On Palestinian internal conflict by Khaled Barakat

This article was originally published in Arabic in Al-Adab on 31 May 2020. It is also available in Spanish at Palestina Libre.

By Khaled Barakat

Are we heading towards an internal Palestinian conflict, or what some would call a “civil war?”

This question is employed by some to serve their own petty goals, and to throw it in the face of the Palestinian people in order to intimidate and frighten them. There are those who want our people to accept the conditions of the Zionist enemy, so they will not resist – to accept “reality,” in order not to address the crisis in the Palestinian internal situation. All of this under the pretext of “dedication to national unity!”

On the other hand, there are those who want to push our people into the wrong battle, pushing them to mix apples and oranges, until their feet are dragged into the mill grinder of self-destruction.

In both cases, we are led into a minefield that threatens certain death and a project that serves only the enemy, its allies and its agents.


However, the above question remains legitimate if it is considered based on the historical experience of the Palestinian people, and if it is taken seriously and profoundly within its natural context.

Peoples and liberation movements confronting colonialism have experienced such internal conflicts or civil wars. They did not reach them suddenly or without precursors accumulating or conditions that led clearly to them. Nor did they reach the breaking point with internal political opponents because they “want” a new war or conflict that only adds to the daily torment at the hands of the colonizer. Indeed, the vast majority of the people seek a natural state of stability, preferring to manage their internal differences according to peaceful and democratic mechanisms, if they are able to do so. However, boiling internal struggles sometimes lead to the impossibility of coexistence between incompatible programs, classes and social forces, and the contradiction between them reaches the point of explosion and no return.

Despite the specificity of space and time for every people, area and nation, the writing of the martyr, Comrade Mahdi Amel, on the civil war in Lebanon remains an important intellectual and historical reference to understand the essence of sectarian conflicts, civil wars, their origins and the role of local and external forces. Mahdi Amel wished to emphasize that these events go beyond the form of a conflict between sects, leaders, factions and tribes. There is a ruling class that reaps all the benefits of the conflict and is willing to sacrifice human lives.

There is another example, in Lebanon also, that may seem quite distant from our understanding of civil war: when we discuss the role of the “South Lebanon Army,” collaborators with the Israeli occupation and its agents in the “security belt region.” The resistance dealt with them as an integral part of the enemy forces and legitimate targets of resistance fire. The presence of the Zionist enemy in the battle made this conflict appear as if it were entirely outside the scope of the internal clash in Lebanon. This facilitated the mission of the resistance to take on the battle resolutely, and achieve victory and finally liberation.

Examining the experiences of people’s movements and liberation struggles in China, Vietnam, Cuba, Sudan, the Philippines, Colombia, Ireland, South Africa and others is necessary to draw lessons and reveal similarities and differences. The same applies to the experience of the Palestinian people themselves, internal conflicts in their society and how there were (and are) local Palestinian forces obstructing the progress of their national liberation struggle from the time when Napoleon’s warships were anchored in front of the walls of Akka in 1799.

Perhaps more attention has to be paid today to our understanding of the meaning of internal conflict or civil war. This type of war is, in most cases, inseparable from conflict in a region or area. The Palestinian case is no exception. Moreover, the causes of internal conflicts are always present, and their elements may be discovered burning under the ashes. And this war does not always mean violent or clear political conflict. The internal conflict is the embodiment of a struggle between blocs, classes, political options and power centers. It is often a clash between the popular majority and between the systems and structures founded by modern colonialism to “allow” them to govern to the extent that the colonizer permits, ruling for its benefit. They serve as its instrument, weapon and shield, whose fate is decided only by a popular revolution or when the colonizer itself is defeated.

This is the reality of the conflict, and the rules of its development and contradictions in any society in which one class establishes a regime of oppression instead of dialogue and does not consider confronting the external enemy to be a national priority. Any regime that opts for the path of abuse, exploitation, monopoly, impoverishment and exclusion – as is inherent in the capitalist system – is a regime of the ruling minority, and its relationship with the people will eventually reach a critical point, inevitably colliding with the popular majority that has lost everything and now has nothing left to lose.

Today, the revolutionaries in the Philippines are fighting their “own compatriots” with weapons, but they realize that they are fighting the tools of imperialism and corporate plunder in their country. The people of the Philippines lived for 400 years under the yoke of the Spanish colonizer, which then transferred them to a direct American occupation in 1898, which persisted for nearly 50 years. This reality of U.S. hegemony and domination persists to this day, even if the mechanisms of hegemony, nominal control and systems of plunder have varied over time.

The Algerian people know how French colonialism established the “Harki Brigades,” armed battalions of puppet Algerians who served the French colonizing forces and committed crimes against the people. They are a faithful copy of the “Palestinian Peace Factions.” (paramilitary groups founded by British colonizers to crush Palestinian resistance in the 1930s and 1940s.)

