Zuheir Mohsen

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Zuheir Mohsen
Native name زهير محسن
Born 1936
Tulkarm, Mandatory Palestine
Died 25 July 1979
Cannes, France
Cause of death
Nationality Palestinian
Occupation leader of the pro-Syria as-Sa'iqa faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)
Years active 8 years
Political party
Syrian Ba'ath party

Zuheir Mohsen (Arabic: زهير محسن‎, also transcribed Zuhayr Muħsin or Zahir Muhsein; 1936 – 25 July 1979) was a Palestinian leader of the pro-Syria as-Sa'iqa faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) between 1971 and 1979. Previously active as a refugee in the Jordanian wing of the Ba'ath Party, he was chosen for this position after defense minister Hafed al-Assad's 1969–70 takeover in Syria, which he had supported against the previously dominant regime of Salah Jadid. Mohsen was also a member of the National Command of the Syrian Ba'ath Party.[1]

Early life[edit]

Mohsen was born in Tulkarm, Mandatory Palestine, now in the northern West Bank, where his father was the mukhtar (head of the town).[2] He became involved in political activity at a young age, joining the Ba'ath party at the age of 17.[3] Mohsen trained as a teacher but lost his job in 1957 after being arrested for "subversive activity". He subsequently spent time in Qatar, from where he was eventually deported as a result of his political activity, before making his way to Damascus where he helped form as-Sa'iqa.[3]

Mohsen rose to the position of heading as-Sa'iqa thanks to his close links to Assad, who after taking power in Syria purged the movement of its leftist elements (bringing it ideologically closer to Fatah) and appointed Mohsen as its General Secretary.[4]

Political views[edit]

Mohsen essentially followed the line of as-Sa'iqa's Syrian Ba'athist ideology (Mohsen himself being al-Saiqa's leader under the control of the Ba'athist government of Syria under Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad), which interpreted the Palestinian question through a perspective of pan-Arab nationalism - despite the fact that in some respects this contravened the PLO charter, which affirms the existence of a Palestinian people with national rights, corresponding with this it is noted that hostility existed between the main Fatah faction of the PLO under Yasser Arafat and the Syrian Ba'ath party of Hafez al-Assad (which in turn supported Palestinians like Zuheir Mohsen and the Ba'athist al-Saiqa faction of the PLO) on this issue. Mohsen himself was in fact both a leader of the Syrian Ba'ath party controlled al-Saiqa faction of the PLO and a Palestinian member of the Syrian Ba'ath party's own National Command in the present day nation of Syria itself. Making Zuheir Mohsen uniquely both a PLO leader and an official in the ideologically Pan-Arabist Syrian Ba'ath party at the same time. As such, he stated that there were "no differences between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese", though Palestinian identity would be emphasised for political reasons. This originated in a March 1977 interview with the Dutch newspaper Trouw:[5]

Between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese there are no differences. We are all part of ONE people, the Arab nation. Look, I have family members with Palestinian, Lebanese, Jordanian and Syrian citizenship. We are ONE people. Just for political reasons we carefully underwrite our Palestinian identity. Because it is of national interest for the Arabs to advocate the existence of Palestinians to balance Zionism. Yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity exists only for tactical reasons. The establishment of a Palestinian state is a new tool to continue the fight against Israel and for Arab unity.

A separate Palestinian entity needs to fight for the national interest in the then remaining occupied territories. The Jordanian government cannot speak for Palestinians in Israel, Lebanon or Syria. Jordan is a state with specific borders. It cannot lay claim on - for instance - Haifa or Jaffa, while I AM entitled to Haifa, Jaffa, Jerusalem and Beersheba. Jordan can only speak for Jordanians and the Palestinians in Jordan. The Palestinian state would be entitled to represent all Palestinians in the Arab world en elsewhere. Once we have accomplished all of our rights in all of Palestine, we shouldn't postpone the unification of Jordan and Palestine for one second.

