Tobacco and Olives

Narratives of a Palestinian Resistance
29 August, 2017

Tobacco and Olives: Tales and Pictures of the Time of Resistance, (416 pp.) was published by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, as part of its Memory of Palestine series. In this thirteen-chapter book, Mueen Al Taher brings to life the story of the "Student Battalion" of the Palestine Liberation Organization. It is a document of the distinctive experiences of the earliest pioneers of the Palestinian liberation struggle, whose efforts have been formative in the wider Palestinian national movement of today.

In the first chapter, Beginnings, Al Taher provides a summary of the Palestinian experience following the Nakba, while they waited for the coming of the Arab armies intended to support them. The armies never came. He narrates the migration of his family to Yafa, then his time in Alexandria. By the eve of the 1967 war, he narrates his experiences in Nablus, where he lived throughout the aftermath of the Naksah (the Israeli occupation of the remainder of historic Palestine), and how he eventually came to join the Fatah movement.

In the second chapter, Irbid 1968, the author chronicles his move to the Jordanian city of Irbid, and his renewed activity within Fatah, the dominant faction of the PLO. It was there that he first met Hani Al Hassan, who oversaw Fatah's publications. It was also during his stay in Jordan that Al Taher took part the battle of Karameh. In the third chapter, Lebanon 1973, Al Taher describes the first clash between the Palestinians and the Lebanese army, and the story of the RPG shell that settled the situation. He conveys the ambiguities of the student organization in the Cola District in central Beirut, the Arab League, and the thought process of Yasser Arafat, who wanted to enter into a political settlement after the October War, and establish a Palestinian state even if it consisted of Jericho alone. In chapter 4, The 1975 Civil War, Al Taher narrates the onset of the Lebanese civil war, the division of the Lebanese populace, and the introduction of the Palestinian factions in the conflict. In the fifth chapter, The South 1976, Al Taher leaves no detail untold in his narration of the combat in southern Lebanon. Finally, in the sixth and seventh chapters, the author describes his daily life in South Lebanon and his wanderings between its various towns.

In the eighth chapter, Crossing the River, Al Taher moves to Jordan, and conveys the fears of the Jordanian government regarding the return of the Palestinian guerrilla movement. He returns to Lebanon to remember the 1982 Israeli invasion and presents his account of the storied Battle of Beaufort Castle (Chaqeef in Arabic sources) of the same year. In chapter 10, 1982-1983: Operations behind the Lines, Al Taher recounts his memories of operations deep behind enemy lines, in Israeli territory, following the 1982 Israeli invasion. Joint Palestinian and Lebanese resistance, in conjunction with the student movement, the Lebanese-Palestinian leadership which led the resistance to the Israeli onslaught had to keep many of the details of these operations under wraps.  

In the eleventh chapter, The Schism and Tripoli, Al Taher recounts the rupture within Fatah, which gave rise to the more radical "Fatah al-Intifada". The author documents how Yasser Arafat dealt with the clash and how the Syrian forces intervened to remove Arafat from Tripoli. In Chapter 12, Return to Jordan, Al Taher explains how many of his comrades-in-arms returned to Jordan in various sways. Some arrived through official crossings, while others snuck across the borders. The Jordanian authorities were tolerant with these cases, and general amnesty was issued for those who fled the Jordanian army during the events of September 1970 and joined the resistance.

In Chapter 13, After Oslo, Al Taher discusses the Palestinian struggle after the Oslo agreement, chronicling the changes within Fatah. He asks what remains of Fatah, 50 years after the eruption of the Palestinian armed struggle on January 1, 1965. His answer is that "Today, after 50 years, the picture is completely different. The attempt to gain control of power means, from the Israeli perspective, that the Palestinians have disqualified themselves from achieving a peaceful settlement, which itself remains mere speculation. Since the martyrdom of Yasser Arafat, the preconditions required for the Palestinians to be accepted as peacemakers include acceptance of the Dayton plan, security coordination with the Israelis, and the squashing of the remnants of the second intifada. This position manifested itself ever more clearly during the recent war on Gaza. Instead of rebelling against current authorities, Palestinians today must recognize the power balance as unchangeable and the context of the situation as an eternal fact which can never be challenged."

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