I Knew a Hero Once: My Uncle Mahmoud, in My Memory, 40 Years On

My uncle, Mahmoud Al-Hamshari, had nothing to do with the Munich incident, and was most likely killed because he was an easy target.

By Rana Abdullah

There are no heroes in the country of my birth. Heroes put themselves in danger then prevail. When every waking hour heralds a life or death decision, while the world turns a collective blind eye to this crime, and buries their shame in a mountain of platitudes, there are no heroes, for in my country danger is a normal condition. If heroism is an estimation of valour in the face of overwhelming odds, then no amount of plaudits, medals or recommendations will ever suffice for the people of Palestine.

Theft, insults, denigrations and death, the legacy of a war we did not start, a colonization we could not seek, a wrong not ours to right and the world’s recompense for a crime we did not commit against a people we barely knew. There are no heroes in the country of my birth, for heroes are admired.

Generations will come and go; nations will decorate their sons and daughters for deeds far less than we have endured, yet nations will not regard us as worthy. In years to come purple hearts will bleed, paradigms of victor’s will be traversed, irons crossed, legions will be honored, federations made heroic and glory will be ordered for a nation. Yet my country is forbidden a defense. In years to come people will say, ‘I knew a country once, a country destroyed by degrees and increments and a people too insignificant for the accolade of genocide.’

My Uncle

I knew a hero once. He was a Palestinian. No one ever cared enough to pin a medal to his breast yet he was a hero all the same. He was a man of dignity, fortitude, courage and as he was born to tread the streets of theft, denigration and death, so I too was inspired by his example. That I was born to a cause was his easiest lesson, and that I was born to oppose the occupation of my homeland was less an instruction than a state of being.

Mahmoud Hamshari my uncle – “khali” in Arabic – had no need to tell me that my country has been occupied for 65 years, and that the occupiers have treated every single international edict and appeal, for an end to the occupation with utter contempt, and in fact and deed, have proceeded to indulge in the exact opposite.  This is why I and most of my countrymen are activists. We have no choice since we cannot simply melt away as the world would have us do, we have to resist in all that we are able.

Uncle Mahmoud was a brilliant accomplished man. He was a leader of men, highly intelligent and ever determined. Any task began was accomplished for this was no labor of love but of necessity. A student in France, he earned his doctorate degree, and became a husband and a father as most men desire, but unlike most men was not given leave to enjoy it. Today, I want to pay tribute to both my uncle’s memory, and to the memory all those Palestinians like him who have struggled against evil and wickedness, and who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of this singular cause. I want to share this story so that people can understand this festering crime and for the memories of the fallen to endure.

As a Palestinian, as all Palestinians, Mahmoud was a target of Israeli Premier Golda Meir, no more than an elected instrument of terror who once said: “We’ll get the Palestinians wherever they are”. It should be no surprise that Mahmoud, a man of science, determined in his cause, was labeled a terrorist by Meir. As a PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization), representative in France and a member of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, the Israelis believed him to be the leader of Black September in France and so bombed his house in Paris on December 8th 1972 – an act of terrorism by Mossad in any language yet few would say as much. Israel is the only country in the world permitted to carryout such acts without serious rebuke.

Has anyone been brought to book for the assignation Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai on March 1st 2010? I think not. The only real objection the state sponsored murder of Al-Mabhouh drew was an insipid complaint by the British Government that the Israeli agents used the identities of British citizens when carrying out the murder. There was nothing about the immorality or illegality of such a reprehensible act. Had Palestinians committed such a crime, there would be an unrelenting international pursuit of the killers who would be called terrorist. Such behavior by any other nation would be wholly condemned, but Israel has had great wrong so Israel is permitted to do great wrong. This surely is the logic of despair.

My uncle’s murder is a typical illustration of Israel’s disregard for international law. A Mossad agent posing as an Italian journalist lured Mahmoud from his apartment in Paris in order to allow a demolition team to enter and install a bomb underneath a telephone. On that ill-starred day in 1972, Mahmoud was called at his apartment to verify his whereabouts and a signal was sent down the telephone line which detonated the bomb. Mahmoud was fatally wounded, but managed to remain conscious long enough to tell Parisian detectives what had happened. My uncle Mahmoud Hamshari lost a leg and subsequently died from his injuries in hospital on January 9th, 1973. Aharon Yariv, the then Israeli Minister of Information, a position that obviously entails having your hands steeped in Palestinian blood, supervised the operation. Were he not an Israeli, he would be called a terrorist but he is an Israeli and the whole world is happy to call him something else.

