After Wadie’ Haddad: The “War on Terror” and the Resistance

After Wadie’ Haddad: The “War on Terror” and the Resistance

The following article, by Samidoun’s international coordinator Charlotte Kates, was originally published in Arabic translation in Al-Adab magazine on 28 March 2017 as part of a file assessing the life and legacy of Wadie’ Haddad. 

Haddad, a co-founder of the Arab Nationalist Movement with George Habash and later of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was well-known for his external operations, which aimed to bring the plight and the struggle of the Palestinian people to the eyes of the world, particularly the airplane hijackings of the early 1970s. His slogan, “after the enemy, everywhere,” reflected the international nature of the struggle for Palestine. On 28 March 1978, Haddad died in the German Democratic Republic of leukemia. Some have accused the Mossad of assassinating him, as they attempted many times to do so in the past. He has remained a symbol of militant struggle for the liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea in the over 40 years following his death.

While this article was originally written and published three years ago, the topics it discusses remain relevant to the challenges faced by our movement today.

Image: Al-Adab cover, Wadie Haddad issue, March 2017. Art by Hakam al-Nuaimi

After Wadie’ Haddad: The “War on Terror” and the Resistance

by Charlotte Kates

The legacy and the story of Wadie’ Haddad continue to reverberate today, both for the Palestinian national liberation movement (and other such movements), and for its enemies. The preoccupation with “terrorism” and the casting of any and all resistance to complete imperial domination as “terror” has become the predominant communication of major media. Entire legal structures, frameworks, and a metaphorical “war” with a serious physical cost are directed at stamping out “terror.”

Haddad’s operations were, in many ways, designed to intervene in and disrupt the balance of power and the dominating presence of US and Israeli military and economic strength. With dramatic physical, visual and media actions and specified targets, the aim of these operations was not to create “terror” through killing and injury, but to upend the framework in which the oppressed are constantly vulnerable to all forms of attack, dispossession and destruction while the oppressor is able to sit comfortably without fear that their own societies could face panic or disruption. Of course, Haddad’s operations were not individual in nature, but rather expressions of a collective revolutionary organization with a clear political and social motivation guiding those actions just as clearly as it guided mass organizing or political interventions. Rather than an individualistic hero, Haddad represented a revolutionary arm of the Palestinian liberation movement.

Many people note that the airline hijackings of the early 1970s brought the political crisis of the Palestinian people to international attention. They did so amid a worldwide movement of decolonization; after Algeria pushed out French colonialism and as Vietnam battled U.S. forces. Increasing numbers of young revolutionaries in Europe and the United States were willing to bring the fight to the streets of their own countries. The Palestinian movement, like these other movements, was full of intellectual and political debate and discussion over tactics of struggle and the meaning and implications of “external operations,” a debate that reflected the intellectual depth of this issue among the burgeoning Palestinian revolutionary movement.

Meanwhile, Palestinians were determined to reject the classification of their struggle as simply or merely humanitarian, deprived of its proper political context. The assertion of political and existence through revolutionary violence, accompanied as it was with a clear political and revolutionary program and demands, transformed the representation and the image of the Palestinian people. The term “terrorist” was liberally and frequently applied. Contra “terrorist,” there were many terms developed by the resistance and the revolution: “fedayee,” “revolutionary violence,” “guerilla war.” Amid our current situation, however, those latter terms have become almost invisible while the former has become applied, repeatedly and globally, to seemingly everything, from the most reactionary organizations to the revolutionary liberation movements.

Looking back nearly 50 years later, we have witnessed especially in the past 30 years an attempt to erase and eradicate these concepts entirely. After the dismantlement of the Soviet Union, the assertion of US victory and the end of history shortly followed by the era of the “war on terror,” revolutionaries and national liberation movements are confronting an ideology of a state monopoly of violence that is perhaps more deeply entrenched than at any previous time in recent years. The era of the “carrot and the stick,” in which a fierce attack on revolutionary forces was accompanied by tactics meant to appease broader nations and communities, has been replaced by “the stick” alone, and for entire populations. The only “carrot” is to be found in the case of complete concession. In the era of the early Palestinian revolution, there was little concern that the “external operations” of the Palestinian revolutionary left would be met with mass denial of travel to Palestinians or crackdowns on Palestinian communities everywhere in exile. In the era of the “war on terror,” on the other hand, entire communities are regularly subject to surveillance, raids and other repressive operations characterized by collective punishment.