Statements like this demonstrate a conception of a pan-Arabist identity (advocated by some) that seeks a united Arab world (seeking one, large united Arab state spanning today's Fertile Crescent and Middle East region), in particular a recreation of a Greater Syria (Syria al-Kubra in Arabic). Doctrines like this are most clearly explained and stated by Arab political groups like the Ba'ath party (that rules Syria and once ruled Iraq under Saddam Hussein) and the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP) that operates in today's modern nations of Syria and Lebanon (with the support of the official Syrian government in Damascus).

Also regarding pan-Arabist views and statements, like those cited from Zuheir Mohsen, the following should be noted. Many groups within the PLO held more of a pan-Arab view than Fatah, and Fatah itself has never clearly renounced Arab nationalism in favour of a strictly Palestinian nationalist ideology. Still, the PLO has with few exceptions remained fully committed to the cause of Palestine, with even its most fervently pan-Arabist members justifying this by claiming that the Palestinian struggle must be the spearhead of a wider, pan-Arab movement. This was true, for example, in the case of the Marxist PFLP, which not only viewed the "Palestinian revolution" as the first step to Arab unity, but also as inseparable from a global anti-imperialist struggle.

The journalist Robert Fisk was to claim that al-Saiqa, under Mohsen, was to employ its energies "almost exclusively against their brother Palestinians",[6] stating that in June 1976 he saw "the PLO in open combat within West Beirut against al-Saiqa, who had attacked Arafat's forces on orders from Damascus."[7] Mohsen's militia has also been accused of being amongst the main perpetrators of the January 1976 Damour massacre, while some Lebanese Christian sources have suggested Mohsen led the attack on the town.


  1. ^ Brecher, Michael. Studies in Crisis Behavior. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1979. p. 257
  2. ^ Rayyis and Nahas, Guerrillas for Palestine, Taylor & Francis, p.145
  3. ^ a b Rayyis and Nahas, p.144
  4. ^ Hiro, D. Inside the Middle East, Routledge, 1982, p.153
  5. ^ James Dorsey, Wij zijn alleen Palestijn om politieke reden, Trouw, 31 March 1977
    Mohsens opstelling is niet zo verbazingwekkend. Luisterend naar zijn politieke en ideologische opvattingen kan men soms het gevoel niet onderdrukken dat er misschien in de Arabische wereld toch minder is veranderd dan oorspronkelijk werd aangenomen. Volgens Mohsen bestaat er namelijk in feite geen apart Palestijns volk. "Tussen Jordaniërs, Palestijnen, Syriërs en Libanezen bestaan er geen verschillen. Wij maken deel uit van één volk, de Arabische natie. Kijk maar, ik heb familieleden met het Palestijnse, Libanese, Jordaanse en Syrische staatsburgerschap. Wij zijn één volk. Alleen maar om politieke redenen onderschrijven wij zorgvuldig onze Palestijnse identiteit. Het is namelijk van nationaal belang voor de Arabieren om het bestaan van de Palestijnen aan te moedigen tegenover het zionisme. Ja, het bestaan van een aparte Palestijnse identiteit is er alleen om tactische redenen. De stichting van een Palestijnse staat is een nieuw middel om de strijd tegen Israel en voor de Arabische eenheid voort te zetten."

    Ook de strategie die Mohsen wil volgen is vrij simpel: "Een aparte Palestijnse entiteit moet voor de nationale rechten opkomen in de dan nog overgebleven bezette gebieden. De Jordaanse regering kan niet namens de Palestijnen in Israel, Libanon of Syrië spreken. Jordanië is een staat met bepaalde grenzen. Het kan geen aanspraak maken op bijvoorbeeld Haifa of Jaffa, terwijl ik wel recht heb op Haifa, Jaffa, Jeruzalem en Beërsheva. Jordanië kan alleen spreken namens de Jordaniërs en de Palestijnen in Jordanië. De Palestijnse staat zou het recht hebben om op te treden namens alle Palestijnen in de Arabische wereld en elders. Als wij eenmaal al onze rechten in geheel Palestina hebben verworven, moeten wij de hereniging van Jordanië en Palestina geen moment uitstellen."

  6. ^ Fisk, R. Pity the Nation, OUP, 2001, p.75
  7. ^ Fisk, pp.80-81


  1. ^ Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem (HarperCollins Publishers, 1998, 2nd ed.), p. 118

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