Underlying the Palestinian revolution was a basic principle: the idea of a war of popular liberation. Around this notion developed a rich body of thought, a specialised educational outlook, along with social forms and a vast aesthetic production. The Palestinian revolution was strongly characterised by ideological pluralism and an intellectual atmosphere where intense debates were common. Hardly any topic of relevance was left uncontested including the notion of popular revolutionary war itself. Besides hosting this range of viewpoints, the revolution facilitated the flourishing of alternative and experimental outlooks. This was not merely an outcome of revolutionary atmosphere in which the quest for radical change was central, but also a result of direct institutional support. The PLO Planning Centre, for instance, was a location where bold visions were developed. In his classic piece on “Palestinian Revolutionary Education”, Basim Sarhan, the head of the Education Unit at that centre, emphasised that education should play a crucial role in sustaining the revolution: “if we want a revolutionary Palestinian human being then we must actively create it”. For Sarhan, education had to serve, above all, the requirements of the society it is introduced in.
Beyond acquiring emancipatory skills, revolutionary education was aimed at creating a new society. The most significant challenge was “altering the markers of social status”, as “new standards for social status have to be adopted, especially for Palestinians: commitment, serving the masses, and acquiring knowledge for the purpose of fulfilling the needs of the revolution rather than for improving individual position”. Without sovereignty in any country, especially its own, the Palestinian revolution was never able to fully develop a comprehensive school system that could deliver this vision. The majority of Palestinians were educated in schools run by host countries or by UNRWA, with the curricula reflecting these actors’ priorities. However, some progressive elements were introduced through alternative educational structures, namely the after school Ashbāl and Zahrāt (Cubs and Flowers) scout formations that proliferated following the 1967 war. The birth of these formations in Karameh refugee camp in Jordan was recounted by Salah al-Ta͑amari, the founder of the first Ashbāl unit, in Week 2.
With the entry of tens of thousands of Palestinians into the ranks of the revolution, a new youth culture was born, centred on the figure of the fida’i, the freedom fighter. In early Palestinian visual representations predating the armed struggle, their ethereal image could be seen in paintings such as Isma͑il Shammout’s 1962 “Newlyweds at the Border”. As armed struggle became a concrete and mass phenomenon following the 1967 war, fida’i took on a more tangible presence, along with an aesthetic that became internationally renowned. The Kaffiyeh was the headwear of choice, associated with Yasser Arafat, who started to wear it during his time in the West Bank in the aftermath of the 1967 war. In adopting it, fida’iyeen declared their filiation with the fighters of the 1936-39 Great Revolt in Palestine, famous for having used them to mask their identities. Military fatigues of various styles were worn, along with distinctive long hair. The aesthetic of the revolution was egalitarian, erasing class differences. However, it was also centred on the idea of individual freedom, as there was a resistance in the singularity of dress, even within fighting units. By definition, and unlike soldiers in regular armies, fida’iyeen did not have a uniform and strongly opposed its introduction into their ranks until the post-1973 period.
Noms de guerre proliferated, often chosen from international anti-colonial and liberationist figures, and in many cases they came to replace the original names of cadres, as seen in the next source. Besides their main role of protecting the identity of cadres from the constant monitoring of security services, these names had an equalising dimension, concealing a cadre’s regional, familial, and religious background. They acted as instruments of fraternisation: noms de guerre signified belonging to the revolution, and to a world commonly shared. Besides equality, the idea of fraternity was central to Palestinian revolutionary culture, which was reflected in the transformation of every day speech. Cadres addressed each other as “brother” and “sister”, with “comrade” regularly used by the left. The most ordinary cadre to the most prominent leaders were all addressed in this same manner.
In these and numerous other ways, the Palestinian revolution transformed the everyday lives of cadres. It also had an impact on those areas traditionally defined as ‘cultural’ in the more narrow sense: new sites of intellectual production were established, including newspapers and periodical publications. The revolutionary press began with party newsletters and magazines in the 1950s, such as the Movement of Arab Nationalists’ al-Tha͗ar (1952-1958), and Fateh’s earliest magazine Filastinuna (1959-1965).
In the 1960s, the parties focused on developing their publications. The Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN) issued a weekly magazine al-Hurriya on 4 January 1960. As shown in this internal communiqué on the foundation of the paper, the MAN sought to disseminate its ideological message in a style that would appeal to broad audiences. The paper continued to be the main paper of the MAN until the organisation’s dissolution. Al-Hurriya went on to became the principal publication of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), until the Front split in 1969. Al-Hurriya then became the weekly magazine of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and remains so until today.
So as to compensate for the loss of al-Hurriya in 1969, the PFLP established an alternative paper, al-Hadaf, under the oversight of Palestine’s foremost novelist Ghassan Kanafani, who edited it until his assassination by Israeli forces in Beirut in 1972. The paper was carefully designed and became reputed for its bold covers. Like other revolutionary publications of the period, it was internationalist in outlook, directly referring to experiences across the world and other historical periods, seen here in an illustrated feature on the history of the Paris Commune.
In the case of Fateh, several publications emerged after 1967, including al-Thawra al-Filastiniya magazine distributed within the party and in fida͗i bases between 1968 and 1969, and al-Fateh newspaper published between 1969 and 1972. The latter stopped appearing after the PLO’s central newspaper, Filastin al-Thawra was founded on 28 May 1972. Established by the PLO’s Unified Information Office, Filastin al-Thawra was first edited by the poet and revolutionary leader Kamal Nasser until his assassination by a special forces unit led by future Israeli Prime Minister and Labour party leader Ehud Barak. As requested in his will, Kamal Nasser was buried next to the assassinated writer Ghassan Kanafani: a Protestant Christian by background, and a leading member of Fateh, Nasser’s final resting place was the Islamic cemetery next to a PFLP cadre.