One of the most powerful and effective weapons currently being used by imperialist powers to separate diaspora and exile communities from their national liberation movements and to recenter solidarity from existing movements and organizations to broad concepts of “the people” is the list of “designated terrorist organizations.” Since the mid-1990s and even more following 11 September 2001, such lists have proliferated, moving from the United States to Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom and other states.[1]

The United States’ list of designated “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” is in many ways the forerunner of these proliferating, changing and growing lists. While today’s list contains a hodgepodge of organizations and names, some revolutionary representatives of liberation struggles and other ultra-reactionary groups with long and complicated histories of alliances and splits with U.S. power itself, the U.S. list originated in 1995 with then-President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order prohibiting financial transactions with “designated organizations.”[2] The executive order was explicitly framed as a support for the Oslo “peace process” then underway in Palestine and as a means to strip opposition groups of funding and support in order to more effectively impose the Palestinian Authority and its concessions on the Palestinian people.

The list of “specially designated terrorists” were those who “threatened to disrupt the Middle East peace process.”[3] Thus, in order for Oslo to continue and impose a permanent solution and lack of rights upon the Palestinian people, it was critical to disempower and disenfranchise those organizations that resisted the process and continued their struggle against Israeli occupation and settler colonialism. Since 1995, the American, European, Canadian and British “terror lists” have developed from a framework that was imposed specifically and precisely in order to deter Palestinian resistance to an imposed “peace process.” Issued as they were in the post-Gulf war, post-Soviet era, these “terror lists” have attempted to create an unchallengeable framework of legal, political and even moral authority in which armed resistance to imperialist or Zionist aggression is not only “terrorist,” but criminal and universally subject to condemnation.[4]

It is clear that the powers that create such lists have no aversion to violence; the aftermath of U.S./NATO wars, invasions and destabilization around the world is plain to see the massive terror and destruction that has been wrought on the people of Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti, Yemen and elsewhere. It is certainly not out of some kind of moral imperative against violence that the terror lists exist; it is only the violence of the oppressed that finds itself so designated, as light and minuscule as it may be in comparison to the military machines of the designating powers. The Palestinian revolutionary movement has always been the basis for the creation of the ‘war on terror’ industry; it is built atop a structure of suppression of Palestinian rejection and refusal of the Oslo process and the liquidation of the Palestinian cause. And the first step in that suppression from the internal U.S. perspective was the attempt to block the transfer of funds from the large Palestinian exile community in the United States to the political organizations that represented that challenge, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Thus, the epithet “terrorist,” applied by any force with power to any group or population that has challenged or contested its domination over the years, including or perhaps especially the indigenous people of the lands in question, is not only a political designation or an insulting dismissal but a legal category designed to create a special criminal framework for those who dare to challenge imperialism and racism. While wearing the mantle of law, the designations themselves are in fact entirely political in nature and subject to change, revocation or addition at any moment.

One year after the creation of the Specially Designated Terrorist list in 1995, the US under Bill Clinton enacted the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), which created the State Department “Foreign Terrorist Organization” list that remains in place today.[5] In the process of the transformation of the list from economic sanctions to criminal prosecution, the list also ranged outside of the Palestinian context, including organizations from a range of countries and reflecting the somewhat eclectic nature of the list. While some of the additions reflected the same ideological framework as in Palestine, like those of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) or the later addition of the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA), other subsequent additions like Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult/new religious movement, or Al-Qaeda, reflect a variety of U.S. foreign policy priorities.[6]

Mostly implemented after 11 September 2001, similar “terror lists” created in other nations follow the US model. One thing that has distinguished the US’ implementation of its terrorist-organization list is the creation of a new category of criminal activity, that of “material support” for a designated organization. Material support embraces a wide range of activities, not limited to financial support or the provision of weapons, or even direct support to the listed organization. There are Palestinian charity workers serving 65-year prison sentences in the United States for what was unquestionably the collection and delivery of funds to charitable outputs.[7]

However, the purpose of “material support” statutes is not to round up many people and send them to prison. The purpose of such laws is to spread their own version of fear and terror and immobilize any and all support – material, moral and political – for those organizations so dedicated. The example of a few high-profile legal cases – for example, the massive sentencing directed at the Holy Land Five charity workers or the pursuit of former Palestinian political prisoner, torture survivor and community activist Rasmea Odeh – can be sufficient to dissuade large segments of the exiled Palestinian community from engaging in the type of political work that has been met with this level of state surveillance, scrutiny and suppression[8]. Even more, the imperative to stay within the bounds of the law remains compelling even as the law itself is constantly shifting. Thus, the definition of “material support” has itself grown and changed from the traditional context of direct provision of money to potentially related charitable work, and in the infamous 2010 US Supreme Court Decision, Holder v. HLP, could even be potentially extended to “coordinated” advocacy.[9] The U.S. has the most severe and wide-ranging sentencing and material support laws among the Western imperialist powers in its “terror laws,” mirroring its role as the pillar of the imperial center.

