“Journey through the Embers” is an expression that meticulously describe the conditions lived by the Palestinian patriotic intellectual, who has been committed to Palestinian fundamentals, facing difficulties patiently and paying heavy prices with years of imprisonment, displacement, injustice and pain, without deviating even an iota from his position. This description, almost, applies to the case of Palestinian thinker Munir Shafiq verbatim.
The Arabic book titled Min Jamr Ila Jamr: Safahat min Zikrayat Munir Shafiq (Journey through the Embers: Pages from Munir Shafiq’s Memories), which was edited by the late Nafez Abu Hasna and published in Beirut by the Centre for Arab Unity Studies, is one of those few books which you cannot put down once you start to read them, although it is a 560-page book. This is so not only because of its smooth and captivating style, but also because it is rich in experiences, stances and lessons. It provides a critical and objective reading of Palestinian political and resistance action over seventy years, from the midst of the leftist and Fatah, while conveying the atmosphere of Islamic and nationalist trends. He was close to Palestinian decision-makers, but at the same time has never assumed first-tier leadership positions.
The size of this article doesn’t allow us to make a complete review of the book, however, this does not prevent us from talking about some of the main features of Munir Shafiq, with whom I have a proud relationship that dates back to 1996.
Firm and Free:
The personality of the son of al-Qatamun neighborhood in Jerusalem, Munir Shafiq ‘Asal, unfolds throughout the chapters of the book. With a free, self-harmonious character holding firm convictions, Shafiq adopts rational reasoning, systematic analysis and self-criticism. When he is convinced of an idea, he is ready to defend it to the end, whatever were the costs. He is a person who does not like compliments or social hypocrisy, especially when it comes to national action or the requirements of objective evaluation.
There are also basic values that Shafiq has maintained and adhered to as a communist and a Fatah affiliate, and when he embraced Arab and Islamic perspective. On top of these are honesty with oneself and refusal to lie, including self-criticism when he errs, as he did in his story with “Mukhlis ‘Amr.”
Therefore, he does not care much about the consequences of contradicting public opinion or general trends, if his objective scrutiny leads to such conclusions, even it might sometimes shock the elites or the general public. Thus, he was a “pioneer” seeking to establish trends rather than justifying the paths of others. You will find this in his affiliation with and exit from the Communist Party, when he was in Fatah, when he established the “Trend” within Fatah, and when he converted to Islam and adopted Islamic thought… as well as in his interpretation of the 1948 catastrophe and the 1967 defeat, besides when the fida’yyin (guerrillas) left Jordan and other issues.
Distinctive Family Environment:
Munir Shafiq, born in 1936, grew up in a distinguished family environment. He belongs to a Christian family, cultured, open, Marxist, patriotic and proud of their Arabism and Islamic civilizational heritage. This image, which seems closer to “Mosaic,” was consistent with the Palestinian cases that know and cherish the Palestinian identity, stand against the British occupation and the dangers of the Zionist project, and seek change, advancement and liberation.
Shafiq’s father graduated as a lawyer in 1925, and his mother graduated from the Teachers Training College in 1927. Because the father was proud of his Arabism and heritage, he was keen to augment his son’s Arabic tongue, so he encouraged him to recite the Qur’an and poetry. By the age of 13, Shafiq had memorized three parts of the Qur’an, many poems of al-Mutanabbi and Abu Tammam, and Nahj al-Balaghah book. He also memorized many articles from Majallat al-Ahkam al-Adliyyah, which is the first code of Islamic jurisprudence in the civil field within the framework of legal provisions. Since the age of seven, he accompanied his father to the courts to witness the pleadings and cases of the people and society. His father used to give him a Palestinian piaster for every Qur’anic verse or poetry verse he memorized (Every two or three piasters at that time buys 20 eggs, for example). He would memorize about ten verses in half an hour and recite them, as a result, he collected a “fortune” compared to his peers.
In general, the environment of a Palestinian Christian was not very different from that of a Palestinian Muslim. Thus, Christians were an integral part of the social fabric, and they played an original role in the Palestinian national project expressing such role with words, blood and bullets. This is what Munir Shafiq later explained when he wrote the article “Christian Arabs are Muslims who Go to Church”!!
With the Communist Party:
The early maturity of Shafiq his personality was due to his studies at al-Rashidiyyah School in Jerusalem, the 1948 catastrophe, in addition to the Marxist and patriotic cultural environment of his father. The 15-year-old Shafiq decided to submit an official application to join the (Jordanian) Communist Party although his father has warned him against that and brought him leaders with previous communist experience to convince him to stay away from the party, and although his parents hoped for him to complete his university studies first. He also rejected the condition of his father that if he wanted to study at Damascus University, he has to stop engaging in political work. He continued his political activities, and as a result, his university studies were postponed, until in 1966, his sister Samira enrolled him at the university. In 1969, when he was 33 years old, he graduated with a sociology major, and sent his family the graduation “paper” that they were waiting for, however, it “didn’t mean a thing to him”!! For Shafiq, academic considerations were neither important to him, nor did they pose a psychological burden; this is despite the fact that he has all the qualifications to reach, without trouble, the highest academic degrees. As for his marriage, it was in the wake of the October War on 10/10/1973!! For Mounir, along with his brother George and sister Samira (the wife of Naji ‘Allush), were preoccupied with the revolution, which filled their lives.
