Over the year, I realized that the term ‘left’ is not exclusive to a political ideology, but a mode of thinking championed mostly by self-tailored ‘leftist’ western intellectuals. I grew to dislike it with intensity.
But that has not always been the case.
My father was a communist, or so he called himself. He read the translated work of great communist and socialist thinkers, and passed on to me his own reading of what a socialist utopia could possibly be like. Living in a squalid refugee camp in Gaza, locked in by a heavily militarized sea to the west, and various Israeli ‘death zones’ everywhere else, a proletarian utopia was a great idea, where the peasants and the workers ruled unhindered.
Of course, there was a reason that made the fantasy particularly meaningful. Before the establishment of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine, most Palestinians, who constituted the majority of the refugees after the war of 1948, were fellahin – or peasants. Following their forced expulsion into refugee camps, lacking land to cultivate, they became cheap laborers, especially after the war of 1967, where all of Palestine was colonized by Israel. No collective anywhere in the Middle East experienced such historical tension in a relatively short period of time as did the Palestinians.
My family, like numerous others, became peasants-turned-workers; in fact that marking became part of the refugees collective identity.
While the political manifestation of socialism failed in Palestine, socialist thinking prevailed: anti-elitist and revolutionary to the core. Even those who subscribe to other ideologies, including Islamic thinking, have been influenced one way or another by early Palestinian socialists.
But Palestinian revolutionary socialism, at its peak in the 1960s and 70s, was rather different from the ‘left’ I experienced living in the West. The latter seemed more detached, less risk-taking, driven by groupthink and lacking initiative. It was also patronizing.
Even in my early twenties, I still couldn’t comprehend how a group of self-proclaimed ‘leftist’, who largely existed on the margins of mainstream politics had the audacity to cast judgement on Palestinians for resorting to armed struggle to fend off a very vile and violent Israeli occupation, and busied themselves debating what constituted ‘humanitarian intervention’.