The creation and implementation of these laws, alongside heavy policies of surveillance and infiltration, the creation of bogus accounts run by domestic intelligence agents and several high-profile, harsh cases, have successfully created an internal climate in the United States in which public advocacy in support of designated organizations, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah and other organizations, is significantly limited, discouraged and fraught with an environment of terror. Instead, solidarity groups are directed to “safe alternatives,” the non-governmental organizations created through the Oslo process alongside the creation of the terror list, as representatives of the Palestinian people. And those non-governmental organizations themselves remain under constant surveillance, policing, attack and targeting, especially if they refuse to concede to political conditions that prohibit them from contact with Palestinian political organizations or engage in direct organizing against Zionist apartheid and settler colonialism. The international Left is placed into a cage of fear, breaking ties with Palestinian left organizations like the PFLP amid the “terror” epithet and casting about for a political substitute to remain “within the law,” even if not within the leadership of the resistance or the revolutionary left. At the same time, fundraising from the vast exile community is stifled or directed into worthy, but apolitical or humanitarian outlets.

In the interim, the prosecution of “terrorism” and the creation of terror lists, with shared intelligence between the Israeli state, European powers, the US and at times Arab states, among others, has served to attempt to place these organizations – large, substantial liberation movements – beyond the pale and outside the framework of politics, into the realm of criminals and outlaws. While Wadie Haddad and his comrades’ revolutionary violence pushed the Palestinian cause into the realm of politics from that of humanitarian platitudes amid defeat and dispossession, the role of the terror lists and the states who create them is to force those organizations into the dungeons of a special kind of extra-criminality, illegitimate beyond borders and rightfully condemned to nonexistence. Agreement on condemnation is presumed among “all decent people;” apparent fundamentals like the rights of peoples to resist colonization by any means necessary and to form organizations and movements to carry out that revolutionary resistance are negated as the “international community” expresses its concerns about “incitement” by approving of repression with prisons, invasions and bombs.

In this way, the political expression of these organizations is erased and suppressed and replaced instead with vague allusions to “hate.” While Palestinian and other resistance organizations publish large quantities of writing on their politics and views, in major media, these views are largely silenced or placed as secondary to “concerns” about the “security of Israel” or the “wrongness of violence.” Instead, political and revolutionary organizations are examined for their alleged incomprehensible animosities, rather than their relationship to the settler colonial project imposed on their land. Organizations engaged in revolutionary or resistance violence are labeled as hateful and irrational. Instead, an international society in which it is possible to achieve justice and liberation by apparently, filing the right paperwork in the right place at the right time is imagined, and thus any disruption from the course of submission to oppression is an expression of hate rather than of natural resistance. Even more, the framework of “counter-terrorism” attempts to eliminate the possibility of a rational political response that includes revolutionary violence by criminalizing and targeting those organizations that make clear that such organizations are not only possible but a necessary means to carry out a liberation struggle.

This is visible as well in the arrest and imprisonment of Palestinian prisoners.

In the Palestinian context, international “terror list” come close to and often mirror the Israeli-designated list of prohibited or hostile organizations, for which thousands of Palestinians are imprisoned for activities including attending meetings, waving flags and banners and participating in public events. Every year, the student elections on Palestinian campuses are subjected to a series of raids, attacks and invasions by Israeli occupation forces. Students are arrested, student council offices invaded and ransacked, events disrupted, at the hands of an occupying military power.[10] This happens amid international official silence at best, and, far too frequently, pressure campaigns directed at international universities not to abide by the Palestinian boycott of Israeli academic institutions as urged by faculty and students of conscience, but, instead, to cut ties with Palestinian universities because Palestinian students vote for “terrorist organizations” or organize activities with the student blocs that share lines of political thought with the major Palestinian political forces.[11]

Advocacy for Palestinian prisoners is met with demands to show that the persecuted Palestinians are “innocent” of the charges against them, meaning that they did not participate in the resistance. International organizations urge that Palestinians imprisoned without trial under administrative detention be “charged or released,” never mind that these charges would be for spurious “offenses” like membership in a prohibited organization or “incitement.” The control and dismantlement of Palestinian political life is thus presented as normal, if at times excessive or “going too far,” rather than representing a colonial project’s unending attempts to destroy and eradicate indigenous resistance.