These so-called “factions of peace” were established by Britain in Palestine, supervised by British forces and trained and armed by Officer O’Connor in the mid-1930s. They participated in the suppression of the Great Palestinian Revolution in 1936, the prelude to the Nakba of 1947-48. They were led by figures from feudal families, among the wealthy with close ties to imperialist and reactionary forces in the region, including Fakhri al-Nashashibi, Fakhri Abdul-Hadi and others, led by Ragheb Nashashibi, leader of the National Defense Party. British General Charles Tiggart established a complete security system from these brigades and established police military centers in the cities and border areas known as “compounds” (Muqata’ in Arabic, today the name used for the Palestinian Authority’s presidential palace in occupied Ramallah). These formed “security belts” to protect British-Zionist settlers from revolutionary attacks. The collaborator Fakhri Nashashibi wa assassinated in Iraq in 1941, while Fakhri Abdul-Hadi was assassinated by revolutionaries in the village of Arraba (Jenin district) in 1943.

Before the formation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the Israeli occupation established a system known as the Village Council Network. They also established other entities under various names and banners, all of which served the interests of Israel and the Zionist project. However, all of these were no longer necessary after the establishment of the Oslo authority and its instruments. The colonizer always works to create a buffer zone or system of mediation between itself and the colonized population through a subordinate local authority.

The armed clashes that took place between Palestinian forces in the year 1935, and in Jordan and Lebanon after the start of the Palestinian revolution in the 1960s, but also in Gaza in 2007, are all manifestations that embody this internal Palestinian conflict between one approach and its opposite, between classes and conflicting interests. The issue was not “personal” between Sheikh Izz al-Din al-Qassam and the feudal leader Ragheb Nashashibi, nor was it between the martyr Wadie’ Haddad and King Hussein of Jordan. Whoever claims otherwise only serves to promote illusions that benefit those who seek to market quick and ready answers.


Yes, there is a Palestinian conflict that always exists. Its fire fades and escalates according to the balance of forces and the tension of the internal class struggle. This has been the norm since the feudal leaders and the big bourgeoisie came to power, becoming a handful of compradors, representing the occupation and capital in Ramallah, Amman and Nablus. Regardless of the causes that led to this reality – which are undeniably important and should be addressed in subsequent articles – the fundamental and unwavering truth is that there is a Palestinian minority ruling sector that holds the cords of political decision-making and monopolizes it with power, money and foreign, American, European and reactionary Arab support, due to its security coordination with the occupation. It is willing to commit political crimes in order to defend its interests. These forces have prevented victory, aborted more than one popular uprising, negotiated away land and rights and destroyed Palestinian national achievements.

This war is not a war between regions, nor between religious sects, nor between inside and outside, between right and left, between right and right, nor between Gaza and the West Bank, but rather it is instead a natural part of the major conflict: between a people who are under occupation and in exile and diaspora that yearns to liberate their land and their people, and, on the other hand, those forces serving the colonizer. It is part of a larger struggle between the Arab nation and civilization that is crushed daily from the ocean to the Gulf, and the imperialist, Zionist and reactionary projects and forces that seek to consume and control the wealth of the peoples.

The popular anger to be found contained in the Palestinian refugee camps in particular, and in the belts of misery and poverty, is not due to “envy” of those who live in palaces and accumulate wealth in foreign banks. This anger is due to the fact that these fortunes are based on the plunder of the wealth of the Palestinian people, whose rights have been stolen, looted and violated for over 72 years.


However, if the residents of the palaces and the owners of the banks have their authority and its security devices, where may we find the power and authority of the camps and the popular classes? What is their alternative political project? Which forces express that vision today?

The land of Palestine that has been subjected to negotiations is the collective property of the Palestinian people. Natural resources and wealth are collective property. The natural gas stolen from beneath the seas of Palestine is collective property. The Palestine Liberation Organization and its institutions are also a collective property, but they have been confiscated, even kidnapped, and transformed into a private enterprise for a handful of merchants who have sold the cause, the land and the people. Our people realize that the network of Zionists, collaborators and thieves, which runs from Tel Aviv to Cairo and Amman to Ramallah, is one that pillages and sells their wealth, and it is these same forces that coordinate security with the Israeli occupation and conclude treaties of surrender. These include the Camp David agreements between Egypt and Israel of 1978 and 1979; the Wadi Araba treaty between Jordan and Israel of 1994; and, of course, the infamous Oslo accords of 1993 and their corollaries. This same sector excludes 99% of the Palestinian people and prohibits them from exercising their right to determine the fate of their national cause with their free and popular will.


Are we, then, on the verge of a Palestinian civil war?

The truth is that we live in the heart of this conflict. We have not left this ongoing contradiction for one day, even if its expression differs from one stage to another, without taking the form of a violent popular confrontation until the present moment. Until the Palestinian people liberate their voice and collective national will, the popular classes lead and an alternative approach prevails, the surrendered and degenerated segment of the Palestinian minority ruling class will continue to dominate, make deals and sell the people’s accomplishments and gains, in the name of those very people but behind their backs, without accountability or censure.