls the crystallization of political awareness that led to him to join the Ba’ath party.

Fatah after the Ba’ath

Chapter Seven, “Cairo,” describes a 1959 Cairo meeting with principal Ba’athist thinker Michel Aflaq, his relationship with the Ba’athists and the Arab nationalist movement, and his acquaintance in Paris with influential Syrian Ba’athist Akram al-Hourani.

In Chapter Eight, “A New Phase,” Abu Maizar recollects the Second Arab - Israeli war or “tripartite aggression” against Egypt and his role in the Palestinian Students Association as a Ba’athist student representative, expounding on the absence, in those days, of any importance being accorded to ethnic or sectarian affiliation.

In Chapter Nine, “Fatah after the Ba’ath,” Abu Maizar indicates that he left the Ba’ath because he was against Syrian secession from Egypt, as supported by Ba’athists Akram al-Hourani and Salah al-Din Bitar, and because he felt abandoned by the Ba’ath leadership when Libyan authorities accused him of plotting a coup against the Kingdom. Recalling that he first heard of Fatah from Fatah veteran leader Farouk Kaddoumi in Kuwait in 1962, he describes subsequently meeting with Yasser Arafat and joining Fatah.

Accounting Sentences

In Chapter Ten, “Accounting Sentences and Resurrection Notions,” Abu Maizar focuses on Mahmoud Abu al-Fakhr, a devout and respected man who had an interest in analyzing events of history through numerology and Quranic verse, extrapolating from phrasing and calculations to determine the exact hour and day (in 1974) of Israel’s downfall. Abu Maizar also recollects details of his relationship with Fatah from the 1962 emergence of its revolutionary structure in 1962 to the launch of armed struggle.

Chapter Eleven on “The Algerian Experience," Abu Maizar elaborates on Abu Maizar’s relationship with the Algerian revolution, the opening of Fatah offices in Algiers, and the positive Houari Boumediene’s coup had on Fatah’s relationship with Algerian authorities.

The move from Algeria to Damascus is recounted in Chapter Twelve, “Immersed in Palestinian Revolution”; in Damascus he assumed responsibility for the PLO’s relationship with Algeria, Iraq, and Syria. Forming the first PLO Central Committee, he led the effort to incorporate the “Authority Working in Support of the Palestinian Revolution” – known also as “Issam Sartawi’s faction” – within Fatah.

The thirteenth chapter, “Paris and a Secular Democratic State” describes Abu Maizar’s days in 1968 Paris amid the student revolutionary fervor that contributed to the founding of a new European left and its revolutionary conceptualization. Abu Maizar was the PLO’s first representative in Europe, and while in Paris he established an “Arab Committee for Palestine". In this chapter he discusses his drafting of the declaration of "the Palestinian Democratic State" and presenting it to Agence France Press, noting the controversial reference to "secularism" in the wording.

In the fourteenth and final chapter, Abu Maizar recalls "Returning to the Mashreq" with his 1969 departure from Paris, and then he details the September 1970 combat in Amman, noting his stance rejecting the foreign operations carried out by Wadih Haddad and the “Black September” faction, which led to the rushed exodus of Palestinian fighters from Jordan to Lebanon and to splits and defections occurring within Fatah. Finally, he recounts his 1972 involvement in the formation of the "Arab Front Participating in the Palestinian revolution" led by Lebanese Druse leader Kamal Jumblatt.

Read Also