Source: Ahram Weekly
After a long battle with illness, Hani Al-Hassan, the prominent Fatah leader, died in Amman last week aged 74, leaving a rich legacy of struggle and resistance against the colonialist Israeli regime that occupied his country and drove him away from his childhood village at the age of 10.
Born at the village of Ijzem near Haifa into an educated and well-to-do family, Al-Hassan couldn’t come to terms with being rendered a refugee. Like many Palestinians of his time, he joined the Fatah movement, which he hoped would liberate historic Palestine from “Zionist gangs”.
He lived in an environment where faithfulness and loyalty to the homeland was a sublime religious duty. His father, Said Al-Hassan, was the preacher at the Istiglal Mosque in Haifa who had been warning Palestinians and Arabs about the looming danger of the Zionist movement, for which he earned the wrath of the British colonialist authorities.
In the early 1930s, Al-Hassan Sr, joined the Mujahideen fighters under the legendary commander Ezzidin Al-Qassam, after whose name Hamas came to name its military wing.
At the age of 18, Hani moved to then West Germany where he managed, along with another Palestinian leader, Hayel Abdul Hamid, to form Fatah’s first cells in Western Europe. He was elected the head of the Palestinian Students’ Union in Germany, recruiting many students to the national cause.
Following the disastrous 1967 war, Hani devoted himself to working full time in Fatah. He often argued that a man without a homeland couldn’t reach true fulfilment, no matter what his accomplishments.
In 1970, he became a member of Fatah’s executive committee. Soon afterwards, he was appointed political commissioner of Fatah forces. A loyalist of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Al-Hassan occupied many portfolios within the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Prior to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Arafat appointed him political and strategic adviser.
Al-Hassan was among the few Fatah leaders who opposed the Oslo Accords. He didn’t reject in principle peace negotiations, but strongly believed that negotiations should be conducted under the auspices of the United Nations rather than the United States, which he argued pandered to Jewish lobbies and pressure groups.
In 2003, Al-Hassan became interior minister of the PA for a brief period at a time of lawlessness and internal turmoil and Israeli threats.
Al-Hassan was a strong advocate of utilising “Islamist forces” in the Palestinian arena for the benefit of the overall Palestinian cause. He often argued that “these people possessed enormous energy to serve our cause,” and that it was illogical not to use it.
Following the death of Arafat in 2004, Al-Hassan was seen as one of his potential successors. However, the so-called “American lobby” within the PLO hierarchy ruled him out, arguing that neither Israel nor the Americans would accept him.
Al-Hassan opposed the policies of Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, describing them as “perplexed and lacking clarity”. He warned on many occasions against the PA becoming a liability rather than an asset.
He also repeatedly underlined the importance of the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees, arguing that this right was the heart and soul of the Palestinian cause.
On Israel, he once said: “They stole our country, they destroyed our homes, they bulldozed our fields, and they banished our people to the four corners of the globe. And now they have the chutzpah to call us terrorists.”
Al-Hassan spent his final months in Amman, Jordan, receiving treatment for a chronic illness.
He never realised his wish to be buried in his native village near Haifa. Instead he was buried in Ramallah on Monday, 9 July.