The inclusion of reactionary organizations largely responsible for sectarian and right-wing violence against oppressed communities also targeted by imperialism, like al-Qaeda, Islamic State and their variants, among the “terror list” helps both to obscure the nature of the list as, in and of itself, a tool meant for the direct perpetuation of US foreign policy and hegemony in the region and a direct threat to indigenous struggle and national sovereignty. It also is used, although the inclusion of an organization on the list reflects nothing more than the political opinion of major powers, to equate those reactionary forces with the liberation movements with which they are paired on the list and further the rhetoric of Netanyahu and partners that IS is the equivalent of Hamas is the equivalent of Hezbollah is the equivalent of the PFLP, by erasing and rendering invisible the politics and commitments that underlie the revolutionary violence of liberation movements. The very hodgepodge of the list itself is used as a political tool to manufacture confusion and conflation between trends and interests that are not only non-identical, but, in fact, deeply opposed.

The goal of the “terror lists” in the era of the “war on terror” is indeed to perpetuate that same destruction and make the world safe for capitalism, Zionism, racism and imperialism, by rendering political and military resistance and revolutionary violence impossible and impenetrable, an unacceptable politics, a repugnant morality and a legal criminality. But more than that, it drives wedges between exiled communities and their liberation movements, forbidden by law, and by the weight of state power, from engaging with the revolutionary organizations that represent those movements, forcing tremendous creativity to come forward to constantly work around the latest repressive  legislation. It attempts to place resistance and those who struggle as part of the resistance as outside the frameworks and guidelines of solidarity and “human rights.” It equates the oppressed and the oppressor, as UN bodies debate whether Palestinian resistance organizations could potentially be guilty of “war crimes” for using their limited weaponry in a fight against their massively-armed colonizer. [12]

Furthermore, by creating legal, political and economic blockades alongside military power and global corporate and financial hegemony, the “war on terror” framework attempts to eradicate the revolutionary movements and their political analysis and perspectives as the leadership of the liberation movement. It attempts to prevent the re-emergence of the era of Wadie’ Haddad and the global leading role of the Palestinian revolution in world-wide anti-colonial struggle through sheer power, expressed in both its “soft” and “hard” forms, by affirming repeatedly that there is no alternative to the processes and structures created by the United States, the Israeli state, the European powers and their Arab regime allies, and that those who attempt to create such an alternative will face harsh punishment.

Take, for example, the case of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah; Lebanese Communist, struggler for Palestine, imprisoned in French jails for over 32 years. Over the years, he has refused to back down from his political principles, a course that has surely helped to ensure that he has never been released or even deported to Lebanon.[13] Ahmad Sa’adat, the General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, among other major resistance figures, was flatly refused by the Israeli state to be included in prisoner exchanges with the Palestinian resistance (after he and his comrades were kidnapped from a PA prison, under US and British guard, after alleged fears that they may be released.)[14] This is not merely accidental, but reflects their unwillingness to shift or alter their political positions for personal benefit.

On an organizational level, the “terror lists” reflect the same politics; an organization will remain listed until it can be conceived of as “not a threat” due to its political shifts, or unless its power and strength is too great to simply dismiss by means of the list.  The purpose of the list is to produce political change to the benefit of imperialism and its Zionist partners, inside and outside the named organizations.

The former example may be seen in the case of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, originally listed on the “terror list” as an opponent of the Oslo process; it was removed in 1999, following assurances allegedly received by the United States through PA president Arafat, amid ongoing negotiations, that the DFLP was open to revising its political approach to Oslo, the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli state.[15] Thus, in the case of Palestinian organizations, the terror list and the potential for removal from it is held out as a potential in the case of political concessions, while refusal to make such concessions is met with continued persecution.

