Born Rebel, Fine Writer, and Extraordinary Diplomat
ILAN HALEVI - "100 per cent Jewish and 100 per cent Palestinian"
A REMARKABLE man died in Clichy, Paris, this week, and the Palestinian cause and that of peace in the Middle East lost a unique fighter.
Ilan Halevi was born under one Occupation, and joined those struggling to end another. He was born Georges Alain Albert, the son of Jewish parents in Lyon, France, in 1943. His father was a Yemeni Jew whose family had settled in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. His mother was of Turkish Jewish origin.
As Michel Warshawski observes in a tribute to Ilan, "We do not inherit our identity but create it, on the basis of sociological givens, and this identity is always multiple...Let Ilan speak for one last time."I am 100 per cent Jewish. and 100 per cent Arab".
Growing up when Algerians were winning their independence from France, Halevi moved to Israel in 1965, aged 22. As he would later explain: "I came to Israel because in Algeria I discovered the importance of the Palestinian problem. I sat there in coffee houses, I heard people, I spoke with intellectuals and I understood that the Palestinian question preoccupies the people of the Arab world. It is really in the center of their obsessions. I decided I want to study this reality up close and from the inside…I wanted to study the Israeli reality."
It was as Ilan Albert that he joined the left-wing anti-Zionist group Matzpen, which had broken out of the rigidity of the Communist Party and sought links with leftists in the Palestinian camp. Later with a breakaway Revolutionary Communist group, better known by the name of its journal Ma'avak (Struggle), and Maoist influenced, he sought more direct alignment with the Palestinian resistance.
If the 1967 war and occupation had both clarified Israel's position in Palestine, and paradoxically, facilitated Palestinian resistance and the beginning of joint struggle, the 1973 war showed Israel was not invincible, but also that Palestinians must strive for independent initiative and recognition. Halevi turned to groups in which Israelis and Palestinians were working together against the occupation. He also showed his particular skills by helping secure permission for Bashir Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and member of the Jordanian Communist Party's governing council, to return to the West Bank. (Under the Moscow-led policy of respecting existing state boundaries, and tying Communist Parties to existing states, Palestinian communists were for some time obliged to join either the Israeli or Jordanian CPs, and not permitted to form a party of their own, even though this hindered them forming a presence in the PLO.)
In 1977, Halevi went to Beirut, where he met with PLO members. In 1982, while the Palestinians came under siege in Lebanon, and Yasser Arafat recognised the importance of Israeli opposition to their government's war, Ilan Halevi received an official role in the Palestinian organization.
After Issam Sartawi was assassinated in Portugal, where he had gone to speak for the Palestian cause at the Socialist International, Arafat made the significant gesture of appointing Ilan Halevi as Sartawi's successor, so the diplomatic effort could continue. It was more than a gesture. With his culture and command of languages, Halevi could tear down stereotypes and open doors for the PLO in Europe. Besides becoming Fatah’s representative at the Socialist International, he was a representative for the PLO at the Madrid peace conference, a member of the political committee of the National Palestinian Council, an adviser to Arafat, and deputy to Nabil Shaath when the latter was the Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister.
As a writer he produced a highly-regarded History of the Jews, and both political works and a novel on the Israel-Palestine conflict. He was a founding member of the Revue des Études Palestiniennes (Palestinian Studies Review) in 1981.
Whatever the refined circles in which he might have to exercise his diplomatic skills and intellect, Ilan was no stuffed-shirt diplomat dishing out the Ferrero Rocher as per the commercials, nor did he show the snobbish "side" one sometimes encounters from far less significant politicos and intellectuals who fancy themselves here.
When I met him all too briefly in Paris after a conference sometime in the 1980s, Ilan was about to set off for Belleville to eat cous-cous with a couple of pals from Israel, both Moroccan-born and former militants of the slum-bred Black Panther movement, and one in the Knesset with the Communist list. Had I not just come back from the same restaurant with friends I would have been tempted to join them though my languages are not that good. He kept up similar friendships in France.
They say a diplomat is someone who lies for his country. Ilan Halevi, who described himself as “100 percent Jewish and 100 percent Palestinian.” told the truth for both his peoples.
Some tributes to Halevi from:
Michel Warshawski, of the Alternative Information Centre:
Union Juive Francaise pour la Paix: