This page features interviews conducted with Palestinian revolutionary cadres who were active during the period beginning in the 1950s until the end of the 1970s. These were chosen from a larger oral history collection gathered in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and the United Kingdom between 2009 and 2016. By featuring women and men from diverse eras, geographic locations, class backgrounds, movement affiliations and levels of leadership, we aim to give viewers some sense of the richness of the Palestinian revolution, as well as the remarkably diverse range of experiences within it. These voices also shed light on some of the different types of collective political practices and organisational work revolutionary cadres were engaged in at that time. In watching these cadres tell their stories here, it can be immediately appreciated how the craft of revolution can manifest itself in a wide variety of forms.
While some revolutionaries served in military capacities, fighting in fida’i groups or the more regular units affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Army, others carried out intelligence work or oversaw training. Many were political organisers that helped create or joined movements, carrying out huge mobilising efforts across the harshest of political terrains. Several cadres interviewed here were prisoners, an experience of incarceration shared by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians over the decades. Many were engaged in popular social and economic work, education, trade unions, cultural and media production, logistical planning, revolutionary law and medicine, diplomatic representation, or solidarity work. And as is quite common of the broad Palestinian revolution, as well as most anti-colonial and liberation movements, Palestinian revolutionaries were often active in several of these spheres of activity at the same time.
Interviewing revolutionaries is an extremely delicate and complex endeavour. Many of these complexities are shared with the oral histories of sister anti-colonial struggles in Asia, Africa, and Latin America of this period; indeed comparative experiences were drawn upon while conducting these interviews. One of the first challenges is the dissonance – indeed rupture – between the present, and the high age of anti-colonialism these men and women had lived through. Throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, dozens of national liberation movements operated across the three continents, and these struggles were also connected to the great anti-racist and anti-imperial movements in North America and Europe. This period thus produced a distinctive political language and set of revolutionary practices that were shared globally. This collective vocabulary and language can be easily lost in the abrupt transition to the contemporary age. The end of the Cold War, the fall of the Soviet bloc, the decline of the broad non-aligned movement, and the spread of neo-liberal capitalism saw a rapid spread of human rights discourse and NGO activity in the 1980s and 1990s. This new rhetoric focused primarily on individuals, and contrasted sharply with earlier anti-colonial revolutionary outlooks, culture, and political practices that were overwhelmingly collective. In the midst of these new realities and unconnected political frameworks with their associated discourses, it has now become extremely difficult for cadres to articulate the reality of their lived collective experiences, and for their children and grandchildren, and other young people across the globe, to engage with, connect to, and make sense of their world.
Accordingly, this section of cadre interviews is accompanied by the other pages of teaching and learning resources, to guide entry into the seemingly distant galaxy of revolutionary national liberation movements in general, and the Palestinian one in particular. One of the first challenges in gathering this type of oral history emerges from the very nature of revolutionary work, which was overwhelmingly clandestine. Intentionally – and under the threat of detection, imprisonment, and often death – movements usually worked hard to leave few paper trails. Operating underground, cadres across the world were trained in the arts of secrecy and resisting interrogation. This challenge, which our colleagues in the South African project SADET describe as that of ‘hidden history’, means that until now many former revolutionaries find it difficult – if not impossible – to go against their training in non-disclosure. This is especially the case when cadres are approached by researchers and research frameworks that do not speak to their experience, and may even be seeking to instrumentalise it for other purposes.
This difficulty can by overcome by working very closely with cadres, emphasising the collective nature of this research and its dissemination, and the significance of conveying past experience to future generations. Complete transparency as to the nature, aims, and outcomes of this work was essential. This endeavor was also led by Palestinian researchers whose names were known to many of the cadres, but who were also clear as to their intentions: first and foremost, to retrieve aspects of this history for the benefit of the Palestinian people, and other peoples who shared in the experience of national liberation struggles in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; and furthermore to share and disseminate this collective history through an online teaching and research resource that could be freely accessed by students, scholars, and young citizens across the world.
In the case of the Palestinians, present predicaments weigh particularly heavily upon the past. Unlike many of their revolutionary comrades in other parts of the world, Palestinian cadres are yet to achieve their two common goals of liberation and a return of their people – and themselves – to their homeland. Living in exile or under military occupation, no longer operating under an effective or binding national liberation structure, they often found it difficult to approach their past in a way that could retrieve a collective historical experience, rather than an analysis or judgement on the extensive range of contemporary defeats. In countries across the world, such as South Africa, Cuba, Vietnam, and France, cadres of the resistance are affirmed – indeed celebrated and taught in schools – by the prevailing political orders they helped create. Instead, Palestinian cadres now live a reality that utterly negates their lived political experiences, which often carries new narratives whose parameters are shaped by partisan or institutional affiliation, and controversies.
The methodology used in these interviews was designed explicitly to address these issues, through a series of workshops gathering the expertise of experienced historians and scholars of memories of resistance, anti-colonial struggle, and revolutionaries. Cadres were approached because they were known, within the movement, to have served a life of engagement in a particular role or institution, or across several. After preliminary sessions, where they recalled their overall life histories, they were asked to recount their specific role in the historical incident or structure where they had played a role. The importance of treating the past on its own terms was discussed thoroughly with each cadre, with an attitude of respect for their history of collective national and revolutionary service. In preparatory sessions, they carried out, with some courage, the exceptionally arduous journey of reliving their past experiences, relationships, roles, feelings, perceptions, and judgments, rather than assessing their past work and life from their current standpoint.
Likewise, there was an emphasis on paying attention to detail and everyday individual experiences, rather than inviting broad commentary or general partisan critique. The discussions that took place were above all highly interactive, allowing each cadre to be an equal part in shaping their interviews. Our researchers involved cadres as the central participants in this process of methodological development, and in defining the parameters of their recollections, never approaching a cadre as an object of study. These interviews are therefore the outcome of joint reflections on the nature of resistance memory, and the structuring of collectively lived narratives, that are informed by recent best-practice frameworks, and of the latest developments in the field of anti-colonial, liberation movement, and resistance oral history.
They were also conducted with little interruption by the interviewers. The question and answer format was avoided except when absolutely necessary, and sometimes after several sessions. This allowed cadres to have the free space and time to recall their experiences without feeling rushed or steered into a particular direction, that could limit their recollection of the past. Whereas this approach worked in most cases, inevitably there were some minor exceptions. In a few instances, interviewers felt they needed to prompt the memory of cadres, whilst in others, cadres were unable to access some areas of their experience, blocked by great trauma or pain. Overall however, the extensive preparation, and the participation of cadres themselves in shaping the interviews over a substantial period of time, allowed for an accumulation of hundreds of hours of varied, detailed, and incredibly rich accounts.
Many are included here, and we will continue to upload more on a regular basis, as capacity permits. A diverse range of interview excerpts have also been subtitled into English, with the complete translations to be finished in due course.
This page is not intended as a complete archive of the Palestinian revolutionaries’ narratives, or a synthesized account. The popular nature of the revolution, and its extended period, means that several generations of cadres – that is, hundreds of thousands of individuals – have extensive histories of participation in the Palestinian revolution. The purpose here is to shed light, after many years of neglect, on aspects of the lives, practices, motivations, ideas, inspirations, and collective aspirations of the revolution’s cadres. It is hoped they will be of use to students, researchers, and the younger generations in Palestine, the camps of exile, and the tricontinental regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, where this collective international work of liberation was most intimately shared.
For a much larger selection of The Palestinian Revolution clips, please consult our YouTube Channel:
"Learn Palestine" https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuOt2q8THJgDc4kqC_RkStg