The slogan of the era of Wadie’ Haddad and his comrades, “Behind the enemy everywhere,” is met today by an intensified, technologized response of “The enemy behind the people everywhere,” in the numerous “external operations” of imperialism and Zionism. From the visible attacks of invasions, bombs and drone strikes to the surveillance of communities, the imprisonment of activists and the use of political, economic and military power against liberation movements, the “war on terror” has been another, renamed representation of the classic contradiction, “imperialism vs. the people.” The resistance itself, targeted by the “war on terror” and the ongoing attacks of imperialist and Zionist forces, is best placed to determine its tactics at any time for achieving its goals of return and liberation; the potential of revolutionary violence, whether inside Palestine or outside its borders, as part of that struggle, is one that can be determined by that resistance, in order to overturn this situation much as those Palestinian strugglers did nearly 50 years ago.

For the movement as a whole, reclaiming the history and the legacy of Wadie’ Haddad and his comrades is not only a question of choice, but one of necessity, without fear and without apology. This is a history that situates the Palestinian struggle firmly among the anti-colonial, anti-capitalist movements of the era. From Che Guevara to Assata Shakur, from Ho Chi Minh to Wadie’ Haddad, the lessons of that era remain available to today’s strugglers, whatever tactics they may use in their struggles for liberation. The denial of this history or its shading with the “terror” label serves only to obscure the history of the Palestinian struggle and separate it out from the revolutionary movements of the people of the world and their struggles for liberation. The reclamation of this history, and the learning of its lessons, can begin to build the challenge to the “war on terror” framework and the domination of imperialist powers, towards a new incarnation of a “people’s war on imperialist/state terror.”

[1] Statewatch, “Comparative analysis of US, EU, UN, UK terrorist lists,” http://www.statewatch.org/terrorlists/listsbground.html

[2] U.S. Federal Register, Executive Order 12947—Prohibiting Transactions With Terrorists Who Threaten To Disrupt the Middle East Peace Process, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Documents/12947.pdf

[3] Ibid.

[4] Eileen M. Decker, “The enemies list: the foreign terrorist organization list and its role in defining terrorism,” http://calhoun.nps.edu/bitstream/handle/10945/41367/14Mar_Decker_Eileen.pdf?sequence=1

[5] Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School, “Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996,” https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/antiterrorism_and_effective_death_penalty_act_of_1996_aedpa

[6] US Department of State, “Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm

[7] This refers to the case of the “Holy Land Five,” Shukri Abu Baker, Mohammad El-Mezain, and Ghassan Elashi. Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh. For more information, see Al Jazeera World documentary, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/aljazeeraworld/2016/10/holy-land-foundation-hamas-161004083025906.html

[8] Nadine Naber, “Organizing after the Odeh Verdict,” Jacobin Magazine. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/01/rasmea-odeh-verdict-organizing/ For more information, see http://justice4rasmea.org.

[9] Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. US Supreme Court, 561 U.S. ___ (2010), https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/561/08-1498/

[10] See, for example, “Hamas Activists Arrested after Palestinian Student Elections,” Palestine Chronicle, http://www.palestinechronicle.com/hamasctivists-arrested-after-palestinian-student-elections/

[11] See, Richard Silverstein, “Bard College Reaffirms Relationship with Al Quds University.” https://www.richardsilverstein.com/2013/11/24/bard-college-reaffirms-relationship-with-al-quds-university/; “Brandeis University suspends its partnership with Al-Quds University effective immediately,” http://www.brandeis.edu/now/2013/November/al-quds-response.html; Patrick Strickland, Electronic Intifada, “Jerusalem students face constant harassment by Israeli forces,” https://electronicintifada.net/content/jerusalem-students-face-constant-harassment-israeli-forces/13266; Solidarity, “Resisting the New McCarthyism,” https://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/4220. For more information about the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, please see http://pacbi.org.

[12] Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, ““Balance” in UN Gaza report can’t hide massive Israeli war crimes.” https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/balance-un-gaza-report-cant-hide-massive-israeli-war-crimes

[13] Charlotte Silver, Electronic Intifada, “Why is Georges Abdallah still in prison?” https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/charlotte-silver/why-georges-ibrahim-abdallah-still-prison For more about the case of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, http://freegeorges.samizdat.net or http://samidoun.net.

[14] The Guardian, “Gilad Shalit exchange for Palestinian prisoners – as it happened,” https://www.theguardian.com/world/blog/2011/oct/18/gilad-shalit-release-palestinians-live For more about the case of Ahmad Sa’adat, http://freeahmadsaadat.org

[15] This was the claim of the U.S., as relayed in the Congressional Research Service report, “The Palestinian Factions,” by Aaron D. Pina, of April 8, 2005. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS21235.pdf