Fedayin, Audre Lorde, and Throwing Out the Master’s Tools – Georges Abdallah’s Fight

Sticker demanding the liberation of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah in Brussels. (Photo: Jove, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Benay Blend

Whatever happens, Palestinians will continue to build an alternative to the defunct Zionist notion of two states.

On October 29, 1979, the poet Audre Lorde participated in a panel at a New York University Institute for the Humanities conference that focused on the role of difference in the lives of American women. It was there that she spoke her famous words that have never lost their meaning.

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable to bring about genuine change” (“The Master’s Tools will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, 1983, p. 98).

“This fact,” she charged, “is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support” (p. 98). At that time, Lorde was chastising white feminists who failed to include women of color at the conference. It is only when “interdependency of different strengths” is acknowledged, she believed, that we can act where there are “no charters” (p. 98), no precedent for building an alternative to what we know.

Significantly, she saw the failure of academic institutions to recognize the value of difference as a failure to overcome divide and conquer, in this case dividing women.

Lorde was addressing the second wave of the women’s movement for its reluctance to address race, class, and sexuality, along with anything else that did not fit nicely with middle-class white womanhood. As a queer black poet with a mixed-race son, she understood this problem well.

Her words today continue to be relevant on an even larger scale. Lorde’s iconic speech calls to mind the documentary Fedayin: George Abdallah’s Fight, available now on You Tube.

The film draws from the collective memory of Abdallah’s family and friends. Born in the village of Kobayat, Northern Lebanon, Abdallah educated his brothers about commitment to the land and radical politics. The camera switches often to the 2018 Great Return March in Gaza, also a cultural and political event in which young people were educated about the history of Palestine’s struggle.

Not just the story of Abdallah, the film also places him within the context of his time. For anyone who believes that Palestinian resistance, along with Israel’s genocide, began on October 7th, this information is crucial.

For Abdullah, to join the Palestinian struggle made sense. At that time, the Palestinian resistance was centered in Lebanon as part of a global movement against imperialism and colonialism. He understood that the Palestinian fight was part of the struggle of all Arab people.

These days, the fight against imperialism and Zionism has become a global struggle with massive rallies around the world. From the resistance movement in Palestine against Israel’s escalation of ethnic cleansing to Indigenous struggles in this country against all forms of colonialism, the words of Audre Lorde regarding difference as a strength take on and added meaning.

The documentary centers the Palestinian struggle as a global movement with allies in the European left, much like today when there are massive world-wide demonstrations in support of the Palestinian cause. There are interviews with Abdallah’s lawyer, members of the Collectif pour la Libération de Georges Ibrahim Abdallah (CLGIA), as well as Charlotte Kates, International coordinator of Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, and Khaled Barakat, activist, writer, and member of Masar Badil.

Georges Abdallah was arrested on October 24, 1984, in Lyon, France. The only charge against him at the time was that he had in his possession forged identity documents. “All of this happening in France,” writes Claude Zurbach, “in the so-called ‘land of human rights.’”

Abdallah’s post-arrest trajectory bears out the legal system’s flaws. Each time the court heard requests for his release, the French government intervened to deny Abdallah’s right to freedom.

In 1987, the court found Abdallah guilty of complicity in political murders committed by the FARL, Lebanese Revolutionary Armed Factions, a Marxist group that claimed responsibility for two assassinations. Nevertheless, his personal involvement in these actions has never been established.

In January, 2015, an email from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to French authorities asked that he be kept in prison. Her concern was that Abdallah would be hailed as a hero upon his return to Lebanon, thus adding fuel to the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist cause.

According to activist Tom Martin, Abdallah understands that he is a political prisoner. “Legal channels have become political forces,” Martin claims. “He prefers to rely on the movements and support of civil society,” as Audre Lorde suggested activists should do so many years before.

In a similar vein, Nada Elia expresses disdain for the master’s tools. “Why do we even have all the resolutions and definitions,” she asks, if not one has been used to hold “Israel” accountable? In reply, she refers to Audre Lorde to explain that it was the master’s tools that gave rise to the Zionist state.

In a conversation with Chronique Palestine, a representative from the Collective for the Release of Abdallah (CLGIA) expressed similar concerns. “Political prisoners are likened to dangerous terrorists in order to erase any revolutionary experience from collective memory.”

In the foreword to Ramzy Baroud’s These Chains will be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Defiance in Israeli Prisons (2020), Khalida Jarrar writes that prison is more than “a place of high walls” (p. xvii). Instead, it represents “a moral position that must be made daily, and can never be put behind you” (p. xvii).

While Abdallah refuses to reject his identity as an anti-Zionist revolutionary Communist, he will remain in jail. Nevertheless, he embodies the “moral position” that Jarrar describes so well.  Indeed, Abdallah has maintained his dignity and devotion to the cause throughout his illegal detainment, and so illustrates the ways that political prisoners—wherever they might be—are at the center of revolutionary struggle, continuing to educate themselves and others to be ready for the day when they are freed.

Today, January 11, 2024, the International Criminal Court in The Hague began hearing charges of genocide against the Zionist state during their most recent attacks on Gaza. Brought by South Africa, the case centers on 23,357 Palestinians who so far have been killed, and 59,410 wounded, the majority of which are women and children.

“So I think, in some ways, it’s international law that’s on trial here just as much as Israel,” European Parliament member Claire Daly told Anadolu news agency. It remains to be seen whether the master’s tools “may temporarily help us beat him at his own game, but they can never bring about genuine change” (“The Master’s Tools will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” p. 99), as Audre Lorde once wrote.

Whatever happens, Palestinians will continue to build an alternative to the defunct Zionist notion of two states. For this to happen, writes Ramzy Baroud, Palestinian voices must be at the center, engaged not only “to convey victimization,” but to “mobilize and empower them as well” ((Preface, Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak Out, edited by Ramzy Baroud and Ilan Pappé, 2022, p. xviii).

“Palestinians have no alternative but to be their own liberators,” Baroud concludes (p. xx), thus advocating decolonization of the masters’ project and throwing out their tools, for he believes that this is the only path to liberation.

– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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