During his membership in the Communist Party, Munir Shafiq played a vigorous and proactive role and learned to be tough. He was imprisoned several times. For him, prison was a site of struggle and imprisonment a “rest period” or a “drink of water.” He would “happily” deal with his situation, and act as if he has “found the opportunity to travel to a beautiful place”!!
At the same time, he was against the decision to partition Palestine and against the legitimacy of Israel. He left the Communist Party in the mid-1960s after an in-depth critical consideration of his experience. He even described the Party’s Secretary-General Fahmy Salfiti as a crook when he tried to lure him into a leadership position.
With the Fatah Movement:
The book distinctively presents the experience of Munir Shafiq in the Fatah Movement since 1969, which he joined, thanks to his friends Naji ‘Allush, Abu Dawud and Muhammad Abu Maizar. Shafiq was convinced of Fatah’s principles and adhered to them. His writings contributed to enhancing Fatah’s position as a reference to national work (for example, his book: Hawla al-Tanaqudh wa al-Mumarasah fi al-Thawrah al-Filastiniyyah (On the Contradiction and the Practice in the Palestinian Revolution), and they were widely accepted by the Movement’s cadres and those interested in resistance action in the Arab world. He also played an important role in strengthening Fatah’s relations with the Marxist and leftist parties across the world.
Kamal ‘Adwan realized and nurtured Shafiq’s potentials, especially after the latter has assumed the leadership of the Western Sector (Palestinians inside) following Fatah’s third conference in 1971. ‘Adwan chose him to be responsible for the political action in the occupied territories and supervise Palestinian radio stations. He also introduced him to the Palestinian Planning Center as head of the Occupied Land Department. After the martyrdom of Kamal ‘Adwan in 1973, Munir was dismissed from the Western Sector, but he continued his work in the Planning Center and became its general manager while being aware of Arafat’s attempts to marginalize him within the Fatah Movement.
In that period, noted are the dialectical relationship between the intellectual and the revolution, the interaction of the idea with the actual practice, the development of convictions based on the critical reading of experiences, and the free and open thinking stemming from the fundamentals and the attempts to assimilate the Arab and Islamic civilization and culture.
With the “Trend” and the Conversion to Islam:
Munir Shafiq had a major role in establishing a “trend” within Fatah, which began in 1972, focusing on military action, especially in the occupied territories. The most prominent leaders of this trend were Abu Hasan Ibhais, Sa‘d Jaradat and Hamdi (Basem al-Tamimi). Some call this trend “Munir Shafiq’s trend,” but he rejects this label, despite his pivotal role in this context, and confirms the role of Abu Hasan Ibhais as a first leader with a military, political and intellectual influence. This trend formed the Student Batallion, that later became al-Jarmaq Brigade or the Student Brigade. It retained its peculiarity within Fatah, having its own political and intellectual convictions, something Yasir ‘Arafat did not like. It also had heroic roles in confronting Israel, especially when the latter attacked and invaded Lebanon.
Munir Shafiq explains how the discussions within the trend about resistance, liberation and revival projects had gradually changed, criticizing and overruling the Marxist thought, and moving more towards Arabism. It was inspired by the Islamic heritage and believed in the necessity of understanding the popular and social environment. Munir Shafik noted how the communist leaders, such as Mao Zedong, believed that the correct revolutionary ideas should be taken from the masses. As the discussions developed and matured, and with the success of the “Islamic Revolution in Iran,” Munir and his companions adopted the Islamic vision, and this culminated with Munir himself converting to Islam. The trend then continued its role in forming Islamic fighting cells and forming al-Jihad Brigades, while trying to unify work with the Islamic Jihad Movement of Palestine (PIJ).
The book talks about how the Oslo Accords were a turning point, the role of Munir Shafiq in the Islamic National Conference, and his vision of the Arab revolutions and others.
There is no room here to review or discuss many of Munir Shafiq’s political views, because each of them may need an independent article, including the polemics of the relationship between democracy and projects of liberation and revival, the evaluation of the roles of a number of parties and trends besides the role of Jamal ‘Abdel Nasser, etc.
The reader of the book, as well as the reader of Munir Shafiq’s articles and writings, will notice optimism, and that there is focus on the gaps of Israel and the international forces supporting it, as well as on the balance of power.
When you finish reading, you will discover that Munir Shafiq only gave very little time to his social life, wife and children, as he was preoccupied with revolutionary and political concerns. He gave much credit to his wife who supported his commitments and political line, bearing the burdens of taking care of their children.
An enjoyable read!