How would Arafat and Habash React to Events in Yarmouk?

'Wiseman of the revolution' George Habash (L) and late Palestinian President Yaser Arafat.

By Omar Chaaban

There is this damning obsession with how would certain dead leaders behave in current circumstances. Perhaps this obsession is borne out of an understandable yearning for a charismatic political figure that would unite the Palestinians under one banner that would ultimately lead to the return to and liberation of a dispossessed homeland. But we must understand that since there is no way that we can possibly know whether these leaders will behave one way or the other, this obsession is at best damning and a waste of time.

To our misfortune, we are not only characterized by the lack of a unifying political figure, we are also cursed with corrupt self-appointed leaders who only have the depth of their pockets as their primary concern. From Mahmoud Abbas, to Yaser Abed Rabbo to Mahmoud Dahlan, we have ‘persons’ (as I shall refrain from calling from leaders) who funnel Palestinian money into their private bank accounts outside of Palestine while making decisions and proclamations on behalf of a people that neither chose them nor gave them any consent to represent them.

These persons are not only corrupt, and they do not restrict their actions to making decisions on behalf of the Palestinians, but they also add insult to injury by attributing the reasons for the suffering of their own people to an internal deficiency as opposed to an unjust aggression by a fierce enemy.

So in Gaza they blame Hamas for the aggression and invasion exacted upon the Palestinians by the Zionist enemy. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority (an institution undeserving of its name) is complicit in the arrest, detention and torture of Palestinian political activists in Zionist jails. And in Yarmouk, they place the blame for the deliberate starvation of the Palestinians upon the armless civilians who can barely get themselves to move due to the lack of sufficient nutrition.

So it is understandable when the Palestinian searches in history books for a figure with characteristics that can unify a nation towards the attainment of a common goal – and in this case some cite the late Palestinian President Yaser Arafat or the late ‘wiseman of the revolution’ George Habash.

But regardless of our political opinion of these two men, is it a wise strategy to look into the history of certain political figures to design political opinions that affect the present or the future? Is it even possible to make proper speculations as to what Arafat or Habash would say about Yarmouk? And if Arafat or Habash were indeed a legitimate source of inspiration from which we can determine how one can act vis-a-vis Yarmouk, and if we are able to make speculations,  how can we locate this inspiration within the context of their failure to act in Tal El-Zaater, Sabra and Shatila, Nahr El-Bared, etc..?

The answers are: no, no and we can’t. A leadership deficit in the Palestinian movement does not mean that we should look at an imagined past to fill the holes of the present,  it means that we should look at the past as a pedagogical tool that would help us find ways to fill this leadership deficit by looking at the long line up of Palestinian youth who are at the frontline of resistance in Gaza, Ramallah, Yarmouk, Ain El-Helweh and Nahr El-Bared. The Palestinian people is blessed with youth who are courageous enough to describe things the way they are: operation Cast Lead was not a war, it was a vicious aggression against a civilian population; Palestinian land is not disputed territory, it is an occupied land and this occupation is reaffirmed and entrenched via racist Apartheid policies; having discussions with the Zionists and cooperating with them is not dialogue, it is an ugly and abhorrent normalization that must be rejected; and finally, the siege of Yarmouk is not an unfortunate humanitarian crisis, it is a carefully designed mechanism to starve an entire population to demand from them unconditional concessions.

Looking into the past is a useless exercise if we are going to restrict it to nostalgic yearning for an imagined glory, and its uselessness is amplified in the presence of Palestinian youth that are systematically marginalized by a line up of corrupt persons who unjustly attribute to themselves leadership positions. We should end our quest to find answers in the speeches of Arafat and Habash, and start looking for them by exhaustively cooperating with Palestinian youth, recapturing our narrative through a strong liberation movement and stick to principled positions that have at their core supporting every struggle against occupation and oppression.

– Omar Chaaban is a Palestinian activist based in Vancouver, BC. He holds a BA in International Relations from the University of British Columbia and focuses on Syria and Palestine. He contributed this article to Visit his blog:, and follow him on: @al3isawy.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out