January 27, 2008

George Habash is Dead

Regular readers of this blog know we avoid the Israel-Palestine conflict like no one's business. Unless there are tactical lessons to be drawn from the experiences of either the IDF or its opponents, we would just as well keep our hands off that tar baby. (We actually had a good debate, among the three of us, whether or not to comment on the stories out of Gaza and Rafah this past week and, in the end, decided not to. For wild pictures from Rafah, though, go here.)

But George Habash died yesterday, and his career deserves some study. Habash, like your humble blogger, was a product of the American University of Beirut. And perhaps more than any other Palestinian leader, he was responsible for the decision to use terror attacks as a means of calling attention to the plight of the Palestinian people. For readers who associate Palestinian terror attacks with Islamists, it will be of interest that Habash was born to a Greek Orthodox family -- and was the leader of a secular Marxist organization that probably had more in common with the Red Army Faction than it did with Hamas.

Mr. Habash was best known as the Palestinian leader who adapted modern terrorist tactics as a weapon in the conflict with Israel. From the bombing of a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969 to the simultaneous hijacking of three Western airliners to Amman, Jordan, in September 1970, [the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] stayed in the news with high-profile attacks that other Palestinian groups never seemed able to match.

“When we hijack a plane it has more effect than if we kill a hundred Israelis in battle,” he told the German magazine Der Stern in 1970. “For decades, world public opinion has been neither for nor against the Palestinians. It simply ignored us. At least the world is talking about us now.”

Of interest to students and analysts is the question of whether or not Habash and the decision to resort to terror tactics helped or hurt the Palestinian cause. That's a question we'll leave asked but unanswered. For now, here are some links to various death notices and obituaries of Habash.

al-Hayat (Arabic)

New York Times


al-Jazeera (Arabic)

Le Monde (French)


an-Nahar (Arabic)