Sunday, August 02, 2009

Shafiq Al-Hut: Lebanon and Palestine

Former PLO director in Lebanon, Shafiq Al-Hut, died today. He used to say that he was a communist when everybody else was an Arab nationalist (like in the 40s and 50s), and that he became an Arab nationalist when everybody else was a communist (in the 60s and 70s). He would often repeat that to George Habash. The symbol of Palestinian struggle in Lebanon, wisely stayed away from all the various PLO organizations and rejected invitations to join or lead them. You compare him to the Dahlan ambassador in Lebanon today, Abbas Zaki, and you appreciate the stature of Al-Hut. To capture this person's gifts and talents, you need to read his memoirs published recently by Riyad Ar-Rayyis. I have always liked and admired Shafiq Al-Hut, and enjoyed his company a great deal although I can't say that I knew him very well. He has that voice that betrays long years of enjoying smoking and drinking--for those who enjoy smoking and drinking. He was blunt and truthful, when lying was a job description in Arafat's apparatus. I first admired him when as kids we used to read a most funny and witty column written in Al-Muharrir newspaper in Lebanon (its headquarters were bombed and its offices closed down when the Syrian regime entered Lebanon in 1977.) The funny column on the back page was signed by Ibn Al-Balad and my father told us that it was Shafiq Al-Hut who write it. The columns were collected recently in a book and I recommend that you go back to them. I told Al-Hut in recent years that I liked his columns a great deal and he dimissed that and said: oh, that was during the years of Tastil (getting high on Hashish). Something about him I liked: not only the politics but the personality. He was interesting and sharp and was a great conversationalist and writer. I first met him in 1984 in Chicago--of all places--and saw him occasionally in Beirut over the years. Every time I saw him, he would tell me with a great sense of outrage how that founder of the Nazi party of Lebanon, the Phalanges, Pierre Gemayyel, would always tell him: why don't you leave those Palestinians. You are a Lebanese after all. Perhaps Al-Hut knew how upset I get hearing that story about the Lebanese Nazi founder. (The family of Al-Hut is originally Lebanese), but Al-Hut always identified as a Palestinian first and foremost. Al-Hut knew so much about Lebanese politics and knew everybody there. He was one of the many Palestinians who really founded the modern press of Lebanon. He was an editor-in-chief of Al-Hawadith in its heyday in the 1960s, but then left when he became the first director of the PLO office in Beiurt. He survived many assassination attempts by Israeli terrorists, and he never got along with Yasir `Arafat. There is a lot about his relations with Arafat in his memoirs. He wrote several other books which I recommend to the readers. He graduated from the American University of Beirut and followed the foreign press and was one of the most quotable Palestinians before and during the Lebanese civil war. While people credit Mahmud Darwish for the speech delivered by the lousy Yasir `Arafat at the UN in 1974, Shafiq Al-Hut played a very part in the drafting of that speech. He tells funny stories about Arafat's lousy command of Arabic and his misreadings of text. In a closed talk I gave to a group of (mostly retired) Palestinian professionals in Lebanon 5 years ago, he asked me to identify the factors that have frustrated Palestinian struggle for liberation. The question stayed with me and I may write about that in Arabic soon. He had heart problems and he was one of those who loved life and his memoirs contain a very funny section about his hospital stay in Washington, DC. Al-Hut has always been critical of "the excesses" of PLO organizations in Lebanon and was never a fan of Arafat. He resigned from the Executive Committee of the PLO as soon as Oslo was reached, and unlike Mahmud Darwish, he took a consistently categorical stand against Oslo. By the way, like Arab men who are nicknamed by the eldest of their sons, Al-Hut is known as "Abu Hadir" but people often mistake that for Abu Hadi because Abu Hadir is so rare a name. Hadir means roarer, in reference to the Arab nationalist slogan of Nasser "from the roaring ocean to the rebellious gulf," in reference to the Arab world. This Palestinian had more impact on Lebanon than most Lebanese. For me, he was both Lebanon (or the best about Lebanon) and Palestine. Oh, he has a website.