Kanafani and Nasser belonged to a generation of highly engaged authors. Without exception, all major Palestinian writers of the 1960s and 1970s were involved in political work, either as active participants in parties, as fellow travellers, or supporters of the revolution. A few, such as Mu͑in Bseiso, Secretary General of the Communist Party in Gaza, were veteran authors who had been publishing before the Nakba. Other authors started to flourish after the Nakba. Among the most famous were a group of writers living under the tight control of the Israeli regime, making up a phenomenon that Kanafani famously referred to as ‘resistance literature’. They included the novelist Emile Habibi, editor of the Israeli Communist Party’s Arabic newspaper al-Ittihad as well as a host of distinguished poets including Tawfiq Zayad, Samih al-Qassim, and Mahmoud Darwish. The latter left to join the revolution in Beirut, eventually becoming Palestine’s national poet, the most celebrated poet in the Arab world, and serving at various points as a member of the PLO Central and Executive committees.
Numerous poets and writers held senior political and military posts. These included May Sayigh, Sakhar Habash, Yahya Yakhluf, and Rashid Husayn. Others, such as ͑Izz al-Din al-Manasira and Salim Barakat participated as fighters. Barakat, a Kurd from northern Syria, was one of many authors who had joined the revolution from the surrounding region. These included some of the leading names in Arabic literature, such as Sa͑adi Yusuf, Haidar Haidar, Ghalib Halasa, ͑Abd al-Rahman Munif, Amjad Nasser and numerous others. The revolution also hosted global literary figures, such as Jean Genet, who spent lengthy periods of time with the fida’iyeen, publishing his experiences in Prisoner of Love.
Although many avant-garde literary experiments were associated with the Palestinian revolution during this period, some of the most important cultural production took the form of revolutionary songs, produced by poets who were politically active within the parties. These included Salah al-Din al-Husayni (Abu al-Sadiq), who wrote the first Fateh song in 1967: “The Song of al-͑Asifa”, and established the Palestinian Theatre and Folkloric Arts Foundation in 1975, and Sa͑id al-Muzayin (Fata al-Thawra) who wrote the Palestinian national anthem Fida’i. Their work spread through the most important medium for the dissemination of revolutionary culture: the revolutionary radio stations. The next example is an interview with the The Voice of Revolution’s first presenter, discussing the station’s emergence, and its profound impact on Palestinian society.
The station initially began as an arm of Fateh, broadcasting as Sawt al-͑Asifa (Voice of The Storm). In 1972, it evolved into a PLO station and its name was changed to “Voice of Palestine, the Voice of the Palestinian Revolution”. This reflected a trend that began after the exit of the Palestinian revolution from Jordan. In the wake of Black September 1970, there was growing agreement on the need for greater coordination between the cultural and media organs run by the various Palestinian parties. Increasingly, the PLO became responsible for initiating these unified efforts. The 10th PNC convened in Cairo on April 6 1972 decreed a centralisation of cultural and media bodies leading to the establishment of the PLO Unified Information Office (UIO). The UIO was responsible for the Voice of Palestine as well as Filastin al-Thawra, and created new institutions, such as the Palestinian News Agency (WAFA) and the Palestinian Cinema and Photography Organisation (which took over Fateh’s older Cinema and Photography Unit). Initially, the UIO was led by Kamal Nasser and following his assassination in 1973, headed by Majid Abu Sharar until he too was killed in an explosion by the Israeli Mossad in 1981.
The development of the UIO’s cultural institutions was supported by the Non-Aligned and Eastern bloc countries. For example cadres from the Cinema and Photography Organisation would receive scholarships from the German Democratic Republic, discussed in the next source. WAFA’s news was distributed through outlets like the Non-Aligned News Agencies Pool (NANAP), and translated and distributed in the Spanish speaking world by Cuba’s Prensa Latina news agency.
Besides sponsoring print journalism, radio, cinema, and photography, the UIO oversaw the production of an enormous range of posters. These productions contributed to the emergence of a visual repertoire that was one of the richest and most varied in the tricontinental world, covering themes responding to revolutionary events, and engaging in celebrations of national and international anniversaries. They were disseminated alongside works of individual parties and unions, with unions in particular playing an essential role as sites of cultural production. The General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) and the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS) produced a particularly rich body of images and pamphlets relating to women, youth, and the larger political debates. They also organised a number of popular festivals, lectures, and cultural events that were widely attended. The Union of Palestinian Writers published cultural and political works that were distributed well beyond the revolution and engaged with international writers in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Throughout the revolutionary period these initiatives were paralleled by institutional and individual efforts. The bases, camps, jails, and cities where revolutionaries lived became active sites of cultural renaissance, as this extract from the multitude of pamphlets, notebooks and essays written in prison reflect. This was aided by the parties, as each cadre was given access and exposure to local reading groups and materials as well as creative outlooks such as writing, festivals, and film screenings. Classics of international revolutionary thought proliferated, feverishly debated in organised meetings, and more often in ad hoc sessions and discussion circles. Beyond the parties, cadres organised popular initiatives within their surroundings. One of most famous, the experience of children’s drawing in Baqa͑a camp in Jordan, is recounted here in an interview with Abdullah Hammoudeh. The outcome of the experiment, a children’s drawing book, was made famous across the tricontinental south, with a film also created. By the end of the 1970s, the proliferation of such grassroots initiatives paralleled by the development of national structures, enabled the Palestinian struggle to engender and sustain an extraordinarily rich political culture. Its broad dissemination on the popular level, and exposure to it from a young age over several generations, produced a remarkable intellectual reservoir in a dispossessed people.