28 January 2008

George Habash dies

"When we hijack a plane it has more effect than if we kill a hundred Israelis in battle," he said in a 1970 interview with Der Stern. "For decades, world public opinion has been neither for nor against the Palestinians. It simply ignored us. At least the world is talking about us now."

George Habash, the Palestinian leader and a long-time rival of Yasser Arafat died in Jordan, aged 80. Habash founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which became notorious for the hijackings of several aircraft in the 1970s.

"He had a severe heart attack and he died instantly," Leila Khaled, a member of the Palestine National Council and a leading member of the PLFP, said from the hospital in Jordan. In Damascus, Maher al-Taher, the PFLP's spokesman, confirmed Habash's death. Habash had been living in Amman since 1992, he said.

The office of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has declared a three-day mourning period for Habash. In Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader, said Habash "spent his life defending Palestine".

He first achieved political prominence at the head of the Arab Nationalist Movement, a socialist movement that promoted pan-Arab unity, in 1952. His PFLP movement favoured armed struggle to establish a Palestinian state and opposed Arafat, breaking completely with him over the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993

Habash founded the PFLP, which promoted armed resistance, in December 1967 - six months after the war in which Israel seize east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The group was responsible for the hijacking four Western airliners over the US, Europe, the Far East and the Persian Gulf in 1970. The aircraft were blown up in the Middle East after their passengers and crews had disembarked.

The group also fired at Israeli aircraft and their crew, carried out bombings, and took hostages including, on one occasion, Opec leaders meeting in Vienna.

Born into a wealthy Christian Arab family, Habash became a refugee after the 1948 creation of Israel. He graduated in 1951 from the American University of Beirut, going on to become a paediatrician.

He was a Christian, and became a medical student, who espoused the cause of secular Arab nationalism. The group designated itself a Marxist-Leninist movement and became the second largest partner in the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

It carried out more and more audacious attacks in the 1960s, throwing the Palestinian issue into the international spotlight. It opposed Arab-Israeli peace negotiations and any talk of a two-state solution - Habash often criticised PLO leader Yasser Arafat for negotiating with Israel.

Israeli tried for years to capture Habash, even intercepting a commercial airliner in 1973 and forcing it to land, mistakenly believing he was on board. Habash stepped down as leader of the PFLP in 2000, by which time the group had been marginalised by the growing power of Islamist movements like Hamas.

Mr Abbas called Habash a "historic leader" and ordered Palestinian flags to fly at half-mast. The current deputy secretary-general of the PFLP, 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".

He was married, with two daughters. His wife, Hilda, said: "We will all carry the banner of Habash and the Arab nation he dearly cherished. Habash always believed Palestine would be liberated. He lived for his people and died for his people."
(Al Jazeera, Reuters, Google news)

update: **It has been brought to my attention that the quote above may not be authentic- however, the key messages raised here still apply. For an excellent obituary to this historic leader visit this site.**


bb_aisha said...

I like the independent's news as it seems to be the least biased,but was taken aback at their headline 'palestinian terrorist dies' i don't think the sabc even covered it. It always strikes me as strange that the christian world is so silent on the fate of their arab brethren. Rest in peace,habash

Bilal said...

Maybe you could write to the Independent and ask what headline they plan on using when Mandela dies: African terrorist dies!!

Asa said...

Hey Bilal,

As'ad AbuKhalil (Angry Arab) reckons that the "quote" you use at the head of this article was actually faked.

And indeed, it is well known that Habash had Waddie Haddad expelled from the PFLP over such "external operations".

The Guardian obit was pretty good -- at least it didn't scream "TERRORIST" in the headline!

But AbuKhalil's obit of Habash is the best I have read so far. He's been writing about little else on his blog since the death.

R.I.P. al-Hakkim.

Bilal said...

Thanks Asa,

I should have used AbuKhalil's obit- it was such a hassle sifting through all the terrible dribble that most media produced!!

On the whole, I think the point is still key- how long will the good people in the world continue to ignore the plight of the Palestinians...