Yet Mahmoud’s death, like those of so many other Palestinians murdered by Israel was not in vain, for every such murder many more are radicalized and driven by their own consciences to take on the vestiges of activism. To be an activist, and what that means, is as Mahmoud would often say, “let your actions match your rhetoric and have the courage of your convictions.” He epitomized the spirit of undeniable courage and never wavered in asserting his inalienable rights.

Sixty-five years have passed and all that has changed in that time is the rapacious acquisition of more and more Palestinian land by Israel. So called men of peace have come and gone yet none have had the courage to confront Israel; none have had the courage to say what needs to be said: ‘We see through the façade of your bogus desire for a just peace, your real intention is an unjust peace and the removal of Palestine from all maps.’ Until there is an individual with the resolve to grasp this beckoning urgent nettle, nothing will change, yet change they must. Sixty-five years of Israel’s systematic dismantling of the Palestinian state, deliberate acts of wholesale oppression that have caused suffering and grief and death. Sixty-five years of exclusion from my own homeland!  Through the example of my uncle Mahmoud, I can but become an activist and fight for my birthright. To be an activist – and live up to something that possesses your heart and your soul – is to try and change history. Because of uncle Mahmoud, I understand this and hopefully others can too.

My uncle Mahmoud Al-Hamshari was one of the heroes of my youth.  I am constantly reminded of the gifts bestowed upon me over the years by this extraordinarily dignified man. He recounted the story about the way in which we were dispossessed in 1948, expelled and consigned to refugee status in our own homeland by short sighted careless western governments. This profound injustice has persisted for too long and has characterized Palestinians too much. We are seen as the dispossessed with no right of return.

Within hours of the 9/11 attacks the British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a speech denouncing terrorism, yet within that very speech he said: “Palestine must have justice.” Even in that early stage, at that very moment he knew there was indeed a glaring injustice, which was cause enough. Yet no one can condone 9/11. Such violence cannot be condoned. In any case, the only terrorists that prosper in this world are state sponsored. So I had no choice but to acknowledge my nations cause and become an activist. To be an activist means to believe in something and to act on that belief, because possessing this kind of spirit with this strength of heart and soul, is the only way to change history. Mahmoud taught me to have the courage and tenacity to say ‘No; we will accept this no longer, we will have a viable Palestinian state if it takes mobilizing every single free thinking, fair-minded individual in the entire world.

‘Wrath of God’

On this day, in memory of his death, I struggle to find tribute enough for my uncle. The only real tribute enough for all those who have struggled, resisted and given their lives is a free Palestine. I feel it hard wired in my duty to share their story and to illustrate some of the acts of terrorism to which they were subjected. Among other acts was the murder of Abad al-Chir’s on January 24, 1973. He was killed by an Israeli bomb planted in his hotel room in Nicosia, Cyprus. Dr. Basil al-Kubaisi was gunned down in a Paris street barely two months later, on April 6. In another Paris street on June 28, 1973, Mohammed Boudia is blown up by a car bomb as he started his car. Such were the terrors endured by Palestinians at the hands of the very people that stole our state. These men lost their lives in targeted assassinations and to this day their killers have not been apprehended. This is a perfect illustration of the difference between state sponsored terrorism and the actions of idealists with a just cause. One group can easily hide behind the apparatus of a state, and other governments turn a blind eye.

The assassinations were part of an Israeli operation called Wrath of God, which was begun after 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were taken hostage and killed at the Munich Olympic Games on 5th September 1972. Eight Palestinian members of the Black September Organization evaded security and took the athletes hostage. The hostage takers demanded the release of Palestinians held in Israeli and German prisons as well as a plane to fly them to Egypt. While the Palestinians were attempting to board the plane with the hostages, the German police launched a rescue operation during which all the hostages were killed along with 5 hostage takers. Three days later, Israel launched an air strike involving approximately 75 aircraft, the largest such attack since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Fighter-bombers struck targets in Lebanon and Syria, killing 66 including women and children, and leaving hundreds injured.

On 10 April 1973, Israel launched Operation Spring of Youth in Beirut. This operation involved the participation of approximately forty elite commandos. When it was over, one hundred Palestinians again including women and children were killed; hundreds were injured. Also in 1973 an innocent man, Moroccan-born waiter Ahmed Bouchiki was shot dead in Lillehammer, Norway. He was apparently mistaken for a terrorist. Norwegian police were able to roundup the Israeli assassins. Five would receive sentences ranging from two years to five and half years. Despite the depravity of the crime, the Norwegian authorities release all within twenty-two months. In January 1974, 3 other innocent Arabs were mistaken for terrorists and shot dead by Israeli’s in a church in Switzerland. The killers were never caught.

Using its full propaganda apparatus and those of friendly nations in the west – of which there are many, as can be seen from the ridiculously lenient sentences given to Israeli assassins for killing innocent men – the myth of Mossad agents being surgically proficient and resourceful killers has persisted. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Apart from its overwhelming firepower which is frequently used to dole out indiscriminate punishment on largely defenseless Palestinians, Israel’s record of covert assassinations is fairly poor.  According to Aaron J. Klein, in his book, Striking Back: the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel’s Deadly Response, only one man Atef Bseiso, shot in Paris as late as 1992 was directly connected to the Munich hostage takings and killings.

Journalist Klein, whose book is based on interviews with former key Mossad officers of the time, suggests that Wrath of God was far more concerned with seeing to be taking revenge on the Munich killers, than with the actual culpability of their targets. Mahmoud Al-Hamshari, Abad al-Chir, Dr. Basil al-Kubaisi and Mohammed Boudia had nothing to do with the Munich incident, and were most likely killed because they were easy targets living openly in western European cities. A senior Israeli agent at the time admits: “Our blood was boiling. When there was information implicating someone, we didn’t inspect it with a magnifying glass.” Without question the Israelis wanted the actual perpetrators of the Munich killings, but they were hidden away in obscure places in Arab or Eastern Block countries, so they simply killed the Palestinians they could, regardless of whether they were innocent or guilty.

Schemes such as Zionism necessarily discriminate but not based on religion, because one can change religions, but it’s impossible to become a Zionist unless you are Jewish. Hence the political goal of Zionism was to engineer a population shift in Palestine from a minority to a majority. The main principal of Zionism cannot abide the reality that if all Jews returned to Israel it would mean an expediential expansion into neighboring states. Zionists turn a blind eye to this fact, or if it is truly understood by Jews it necessitates a near criminal conceit or wholesale conspiracy. The crime, of course, is none other than the theft of all Palestinian lands. Zionism demands that all Jews return to Israel, yet they know that if this were to happen there simply would not be enough land to accommodate such numbers. Therefore, the true goal of Zionist is the complete dissolution of Palestine and any statements to the contrary are wholesale deception.

Zionists have always looked at Palestinians as invisible if not absent. Basic human and political rights were completely denied to Palestinians during the creation of Israel since the Zionist enterprise demands exclusivity. Two years after my uncle’s death, the UN declared that Zionism constitutes a form of racism. Israel was then and is now a nation set up exclusively for Jews. The great irony cannot be lost on many; that a people who have suffered one of the most disgusting episodes of racism in human history should go on to carryout acts and policies of the most egregious racism, is a stain on all humanity. In fact, it is a stain upon a stain, the later being the greater since it is undertaken with full knowledge of the former. If we allow evil to follow evil there can be no hope. There can be little question that Israel is in danger of becoming a living affront to all that’s sacred in human nature if it has not already crossed that line.

Typical Palestinian Story

When I heard the news of my uncle’s death, I cried myself to sleep. It was months before I was able to function normally again. I had admired his work for Palestine. To me he was a larger than life figure. He championed the Palestinians’ right of return to their homeland. This was a unified, democratic state for Muslims, Jews and Christians. Now it’s a beacon of ethnic cleansing, an example of all that’s rank and gross in human nature.

Mahmoud told me that he was born with a cause and this developed naturally, the path of resistance was chosen for him. In many ways he had no choice: we have no choice. He was ten in 1948 when he was expelled from his home town Um-Khalid, later named Netayna by Israel and had became a refugee. He lived in Kuwait then Algeria then France and his homeland became distant, yet he continued to be connected to it and visited it every day in his dreams. He told me he would fight to the death for our beloved country.  The happy life then ended and my uncle’s family’s story is a true story of every other Diaspora Palestinian, parents uprooted, and families scattered.

My uncle, after finally realizing that passive resistance was futile against such a belligerent government, was a strong advocate of active, non-violent protests. He believed that the Palestine problem could not be solved in isolation from the Arab World’s whole social and political situation, which is currently evolving hopefully for the better. I enjoyed attending the political gatherings he headed and I would listen attentively to everything he said when he visited Kuwait. He often spoke to me privately about continuing the great work of liberating Palestine. Mahmoud promised to take me to Paris after I had completed high school to work with him. He spoke in depth about Black September the movement which was created with the expulsion of Palestinians from Jordan. King Hussein of Jordan declared military rule in September 1970 and ordered the forcible expulsion of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. Black September became a breakaway group of the PLO during this period. The Jordanian military attacks on Palestinians lasted until July 1971, which resulted in the deaths or expulsion of thousands of Palestinians from Jordan.

Given these appalling events, I asked my uncle, “Why did Palestinians have to suffer?” He was intrigued by my questions, more so as I was only ten years old at the time. Not nearly old enough to fully comprehend the roots of the conflict and only reacting to what I saw around me. He explained to me the Nakba tragedy, whose meaning is similar to holocaust. He told me that in 1948, nearly 94 percent of the land that is now Israel was owned by Arabs. Since then, Jews have systematically confiscated Arab lands and placed it in a National Jewish Fund declaring the land Israeli. My uncle told me that this land that had belonged to Arabs for thousands of years was forcibly stolen by the Israeli government who physically removed Arabs at the point of a gun, from more than 350 cities and villages, and then bulldozed their homes. Even ancient Arab cemeteries were bulldozed.

My uncle further told me about the attack of the American ship USS Liberty in 1967 at the beginning of the Six Day War. The Liberty incident is an illustration of how Israel pursues self interest to the extent of the cold blooded murder of citizens of even its supposed allies. Over the years there have been claims, counter claims, possibilities, probabilities and downright lies written and said about the Israeli attack on the Liberty. That the American surveillance ship was innocently sailing in calm international waters, off the Israeli coast in broad daylight, and should not have been attacked by anyone is about the only thing that’s not in disputed.

Years come and go and my uncle’s name is not forgotten as I am determined not to let it fade away. His abiding vision that exemplifies the political clarity and resolve to achieve freedom, with a commitment to make the Palestinian voice heard lives on. Uncle Mahmoud refused to be smashed and submersed into insignificance, he was always keen to express our great history and our enduring humanity. Whenever people in the west think of Palestinians they think of terrorist, this is the propaganda, but before our country was stolen things were very different.

A tribute to Mahmoud Hamchari, le prix Palestine-Mahmoud Hamchari, was created in 1973 initiated by l’Association de Solidarité Franco Arabe et de la revue France Pays Arabes. The prize recognized a book published this year in French, dedicated to Palestine or a person whose action in favor of the Palestinian cause is worthy to be honored. I have been a hard working Canadian for over 25 years and felt obligated to teach my colleagues, neighbors, friends and mates who are confused about the truth, the much larger story. The news transmissions grossly misrepresent the facts and are generally biased. I was not surprised, but dismayed about the way in which the image of Palestinians has been so utterly misrepresented by the western media – dismayed about the way in which the world has been blinded to the historical injustices inflicted on the Palestinian people. I keep Palestine alive wherever I sit and speak and interact without waiting for a crisis to happen. I engaged by peaceful and democratic means in the struggle to end the Zionization of our homeland and advocate for the birth of a viable Palestinian state.

I will never forget those who like my uncle have given their lives in their attempts to free my occupied and oppressed brothers and sisters. Largely without the support of the regimes of impotent, corrupt and repressive Arab nations. Something went wrong when my uncle and the others were killed, and Israel continues to cover up its war crimes and massacres, fabricating stories and distorting the truth.

“The desire of a dispersed people for a homeland cannot help but enlist the sympathy even of those with no [Palestinian] roots, nor can any sensitive man or woman fail to be moved by the countless tales of velour and self-sacrifice in the years both preceding and following the creation of Israel.”

The quote above was made by US diplomat George W Ball in 1977, and is in fact a deliberate misquote. I have deliberately changed the word in brackets from ‘Jewish’ to Palestinian in order to show as has been said, ‘by the image of my cause I see the portraiture of his.’ As Israeli’s were then Palestinians are now. Ball who was critical of American relations with the Jewish state went on to say: “The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza inevitably changed Israel and has steadily eaten into its moral fibre.”

There is no question that western nations see Israel as a western nation carrying the torch and holding up the values of a civilized world, in the midst of barely more than barbarous aggressive neighbors. This view has been contingent in excusing much of Israel’s often inhumane transgressions. A virtually unconscious, unacknowledged Judaeo-Christian alliance almost from the very moment of Israel’s inception, coupled with a lingering guilt over the failure of the Allies to do more for Jews during the Second World War without question converts their faults to virtues.  This bias, however, whether consciously or otherwise virtually condemns every single Palestinian to a life of oppression wrought by ideals and circumstance the origins of which they had little hand in, or often no knowledge of, let alone should shoulder blame for. That they should continue to suffer in this way is not only a stain on Israel, it is in fact a stain on us all.

America says it will not speak to Hamas because Hamas does not believe in the state of Israel, yet the current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has said he does not believe in a Palestinian state, yet the American’s freely speaks to him. The American’s say Hamas must renounce violence, yet no Israeli has ever been asked to renounce violence.

It will be no overstatement to say our politicians have failed us. They have allowed this situation to develop and continue unabated. At this very moment Israel is stealing Palestinian land and building Israeli houses on it. This situation has to be stopped and reversed.

Uncle Mahmoud, I know you have returned to Allah and left a chasm in the lives of those that loved you.  You are in heaven in God’s great garden of peace and your memory is in our hearts forever

Rana Abdulla is a Palestinian-Canadian writer and activist, originally from the Palestinian village of Balaa near Tulkarem. She is an advocate for refugee rights, and her work has been highlighted by Canadian media.  She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

7 Comments

  1. Thank yopu for a very interesting article and commemoration of a true hero and other heroes!
    Why is information like this underneath so difficult to find?

    ROME SEMINAR 27.- 28. FEB 2013. ON ASSISTANCE TO PALESTINIAN PEOPLE FOCUSES ON SUPPORT FOR ECONOMY AND

    http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2013/gapal1258.doc.htm

    ROME, 28 February — As the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People continued today, experts highlighted the complex challenges of developing a self-sustaining economy under occupation and outlined programmes aimed at rebuilding the severely eroded Palestinian agriculture sector, ensuring high governance standards and generating donor support for

  2. this is one of the very best, and well written pieces about the past, and continuing crimes of Israel.
    thank you.

  3. A wonderful article Rana. Brilliantly written. I recently read a book by Peter Evans called “Nemsis” outlining events in which your uncle was believed to have played a role. You may find it interesting.

  4. He spoke to you “in depth” about Black September – does that mean he was a part of it? Did he condone or champion the massacre of 11 Israeli civilians in Munich who were not involved in Palestinian oppression? Just curious.

  5. I recently saw a picture of Dr. Mahmoud Hamshari’s wife being honored in Lebanon by a Hospital named after him in Ain El-Helwi refugee camp. In American we believe in presumption of innocent. You are innocent until you are proven guilty. Dr. Hamshari was kicked out of his homeland at age 10 at a gun point and so were 750 thousands other Palestinians. The 11 Israeli Olympic team were member of the IOF. They were supposed to be traded for Palestinian held prisoners inside Israel. It was Golda Meir who would have been responsible. She is the one who ordered the German authorities not to allow the hostages to be taken outside then West Germany at any price. Hostage taker have no intention of har

  6. Palestine, the land that was stolen in front of the whole world, and the people who were thrown in tents in the nearby countries and no one cared to take a real step to help return them back to their homes and land. Palestine was occupied initially by a bunch of Zionist terrorist gangs like Hagana, who practiced ethnic cleansing on Palestinians, and the whole world turned their back to the sufferings and injustice towards Palestinians. Ironically, when Palestinians try to defend their land, they become terrorists.
    This logic has too many wholes, the world needs to understand the real story not the Zionist one . Thank you Rana, a great topic and article.

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